I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly four years; it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. From the start, we were serious about each other. When we met, he was just wrapping up a divorce and I wanted to settle down with someone serious about starting a family.
We didn’t waste time with all the “is he/is she into me?” dating drama. We said “I love you” a few months after our first date; I knew right away that my carefree, single-woman lifestyle in New York was no longer right for me. I wanted a quieter life, like the kind we have now in the suburbs, where he makes me breakfast every morning and I make sure he takes his digestion pills. It might sound like I’m 39-going-on-80, but I don’t care. We have our own spots on the couch, our own nicknames and our private jokes. Our home feels empty when he’s not in it.
He’s the first partner I’ve ever lived with, and the first partner with whom I’ve made a will, shared banking passwords and a health insurance plan. We have gotten past hurdles like having crushes on other people, layoffs and medical emergencies. Most adult of all, we’re now trying to have a baby.
I constantly wonder which traits our future child will have: his neatness and careful planning, or my messiness and haphazard way of doing things?
In other words, we are in it for the long haul. I no longer worry that the slightest problem will threaten our relationship, as I did at first. I’ve accepted our differences, rather than trying to change myself to be someone he’ll be more impressed by or lamenting the things I wish we shared. I can be entirely myself with him; he’s seen me at low points, like after my grandmother died and when I’ve been a sobbing wreck while binge-eating potato chips. Both of us are comfortable enough to cry, fart or fall on the floor in front of the other without dissolving into embarrassment.
For many other couples, especially those approaching the four-year mark, this kind of relationship might lead to a march down the aisle — but not us. Starting with our conversation on our very first date, in which he urged me to “Never get married,” we’ve both made it clear we’re not interested in matrimony, holy or otherwise. If it’s not a priority for either of us, if I’m not invested in becoming his wife — and the cultural baggage that entails — why do it?
My parents got divorced when I was 2 years old, and several of my relatives have divorced as well: grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and uncles, cousins. So I didn’t grow up thinking of marriage as the only way to ensure the longevity of a relationship. I’ve never lusted after a wedding venue or wanted to plan an elaborate ceremony. Marriage has always felt like something other people do.
When I even consider the words “my husband” coming out of my mouth, they feel possessive and fake, like they couldn’t possibly describe the role he plays in my life.
That’s not to say I don’t consider myself a romantic. I most certainly do. I cry at weddings — even strangers’ weddings, like the one I wandered into while on the Princeton campus recently. Weddings and marriages can be beautiful, but I can’t imagine signing on the dotted line making me feel any more committed to my partner than I already do. I don’t want us to stay together because we promised the government — or anyone else — we would; I want us to stay together because we’re as in love, dedicated and passionate about each other and our relationship in 10, 20, 30 or more years as we are right now.
For the most part, nobody has tried to sway me otherwise. The only time I’ve faced resistance over this decision is when I tell people I want kids. I don’t argue with anyone about this outright, but I’m sure that being married doesn’t magically make you a better parent, just as being unmarried doesn’t mean you’re lacking in the ability to take care of a child. As far as I’m concerned, they’re unrelated. I’m in the process of exploring fertility treatments, and with 40 breathing down my neck, I’m doing everything I can to become a mom.
But even my boyfriend, who’s been staunchly on my side of the no-marriage issue, has mentioned that he thinks it’s “better” for kids when their parents are married. I’m not so sure.
Thankfully, when I fill out forms these days, most of them have a spot for “domestic partner.” But once in a while, I still encounter one that forces me to lie and check “married” or the equally ill-fitting “single.” Neither choice defines our relationship. I’m in no way single, but I have deeply entwined my life with someone else in pretty much every other way possible other than becoming his wife.
I don’t want to get married because it’s what everyone else is doing, or because I might have to in order to get certain benefits. I despise the idea that I’ll be judged as a mother, or partner, based on whether there’s a ring on my finger. Shouldn’t my actions, feelings and devotion be what’s important? I certainly think so.