When scrunchies and Spandex were all the rage, I insisted on dressing like a pint-sized, 19th-century librarian. When preppy became cool, I switched to a grunged-up pair of overalls. I was the only kid in my class to not get my driver’s license at 16. What I’m getting at here is this: I’ve never been particularly interested in doing what everyone around me is doing. This year, everyone I know is doing Marriage. It reminds me of 1997 — the only difference being that my cash and weekends are going to nuptials instead of Bat Mitzvahs.
Of the 12 weddings my partner and I have been invited to this year, only one couple has been together longer than we have. This prompts many folks to ask the good ol’ FAQs: “What’s wrong?”, “When WILL you get married?”, “But, why NOT?”, and “Your wedding isn’t about you; it’s about your friends and family,” which isn’t even a question.
My partner, Mark, and I love each other endlessly, and we have since I was 21 (practically a zygote). But, remember: Like snowflakes, every relationship is different. When acquaintances assume that our non-married status means there’s something wrong with our relationship, it's just as harsh as if we claimed they need that piece of paper to keep from running for the hills.
Mark and I will probably never get married. I’m relatively certain there will always be something we’d rather spend our time, money, and energy doing together, instead of crafting and executing a strategically non-religious ceremony or having to explain to irritated loved ones why we eloped without telling them. (Of course, there’s always the possibility that by 2034 marriage will be seen as a bizarre and outlandish custom, in which case, yes, I'm pretty sure I'll want to do it.)
While I understand that my getting married wouldn’t hurt anyone — it would likely make my few conservative relatives breathe a sigh of relief — that just doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to do it. Mark and I are in a legally recognized domestic partnership; we have civil rights, are each other’s next of kin, and can even get a joint insurance plan. We don’t belong to a religion, so there are no ceremonial traditions to uphold or texts to recite. We’ve been sharing a home for six years and have no need for more dishes. Despite my childhood sartorial choices, it’s not the 19th century; the U.S. has been dowry-free for decades. As for the “Your wedding isn’t about you; it’s about your friends and family” argument: If not having a wedding is the most selfish thing I ever do, I think I'm doing okay.
Then, there’s the niggling political concern. Mark is a dude, but a few years back I was in love with a woman. I could easily have ended up with her for the long haul. Should I disregard that fact and instead jump right in to accept all that heterosexual privilege has to offer me, namely this marriage business? For me, that would feel more than a little bit phony. Besides, I love the term “partnership” — despite it driving people toward incessant clarification. (“Just so you know, she means her male partner, who’s a man.”) I love having one term for both of us; we’re equalized as “partners” rather than differentiated as “husband” and “wife.” Plus, word nerd that I am, I can’t quite shake the old Dutch word wiif (translated as “babe” or “bitch”) or the Indo-European root of "wife," gwibh (meaning “shame”). And, don’t forget “husband” the verb, which means “to manage thriftily"... But, I digress.
Don't get me wrong, I love my married friends, and their marriages are wonderful — for them. Similarly, I love all my Jewish and Christian and Hindu and Buddhist friends; I even participate in a surprising amount of rituals from each of those religions. But, that doesn’t mean I belong to one of them. My religion is The Amelia Thing, and my “marriage” is The Mark and Amelia Thing, and (sorry, Grandma) nobody else is invited.
The fun part about meeting your partner at such a young age is that you’re going to change so much over the years, and all you can hope is that the changes bring you closer together. Mark has stood by me for disasters large and small: when a close relative was locked in a psych ward, when Internet criminals stole $4,000 from me, when I thought I was pregnant, and when my little brother threw up all over our apartment. I, in turn, stood by Mark when he lost a friend, an uncle, a cousin, and his dogs — and when he got a little too into yoga. When he told me he wanted to go across the country for three months to get a pilot’s license, I said, “I’ll be here when you come back.” When I was debating whether to leave him for my best friend, Mark said, “I want you to do what makes you happy.” I stayed.
We're sticking it out in unmarried-land, and that's actually not surprising, or even a big deal, to those who truly know us. Yes, some of our motives for doing so are cynical. But, in the end, it’s the romantic reasons that have the staying power. There’s no sense in setting a date to sign a paper and give a spiel that means we’ve chosen to be together forever, because we wake up every day and make that choice. On our seven-year anniversary this month, Mark and I will choose to be together for the 2,557th time. It’s not marriage — but it feels pretty damn special to me.
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