Lately I’ve been talking about marriage a lot. It comes up often because one of my colleagues asks me every week if my boyfriend has proposed yet. Without fail, my Monday morning will open with “So, has he popped the question yet?” Originally I used to just shrug and shake my head but now I find it more amusing to try to come up with a pithy response. “Nope, we’ve decided that marriage is less special now because they’re gonna let gay people do it” or “Nah, my boyfriend’s already married so we’re trying to keep our relationship on the down-low” or “Not yet. He’s waiting for my father to sweeten the deal with a generous dowry”. That kind of bullshit.
All this talk of proposals and marriage has made me think about how dramatically my feelings about marriage have changed.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to get married. Marriage was one of my life goals and something I thought I absolutely couldn’t be happy without. I had a very idyllic perception of what married life would be like. I imagined living in a beautiful house with my husband, who was extremely handsome and always smelled good. We’d spend a lot of time watching movies together, going on long trips and making out in our perfectly-made bed. In my mind, once I’d found the right person, everything else would just be a snap. There’d be no arguments, no uncomfortable silences and not a care in the world. For me, marriage seemed like the ticket to a very happy life.
I should qualify this ideal by explaining my background a bit. Like most girls my age, I was raised on a heavy diet of rom-coms and teen romance novels. The happily-ever-after storylines definitely coloured my perception of what marriage should be like. The fact that most of these tales end with a wedding paints the picture that marriage is the goal. The resolution of all the strife and struggle comes with that walk down the aisle. In addition to this, I was surrounded by very happy marriages. No kidding. Among my parents, my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, there have been exactly zero divorces. And this isn’t just because my relatives have chosen to tolerate one another until the sweet release of death, it’s because they really are genuinely happy together. I was raised by a pretty good selection of contentedly married couples. So it’s no wonder that marriage was something I aspired to.
In addition to holding very tightly to the idea that marriage was the key to a happy life, I was also aware of the status that marriage held. Being married didn’t just mean getting to live with somebody who would make out with you whenever you wanted, it meant that you’d been chosen. It was an affirmation that somebody felt that you were worthy enough to say “I want you in my life”. As somebody who is chronically insecure, that kind of validation was pretty attractive. My anxiety was also quelled by the idea that marriage was (in theory, anyway) permanent. That it was a way to “lock down” a relationship so that I would never have to worry about heartbreak. I felt like if I was to get married, not only would I be assured happiness, but I’d also be safe and validated. Who wouldn’t want that?
As a teenager I felt pretty sure that I’d marry young. My parents, aunts, and grandparents were all married by the age of twenty. And I figured that my life would follow a similar timeline. This feeling was cemented when, at 17, I met and fell in love with my first soulmate. He was everything I wanted in a partner, and we had so much fun together. After about two years of dating, talk turned to the topic of marriage. Although we weren’t ready to get engaged yet, we agreed that we’d each found the person that we wanted to spend our lives with. And so it seemed to me that I was well on my way to being married.
As a few more years piled on, I began to get anxious. Although my boyfriend and I were still happy and close, we seemed no closer to getting engaged. There were a few times when I thought “perhaps he’ll propose to me” and I ended up disappointed. By this time, several of my friends had gotten engaged and a few had already married. I was beginning to feel left behind, like I was going to miss out on something I very much wanted. I vividly remember bringing home a bouquet I caught at a friend’s wedding and watching an expression of absolute panic spread across my partner’s face. We were together for almost ten years before we admitted that we’d grown into two people who just weren’t really compatible anymore and parted ways. I was 27, and the man I’d intended to spend my life with had just moved out. As I sifted through the wreckage and tried to deal with the end of my relationship, I also had to recognise that a young marriage wasn’t on the cards for me.
In the years after my breakup, I became a lot more sexually adventurous. I admitted to myself that I was, in fact, bisexual and had several relationships with women. I also had a polyamorous relationship that lasted about six months. In each of those relationships, I was aware that any future wasn’t going to include marriage, at least, not a marriage that looked anything like the picture I’d envisaged as a child. Additional I became more acquainted with the reality of what adult relationships are actually like. That they aren’t always lighthearted, fun affairs filled with long makeout sessions and breakfast in bed. Real people have real problems, real goals that don’t always line up, priorities that differ, finances and stresses. Fights happen, people get upset and even the most loving relationship isn’t immune from conflict. I learned the hard way that marriage isn’t an instant ticket to happiness.
After a lot of dating and learning and self reflection, I find that I’ve really let go of my deep need to get married. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t ever want to get married, but it’s no longer something that I feel like I need in order to be happy. If I were to marry, I’d want it to be to someone who I feel is my partner, and that we were committing to building a life together and doing the hard bits as well as the fun bed make-outs and cute pet names. I don’t feel like I need the validation of being chosen as a wife, and I recognise that marriage isn’t the secure haven I thought it was. I also know that if I never get married, I won’t feel like I’ve failed. I’d rather never be a wife, than to enter a marriage as blindly as I would have in the past. If I do, I want to do it with my eyes wide open, and my heart and mind as well.