Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
My girlfriend wants to get married, but I don’t see the point. We’ve been together for four years, we live together, and we’re super happy. Weddings appear to be a lot of fuss and mess and money in exchange for a piece of paper that says how we already feel. Why fix something if it ain’t broke?
Old Fashioned Like That
Dear Old Fashioned,
Marriage is like drinking Malört: No one should ever participate in the institution unless they enthusiastically want to. If you don’t want to marry your girlfriend, please, please, please do not marry your girlfriend. No one benefits from a one-sided wedding.
But why does your girlfriend want to get married so badly? I quote the amazing writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by way of Beyonce: “Because I am female I am expected to aspire to marriage…Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same thing?”
So, why don’t boys aspire to marriage?
There is a rumbling in our society that tells straight men that marriage will bring them low. Marriage is a trap. Wives are balls and chains. Women are the worst, and in marrying one, you tie yourself to her unending feelings, wants, and needs, mouth open, howling, always wanting more from you. She will be a bride, a glorious creature dressed in all white. You will be a groom, a man standing at the front of the church, uncomfortable and waiting for it all to end. No one looks at the groom.
But our society considers marriage to be a pinnacle of existence for women. I was a single woman, and then I was an engaged woman, and I noticed the difference. When you show up one day with a ring on your finger everyone shrieks with excitement. People stop worrying about you. Your parents proudly announce your new status at parties. Facebook is ecstatic.
Newly engaged women post pictures and videos of the ring, they buy pounds of bridal magazines, they spend hours staring at their now anointed hand. They are choking on their own gratitude because they have been lifted up. I will be a wife, I will have a purpose, I will, for a brief moment, have a respite from the voices in my head telling me that I am not worthy. Because this man thinks that I am worthy, and through his actions, others will find me worthy.
This is a giant bag of cultural bullshit that is in no way your fault, but you need to be aware of it so you can better understand your disagreement. Your girlfriend is under an intense pressure that you are blind to. And maybe she’s unaffected by all of this and only wants to marry you so much because you’re the total best, but I bet you five American dollars that this cultural baggage has something to do with your opposing views of the institution.
I once was your girlfriend. I lived with a man to whom I very much wanted to marry. Every time we went out to dinner and he reached into his coat pocket my heart caught in my throat. Was this it? Was that the ring? Was I finally being chosen? After he continued to not propose, we started having open conversations about getting married and it turned out that he didn’t want to marry me, not then, not with the same fervor I had.
And he was right. I wanted marriage because I wanted something else—I was tired of my life. I wanted something fun, something that would elevate me above my boring day-to-day existence. And that is a horrific reason to get married and that man did me the greatest favor in the world by not proposing to me. Because then we broke up and I was forced to find other ways to alleviate my boredom. I started taking classes, writing, and performing. I found in myself a worth beyond marriage.
And then I met someone who wanted to marry me with the same fervor that I wanted to marry him and we got married.
Weddings are loud and expensive stress balls. The wedding-planning process strains even the happiest of couples and when it’s over, all you have is a piece of paper that in no way changes your day-to-day life.
Instead, it changes everything.
After you are married, you are no longer the only person you answer to. You are no longer the only one you account for in your life decisions. You have stood up in front of everyone you hold dear and told them and the universe that this person is your mate. Marriage is a commitment beyond a one-year lease: It’s a promise that you make on a spiritual level.
The only valid reason to marry someone is because you can’t not be married to them.
I agree that you shouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken, but “ain’t broke” doesn’t describe your current relationship. Your relationship is broken because she wants marriage and you don’t. This is a conflict without compromise. You will get married or you will break up.
I used to think that such a duality was ridiculous. “Why,” I wondered, “would someone leave a person they were in love with just because that person didn’t want to get married? You’re still in love. What does it matter?” That was back when I was younger, more idealistic. That was when I was desperate to find a middle ground between married and not married so I could avoid ending a relationship. That was when I was hoping against hope to be able to escape the inevitable bruising grasp of heartache.
People who see marriage as a goal in their lives deserve to be married just as much as those who see not being married as a goal deserve to not be married. We all deserve to get what we want, but we don’t necessarily deserve to get it with our current partner.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.