Ultimately, marriage seems to be a trap for both parties — especially for those who find it difficult to live within pre-established roles.
We’ve both been married before. So when I offered the love of my life a proposal – “Let’s not get married” — I thought he would understand.
Here’s how I saw it: Marriage ruins things. It comes with all sorts of expectations that even the most jaded divorcees would have trouble resisting. Those expectations have been built into the institution by long-standing traditions, both religious and secular. Ultimately, marriage seems to be a trap for both parties — especially for those who find it difficult to live within pre-established roles.
So when I proposed to not getting married, it was with the intention of giving my man the best version of myself. I said it playfully, like this: “I love you so much and we’re so happy together, let’s NOT get married.”
I’d seen what marriage had done to me and what I’d done to it. I was too weak to resist the norms and expectations that seemed to come with the package. I pointed out to him and anyone who would listen – my unmarried friends, my minister, some colleagues – that marriage had begun as a property arrangement, with the man owning his wife and children. For me, those beginnings still clung to the institution like a bad odor.
When my sweetheart and I started dating, my attitude was, “We’ll see.” I was a year out of marriage and not interested in getting back into anything like it. I had fallen in love with freedom and had no desire to be re-institutionalized.
Yet, I knew early on that it could be different with him, that an honest, open relationship might be possible. He too was going through a divorce and had a young son. We went on dates to parks and playgrounds, talking while we pushed our boys on toddler swings.
In those early days, my guy made it clear that he liked marriage and wanted to do it again someday. So he wasn’t happy with my non-traditional offer. He took my desire to not marry him as a sign that he wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t love him. He suggested that I wasn’t considering his feelings in the matter. I assured him I was considering us both.
“You wouldn’t like me after a while,” I told him. “I’m not good wife material. I would end up hating myself and then hating you, because I would blame you for what marriage does to me.”
A few years later, when he was ready to move out of a nearby apartment, he again broached the topic of getting married and sharing a home. He loves oceans and lakes and longed to be near the water. I still loved the little town I lived in — and my opinion of marriage hadn’t changed. I suggested he move to the lake without me, though it was farther away. Together, we visited several properties until he found exactly what he wanted – a three-bedroom lakefront condo with a view of the sunset. It was a longer drive between our homes, but it was the right move for him. Not only did it take him somewhere that made him happy, it also brought him closer to his son’s primary home, which made it easier for him to be involved in his life.
Over time, my guy came to see how well our arrangement works. Our sons call each other brother and are close friends as adults. We celebrate every holiday and birthday and take family vacations at least twice a year. Still, it hasn’t been easy.
The distance and drive time pose their own challenges. But other people’s opinions have also caused me to doubt myself. To some, our decision to not get married seems wrong. Neighbors have shunned me. One close relative took more than ten years to accept our choice and allow us to stay together in her home. Even some of our more open-minded friends and family members are puzzled by our arrangement. But my sweetheart and I have stood firm. Why fix something that’s not broken?
Then, not long ago, two of our closest friends got married after many years together. They, too, had been divorced before finding each other. The wedding was uniquely theirs and beautiful. Their marriage is warm, filled with shared experiences, humor, family, and love. It’s a gift to everyone who knows them.
In the whirl of candles, flowers, good wishes, and meaning, I found myself wishing for the same. My man and I need to make it public, I thought. Why can’t we announce to our family and friends what we have? We should make these promises, too. After the wedding was over, however, a sinking, anti-climactic sensation washed over me.
As we left the reception, I grew quiet. The car’s air conditioner blew tepid in the warmth and humidity of the Carolina summer. My guy reached across and took my hand. I turned to see his soothing silhouette in the gathering dusk. He squeezed my hand and said, “I love you that much, you know.”
I looked at him and realized that, yes, we will be together until death does us part. It’s as if we just woke up one day and the vows had been made. Maybe it happened when he stood at the hospital with my family after my mother had a stroke. Or maybe it happened when I traveled to Tennessee with him the day after his father died. Or maybe it happened much earlier. It’s hard to say.
There was no wedding, no registry, no rice. But there’s a sanctuary of comfort and stability when we’re together. And long ago, there was a proposal, to which we both eventually said, “yes.”
If there ever is a ceremony, I suppose we’ll be honoring something that’s already happened. Come to our party! We’re celebrating what has become of us.
Diana Mitchell is a writer in the Charlotte area whose work has appeared in regional literary journals. She recently retired from a corporate job and is still happily unmarried to her partner of 20 years.