In a nutshell – I wasn’t ready to get married, and then I was.
There are more details, of course. But it kind of comes down to that. I’m sure there are many other people who aren’t ready for different reasons, or who realize that marriage isn’t the right choice for them. So this is my specific experience, which is all I can offer.
Dustin and I have been best friends since we were twelve. That means we’ve spent more than half our lives together. We’ve had plenty of time to transition gracefully into each new life chapter. And yet, D transitions gracefully, and I don’t. I am an anxious person. I need to think everything out, I need contingency plans, I need time to adjust. In addition, I’m so stubbornly independent that it’s been a running joke in our family since I was a toddler.
Being in love with one person for well over a decade sounds like the opposite of independent, and I admit that I struggled with it. I wondered if we wouldn’t be better off separating for a while, if we were somehow damaging each other. I worried that I would never know if I were strong enough to be alone. But when it came down to it, I loved him. So we proceeded through high school and college. I drew lines, I insisted that we spend a certain amount of time apart and we’re both grateful for that now. We developed lives and interests that intersect happily but don’t completely overlap. We made friends, separately and together. We lived abroad separately and traveled together. We learned that we were happy apart and happier together and I felt less scared. Mostly.
The first time D mentioned marriage, it was completely offhand. I think we were watching Friends and one of the weddings happened and he said something musing about when we get married. I froze. I panicked. It’s not that I had decided I would never get married, it was just something I managed not to think about, ever. D, perceptive man that he is, carefully avoided bringing it up for several more years.
We moved in together and people made murmuring sounds about marriage. As in, why buy that food processor for yourself when you could just register? I bought myself a food processor and I took two months to move in full time. I had mild panic attacks. I was afraid we would have to spend every minute together, that we would hate each other, that I would never have any time to myself. Happily, it was not at all like that (although we were probably helped by the fact that D was in an incredibly demanding graduate program and I had the apartment to myself at least 2/3 of the time in the beginning).
We had a major family crisis and weathered it. Partly together, but I did a lot of it on my own. D was trying to finish out the hardest year in his master’s program. Having a really strong relationship was a godsend, because I was able to put it on the back-burner and still be able to count on it. It’s hard to explain how that helped, but knowing that we were okay, even if we didn’t see each other for a week at a time and we were both so tired we could barely speak, made a difference.
Dustin finished school. His health insurance ran out. I couldn’t put him on mine because we weren’t married. I thought about how logical it would be to get married at this point. About how much money it would save (I love being logical and saving money – win, win). We wouldn’t even have to make a big deal out of it or tell anyone. We could always get married for real later. And I couldn’t do it. I had a strong reaction to the idea of it, and I just didn’t want to do it.
That reaction finally made me realize that I wasn’t indifferent to marriage. That trepidation that I felt when I thought about it meant something and I had to listen to it. If I were indifferent, I could have knocked out that civil ceremony quietly and been okay with it, knowing that we were already committed to each other and that it didn’t have to be anything bigger until we wanted it to be. But for me, marriage wasn’t just big. It was enormous and I wasn’t ready.
I was waiting for something. I was waiting for me. I needed first and foremost to feel like I was enough of a person on my own. I needed to know that I was strong enough to not be married, before I was willing to get married. I needed marriage to be my choice. I needed to know that I was doing this very large thing because I wanted to do it, plain and simple.
And it slowly snuck up on me. The family crisis sucked, truly, but it also made me realize how strong I actually am, it reassured me that I can handle whatever needs to be done and I will not fall apart (except temporarily). For me, that was a huge relief. I stopped doubting myself (mostly). And then one day we were driving on what is quite possibly the least romantic stretch of the 405 and I felt like I had a balloon in my chest and I suddenly told him “I want to be married to you.” And that was it, really.*
When I realized that marrying Dustin was what I wanted, it felt amazing. It wasn’t about being practical, it wasn’t about making people feel better about our relationship, it wasn’t about the wedding, it wasn’t about wanting to be married in general. It was about wanting, quite viscerally, to be married to this specific person. It was a choice I made with complete free will and with no rational reason and that felt liberating.
For all of my anxiety and need for plans, I have a very healthy gut check system in place. And it goes like this – I think about the pros and cons, I make all the arrangements I can, I weigh everything. But if I’m presented with a really strong feeling, I just go with it. And choosing marriage was a total gut check moment. I don’t want to be married for any logical reason (although the health insurance will be nice). I want to be married to Dustin because I want to be married to Dustin. Because it feels important, because my gut tells me it’s right and I’m ready.
Transitioning through this decision process was incredibly meaningful to me, and I’m very much looking forward to the wedding, where we’ll have our decision publicly affirmed. And it makes my heart ache for my friends and loved ones who are denied some of that affirmation. Because while a domestic partnership might provide most of the same benefits, it is still a consolation prize of sorts. By definition, we are saying that marriage is too sacred and important for you but hey, you can have the trappings and just call it something different. Names are important, cultural associations are important. I would never deride the significance of civil unions, but it seems criminally unjust that we aren’t all offered the same options, the same validation of our choices.
* Except for a truly epic negotiation over the proposal and engagement, which took several months of time and nearly drove both of us crazy because we found out we had completely different ideas of what that would look like. But that is a different story.
Also: The reason Dustin’s feelings on marriage don’t factor into this is because I am writing about my experience, and also because we are completely different people. Dustin has essentially always known that he wanted to be married to me and he wasn’t fussed about when it happened, exactly.