What Can I Do About A Partner Who Isn’t Excited To Marry Me?

He just doesn't believe in marriage

Q: What do you do/how do you reconcile emotionally when your partner doesn’t actually believe in weddings or marriage as something meaningful? But they are still okay doing it just to please you?

My fiancé and I had talked circles for a long time about marriage and weddings. I come from a family where everyone gets married. It’s the ultimate pinnacle in my family to become a married person—specifically married female—and all our weddings have been huge affairs emotionally tied to being an adult. I’m the black sheep and didn’t get married before twenty-five. I’m almost thirty and my cousins before me who were past twenty-five before being married were teased mercilessly about their availability to marry whoever was left at church (I’m not joking). I’m the only non-religious person, and I’m just your all around non-feminine type who wrestles for fun and likes to be a girl-boss, so I do what I want and I waited to find the right person. I think weddings are important and marriage to me is sacred. I have participated in/planned/literally played the wedding march on the piano for fifty-plus cousins. I know weddings and have lived and breathed them for years and assumed someday someone would equally sweep me off my feet and marry me so hard.

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My fiancé comes from a family (just him and his dad and brother) where no one puts importance on being married, and marriage is not important really at all, nor does it define you as a person. In fact, I’d go as far to say they would argue that people get married because the media tells you that you have to.

You can see the contrast here. What I’m having a hard time with is my fiancé agreeing to marry me and have a wedding only to please me. He definitely does want to be married to me—he’s really into that. We think legality is important because, you know, child-bearing and medical reasons so if I die, he gets my stuff (morbid, but it’s a real thing). We know we don’t want to be with anyone else for this walk of life we’re on. I know in my heart I won’t move along if that wedding doesn’t happen—he’s my other half always from here on out and I know it. But in my heart of hearts, I still long for him to feel compelled to want to declare his love for me in front of everyone while I wear that big poufy white dress I always dreamed of and yell from the mountain tops that HE MARRIED ME. But he will never actually do this or think this because he just honestly doesn’t believe in weddings as a thing, or marriage as something you need to have to be with someone forever. He’s willing to go through a wedding process that I’m altering to be a small ceremony that is private so he’s more comfortable and a reception a few days later because he doesn’t want to be in front of people. Ouch to me on that front, but I’m trying to compromise to get what I want because I have emotional needs. I feel like his heart won’t be in it though overall, so I feel uncomfortable going through something that he just doesn’t believe in and I end up back at square one, wallowing in my misery that I’ll never get what I wanted—so it’s pointless to even do a wedding or go through with an actual marriage ceremony, so let’s just sign a paper at the courthouse and move on with our lives and I’ll just be sad. Defeatist, but it’s how it feels.

One friend said it should be good enough he said he wants to be married to me, and if he’s willing to go through something he doesn’t necessarily believe in, that he’s doing it out of love and I should take that and run with it. I’m just so worried for how to plan anything meaningful—especially after reading Meg’s book and suddenly feeling terrified nothing will be meaningful if his heart isn’t into it. I just need advice now so I can move on with either planning the dang thing or not doing it if it isn’t meaningful.

—Kate

A: Dear Kate,

What is it about marriage that excites you? What are you most looking forward to?

We all do stuff we don’t enjoy because our partner wants to. There’s nothing wrong with it (within boundaries). It’s healthy and generous, and even if the activity itself isn’t your favorite, it can be fun to see your partner take enjoyment in it. I can’t tell a Star Trek from a Star War, but I took my husband to The Last Jedi, and he was so pumped, it almost made me excited to be there, too (almost). Sometimes you have sex when you’re not totally in the mood for it, just because your partner is, and okay, fine, I can pause Atlanta or put it on mute for a sec and get it on. It happens. It’s normal.

But sometimes, there’s something that you want to do, and a part of what you’re looking forward to is the mutual enjoyment of it. You don’t want to try the new Vietnamese place with someone who doesn’t like Vietnamese food, just sitting there watching you ladle pho into your face. Sometimes you don’t just want sex; you want sex that you’re both into. You don’t just want to watch a movie; you want to be able to glance across the couch and crack up together over a joke. You don’t just want to do the thing; you want to have a partner who is there enjoying doing the thing with you. Your shared enjoyment is what you’re after, even more than whatever activity itself.

If, when you think about marriage, you most look forward to that shared excitement over it? It won’t be resolved by changing the type of wedding you have or consoling yourself with, “Well, at least he’s doing it.”

Loads of times you’ll face a situation that’s less than ideal. You’ll have to decide, “Okay, it’s not going to be a hundred percent what I had in mind… so what’s the very best that I can make of this?” For you, that second-best option might mean your very tiny wedding that’s light on the details, but will ultimately gain its own special meaning, if only when you look back on it.

Or it might mean finding someone who’s just as excited about marriage as you are.

Can you still have fun with a tag-along who’s just game to be there? Or are you looking for someone to really savor this with you? I can’t give you the answer, but it’s a question worth asking.

(PS: You’re only thirty. Don’t let your family culture warp your expectations. You still have pleeenty of time.)

Liz Moorhead

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