Ask Team Practical: Refusing to Marry

My lover, my best friend, and my partner won’t marry me. According to our cultural narrative, and most of my friends and family, he won’t marry me because:

(a) he’s just not that into me;

(b) he has some growing up to do;

(c) I nag him too much about it;

(d) all of the above.

Actually, he won’t marry me because he thinks it’s a flawed institution and a meaningless tradition. And furthermore, every day he declares his commitment to me by our life together, by making our decisions big and small as a team, by our complete honesty with each other. By making me tea when I don’t want to get out of bed, he shows me his love. What does making one vow in one day mean in comparison to years of partnership?

I don’t totally understand his position. Flawed institution yes, but we can make it what we want; we can create meaningfulness in our wedding and more importantly, in our marriage. He listens to me when I try to explain the contradiction of being feminist yet desperately wanting to have the same family name (mine or his, I don’t care) particularly before we have children; but it still makes no sense to him.

More and more often, I find myself defending him and our relationship to well-meaning friends and family, arguing something that neither my heart nor my head is behind. Perhaps I’m even starting to believe it; I certainly respect his opinion on it, it’s no better and no worse than mine, although so very different. Sometimes it feels like being upset about it is tantamount to throwing a selfish tantrum as I haven’t got my way—I’m emotionally blackmailing him to change his opinion for me, and in the process of that blatantly disregarding his well-formed and educated opinion on an important matter. But couldn’t I argue he’s ignoring my opinion? How do we compromise on this? And why am I reading this blog, anyway?

My mother says it doesn’t matter we’re not married, as they (her and my dad) consider us already married—so stop crying, stop being upset. Whilst this casually brushes aside the hurt I feel at not being the wife of one I love so much, and the unsaid sentiment relates directly to argument (c) above, I try to take comfort in his arguments, remembering that, for everything but a mere piece of paper, he is my husband and I am his wife—and my mother is, really, just trying to be supportive in her own flawed way. But it is so hard not to be angry with her for her carelessness.

So, APW. How do you decide that it’s okay not to be married?



Dear Anonymous,

Well, you don’t.

Not to say that no one does.  I mean, all the time, couples decide that marriage isn’t for them, and they contentedly go on to enjoy non-married-ness together, happily ever after. But, they decide that together.

This might seem contradictory coming from the girl who spent last week championing compromise, but there are some decisions that are too big for resignation, for compromising, for, “Whatever you say, babe.” Asking me how to make you feel comfortable with a decision that just isn’t? That’s something I can’t do for you. I’d say the same to a couple who disagreed on whether or not they were ever going to have kids, or to someone whose partner wanted to devote her life to being a missionary overseas. Encouraging someone to suck it up for one or two years at an awful job or in a crappy location is a completely different animal. The big, giant, forever decisions have a special place apart from the “just for now” ones.

Your concern about nagging is understandable, of course, considering that’s the dominant cultural narrative. I have to check myself on that one all the time. But, don’t let anyone fool you. Nagging is a very specific kind of thing. Nagging is that thing you do when someone has told you something is going to happen, and you keep pestering them about it until it does, rather than shutting your mouth and holding your pants on because I SAID I’d get to the dishes IN A MINUTE. It’s taking an issue that’s already been resolved and rehashing it, over and over and over. Nagging is beating a dead horse. But, based on just your email, I’m thinking this issue isn’t resolved and Seabiscuit is still alive and kicking.

So I’ll tell you what isn’t nagging. You and your partner discussing your future? Not nagging. You, knowing that your partner has already made a decision about something, requesting an explanation and conversation? Not nagging. Taking a situation on which you disagree (that impacts both of your lives pretty drastically) out onto the table again? Not nagging.

Knowing his stance on the matter doesn’t mean there’s no longer room for discussion. If anything, babe, that’s all you’ve got room for: loads and loads of discussing. Putting a dream on the backburner, delaying a goal, compromising on what to do for a certain space of time is normal and fair. Determining the destination of your future based on one person’s opinion is not. Resolution may not look like getting your own way (sorry if I’m bursting a bubble there) but it should at least amount to processing why this is important to you, why the converse is important to him, and both of you feeling honest-to-God heard about the whole thing. The fact that he’s still calling marriage a “meaningless tradition” says to me that he hasn’t entirely digested the fact that it’s meaningful to you, and should be meaningful to him as a result (if only for the duration of a few conversations). Finding value in your opinion doesn’t mean he has to agree or honor it, but he has to at least respect it enough to talk about it until you feel comfortable with what’s happening (or not happening, as the case may be).

So, maybe you’re yelling at your computer screen, “But LIZ. We have talked, and we’re getting nowhere, dummy. Why else would I email you?” Then go see a counselor. Seriously. When the conversation is getting redundant, it really helps to have someone there mediating, making sure that you’re both heard, and ensuring that you’re gaining ground, rather than just regurgitating the same old explanations over and over.

I get the sense that your proud feminism makes you hesitant to push for marriage. Maybe you feel you’re slipping into that old trope of the pushy, clingy girlfriend. Hey, feminism doesn’t determine that marriage isn’t important. But it does mean that your opinion is—whether for or against marriage, or kids, or crock-pots, or tradition. It means that you both have valid thoughts regardless of gender, and particularly when those thoughts impact the course of your life.

You say you guys make decisions big and small together. Well this one is BIG, majorly big. And deciding on it together plays out with you both explaining and listening until you both feel your opinions are heard, respected, and yeah, considered. It may even play out in a counselor’s office. Really, it could look a bunch of different ways, depending. But I know for sure that it doesn’t mean one person decides something isn’t a big deal while the other person muffles sobs and tries to resign herself. And while you’re doing this deciding together, it may be worth it to do some individual deciding, too. Is to-marry-or-not a big enough disagreement that it could be a deal breaker? Which is more in line with your other life goals and expectations—the commitment of marriage, or staying with him? I can’t give you the answer. That right there is a really personal choice.

So, no. No no no. Unfortunately, I can’t help you figure out how to resign yourself to such a large decision. But the truth is? People who have divergent opinions on the really big things often find a way to struggle and wrestle and discuss their way to some sort of resolution. But that struggling, wrestling, and discussing is a really crucial step and can’t be passed over for the sake of avoiding being pushy or maintaining harmony. While it may not mean that you’ll get married in the end, working through this big, hard stuff together will be good for your relationship, no matter its status.


Team Practical, have you and your partner ever disagreed on the really big things? How did you navigate these discussions? Were you able to find a resolution?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • Edelweiss

    I just want to send you a hug, Anonymous. Liz’s advice is spot on.

    And, because you may need a pep talk – sharing a name and being officially declared a family can be a beautiful thing. But wherever you end up on this – with your partner but not married, choosing independence over no marriage, or married – you can still find peace and beauty in your final choice, even if it’s feeling a bit like a no win situation now. Wherever you end up, it will have taken you a lot of courage to get there – so sending you oodles of good luck and strength!

    • meg

      And also, because you know I always say it: you can officially be declared a family, and be a family, and feel like a family without all having the same name. So that could totally be a point of compromise at some point, maybe.

      • You could also change your name without the ceremony – it’ll probably cost you, but it can be done.

  • Katie*

    This is extremely close to my own situation, except he has agreed to marry me because he knows how I feel about it. This in turn makes me feel like I am forcing him to get married, which gives me gilt! It is a tricky compromise no master what.

    • Sam

      I’m in the same place, but with kids. And he did agree after A LOT of talking about it, to have them. And just like you, I feel guilty that maybe I ‘forced’ him into it. Or that maybe he will feel resentful down the road. Or that he might not be as great a dad as he could b/c he didn’t want it for himself, but for me.

      With these big decisions where there really isn’t much of a compromise (we are or aren’t married. we do or do not have kids.) there is a really big gulf somebody has to travel. And it’s scary. Really scary.

      • Copper

        I hate, hate, hate, the “forced him into it” narrative. It’s just one more tool for insecurity to hang around for the longterm. And frankly it makes the men we say that about into victims of our desires. And I’ll bet that you ladies don’t think of your guys as victims, but as awesome strong people. So even though they may have travelled that distance (literal or metaphorical) for you, they made the choice to do so.

      • Jen

        my dad (who died when I was in grade 4) was the most wonderful, thoughtful, loving, attentive parent…and my mom told me that it took him a LONG time to decide to have kids. Apparently he didn’t think he would be a good father, so it took him a while to come around…and when he finally did he ended up being an AMAZING parent…he even stayed home with me for a whole year (when my mom’s maternity leave was up!).

        Just because you feel your man is doing it “for you”, doesn’t mean that there will be a negative (or even less positive) outcome in the end – he could end up taking to it and loving it.

    • It’s interesting how society shames women one way or the other. Either there’s a problem because the guy isn’t marrying you, or there is a problem because you talked to the guy about how much marriage means to you. The only way it seems you can avoid guilt is to be passive and agree to do what he wants to do on his terms- which honestly isn’t good for either of you.

  • Shiri

    Oof. This is such a hard one. I think Liz has it right, that even if he doesn’t want to take part in the institution of marriage, he needs to listen to you and understand why you do, and both of you need to find a way to see if both your needs can be met at the same time. And if not, counseling. And if not after that? I don’t know, and my heart hurts for you, and I wish you much, much strength.

    And, on a different note, I can totally see why what your mom is saying feels awful. I wonder if he has a different thing he calls himself in relation to you, too. If he’s replaced “boyfriend” with “partner”, “lifemate”, or “spouse” – something that has the emotional meaning to him that husband does to you.

    • “both of you need to find a way to see if both your needs can be met at the same time.”

      Definitely. This is what partnership is all about, right?

  • I’ve written about this here before, but you have a right to have a SAY in your future, not just to be told how it’s gonna be. I really struggled to bring up these topics with my boyfriend, but then I realized that it was the cultural narrative getting in my head. When I broke it down I realized, of COURSE we need to make this decision together.

    One thing that was helpful for me during these kinds of conversations was figuring out why I wanted to get married. While marriage might be a flawed institution, there are a lot of legal and social benefits, and those were really important to me. By asking you to just know that he loves you through the wonderful things he does without the official commitment, he’s also asking you to take a significant risk, something he may not have considered before. There might be other things you want out of marriage that he hasn’t really considered as well. So…I think it’s fair to ask him to consider them! Knowing where I was coming from first, asking him to dig deep and figure out where he was coming from, and then working through it together over the course of several conversations was what worked for us.

    • PS This? “What does making one vow in one day mean in comparison to years of partnership?” Well, aside from social benefits (like it or not — and I don’t — “husband” does carry more weight than “boyfriend” in a number of situations), it means legal protection. Marriage may have its flaws, but it’s also a way to protect each other and that protection goes far beyond one day. If you do decide you’re OK with not being married, maybe give some thought to how you can protect yourself financially in the long run should things ever go badly.

      • Martha

        It also gives you and your spouse legal rights should one of you have health problems. With all of the health regulations and what not – legally having rights to those decisions and such is benefit I think heterosexual couples (i.e. those legally allowed to marry) take for granted.

        • Shiri

          It also happens to be what you want and need and you don’t need a reason for why you need and want it. You do need it, and that is valid and should be treated that way.

          ETA: This is not to say that understanding your reasons won’t make the discussions with him easier, but it’s also important for you to know that your needs are valid.

        • This! A few years ago, my partner needed brain surgery and his family was across the country. We went in armed with a medical power of attorney, and everything turned out okay, but it was a Catholic hospital in a red state and we read like a lesbian couple at first glance (he’s trans) and we were TERRIFIED that they were going to refuse to let me in to be with him, because the ICU and the wing he was recovering in had strict rules about visitors and technically I was a “legal stranger.” (They were amazing to us and I can’t say enough good things about them!) We’ve since moved to Washington, and we got married as soon as it was possible, in part because we didn’t want to have to depend on the kindness of strangers to make sure we could be together if something else happened. Marriage may have some flaws, but it also comes with a lot of legal protections.

        • Diane

          Also, having spent a lot of time working in hospitals and being involved in helping families make decisions when a loved one isn’t able to, it is so much easier when the person the patient has spent the most time with is the person who legally assumes that decision-making role. Some of the most tiring, heartbreaking cases we see aren’t the ones in which the medicine goes badly, they’re the ones where families splinter and fight. If you don’t marry but you do play this role in each other’s lives, make sure that you have the legal documentation on file with your primary care doctor and that you each have copies in a safe, accessible place.

      • Sarah

        And it’s not just financial protection, but also issues such as being each other’s next of kin. I would be okay with not being “married”, but the idea that if something terrible happened to me, he wouldn’t be the one making the decisions (and vice versa) is scary.

      • Yes, this, so much. Well said, Rachel

        While I absolutely agree with Shiri’s response that, if it’s a need, that need should be heard for what it is, the arguments of legal protection, monetary and social benefits cannot be dismissed here. In the US, we live in a society that favors married couples over couples who choose not to marry or cannot marry.

      • meg

        YES! This is what I wanted to bring up. If you decide to spend your lives together, and not legally get married, you are going to need to devote some serious leg work and even more serious financial resources to legally protecting yourselves. One of the reasons the fight for marriage equality is such a big deal is, no matter how you feel about the historic or social insituation of marriage, it’s a basically free, hugely comprehensive contract, giving you rights that range from financial, to paternal/ maternal, to inheritance, to tax, to next of kin, to divorce (as discussed yesterday). If you have to pay to write each of those contracts separately, it’s expansive, and there will be gaping holes (hey hey tax code). And if your partner isn’t willing to go those many extra miles to legally protect you, than as far as I’m concerned, THAT’S the dealbreaking issue.

        Also worth throwing out there. In some states a non-married by choice straight couple can have even less protection than a non-married gay couple, oddly. Before we got hitched, we researched becoming domestic partners in CA. Interestingly, we couldn’t. You had to be 1) Same Sex, or 2) Over 62 years of age. So if we’d chosen not to marry, we wouldn’t have even had that short cut on the table, which would have meant a lifetime of employment for a lawyer, basically.

        • Not Sarah

          Interestingly enough, Referendum 74 in Washington state made it so that domestic partnership is now only available if you are over 62. My employer at least allows domestic partnership benefits to couples of same-sex and opposite-sex pairings, so you don’t have to get married to have health insurance (just live together).

        • Anonymous

          My partner and I are married now, but before that we knew each other for over a decade, dated for the better part of it, and lived together for 7+ years. It was such a heartache for me that, even in California, I could be supporting him through grad school, living with him for 7+ years, yet I couldn’t receive medical benefits on his plan. In fact, it’s likely in the top 3 of the things that changed my mind about wanting marriage for myself in the first place.

          After we married, he was quitting the job that allowed him benefits and we were taking an extended trip overseas. Basically this translated to me spending the greater part of my twenties without medical insurance, resentment toward healthcare policy in the U.S., and resentment toward my partner. In fact, because of the turmoil this created, I would say it also (ironically enough) was a large part of what further delayed us from getting married.

          It literally brings me to tears to think of ALL of the couples who are forced to rush the process, endure the heartache, or otherwise prioritize this type of criteria when evaluating the decision of a lifetime commitment to another person.

          Now, he has a new job that will soon be granting both of us benefits, which after such a long span of being deprived of the right to be on his plan (not to mention so many needless fights and tears), makes it something I WILL NEVER TAKE FOR GRANTED.

          In my pre-married status, I felt so conflicted when evaluating the institution of marriage — almost like a sell-out who saw its flawed nature (in promoting things like unrealistic ideals or exclusivity), but was “bought out” by the incentives.

          Today, I still realize the power of my choices as an individual, but I also realize that it is possible to make choices and statements that are both powerful and empowering. For example, in choosing to get married, I no longer feel I was doing a disservice to my gay friends or abandoning that community; rather, in my careful evaluations and experience of it, I came closer to understanding why it was such an important battle for everyone. Even if this isn’t the specific reason that the partner of Anonymous is also a skeptic, I think the conversations generated (in whatever process – or decision – two individuals experience) can be both painful and priceless.

          • Anonymous

            In addition to my previous comment:

            Since it wasn’t mentioned or clarified in the post, perhaps separating the conversation into two parts — the ceremony and the legalities — might make the discussion easier. At the very least, it can help simplify what matters most to each individual and why, and it might just make an otherwise impossible compromise — to marry or not — seem more approachable when you break it up into parts (to have a ceremony or not, and if so, publicly or privately? to sign a paper, and if so, publicly or privately? etc.)

            Lastly, (coming from someone who was unwilling to pay insurance companies out-of-pocket) — a good counselor is ALWAYS well worth the money!!!

    • Right on, Rachel. I think if the word “marriage” is clouding your personal decision with all these social/cultural meanings, breaking it down into its component parts is a great way to dig in to what you really need from your partnership.

      I’d be interested to hear both of your perspectives (Anon & partner) on how your personal decision to become “legally committed” is affected by society. There’s no one answer, I’m sure, but to actually confront the question “What the fuck does society have to do with our personal choice?” Maybe a lot, maybe not so much. And to branch off from that even: “What does our personal choice have to do with society?”

      See if you can create your own term, your own next step. How else could you take your relationship and your commitment to the next level? Relationship counseling is a good start.

      Plus, to me, a wrench in this whole question is that “doing nothing” or maintaining status quo- for however long it takes to make this decision conclusively- is essentially your partner getting his preferred outcome, rather than that outcome being a result of discussion and resolution. Which sucks, and I don’t have anything but hugs for that.

  • Moe

    I feel you, I really do. Liz sums it up really well:

    “Encouraging someone to suck it up for one or two years at an awful job or in a crappy location is a completely different animal. The big, giant, forever decisions have a special place apart from the “just for now” ones. “So is this (not getting married) a ‘deal breaker’ for you? This simple question has some really profound reprecussions.

    If it is, you have to make some hard decisions. But if after some thoughtful honest reflection you are at peace with the idea of remaining committed and not getting married then that’s great too, you’ll have other challenges perhaps. Undoubtedly the culture we live in will have some difficulty accepting this, but stand your ground.

    Your partner has told you his position. One of the most valuable lessons I leanred from an ex was when he told me “Men tell women what they want and don’t want, sometimes they just refuse to hear it.”

  • 39bride

    Liz, I just have to say: You are amazing. I read the question and instantly knew what I thought the answer should be (the points that needed to be made), but couldn’t imagine how to say it as compassionately, wisely and deftly as you then proceeded to do. Bravo!

    • Elemjay

      Exactly – Liz this is a SENSATIONAL answer to a really tough question. Thank you!

      Dear OP – hope you make progress on sorting this one out. It is I suspect quite a common dilemma and not many easy answers….

      • At the risk of being redundant, I cannot agree more. This is not easy advice to give and it was impeccable.

    • Liz

      Very kind. :) Thanks.

    • meg

      Liz is basically a rockstar, I think. I mean, a feminist advice giving rockstar obvs, which is cooler than an actual rockstar.

  • Lauren

    Counseling, counseling, counseling!

    Liz’s advice to go when it gets redundant is RIGHT. ON. The fiance (said in Holly-Hunter-in-Raising-Arizona voice) and I are going to our first counseling appointment today and I am BEYOND excited. And I get the feeling that’s not an uncommon reaction.

  • He can disagree with the institution of marriage all he wants but if he knows it’s important to you he should at the very least be considering it. There was a post here recently on the meaning of marriage ( ) that helped me when I was trying to figure out why this silly ceremony was so important to me and why I had shed so many tears over it.
    Regardless of our commitment to each other, getting married for me defines us as a family in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the world. Your mother may consider you married but the law doesn’t and that denies you both the legal rights bestowed upon a spouse.
    And the guys at the club don’t consider you family either. You might not go clubbing but just as an example, I’ve found they will pursue you relentlessly even if you tell them you have a boyfriend. Slap a ring on your finger and call them a fiance/husband and suddenly they disappear.
    All silliness aside, I agree with Liz that you aren’t beating a dead horse. Your partner needs to consider your needs and feelings. There are two people in a relationship, not one. Good luck to you!

    • KB

      “He can disagree with the institution of marriage all he wants but if he knows it’s important to you he should at the very least be considering it.”

      THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS. If you can articulate why getting married is important to you beyond the shoulds, cultural expectations, and basic nonsense – then it is imperative that he understands that.

      Also, if he is still not willing to get married, he needs to be willing and able to fulfill those needs in an alternative way – for example, buying property with you, supporting you changing your name (or changing his name!), having a commitment ceremony or even becoming domestic partners, executing legal documents for insurance, wills, and testaments, reassuring you explicitly and implicitly (tea included, obviously!) of your permanent and special place in his life, mapping out and following through with future plans, etc. I totally agree that this has the potential to be a deal-breaker, but there also can be a “third” option if you look at why you really want/need to get married and can you achieve those needs outside of the institution. And if the answer is no, you need to come to terms with it with professional help, like Liz suggested, or be willing to walk away and find someone who CAN give you those things.

      • Kate

        THIS! Reading through the comments, I thought, “Hmm, will he make other life commitments, like joint property ownership, children, and so on? Or not?” If it’s the marraige tradition that’s the issue, that’s one thing. Marriage is steeped in all kinds of icky, baggage-ey things, but it also has lots of beautiful, sentimental, and like others have said, legal value.

        My story in brief- My ex and I were together for 3 1/2 years and he refused to discuss or consider marriage, but also insisted that he would never have children and did not want to purchase a house with me, either. Besides these disagreements, he also was showing me that he didn’t value me in other, smaller, daily ways. This combination eventually resulted in our splitting up.

        I say this because you are saying this person is caring for you and committed in every other way, and it’s the marriage aspect that seems to be the sticking point.

        My now fiance and I were living together while we went through a combination of very difficult life events that made marriage in impossibility for a long, no-end-in-sight period of time. My very Catholic, but also very progressive Gram told me that “It doesn’t matter, you’re already married in your hearts and God knows that”. It DID matter to me, but that got me through until things settled down.

  • Ari

    You mention kids in your letter, and while I think focusing on the meaning and emotional content of marriage is important, you might want to go over the practical advantages and disadvantages of having kids in a married or unmarried state (I have two kids and am unmarried but partnered, and it definitely makes a difference for us).

    Power to make medical decisions and to visit your partner in the hospital are also things to think about–there’s just a lot of stuff that’s folded into the civil institution of marriage that it’s good to have alternate plans for if you end up not going that route.

    But mostly, Liz is right, right, right. Counseling is an especially good idea–there’s this stigma that it’s for broken times and dire straights, but it’s really such a good tool for people who love each other and want to be kind, and have big things to sort out.

    Wishing the very best for you and your partner.

  • rys

    Heck, I read this blog and I’m single, so there’s no reason to worry about that!

    More seriously, however, I’m wondering if there is a compromise of sorts in here. A friend of mine started dated a guy who, after his divorce, decided he never wanted to be married again. She wasn’t resolutely in favor of marriage but also didn’t hold his objections either, and wanted something that signaled their commitment. Their solution was to sign domestic partnership papers — which they could do in NY — but not have a wedding or public celebration. They don’t share a name, but they have committed to one another in a legal way and they’re having a baby, which ultimately was enough for my friend. This might not work for you, but I wonder whether asking your boyfriend how he feels about legal domestic partnership would sufficiently reframe the conversation to move forward, even if just a 1/2 inch.

    • Katherine

      My FH & I have been in a domestic partnership for a few years now in NY, basically because he is a cancer survivor and I would NOT let us pass up the opportunity to put him on the kickass health insurance my job provides, because I’m still in a way terrified of the cancer returning someday. And it was a way of us “officially” stating to the world that although we weren’t ready for marriage yet, we wanted to be together permanently. Now we’re engaged & getting married next year, but for some reason, that little domestic partnership certificate still means something to me.

      OP, definitely look into this if it sounds like it might work for you. And good luck :-)

      • Yes! Not every state has domestic partnerships (I think, or at least, not with the same benefits) but I have friends who have been domestic partners for years.

    • meg

      As I noted above, it varies by state. In CA straight couples under 62 have to get married, domestic partnership isn’t legally available to them.

      Which is it’s own kind of crazy, right?

      • MDBethann

        I’m wondering if they did that to allow retirees access to the pensions/Social Security of deceased spouses which they might lose if they remarry, but they wouldn’t lose if they’re in a domestic partnership? Great for the retirees but not for other straight couples who want domestic partnership benefits.

        • meg

          Correct. That’s why it’s done. It’s also helpful if you want your kids, not your late in life spouse, to inherit, I believe.

      • ItsyBitsy

        It really is. Growing up elsewhere, I absolutely couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I can’t add my now-fiance on my insurance in CA. The poor HR woman at work had to listen to repetitive question after question, “Are you sure? There’s no way at all? But why not?” (Side note: She was an angel and never once showed any frustration with me, though I would not let it go.)

  • I am sure you have explained these and their importance to your boyfriend, but just in case… Flawed institution though it may be, marriage provides a layer of protection to couples. Joint taxes, medical decisions, health care, social security, death benefits, custody of children. These things are important! It’s funny how much of a champion of marriage I have become since discovering how much DOMA takes away from mine.

    Have a courthouse ceremony and don’t tell anyone if you want, but the legal connection is so important.

  • californienne

    This part hit close to home: “More and more often, I find myself defending him and our relationship to well-meaning friends and family, arguing something that neither my heart nor my head is behind.”

    As friends who had met after my partner and I did (in some cases A LONG TIME after) began getting married, and we remained not only not married but not engaged, I found myself in a similar situation–defending our non-engaged status in public while “nagging” my SO about what we were waiting for in private. It was incredibly painful, and at times I wondered if we were at an impasse we couldn’t find a way out of. In the end, being with him was more important than being married, though so I did my best to be patient (and I should note he was always much more indifferent to marriage than anti-marriage). Now, after 7 years together, and 4 months away from our wedding, it is clear that while I am really excited for our wedding, in a lot of ways, it feels like a sideshow to the committed life we’ve been living for a long time. I can’t say for sure yet whether being married will make us feel any different, but I can say I’m excited to have this wedding behind us, along with the worry of labels, and to getting back to just being us again.

    • I feel like being put in the position of defending something you don’t really agree with is one of the most embarrassing, painful parts of this kind of situation. I basically told my now-fiance that if it ever came up when we were out and around people wasn’t comfortable being totally honest with, it was on him to answer that one.

      • californienne

        I did the same when I realized that while I was feeling inundated by this question (from friends, coworkers, family, near-strangers) no one ever asked him. He didn’t have it on his radar because no one but me was putting it there. The couple of times he did address it when asked in front of me, he handled it well and actually made me more confident that our commitment to one another was genuine and that one day we would get married.

      • Exactly this. He had no idea that people were bothering me about our non-engaged status, and was surprised when I finally broke down one night in tears. We had a long talk, and I thought he understood where I was coming from. True understanding didn’t happen until 6 months later when one of my friends asked him about it. I’ll never forget how he looked, and afterwards he told me he never realized how stressful answering that question must be for me.

        • Staria

          Ladies, thank you, I was googling this very question yesterday and wondering if I can bring it up in counselling next week (original letter writer – DEFINITELY go to counselling – it may not bring resolution or end the arguments but it will help you and your man see that you have to BOTH be ok with the decision and make it together, I have started going to couples counselling with my partner for this very reason, because we were having the same repeating arguments about marriage and kids).

          I’ve also been suffering this – defending my relationship to people who want to know WHY we aren’t moving in together yet (been together a year, he is afraid to move in with anyone ever after a bad previous experience), why we are still discussing whether we will get married and have kids or not. When the reason is ‘he isn’t ready/doesn’t want to and I am trying to show him how important this is to me’. It is truly stressful and makes me cry and I am trying to think of a way to bring this up. They just don’t ask the guys do they??? They always ask you. Yet if I bring this up to him I feel like the reaction will be ‘is what other people think more important than what we have’, ugh.

          I feel like an idiot even explaining this to you lovely ladies and you all know where I’m coming from!! Does it help if I also explain he is the most wonderful guy ever and truly supportive in so many ways?? geez.

          Also for the LW, have you considered asking him why NOT being married is so important to him? I think this is part of my lovely guy’s deal as well. They like to profess that marriage isn’t important to them (mine says ‘I don’t want the government in my relationship’). But if it truly weren’t important to them – if they didn’t care – they would say ‘Sure darling, let’s get married if that’s what you want’. Like when you are ordering takeaway and they like both Indian and Turkish but you don’t like Indian… or a more serious example… you could move to two places, he thinks both are ok, whatever, but you like the one that is close to your family and hate the one that is close to the city. In this case, I honestly think some guys (some women as well?) have not asked themselves honestly why :not: being married feels better to them.

          • Samantha

            You’ve been together for one year! Tell everyone to hold their horses; we’ve all got our own pace.

          • Staria

            That isn’t very useful or sympathetic advice.

  • Heather

    I was with a guy who wouldn’t marry me for all those same reasons for 8 years. He loved me and cared for me and took very very good care of me. BUT, two years after we split he found himself engaged to another woman. Maybe she had the right argument?, maybe I wasn’t the one?, who knows. All I know is it wasn’t ok with me. (FWIW, we had other issues too, mostly along the lines of me never feeling heard or respected, but this was big one).

    I agree with the advice above. You need to find out why it is so important to him and he needs to understand why it’s so important to you and then maybe you can come to terms with the end result.

  • Nicole Marie

    Some commenters have made great points about figuring out what exactly you want out of marriage (legal protection, financial benefits, being socially recognized as a permanent unit, etc.), and great suggestions for possible compromises, but I think first it is equally important to really delve into the reasons why your partner is so averse to marriage. You’ve clearly done this to some extent already, but since you said you don’t fully understand his position, it might be worth revisiting.

    Yes, marriage is most certainly a flawed institution, but isn’t…well pretty much everything in life flawed in SOME way? If all we could see in life are the cracks and faults, it makes it hard to find joy and beauty in anything. Fortunately, marriage is not a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it deal. You can choose what “marriage” and “wedding” mean to you and your partner within the context of your own relationship (or choose not to get married at all). That’s why on this site we see everything from quiet elopements with no guests to huge parties with hundreds of guests, religious ceremonies, secular ceremonies, dance parties, backyard BBQs and everything in between.

    Marriage is a big word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Having a clear understanding of what you and your partner want it to mean (and equally important: what you DON’T want it to mean), may help you find some common ground.

  • Ditto to the comments about digging into WHY he doesn’t want to get married. I was that person in my last relationship and only after I ended things (and then suddenly realized marriage and babies actually sounded really nice) did I realize HE was the reason I “didn’t think marriage was necessary” and couldn’t understand what the point of getting married was. I didn’t know it then. But I wish I’d talked to a counselor about it sooner so I could have realized it was actually him that I didn’t want to marry. You never would have convinced me without the counseling, I was too invested in a bad relationship. I hope against hope that is not what’s happening here, I hope your BF is simply sticking to his guns about some personal belief or stance he can’t see around. But when one of you wants it, it does seem pretty pertinent to hash it all out one way or another.

  • I’ve been there, too. My partner was adamantly against the institution, and for good reasons. I couldn’t help but want, deep down, to get married.

    I tried not only to see things his way, but also agree. (Unmarried to Each Other by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller is a great resource.) But the more I researched–and the more I soul-searched– it became clearer and clearer that I wanted to get married.

    So, we called it quits (there were other issues, of course, but this was paramount).

    Years later, I’m married to someone who couldn’t wait to put that ring on my finger. And I’m not saying this will be (or should be) the case in your situation, but I am SO RELIEVED my ex wouldn’t marry me.

    Best of luck to you!

  • p.

    My sister had a similar experience as Anonymous. But in my sister’s case, my sister was the one who wasn’t ready to get married when her girlfriend wanted to get married. Years passed and they got married. But a few months after the wedding, they were in counseling, and six months later, they were divorcing. And the issue that kept coming up in counseling was that my sister’s ex was still upset that my sister wasn’t ready (or willing) to get married when she was.

    As Liz wisely points out, this issue is really important and worth the time and effort to work through. And working through it now may save your relationship down the road.

  • My advice to your boyfriend is this: marriage is only a flawed institution if you make it so. You don’t have your parents’ marriage or your sister’s marriage or your BFF’s marriage – you only have yours. Flaws exist and are managed by the two of you alone.

    Now, that said, there are lots of reasons someone might not want to get married, and just as many reasons why they want to. I’d encourage you to look at (and make a list! that always helps for me!) the reasons you, specifically, want to get married. Is it the public witness of your relationship? Is it financial? Is it because of health reasons (insurance, next of kin, etc)? Is it because you want to wake up with him every day until the day one or both of you shall die? It could be all of these reasons or a few of these reasons or reasons entirely different, but there are REASONS you want to get married. So find them, and tell him. Maybe you guys can come up with a solution, and maybe you can’t – but at least you’ve given him all of your thoughts on the matter.

    I wish you luck. More, I wish you joy.

  • Kess

    I really feel you on the question of nagging. My boyfriend isn’t exactly anti-marriage, but he just never saw the point of it, and said from the beginning that he would be willing to get married if it was important to his partner, but otherwise wouldn’t. So basically it left the onus on me to make it clear to him when I thought we were at a point where I wanted to get married (because it is very important to me).

    Now we’ve had all the discussions and agreed it’s going to happen, and we’re shopping for rings, but while I’m really excited I also find it hard to let go of the feeling that I just “nagged” him into it and for it to be a real proper engagement he should have somehow independently come to the conclusion that this was best for the both of us and surprised me with this huge step in our life. Rationally I know that’s just the cultural narrative that’s implanted itself in my brain, but there’s still a part of me that dreads answering the “so how did he propose?” question. I don’t know why we think it makes sense to carefully discuss all the decisions made as a couple but not the one that arguably has the biggest impact on your life!

    • Dash

      Not sure if this will make you feel better or not: I’m your boyfriend in this situation. I don’t see a strong independent need to marry my boyfriend of 8+ years. (Although I’d want to work out a legal domestic partnership and also have kids. I just don’t feel the need to be his WIFE to do those things.) I could see us having a Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell thing, no problem. I’m not opposed to marriage, but it’s just not something I feel I need right now. (And if I had felt that need on an independent basis, I probably would have proposed.) But what tips the scales for me is if/when my boyfriend has a preference. That’s the reason to do it. So when he asked me to marry him, I said “Yes,” even though I don’t particularly personally, independently, care one way or the other. (Man, this keeps sounding cold. You should have seen the rabbi we’re having officiate try to keep a straight face for this part.) But here’s the part that might make you feel better: I don’t think he nagged me into it in any way. (And luckily the gender narrative gets to go my way on this, but yeah.) It’s really just that I’m happy to make him happy in this way, because I love him, and of course I want to be with him forever and hopefully gestate our shared children etc., and since I could see myself being happy either way, I didn’t need to propose a change to the status quo. But it doesn’t mean I’m not happy and excited about the change.

  • kyley

    Liz, fantastic answer to a very difficult question!

    I think the key is that both of you have to uncover and express what needs and desires are involved in marrying and not marrying. Right now this seems like compromise is impossible: you will marry or you won’t and someone will win and someone will lose. But here’s the thing: if you can really uncover why it is so important to be married and he can uncover why, on an emotional, personally fulfilling level, it is important to be unmarried then you have managed to the stakes on the table. Now you have something to work with!

    Say marriage is important to you for the personal, spiritual declaration of commitment, and maybe making a political statement out of his personal life is really meaningful for him. Well then you can work towards a solution where both of those needs are respected and addressed! Maybe that looks like a commitment ceremony, a “marriage” without the paperwork. Dig a little more to find out what is under the marriage/no marriage issue, and then talk about all the different creative ways you can address the various needs and desires that surface. Depending on what you uncover, there really are compromises to be made here.

  • Anon Today

    One of my dearest friends has never been interested in marriage for herself. She was happily in my wedding and those of other friends, but she has not wanted to nor will she likely want to marry anyone, even her current guy, who she’s been with longer than the 4 years I’ve been with my husband.

    Around the time of my wedding, her partner started pressuring her about getting engaged and married (a mutual friend got engaged around that same time) and he really refuses to believe her that she doesn’t want to marry. Even though his first marriage did not go well or end well, he really wants to marry my friend.

    She has talked with me extensively about the situation, and while he’s backed off in the last several months, I know the issue isn’t fully resolved. I’ve repeatedly given her the same advice that Liz gave the OP – go to counseling together and talk it out with a “middle man” to make sure that they are really hearing one another, because I honestly don’t think they are. They need to figure out sooner rather than later if they can both be happy with the status quo of not being married; if they can’t be, then maybe this isn’t the right relationship for either one of them.

    At the same time, I also echo the advice of several other commenters. My friend’s partner is a cop, and I’ve told her that if she ever decides to move in with him (they currently live in separate towns because of their jobs) and get property together, I think it is important she legally protect herself by getting married (courthouse, minimal witnesses, don’t tell anyone, fine, just make sure she’s legally protected): house, Social Security, pension benefits, and being the one who gets to determine his medical care (he has a teenage son from his first marriage who would trump her as next-of-kin in all of these areas if they aren’t married and something happens to him). She also would love to be a self-employed craftswoman, so being married would get her on his health insurance (and then she could get out of the job she hates, which she’s mostly held onto because of the health insurance).

    Unless and until our society finds a way to convey those legal marriage protections outside of marriage, I will argue until my last breath in favor of marriage for anyone in a committed, long-term relationship as the best form of legal protection they can give themselves. And in my opinion (for what that’s worth), protecting yourself, your assets, achievements, and any children you have is about as feminist as you can get.

    • Class of 1980

      I agree.

      And I don’t see any reason why society needs to convey all the legal marriage protections outside of marriage. They just need to open up marriage to the LGBT community.

      The only historical point of marriage was for the legal protections.

      The law isn’t concerned with how you live your married life. It’s only concern is what legal ties bind people. Marriage is how you legally protect someone you love.

  • Darlene

    If having the same name is most important to you, why not try a compromise like legally changing both your names to the same thing without getting a marriage license? You could also have a commitment ceremony instead of a wedding. I agree with your partner, though probably for somewhat different reasons. I see marriage as a legacy of women being bought and sold as property and not having any rights. I would never change my name to my partner’s (although I might be open to creating a new one together) or allow myself to be called “Mrs” or “wife” as all those things bring too much patriarchal baggage, but I might consider legal marriage if I had a really great long-term boyfriend to whom it mattered for some concrete reason – be that financial, custody of a child from a prior relationship, or just concern about hospital visitation rights, inheritance, etc. As others have said… listen to the reasons he doesn’t want to get married. If you discuss both pros and cons you may be able to reach a compromise that works for both of you.

  • Beth C

    I’m not certain if my comment overlaps but my thoughts none-the-less.

    My partner and I had this discussion too, and it was hard to go back and forth between wanting it (and being scared that him not wanting it was a sign that he wasn’t 100% “in”) and my feminist values.

    I think you need to think about all the reasons you want to get married. The real reasons. And you need to really make sure you understand his reasons for not wanting to get married. Is it the legality of the tradition he doesn’t like? or the public declaration? or the cost? or the religious undertones? or something else?

    You say, “contradiction of being feminist yet desperately wanting to have the same family name (mine or his, I don’t care)” – is this your main thing? Because you can certainly negotiate on name without marriage or wedding.

    Once you know your own reasons – the most important ones only – and his, then negotiate. Maybe a ceremony just the two of you in the woods followed by a name change would help you feel the depth of his commitment without compromising to the “institution” that he hates? or maybe he would be happy to sign the legal documents at the courthouse as long as he doesn’t have to be part of the traditions of the ceremony/party/other stuff ?

    Good luck.

  • anonforthis

    I didn’t have time to read the comments (yet!) because I’m at work – so my apologies if this is redundant – but I wanted to comment before this thread becomes obsolete because a similar thing happened to me.

    One thing that made a big difference to my now-husband in the conversation about “why perpetuate a flawed and patriarchal institution” was the fact that legal marriage comes with real, legal benefits. We could call each other family all we wanted, but the bottom line was if one of us got sick or hurt or died, we WEREN’T family. When I explained to my partner that I really wanted us to be legally family he really got that – he doesn’t want his mother making decisions for him in the hospital, either!

    Then we talked about how to get that legal family part. Did we want a domestic partnership? Did we want a courthouse legal document signing with no ceremony? I was perfectly willing to let go of the traditional trappings of a traditional marriage/wedding, and I didn’t need it to be a religious ceremony or even a ceremony at all. In our case, once my partner decided he really did want to be married, we eventually evolved into wanting a regular old wedding — but that was just an ironic coincidence. The thing that really mattered was that I was able to articulate what was important to me (in my case, protection of our stated commitment under the law), and my partner was able to understand WHY that was important.

    To be honest, if he had just continued to refuse, I’m not sure we would have stayed together forever. Not because I don’t love him completely and not because I don’t believe he was truly committed – he was just as committed before we got legally married – but this was something that mattered to me, and it wasn’t something I could have given up forever. But part of our big conversations meant that my partner could really see and understand that this wasn’t something I could give up – and that factored into his willingness to change his mind. That’s not the same as “if he really loves you he’ll marry you” BS. It’s different but I don’t know how to explain why. If I had been reluctant to make my needs clear for fear of “nagging” him, I’m not sure he ever would have understood how important it was to me – and I might have ended the relationship unnecessarily.

  • Liz gave such an awesome response, I just want to give her major kudos.

    It’s hard for me to weigh in without considering my personal experience with this. I had a similar issue with my ex… we were together for six years, had lived together for three, yet he was still adamant that he didn’t understand what the point of getting married was, what was the rush, etc., etc. We definitely had a LOT of problems on top of that (he was not very respectful of me or my feelings in general), though. Looking back on it several years later, after marrying a man who was genuinely excited to marry me, I am so so so glad that I didn’t talk my ex into marrying me. Being outside of that situation has helped me to finally see what I didn’t want to see at the time: He wasn’t against getting married. He was against getting married *to me.*

    I really hope that’s not the situation with you guys! But I think it’s definitely worth some serious conversation and probably some counseling to figure out what’s at the bottom of this so you can make an educated decision. Because you don’t want to wind up resenting him years down the road, and you don’t want him to wind up resenting you either.

    Your needs/wants may not trump his, but his don’t trump yours either. You have reasons you want/need to be married, and if he has legitimate reasons for NOT wanting to be married (that aren’t harmful to your relationship) then you guys need to come up with a compromise so that BOTH your needs are met.

    Good luck!!!

  • LaLa

    “More and more often, I find myself defending him and our relationship to well-meaning friends and family, arguing something that neither my heart nor my head is behind.”

    This comment stands out (to me) and screams “I love my partner but I am absolutely not happy with this arrangement.”. I definitely think you guys need counseling because you need to stop defending and trying to rationalize his reasoning. There is nothing wrong with wanting or not wanting to get married, very much as there is nothing wrong with wanting or not wanting children. However when in a committed relationship, there comes a time where if one person wants and the other does not, compromise must happen and there are some issues that simply lack a middle ground.

    I was in a relationship with a someone who was adamantly opposed to having or adopting children, as in he thought people were idiots for choosing to become parents. Other issues drove us apart, but his daily belittling of people who choose to become parents created a rift that could not be fixed. In another relationship, the issue was marriage. He had been married and it hadn’t worked out because of infidelity (later on I discovered the infidelity had actually been on his end) and he would wax on about how awful she was for cheating on him and how he could never ever get married again because of this.

    Reflection on both of those relationship (as well as a few others) made me realize that pretending to be okay with something I was very much NOT okay with was a recipe for disaster and misery. Instead of wasting my time trying to convince myself that it was okay to never get married or have kids, I put that energy into deciding whether or not those things were important and making them deal breakers. When I started dating my husband I made it very clear that I wanted marriage and children in my future and if he was against both then we could part amicably. Fortunately he wanted both and we’ve since gotten married.

    Tl;dr you two need counseling but if marriage is something you truly want and need, don’t be afraid to walk away and find the person who will marry you. It can be scary and sad to leave but trust me, you’ll be much happier for it.

  • Martha

    I’ve never liked the word “meaningless.” Just because the tradition and the ceremony are meaningless to him (and to many others) doesn’t mean they are meaningless to you. And also – I think this is the hardest thing to accept for us all – getting divorced does not make marriage meaningless. Even though divorce rates are high and celebrities “make a mockery” of the institution with their 72 day marriages, that doesn’t make marriage meaningless. I can’t personally believe anyone gets married thinking they will one day get divorced. Maybe it becomes too hard and things fall apart, whathaveyou, but it is my hope that anyone who gets married truly means those words and vows. Sure, this might make me idealistic, but think about how much we change as people over the course of our lives? The goal perhaps is to grow together through your marriage, not apart, but at the end of the day we are just mere humans. Another commenter said that marriage is flawed, just as everything in life – and that you should remember it’s YOUR marriage/relationship/partnership. It’s all about what you (the TWO of you) make it.

    • Martha

      I just re-read my comment and hope it makes sense! I am not nearly as articulate as Liz.

    • meg

      I’m less optimistic (read: we had a lot of friends who married young, married because of pregnancy/ kids/ religious pressure/ the general problems and pressure of poverty), so I can flat out tell you plenty of people get married thinking or even knowing that one day they will get divorced.

      However! That does not make marriage meaningless. That doesn’t even make their marriage meaningless (it just makes it complicated). The fact that divorce exists doesn’t make marriage meaningless. Getting divorced does not make THAT marriage meaningless. The fact that people get drunk and married at midnight in Vegas and annul it when they sober up 48 hours later… well, ok… that particular marriage might be meaningless (if a good story to tell forever), but it doesn’t make the institution meaningless.

      So I agree with what you’re saying Martha, even if I’m a more cold blooded realist in some ways ;)

  • Aly

    Liz, your advice is amazing. I can’t imagine putting it into better words. Bravo! Just something I noted:

    “He listens to me when I try to explain the contradiction of being feminist yet desperately wanting to have the same family name (mine or his, I don’t care)…” That’s not a contradiction. Being a feminist is about having the CHOICE to take his name or not, that you’re not forced into taking his name because of a patriarchal society. But there’s no “feminist” reason not to as long as it’s something you want. I might be a tad sensitive to this because I’ve had a lot of push-back because I’m taking my fiance’s name, but seriously. There’s nothing wrong — and nothing not feminist — about doing so.

  • so much of this depends, of course, on the details of what he doesn’t and you do like about the idea of marriage. assuming it’s more nuanced than “everything” there is actually a lot of room for compromise here, i think.

    as a queer, i can’t get legally married where i am (and i am not sure i would if i could – i have some of your husband’s iffiness about the institution’s appropriateness) – but that didn’t stop us from having a wedding, being married and calling each other “wife”. you don’t have to be gay to skip the government side of it.

    on the other hand, maybe what you want is a legal contract, and you can do that without a ceremony or rings or calling each other husband and wife – either by getting a legal marriage with no to-do, or by replicating the parts you want with a lawyer.

    maybe you can start calling him your husband without any of the above (that will get at least strangers off your back about the seriousness of your relationship).

    the options, really, are endless. if you’re willing to have something “less” than the whole shebang, and he’s willing to do something at all, figure out which *parts* of a wedding/marriage you feel so strongly about, and see if there are *parts* he doesn’t mind.

    best of luck.

    p.s. with regard to your comment about name changes – your arguments don’t always have to make sense to each other. sometimes it’s enough that it’s important to your partner and not a problem to you. (i still don’t understand *why* it was important to my wife to have kids, but it’s working out wonderfully anyhow =)

    • meg

      Exactly. And I think the red flags start popping up if you realize he wants none of it: no legal protection, no words, no celebration, no rings, no private commitment, no public commitment, no name sharing, no titles. For me, if all of the boxes come back ticked ‘no,’ that’s when I start to wonder A) Wait, does he just really not want to commit to me, and B) If he can’t compromise for a huge emotional need, is this ok?

      • I can’t “exactly” this enough!

        Some people legitimately have issues with the idea of marriage itself, but in my experience a *lot* of people use this explanation because it keeps them from needing to say “I just don’t want to marry you.” It’s an important distinction that needs to be made before moving forward.

  • Katie

    I feel for you. My now fiancée was the same way, and I do understand his stance and respect it. I held out with the belief that when he realized how important is was to me even if it is a silly tradition that he would bend. We agreed to a wedding, but no marriage license just a legal contract. Which works cause we live in a State the recognizes common law marriages.

    What do I think made my fiancée bend? Actually going to other weddings. My friend got married and her Dad stood up to give a toast about how as a man you don’t understand the overwhelming emotions that come with walking you daughter down the aisle until it happens to you. I am pretty sure my fiancée looked at me with my eyes totally glossed over with tears. I am a total Daddy’s Girl and the only girl in the family. On the drive home I just turned to my fiancée and said I will not not give my Dad that experience. It helped that he finally saw the emotional connection he as a man could relate to regarding a wedding. Guys think that when we talk about weddings all we want is the Cinderella story and the white puff gown, which i don’t know about the rest of the world isn’t really the case. I just wanted my Daddy to walk me down the aisle.

  • Copper

    I don’t know what state you’re in, but would a civil union be an option (some offer them to oposite-sex couples as well as same-sex)? It’s the one thing that jumps to mind that could be an actual compromise.

  • NTB

    I am no expert on relationships, but I can tell you about my marriage.

    Tom and I have been married for 8 months. Before that, we were together for 3 years. We never lived together before we were married, and we only saw each other about 1-2 times per week during our entire dating period.

    Even after you get married–even after you say your vows and eat your cake–you will have major disagreements over things big and ‘small.’ We have debated over everything from how to load and unload clothes from the dryer to when and how many children we want to have. And these conversations occurred before and after our big day. Even if you discuss marriage before you decide to get married, you will have many disagreements along the road. Obvious, right?

    In my mind, different people handle things and compromise differently, but in my personal experience, and seeing friends get married, divorced, etc., the thing I have learned is that there are 3 areas that are pretty huge in terms of a long-term relationship: money, children, and religion/spirituality. Surely, these are not the only 3 things that make or break anything. But they are huge, and in any long term partnership, inside or outside marriage, these 3 things have a way of being very significant and emotionally/practically binding.

    I suppose what I am getting at is this. Beyond your desire to get married—which is totally, completely valid—what things do you want in your RELATIONSHIP on a long-term basis? Children or no children? Do you see eye-to-eye on how money is spent/handled? How about religious beliefs and how those rituals play into your day to day (or not?)

    How do you see your relationship—wedding/marriage or not—progressing in these ways in the future, if at all? We discussed many of these items in therapy and it really helped each of us to define individually what marriage—-as a permanent commitment—-meant to us.

  • Kate

    This is slightly (ok very) off-topic (and apologies if this was already addressed in a previous comment). The nurse in me can’t help but want to clarify what I saw a couple of commenters say about needing to be married in order to make health care decisions for a partner if they’re unable to make their own decisions (and “trump” next-of-kin).

    You can actually designate anyone (related to you or not) to be your agent to make your healthcare decisions in the event that you become unable to make them for yourself. The terms vary state to state, but look for “health care proxy,” “power of attorney,” or “advance directive.” Your legally appointed healthcare agent trumps next-of-kin.

    Check out:

  • Clare

    When partners disagree on marriage, it can be tough. When I ended a long term relationship, the biggest tipping point was that I never felt like my boyfriend fully respected or believed that |I did not want to marry.

    I’m now in a much happier and longer relationship, and I still have no desire to marry. I am lucky in that my boyfriend has come to accept that.. I’ve entered a stage where more and more of my friends are getting married, as as we attend more and more weddings (where I am almost always one of the first to cry), and I have become more certain that a wedding or a marriage is not a fit for me.

    Being on the other side of the marriage debate, I would like to mention that society looks sideways at those who don’t want to marry. I’ve had many, many people try and convince me to change my mind. Depending on how much pressure I’ve had recently, my response to questions about why I’m not married or why I don’t want to can be very, very blunt. It doesn’t mean its okay for your boyfriend to downplay how much it matters to you, but its a reminder that he faces pressure from society too.

    I think that comments suggesting asking what kind of legal agreements your boyfriend is willing to make is very good advice, but realize that some of the supposed “benefits” of marriage may be some of the reasons he doesn’t want to get married. My boyfriend and I have to make a legal contract because in the coming months the laws in our province are changing and common law marriage will now have very few differences (shared debt being our main concern).

    Disagreeing with you on the legal and personal reasons for getting married does not mean your boyfriend doesn’t love you. But as hard as it can be to face, sometimes love means having to walk different paths. Counselling is a good place to find out whether or not your paths can stay connected. (I would also like to mention that its okay to see multiple counsellors until you find one you click with!)

  • AUD

    Midst an insightful logical discussion of the practical application of the marriage contract:

    Wanting to be married, for me, wasn’t at all intellectual… it was absolutely a persistent compulsion, an intrinsic need, with an authoritative grip upon my heart… one that was activated when I fell for my FH. For two terrible years (years 2 & 3 of the relationship) I was afflicted with this hunger in my being for marriage while he was not. There came a point when we both knew it was either the end or the beginning. I took a job on the east coast, he took one on the west. I gave up my fight of persuasion and prepared myself for heartbreak. And in his own time, in his own space, no intellectual argument to champion, he wanted/needed to marry me. Year four, we are engaged and intellectually the reality of marriage is overwhelming, but the want/need drives us forward.

    As a lover of When Harry Met Sally, this story connects me to Meg Ryan’s character (Sally) completely devastated when the man she had bravely said good bye to – because he “didn’t want” to be married or be a father – was NOW engaged. I always cry as she cries, “he didn’t want ME.”

    All fingers and toes are crossed that it just ain’t so. As a “gut person,” my experience tells me what you feel can’t be tamed into submission. I wish you the best in your journey to a resolution. Liz has said it well.

  • bellezyx

    Have you considered a commitment ceremony? Depending on what exactly you want or believe marriage is for you (and what exactly your man doesn’t like about it) a commitment ceremony, where you emotionally recognise your legal defacto-marriage status, might provide something you are both happy with. He isn’t engaging in the institution that he hates and you get the opportunity to declare your love and commitment and hear him declare his in front of your nearest and dearest. An un-marriage could follow your un-wedding.

  • What bit(s) is/are important to you: the legal, the ceremony, the terms husband and wife, some other thing? What bit(s) is/are objectionable to him? Because marriage is not one monolithic thing, it’s a patchwork of a bunch of different things, and compromise can be found in sorting through them and finding which bits work for each of you and which ones are dealbreakers.

  • Blimunda

    I’ve tried several times to write a comment, let’s hope this one gets to be posted :) words don’t come easy.
    My man and I have clearly different feelings about marriage. We already consider each other family. So a wedding would not be about creating a family – to me, it would be about paying homage to the beautiful relationship we created, and about protecting it (see financial/medical decisions to be made for each other, inheriting etc.)
    In my country there’s no such thing as domestic partnership, so sorry if I’m missing some aspects about it. You can be married or not (and anyway you can’t change your name, so I don’t get that one part as well). Which to me makes sense. For the non-religious people, getting married is a legal declaration that you have this person that you choose as next of kin. You can experience all the emotional changes that come with it even without a wedding and consider each other family, but I wouldn’t see the point in calling him husband or organizing a commitment ceremony without legal value – isn’t he already making you tea? taking care of you? that is a commitment.
    I hope, as others have said above, that you get to clarify why it is so important to him not to get married. For me, I know that I would stay with him, for ever and ever, even if we decide we will never get married. Still, I’d love to :)

  • anon

    Just as a note about how your commitment to each other is something you make every day you stay together vs. one day getting dressed up fancy and saying some words in front of family and friends.

    My dad was always on the side that marriage was meaningless and was vehemently against it. My parents never married as a result. And when their relationship fell apart my dad basically kicked us all out of our family home. He put all my moms stuff on the front lawn and changed the locks.

    Because they were never formally married and my mothers name was not on the mortgage (too much student debt) she got nothing in the end. She probably could have taken him to court, but there would have been no way she could have paid the legal fees. Nearly twenty five years of building a life together, and then just a kick in the pants. That is the problem with making your vows one day at a time.

    That is definitely part of the reason that I think marriage is important, and why I think it is important to stand up for what you need. Making a compromise that isn’t good for both of you isn’t worth it in the long term.

  • Allison

    I was in this exact situation a few years ago. We had been together 8 years, started a business together, shared all our finances and decisions. We were young when we got together, so I went into it with no expectations about marriage and when I was 19(!) I had declared I never wanted to marry. Fast forward to about 6 years later with the same man, and my mind had changed. I was sick of doing all the “wifey” things, tending the house and pets, cooking, putting my dreams on hold, etc while he finished up grad school, without getting the simple recognition and respect that being someone’s wife vs. someone’s girlfriend gives you. I also ended up defending this situation preemptively to people, when I also believed it was bull–. I realize these were the wrong reasons for getting married, but when I would try to bring up my desire for an actual show of commitment, he shot me down at every turn. What eventually happened was that I lost respect for him due to his lack of respect to even entertain my point of view, and the relationship imploded in pretty much the ugliest way imaginable. It sucked, but I learned that if something is so important to you that no matter what you do, you can’t rationalize it away, then it isn’t fair for you to have to give it up. Talk to your man and see if there is some way to reconcile both of your wishes, like one commenter said, perhaps a commitment ceremony? But if you truly want a marriage, you should be able to have that. I am about to marry someone wonderful who knew he wanted to give me the respect of marriage without any doubt, and I hope you are able to find what you are looking for as well.

  • I just wanted to pop on here and offer some support. This is a tough issue and I don’t think I could articulate better thoughts and advice than what is already here. However I will say that I cannot tell you how helpful counseling has been for me and my fiance’.

    We were at a breaking point and conversations got circuitous and wholly unproductive. I felt like the biggest nag in the world, and as a last ditch effort, we tried couple’s therapy. Just having a place to go when conversations get real or confusing has been immeasurably helpful. Now issues have stabilized, but we’re still going. Counseling doesn’t even have to be for when times are tough!

    Counseling – highly recommend.

  • elcee

    God I just love APW so much. Liz, you’re a friggin’ beacon

  • Amber

    I also have a partner who didn’t agree with marriage when I first met him. His problem was that he felt it was just some piece of paper for legal purposes. However, when we talked about it and I explained what a wedding meant to me, he agreed that, as long as we made it a meaningful ceremony to us, that he would be willing to get married.

  • Shell

    My fiance did not agree with marriage when we first met. We are not religious and he is a very analytical and practical person and assumed the only reason he’d ever get married was for the financial benefit (if that) and that it would not be a wedding, just getting the legal stuff done.
    For me, I see a lot more to it because my l have been surrounded growing up by strong, meaningful marriages. I was also much more concerned with the legal aspect that comes with being able to make decisions for your partner when they are injured or sick.
    It’s something that we talked about and talked about (first on a purely philosophical level when we first started dating, then we inserted ourselves into the conversation) and we worked it out.

    For us, the wedding and the marriage are separate. The marriage is the legal bit, the wedding is the celebration of our love and our commitment.