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?
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!