Relationship Vo-Tech

We're not gonna get married.

I‘m not planning a wedding. Not even close.

Two years ago, a few months after my boyfriend Bo and I started dating, we went to a wedding together. It was the kind of wedding where, along with all the bride and groom’s invited guests, their whole church congregation was asked to come, and the reception was just champagne and cake in the church basement. It was beautiful, and we loved how inclusive it was, but we both said that if either of us had a wedding, it wouldn’t be like that. (Good—I thought—even though he says he doesn’t think he’ll ever get married, he’s thinking about it. It’s only a matter of time.)

Then, that fall, another wedding—this time for friends of mine from college. A very beautiful, traditional Jewish wedding—one where the bride and groom couldn’t stop grinning out of sheer happiness. We shared their joy, but again, we said, were either of us to get married, it would be different. (Well, he’s still saying “If I ever have a wedding,” not “If we ever have a wedding,” but if he’s got opinions, that’s got to be good, right?)

Last summer, we went to the wedding of one of Bo’s cousins, and it was flashy, pink, and ostentatious. (There were professional fireworks! it was held in a place called “The Palace”!) We laughed and laughed—it fit his cousin perfectly—but there would never be any fireworks for us!

And by then I had realized that there really weren’t going to be any wedding fireworks for us. Because we’d probably never get married.

We’ve made as strong a commitment to be with one another as two non-married people can make, but my boyfriend grew up in a family led by two people in a toxic, codependent marriage—the kind of family where the kids want their parents to get divorced because then maybe things might eventually be bearable. And that has poisoned marriage for him in a profound way.

This is usually the place in a story like this where people have one of two reactions, both of which grow out of stereotypes of men not caring about relationships and marriage as much as women do. Either (as my mother does) they insist that he’ll “grow out of it eventually,” come to his senses, and propose. Or, (as my sister does) they imply that his not wanting to marry shows that he doesn’t love me, not really, and it will all fall apart. At the beginning of our relationship, I wanted to believe the first one and secretly feared that the second was true.

I don’t doubt that there are men whose lives have followed those storylines. But however simple they may seem from the outside, every one of those situations was unique, with two individuals and their specific relationship. I know my partner, how he loves me, how he appreciates what I do for him, how he balances my faults and I balance his, how he calls me “wonderful, brilliant, and capable,” and I know he could never be shoehorned into those simplistic arcs. Even if he does eventually marry me, or we eventually break up, it doesn’t mean that those were always the only two options.

To be at the point where your relationship stops playing by the rulebook that says “either you get married or you quit” is disorienting. One of the nice things about assuming one will eventually get married is that (as APW illustrates well) weddings can be a crucible that helps forge a couple into a lasting partnership. Looking back on the two years when my sister and her husband were planning their wedding, I can see that the hurdles they jumped together then are the same ones they navigate with such skill now: money, family relationships, learning when to defer to the other and when to stand their ground. Those issues are just as important for Bo and me to get through, but we have to cover them piecemeal, as they come up, and since the stakes of the individual incidents of daily life are often lower than those of a major life event like a wedding, we have to make sure that the hard conversations actually happen rather than letting something slide that we really care about because “Oh well, it’s just this one time…”

That’s certainly doable, though, and it turns out that making sure those conversations happen (instead of just waiting for them to happen when you’re hashing out a guest list or a wedding budget) is a really good way to strengthen a relationship. What’s been unexpectedly painful for me is this: in recognizing I might never get married, I’ve had to grieve for the wedding I’ll never have. No bouquet of peonies. No photos of the day to look at and celebrate for the rest of our lives. No matching silverware unless one of us buys the whole set.

That last one might sound silly. But admitting to myself that it’s okay that no one’s going to give me a set of china may be one of the most important things I ever do. By letting go of the things I’ve always assumed will happen in my life, I can open my eyes to the other possibilities I’d never even seen because I wasn’t looking in that direction. And I’m learning that I can be happy with a partner, when I thought I would only ever really be happy with a husband.

Photo by: Submitted by the author, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license by Flickr user Eddi 07.

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  • Moz

    This is absolutely fabulous. Thank you so much for writing.

  • PA

    “By letting go of the things I’ve always assumed will happen in my life, I can open my eyes to the other possibilities I’d never even seen because I wasn’t looking in that direction.”

    Such truth, and it happens in so many areas of life! Thank you for sharing, M!

    • This is what stood out to me as well, because even though I’m engaged, it’s the same thought process/sentiment that has kept me from going crazy with things in my life outside of my control.

      I think it applies equally well to the assumed idea of having kids (but is that biologically/financially possible?), of sharing the same house with my soon-to-be husband (two crazy careers and it’s an unknown if we’ll be in the same place for at least the next three years…), or even just accepting that despite the fact I’m getting married, no one is going to buy me the china set. (That last one was huge – but, realizing your families will not change just because you’re getting married is also fundamental.)

      Thank you for sharing!

      • meg

        It’s funny you should mention this, because we’re also going to talk about this idea in terms of having kids, something that really hit me in the gut. I feel like there is a cultural construct that we’re always supposed to be struggling towards something, and the idea of working towards complete acceptance instead is so radical to me, and amazing.

        Also, No One’s Family Is Ever Going To Change is such a huge life lesson. Buy yourself the china set! You can change!

      • KM

        oh man. this, exactly.
        my fiance and i just experienced a (lovely, in many many ways) bridal shower thrown by our moms and are still processing the resulting discussion around the principle that Our Families Are Never Going To Change. We’ll never get the “china set.” Or, in our case, we’ll continue to get the cutlery set that we never registered for and did not even imagine needing.

        thankfully, we get each other. and we are continually learning how to provide the “china set” for each other.

  • What I think is so wonderful about your post is that it’s obvious you’re treating your relationship with the same respect that the wedding undergrads and grads should be treating their marriage. And that’s all that matters for any of us involved in a committed relationship, no matter what the definition of it is.

    • meg

      Amen to that. Actually, when I read your comment it hit me that the writer is really treating her relationship with the same respect we all SHOULD, but don’t always, so who’s the graduate now? In the end, what is love, other than deciding to accept people and our relationships just as they are?

      • It should be a prerequisite for both Wedding U and Relationship Vo-Tech!

  • ProjectWed


    And I have to comment on the photo– it made me smile, hard. Just as a blank page must have text describing it as such, some people just cannot believe that others live purposeful, thought-driven lives and choose singlehood.

    • MDBethann

      I don’t think she’s saying either she or her boyfriend/partner have “chosen singlehood.” Quite the opposite. They are choosing to be a couple, but not to get married.

      This idea of “single” vs. “married’ is something that has bothered me ever since my now-fiance and I bought a house together 2 years ago. We were clearly a committed couple planning a life together, but on any form we fill out, our options are “single, married, separated, divorced, widowed.” We’re not married yet, but I sure as heck don’t consider myself single, and I am guessing that most unmarried people in committed relationships don’t consider themselves single either. I think making “Single” = “not married” is no longer appropriate for this day and age and I wish society would adapt a bit more, particularly when it comes to medical forms, etc. where a committed partner definitely is relevant, even if you aren’t married.

      I admire the writer and her partner for their choice and for their willingness to talk about what they want, understand each other’s perspective, and decide together about the committed, but unmarried path they will follow. It takes a lot of trust and courage to do that because those conversations are HARD. I am watching a friend struggle with this right now – she has no desire (for a variety of reasons) to ever marry, but her boyfriend has been pushing the issue lately. I don’t think they’ve really discussed it much, or if they have, I’m not sure that they actually hear each other. They love each other and I know she’s committed to him like Bo is to the writer, but how you affirm and live out that commitment is a hard process to go through if you have opposing ideas of what it should look like. While for legal reasons I’m pro marriage/civil unions (I’m all about protecting one’s self & making sure that 2 people in a committed relationship are fully able to legally & financially care for one another no matter what), I hope my friend can be as successful as the writer and Bo in finding what works for them.

      • meg

        Totally (though I love that picture hard too). I remember rolling my eyes a lot the week before the wedding when people would say, “Oh! You’re last week of being single, huh?” and saying, “You missed the boat on that one, it was FIVE YEARS AGO.”

      • christa

        They could easily just put “never-married” there instead of single. This captures the essence of their question, which is about legal relationship status, not emotional relationship status. (Plus, never married is what we use in demographics, because many people are both single and divorced)

        • Amy March

          Whoa there! As a single lady there is no way in heck I’d identify as never-married. That is the worst spin on not bring married I can think of.

          • meg

            Ha. TRUE TRUE TRUE.

        • Class of 1980

          There’s always the Facebook designation …

          “In a relationship”

          • KH_Tas

            Australia actually has something like this for some forms now: “Partnered”

          • Many forms and surveys in the UK have an option for non-married but committed couples – sometimes it’s ‘committed relationship’ or ‘co-habiting’ or something along those lines, depending on context. Plus the ‘married’ box is now usually ‘married/civil-partnership’.

      • YES to MDBethann re: “single” vs “married”! When my now-fiance and I were going through these kind of hard conversations, one thing that really stuck out to me was that a lot of times, it was just an issue of labels. There was no difference in the kind of relationship we wanted, but the discussion over what to call it right now was really hard for us, and it sounds like the writer may be facing the same challenge…it’s SO frustrating to try to explain to the outside world that though your relationship doesn’t bear a certain label, you are still just as committed as relationships that do. Our society relies on certain labels to tell us everything about a relationship and when a relationship doesn’t have a certain label, people feel at liberty to infer certain things about those involved. Unfortunately, people just don’t seem to accept that labels don’t tell you everything about a relationship, though I hope posts/discussions like this will continue to remind people that many (most?) relationships are far too nuanced to be just a simple “single” or “married.”

        OK I could go on about labels for days…I’ll stop now!

        • Alexandra

          I confess, a large part of why I wanted to get engaged (not even married, just be engaged) was purely because I felt like there was no appropriate label for what our relationship was. We were common-law, yes, but that sounds so clinical and dull and really, the decision to become common-law was every part that dull. We declared it in a law office with my parents, just so they could then gift their old car to my bf for free. So I kept falling back onto “boyfriend/girlfriend”, but that’s not a really good label for “man I plan on spending the rest of my life with.” And “partner” or “significant other” sounded too much like Facebook’s “It’s Complicated” label, or like I was in a same-sex relationship and didn’t want to field questions.

          Although what really pushed me the last step was going to a work Christmas party alone, and spending the whole night fending off other guys. Because I absolutely wasn’t single, and wasn’t buying the theory that what happens in Miami stays in Miami.

          • Rachel Wilkerson

            I so get this — especially the “not married, just engaged” part. Yup. Totally with ya. Personally I felt we were as invested and working toward marriage as much as engaged couple so I felt like we were doing all the work of a Big Relationship, without any of the credit, if that makes sense?

      • Class of 1980

        When I was living with my ex-husband before we were married, I know I never thought of myself as single.

        I mean, if I’m not free to date others, then I’m not single!

      • M.

        I think this illustrates really well the ways society makes us think in terms of binaries: one is supposed to be single or married, and if one is married, you are either waiting to have kids or you have them. In fact, of course, one can be not-single and not-married at the same time, one can choose to be single and have children or to be single and child-free, one can be coupled (but not married) with children and on and on and on…

        The real truth is that family is whatever you make it, whether you decide that your family is just yourself, yourself and a partner, yourself and children—it’s whatever you want.

        (As for me, I’d define myself as coupled, not single, but I think there could be people in my situation who consider themselves “single” even though they’re in a committed relationship. Self-definition for all!)

  • This might just be one of my favorites.

  • What a brave way to live your life. You’ve accomplished something I haven’t been able to, and I stand in admiration of you.

    • M.

      Thanks! But don’t put yourself down—what’s right for me might not be right for you and vice versa.

  • Marguerite

    Love it! Thanks so much for posting this. It’s so relevant and isn’t discussed often enough.

  • Jo

    My husband said and says, if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, why should wanting to be married be the determinant of whether or not you stay? Spending your life with them does NOT require being married. As you say, there are (and should be) other determinants, but that one – agreeing about marriage – does seem a bit contrived for a breakup if the others are in line.

    Which I think is great advice. For anyone.

    • Class of 1980

      Oh, I don’t know …

      Foregoing marriage means giving up something – the legal benefits of marriage. We marry someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with, because we want to protect them legally/financially and they want to protect us.

      What is “contrived” about wanting those legal protections? Is it contrived or just plain smart to desire to protect oneself?

      • meg

        Super interesting debate, and I think (oddly) I agree with both sides. Class of 1980 certainly nails why the issue of marriage equality matters, and marriage matters, for sure. Jo nails why ultimatums CAN be (but are not always) damaging to otherwise healthy relationships.

        • Ambi

          I agree! And, just another factor: children. I am very happy in my relationship, and would probably stay forever without getting married . . . except that I want children. And for us, that requires a huge commitment to staying together, and raising the children together, for the rest of our lives – married or not. So, while it isn’t exactly an ultimatum, the issue of having children pushes these issues to the forefront (at least for us).

          • Elisabeth

            So much this. I would agree with the OP and my boyfriend, that it is perfectly possible to have a committed lifelong relationship without marraige – except that when it comes to building a family, you really need to both be on the same page and have made that legal and social committment to a *future* together, not just ongoing goodness. To me, anyway. Hopefully I can bring him round…

        • Class of 1980

          The word “ultimatum” conjures up bad ju ju. It sounds a lot like shouting is involved, doesn’t it?

          I recommend knowing thyself before the relationship gets serious and establishing your conditions up front. If it’s too late for that, state your conditions calmly and without blame … i.e. “I love you to pieces, but I have to take care of myself too.”

  • Ambi

    Oh, I find this so very, very hard to read, and to talk about. Five years ago, I was in exactly the same position. I really thought that I was okay with building a life together without ever getting married. And today, in my mid-thirties, having lived with my guy for years, in a house he owns, I want more. I want to get married. I want to have children. I want us to merge finances and for the house to be mine as well. I want our insurance companies and our employers and our families to recognize our relationship. I want to become a foster parent and eventually adopt, without being immediately passed over due to the fact that we are an unmarried cohabiting couple. I want the declarations of love that come with a proposal and the vows. I want my great grandmother’s wedding band to be passed down to me, which will only happen when and if I get married. I want to change my name. I want to be recognized as a full member of his family, not just his girlfriend. I want to get married.

    And now we are seven years into this thing, and my desire to get married is causing huge problems. We are in counseling, and there is a very real possibility that our relationship will end over this issue. It is heartbreaking. And sadly, I have to think about the fact that if it does end, I will suddenly be a woman in her thirties, single and dating, starting all over again, and I will still really want marraige and children in my life. It really sucks.

    I am not saying that the original poster’s situation is like mine – she is right, every relationship is different and many people live in very happy unmarried committed unions for the rest of their lives (unfortunately, same sex couples often have no other option). But if I would have been honest with myself five years ago, I would have realized that what I was really saying was “I am okay with it if we don’t get married . . . yet.” There is a huge difference between not being in a rush (being happy to wait 5, 8, 10 years or more), and being okay if you don’t get married EVER. I am honestly not okay with never getting married, and after seven years of being very happy together, I am suddenly not happy because I need that commitment. I probably would not have believed it if I’d told myself five years ago that this would happen, but it did. So, while every situation is different, and I am not trying to say that what happened to me will happen to you, maybe it is something to think about. And talk about. What happens if, in five or ten years, one of you really wants to get married? What happens when you are ready to start having children? For us, that has been the biggest issue. It is definitely something to talk about now.

    Thank you for writing about this and I wish you the very best. I think you are going into this with your eyes open and with much more understanding than I had when I was in your shoes.

    • tamara

      i was thinking something similar. i definitely don’t think that everyone NEEDS to get married, that’s rubbish! but there are distinct cultural, and most importantly LEGAL, “benefits” to getting married, so in my life, I’m rather pragmatic about it all: since we’ve agreed to spend our lives together (married or not), well — let’s just tie the knot & reap ALL the rewards (not just the emotional ones). My godparents got married over their lunch break at the courthouse without telling anyone beforehand, as they were really indifferent about it all but decided they wanted to “be married” when they were ready to have a child (for the child’s sake, not theirs). But, this isn’t to imply I disagree with your guys’ choice; I LOVE that you’ve embraced your reality & are fully of joy. Marriage isn’t a right vs. wrong issue, although our culture sometimes makes it out to be. But I was a little like “hmm” that this gentleman has sworn off marriage solely because his parents’ had a bad one (?); that was because of their personalities, not because they were *married*. Your guys’ marriage would be so totally different because of your distinct personalities (just like your relationship already is). Getting married wouldn’t change your lovely dynamic one bit. But, again, doesn’t mean you ever need to get married….. Anyways, thanks for writing your great post!

    • Class of 1980

      If I had a son or daughter, I’d tell them early and often … BELIEVE people when they tell you who they are, and what they want.

      If someone tells you they will never marry, believe them.

      Don’t do them the disservice of thinking they don’t know their own mind.

      Don’t do yourself the disservice of wasting your life waiting for them to change their mind.

      • Ambi

        I completely agree, and that is what I am learning now, in hindsight. Although, in my situation, my guy was never so clear about not wanting to get married. Like the OP’s boyfriend, he has deeply negative feelings about marraige, but at the same time, has always said that he saw himself getting married “one day.” I simply decided, about 5 years ago, that I wouldn’t pressure or push or stress out about it, because I am HAPPY in my relationship and I didn’t really want to change it. But 5 years later, without me pressing the issue, we are in exactly the same spot, and I suddenly realize that I do want to get married, and badly.

        So, really, my biggest mistake was not listening to myself and realizing years ago that, while I was happy in my relationship for now, I would eventually want to get married, and the issue really is a deal breaker for me. I think I got caught up in feeling liberated and, yes, cool, in being able to say “look, I’m not like those other girls, I ‘m not pressuring you to get married, I’m happy just the way we are.” I needed someone to tell me that wanting to get married was OKAY, and I could push for that if it was what I needed.

        • Class of 1980

          Honestly, I get tired of the idea that it’s “liberated” or “cool” to not admit to prioritizing marriage. It’s just naive.

          I’m pragmatic and my self-worth is intact. If I started liking someone a great deal, I’d make it clear early on that any decision to spend our life together would mean marriage. There would be no beating around the bush, nor would I be embarrassed at establishing the conditions.

          This idea that a woman is cooler to stay away from the subject is perpetuated by people who don’t want women to have a sense of self preservation or self worth.

          In the last several decades, we have been encouraged to give of ourselves and expect nothing in return. This is liberation? It’s just naive when you consider that women bear the brunt of childbearing, child raising, and often have less earnings or interrupted earnings because of it.

          Our window of fertility is smaller than men and our reproductive investment is greater. Simply put … women risk more in a relationship.

          The institution of marriage was created to mitigate the inequitable risks of childbearing, and to provide for mutual legal and financial support through life.

          That is nothing to sneeze at.

          In my case, childbearing is out of the question at this point. But with maximizing earnings and eventual retirement on the horizon, I wouldn’t consider building a life or owning property with someone without legal protection … so marriage would be on the table for me.

          Joy Behar, the middle-aged talk show host, recently married her long-time boyfriend. She said it wasn’t until she witnessed a lesbian couple go through legal hell when one of them was in the hospital, that she finally realized she needed legal protection.

          There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that our lives are impacted by legal and financial connections. Ignoring that part of life is living in a fantasy world. I’m weary of people putting down smart women under the guise of “liberation”.

          This is not to tell people that it’s not okay for them to forgo marriage. You don’t have to do anything. I just wish we’d quit telling women they are not liberated if they do want to get married.

          • Julia

            Very well-put.

            Count me among those who wanted so badly to be “cool” about marriage and felt guilty when it started to really matter to me. Fortunately, my man and I got on the same page and we’re marrying later this year, but I spent a lot of time tormenting myself for wanting it (eg “Why does it even matter? Why do I care?”) because we were so clearly committed to each other in every other way and were planning our lives around each other. I want us to be able to take care of each other if something terrible happens, and we want to have children one day. Those are reasons enough.

          • Leigh Ann

            One of my best friends, who was my poster child for “they’re in a 13-year committed relationship and doing just fine without marriage,” got married last September. Her partner’s father died, and she wasn’t given family leave from work to attend the funeral in another state because he was not legally her husband. That was part of the reason they decided to make it legal. Fair or not, there is something to all the paperwork.

          • Sarah

            yes, yes and yes. it’s SO important for women to be upfront and realistic with themselves (about their window of fertility, money and wealth/career) and with their partners (marital/long term expectations) because of the inherent constraints that come with family and career when operating while female.
            i get exhausted with this narrative about the rabid bridal hungry girlfriend, simply because a woman chooses to be in charge of her life and her future and not simply quietly waiting for it to happen to her.
            As usual, open and honest communication is the key (and if the reaction to a simple conversation about the future is OMG YOU’RE PRESSURING ME then there may be other “troublesome” discussions to be had)

          • M.

            Hey, this is M., who wrote the post above.

            Class of 1980, you and I are actually have pretty similar outlooks on the importance of the legal protections of marriage. The fact that my relationship with Bo isn’t legally protected is a huge issue for me, and I respect that for many, that lack of protection would be a dealbreaker. For me, it stops short of being a dealbreaker, but those issues are very very important to me, and I’m open with Bo about that.

            We are still fairly early in our relationship (at two years in), and just recently, we’ve started having some of the hard conversations about what we need to do for our relationship to feel safe in light of the fact that we aren’t married. We haven’t worked out any details yet, but we have started a conversation about what kinds of legal protections we need to put in place (Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, a plan for our finances, etc.). In about two years, I am going to be applying to med schools, at which point it is quite likely that we’ll be leaving our current city. We’ve set that as a deadline for when we’ll have these protections taken care of. Until then, we know that our parents are legally our next of kin, and that they would fill those roles.

            In a certain way, these coming two years are our non-engagement engagement. While we are staying (as it says in the intro to the piece) by not changing the legal status of our relationship, what we’re definitely not doing is stagnating. Over these next two years, we’re going to constantly be talking to one another about what we want in our relationship (and not just in the sense of whether we’re the kind of people who have pets or the kind of people who go out for brunch on Sundays, but in how we organize our life considering legal, health, and financial concerns), and building it into something that reflects the commitment we feel.

            And yes, I am taking a risk that someday my mind might change about being okay with not having a wedding while Bo’s won’t—I am very aware of that. The best thing I can do to, then, is to always be honest with him about where I stand and how I feel, and for him to always be honest with me. If I have that change of heart, and I don’t tell him, that’s what will get me into trouble.

          • Class of 1980

            M, you have your head on straight and you are working with reality. Kudos to you.

            Yes, with legal help, you can build in some protection.

            Staying, but not stagnating is a brilliant way to look at it because you have to deal with conditions and changes.

            Best wishes to you.

          • Class of 1980

            I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one thing in favor of NOT getting married.

            If you are married, you are liable for many of your spouse’s debts and taxes. So if you marry someone who is financially irresponsible, your goose is cooked.

            Well, there had to be some upside to not getting married. ;)

            I knew a woman who was liable for her ex-husband’s unpaid taxes that he incurred while they were separated. She had to declare bankruptcy in the end.

          • *applause*

            I don’t think I can EXACTLY! this enough.

          • z

            Class of 1980, I could not agree more. We fought hard to make marriage and divorce law fair to women, and while it’s not perfect, it provides a lot of important protections. Marriage is no more “just a piece of paper” than is a drivers license, the deed to your house, or the Constitution. I can’t imagine myself with someone who didn’t appreciate the importance of family and marriage law in women’s history– we just wouldn’t be compatible!

            I absolutely love the binding legal commitments of marriage– it’s a promise that even if we end up hating each other’s guts and moving to opposite sides of the planet, we’re not going to leave each other high and dry in the process. It’s great to say these things sincerely on a personal level, but signing on the dotted line really gave it some oomph. And it makes me feel a lot more secure as I enter the childbearing phase of my life, severely damaging my earning capacity and taking on significant financial responsibilities, that even if our personal relationship breaks down, the legal stuff will be there as a backstop. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable having children without the legal side, because I’ve seen so many interpersonal promises not hold up when the going gets tough. Marriage binds us to the mast.

          • Katie

            I have copied and pasted your reply, Class of, into a doc I call loving words. When I need them I go to them and I will always want yours there. Thank you.

      • meg


        “BELIEVE people when they tell you who they are, and what they want.” This is such a hard an important lesson to learn, and one I’ve really been learning over and over again in the past year or so. Sometimes when you really believe people you decide you can accept them just as they are, and be happy. Other times you realize you have to let it go. But that initial step of learning to believe people when they tell you who they are is so key.

        • Class of 1980

          It works in every part of life.

          BTW, if a guy says he isn’t good enough for you, BELIEVE him. If a friend tells you who they are, BELIEVE them.

          People surprisingly often try to tell us who they are, but we don’t want to listen.

          • Marina

            This has worked 9 times out of 10 for me, but that 10th was a doozy and I almost lost a friendship because I believed my friend over my instincts. She very much wanted what she was telling me to be true, but I had a suspicion from the beginning that it wasn’t and if I’d listened to that earlier I would have a lot fewer regrets about that situation.

            So perhaps I’d amend that to… believe people when they tell you what they want, unless all their actions show they’ve always wanted something different? I dunno, that just doesn’t have the same ring to it…

          • Class of 1980

            Marina, I know what you mean.

            However, it’s the person’s responsibility to tell the truth about their own feelings. If you had lost the friendship, it would not have been your fault that your friend wasn’t honest with either you or herself.

            Maybe she would have come to her senses eventually and been honest about her real feelings.

      • Jen

        My ex also never said he never wanted to be married. He was afraid of it for reasons, but he told me we would get married. He also told me we were committed, though in hindsight there were clues that we weren’t. But he was really good at smooth talking his way out of those…
        Even at the end I asked him to just tell me he never wanted to get married so I could work with that and see if I could live with it, but he said maybe someday he would want to get married. Although I don’t think so, because now I see it was a commitment issue, even if he refuses to see it.

        He did occasionally tell me he was an asshole and not a nice person. Straight facts that I was too blind to believe. :/ So your advice applies to that!

  • Pippa

    ‘Even if he does eventually marry me, or we eventually break up, it doesn’t mean that those were always the only two options.’

    This reminds me of a similar thought that I had early on in my first ever relationship. Similar, but with an important difference, which was, “Either we’ll be together ‘forever’ or we’ll break up.” Thinking about it like this helped me to relax about the possibility of either option eventuating. Just, it’ll be one of the two, and for every relationship ever, it’ll be one of the two. And that’s okay.

  • “We’ve made as strong a commitment to be with one another as two non-married people can make, but my boyfriend grew up in a family led by two people in a toxic, codependent marriage—the kind of family where the kids want their parents to get divorced because then maybe things might eventually be bearable. And that has poisoned marriage for him in a profound way.”

    I think it is so, so vitally important that a couple is on the same page regarding why they’re making the big life choices. It says a lot that you’ve heard where he’s coming from AND respect those reasons without the accompanying assumptions that “he’ll come around” or “he doesn’t really love you”.

    Sounds to me like you guys are off to a great start at life together.

  • Sarah

    This really struck a chord with me. I watched my parents struggle along in a toxic marriage all my life. Very early memories include pleading with them to stop arguing. I never could imagine myself marrying anyone, in my experience it seemed a recipe for disaster, a noose that would strangle any relationship. So I never dreamed of a white dress and bridesmaids as the stereotypical little girl is supposed to do.
    I met a guy in college. We got along so well, it was comfortable like I’d known him all my life. We start going out. A year later, we’re chatting, “what do you think of marriage” comes up in a general way. I put my point of view forward, don’t think anything of it. A couple of years later, we move in together. (well, I finally realise I spend more time at his place than my own, and own up to paying my share of the rent).
    We were so solid, I knew we’d always be together. Friends asked would we be tying the knot, “no, of course we won’t” I said, “no need for pieces of paper with marriage cert written on them to validate our commitment to each other.” Roll on our 9 year anniversary of getting together.

  • I love this post because it makes the point that any life path, especially if chosen after careful thought, can be the right option for someone -and not just in relationships. The thing about Wedding University vs. Relationship Vo-Tech connects to a bigger point that I advocate for as much as possible in my daily life: the university setting is not right or necessary for everyone, regardless of what a large majority in the US say.

    • Martha

      YES! You’ve nailed what resonated for me in this post. (Also, the point about university not being for everyone hits close to home – the idea that everyone must go to college has negatively affected a sibling deeply.)

      • Caroline

        Oh yeah. My partner really struggles with the whole “everyone must go to college” script. He hears “When are you going back to school?” from just about everyone (my parents, his parents, folks at shul (synagogue), random folks who barely know him. Everyone wants to know when he is going back to college. (It has gotten much worse since I decided to go to college last year.) I am a firm supporter of his feeling that he doesn’t want to go to school right now. Frankly, if it isn’t something he feels will benefit him, and that he REALLY wants to do, going into lots of debt for college is a terrible idea. If he wants to go back later, I will support him, and if not, we’ll do just fine.
        My mom actually told me once that she was worried that him not going to college would cause problems in my relationship when I had a degree and he didn’t. Now, if I was way smarter than him, maybe I could see her point, but frankly, he is the most intelligent man I know. He is teaching me my survey of Western History course, and is currently teaching himself German and javascript. I know him not having a college degree won’t cause us any problems personally in our relationship, and we have similar life goals. It was ridiculous.

  • Class of 1980

    So here’s my take for what it’s worth …

    The author has cleared the major hurdle of realizing her guy really really doesn’t want to get married and he wasn’t kidding. And she is right that it does not necessarily mean he doesn’t love her. There is a difference between a person stalling because they don’t want to marry a specific person, and someone who is really against the institution of marriage itself.

    The trickier part of the situation is what to do with the information. You’ve really got to know yourself well to make a decision whether to stay or go.

    If you can give up marriage to be with this person without it poisoning your relationship or how you feel about your life, then you are good to go. But if you find yourself stuffing your real feelings to avoid emotional pain, then it’s time to admit it’s not working for you.

    I’ve seen both happen.

    Some couples can live a lifetime together without marriage very contentedly … and others end up splitting because one realizes they’ve been denying their real feelings and can’t do it anymore. I sincerely hope the writer is the former.

    • M.

      “If you can give up marriage to be with this person without it poisoning your relationship or how you feel about your life, then you are good to go. But if you find yourself stuffing your real feelings to avoid emotional pain, then it’s time to admit it’s not working for you.”

      I agree with this so much. Learning to be honest with Bo about my feelings surrounding marriage has been really hard. And honesty about our feelings is the key to the whole thing. I accept that if my feelings regarding not getting married ever change, it might end the relationship. But so long as I’m honest with him about those feelings, and he’s honest with me, that could mean the difference between ending a relationship amicably because it has run its course or having it end well after it should have, in bitterness.

  • Parsley

    What strikes me about this conversation is the idea of marriage as all or nothing. Either a couple commits to each other, has a big party, declares the union to friends and family, enters the legal institution of mariage, and all the rest. OR they do none of that. Of course, we talk all the time on APW about leaving out some of the “traditional” aspects of a wedding, but I’m still hearing this all or nothing feeling.

    I’m wondering if the experience of the queer community (of which I am a member) might be instructive here. It sucks and is not okay that there is now and has been so little access to the “all” part of the equation for queer couples. But through that the queer community has invented all kinds of spaces in between all or nothing, from big celebrations without legal recognition to tiny intimate services of union that include only the couple. And lots of space in between. As a wedding officiant in a place where same-sex marriage is now legal, I’ve seen queer couples still inhabit all of those spaces – from large, grand, legal weddings, to intimate-just-the-couple-and me legal weddings, to weddings (usually small) that are not legal marriages. And many other variations.

    Another experience I’ve observed is the gradual getting married of some queer couples. They had a private ceremony of commitment at some point. Then later, when they and their larger circle of family and friends were ready, they had a larger service of commitment. Then sometimes a civil union. Sometimes I’ve performed what amounts to the fourth or fifth wedding of the same couple to each other. Which also opens space between the all or nothing.

    I’m wondering if this paradigm might be helpful for couples in which one person wants to get married and the other doesn’t. Are there pieces of the “getting married” that one wants that the other can agree to? (Private rituals of commitment? Public but not legal weddings?) Can there be a number of markers along the road to lifetime commitment, no one of which is the standard idea of “getting married”?

    Does it really have to be all or nothing?

    • meg

      THIS. I grew up in a bit of a hippie/ artist community where this also happened all the time, for straight and queer couples. There were a variety of ways that people committed to each other, publicly (with a big group witnessing or a small one). Sometimes they’d make a public commitment for just a year, and re-visit it a year later, sometimes longer. But that flexibility, and having a community that recognized all kinds of commitments was so valuable. Because in the end, I think there IS something different about making a commitment with your community. For one thing: it welcomes them in, and lets them know where they stand, and where you stand. That public clearing of the air and statement of intent is so powerful.

      • KateM

        I wondered if you would chime in on that point Meg, as I was scrolling through comments. One of the things that I love about APW is that it is a community that promotes marriage as a valid option and and that a commitment being recognized by the community is different and that it has value. I am not by any means saying that it is the only option, the best, or available to everyone, but that marriage does intrinsically mean something in itself which is why we choose it. Not because it is a societal norm, or that because we have been together for a certain amount of time, but because we believe that is a good thing in its own right.
        It sounds to me that the author recognizes that, but that the she would rather be with her partner without that, than with someone else with it. Her partner doesn’t have the same view of marriage and it is a compromising point for them. But her recognition of the value is why it was hard to give it up. It doesn’t make their love less.

        • M.

          Bingo. Seriously, you really capture how I feel about all this.

      • Jess

        This is it for me, but opposite. I really am uncomfortable with public ceremonial events, and basically inviting others into my private life. I have my ‘community’ but strongly value my separateness from the community… Often, because that community doesn’t really work for me. This may be the point of a wedding, and may be one of the reasons I’ve never liked the idea for myself. The idea of inviting others into my private life, either though ceremony or even just the shared knowledge of things about my private life, is powerful but not in a fun or rewarding way. Marriage-wise, I understand the need for legal protection of each other and would never have a problem signing marriage documents to protect someone I love or myself. Wedding-wise, however, it may be *different* but not in a way that works for me.

    • Chris B

      Parsley, your comment is gold. This has me thinking so hard. Just wanted to say that, since I think the “like” button doesn’t cover it.

    • M.

      Parsley, your comment is pretty revelatory for me. I’m going to share it with Bo and see what we think about how that idea might apply to our relationship.

      • Parsley

        That makes me so happy! I’m glad that I might be able to help – even a little bit.

  • Anon

    Going anon for this: I didn’t want to get married. It has never resonated with me, and I’m very uncomfortable with the idea. I would have been fine to never marry but it mattered to my partner, and in the end, although it has hard, I would do anything to make him happy if it was in my power. So I did it, and I’m still finding it hard to cope at times, but it does make him happier, and that makes me happy. In time, I’ll adjust, and I keep returning to APW for support.

    I also share this to offer the other perspective: as the OP points out, just because someone doesn’t want to get married, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you and aren’t committed. Marriage/weddings trigger feelings of stability & assurance for some, while it triggers complicated & painful experiences for others. That said, if you, like my partner, NEED marriage/a wedding, you too must be honest. Perhaps you’ll find that it ultimately matters more to one of you, and if so, perhaps the other can adjust, as I did.

    • Chch

      I’m getting married this summer, and I feel the same sorts of discomfort with marriage you describe. I’ve spent a LOT of time wondering if I’m really going to be okay with being a wife who has a husband. Being with my boyfriend forever is a no brainer – we adore one another and have a partnership that continually humbles me with its goodness. Marriage is important to him, so I’m doing it.

      It can be scary/nervewracking sometimes though. Your comment helped me feel less alone. Thank you for that.

      • Also Anon

        CHCH, you’re certainly not alone.

        We got married for legal reasons a year and a half ago. It should have been a no-brainer… but it was HARD. I knew I wanted to spend forever with A. but I wasn’t ready for “married” and “wife”. They feel like such societally loaded terms.

        In our case, what helped was having time to grow into them. At the beginning, I’d physically pull away when A. called me his wife (not recommended!). Publicly we won’t be married until our wedding in a few weeks, so I’ve had time to see that even though I’m his wife and he’s my husband, our partnership hasn’t magically morphed into stereotyped roles. It’s made me confident that once we’re publicly married and society starts imposing its ideas of “marriage” and “wife” on us, we have a solid foundation to keep doing our own thing.

  • Leigh Ann

    What an absolutely beautiful perspective: you are definitely building a marriage, the same as most of us here.

    I totally feel you on the narrative of “If you’re not getting engaged, then that means XYZ about him/your relationship.” Though I am married now, when we were pre-engaged I wrestled all the time with others’ assertions that if he wasn’t ready to commit to me by now (after two years, then four, then five), he wouldn’t ever commit to me, and I should find someone else because, you know, I wasn’t getting any younger. But man, he was just THE GUY, and I couldn’t leave him, didn’t want to. And that’s what’s most important.

    Thanks for sharing. And how awesome is a wedding blog that can offer something for people in every phase and type of relationship? Meg, you’ve really built something great.

    • M.

      Somewhere on the site Meg says something about APW really being a blog about the lives of women in relationships—that’s absolutely what it is for me.

  • This reminds me of how I sometimes struggle with the phrase “Do what you love”, as I think many people trying to be helpful will encourage others to follow their dreams or go for the next big thing. This isn’t a bad thing but can sometimes be overwhelming and encourage change for the sake of change. I like how you’ve done what I try to do in saying, “Love what you do” instead.

  • Ambi

    I asked my boyfriend about this issue at lunch, and his response kind of floored me. He said, “I just don’t get it. If you love each other enough to commit to sticking it out through good times and bad, and you promise to be faithful, and you want to have children together, why not just get married? I mean, once you have promised each other those things, you have basically just said marriage vows. Even if it isn’t at a ‘wedding’ with cake and guests and a pastor, you are still vowing those things to each other.” (By the way, can you see why I love him?)

    I completely agree with this. Yes, there is a difference between legally being married and simply making these promises to each other, but I feel like that difference is essentially outside your relationship (legal rights, societal recognition, etc.), but within your relationship, a vow is a vow. Whether you say the words while sitting on your couch in the middle of tearful conversation about where the relationship is going or you say them in front of 300 of your closest family and friends while wearing a poufy white dress, the moment that you make those promises, you are joined.

    Also, is anyone else shocked that my guy, who loves me dearly but is so afraid of marraige that we are now on the rocks after 7+ years of happiness because I finally want to get married, had this reaction?! I fully expected him to see “staying” as a really attractive third option (in fact, that is why I brought the topic up). I really didn’t expect to hear, essentially, “if you are that committed to each other, why not just get married already?” Does he NOT SEE THE IRONY IN THAT RESPONSE?! Ha. I can’t think about this too long because then I realize that the logicial conclusion is that he ISN’T that committed to me (to us), if he feels this way, yet hasn’t proposed in 7 years . . .

    • M.

      Have you asked him why he doesn’t see your own relationship that way? Even if the question is hard to ask, it sounds like you need to know the answer.

      • Ambi

        Oh believe me, I’ve asked (we are currently in counseling on this very issue). We are working towards a resolution, one way or the other (get married or break up, essentially). And we both see these as the two options. But when I walk about needing a commitment or I am going to have to leave, he always wants me to stay. I had never viewed “staying” indefinitely, without the prospect of marraige on the horizon, as an option – until reading this today. So I asked him about it. And nope, he doesn’t really see that as a good option for us, either (so we are on the same page, I guess). I was just suprised, because I figured that, if given the choice, that IS what he would want – to keep me in his life, but without the stress and pressure of having to propose and get married.

        • M.

          Good luck. It sounds like you’re being honest with one another, and that goes a long way.

        • Class of 1980

          I had that boyfriend!!!

          We met in high school and were together for eight and a half years. I left him. No regrets. ;)

    • z

      That sounds really hard– it must take a lot of courage to go through something like that in your relationship.

      I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around the idea of making the same personal commitments as are typically made in marriage, and the same legal commitments, and yet strongly not wanting to get married. If you’re making all the same commitments, then what, specifically, is different about the relationship because you aren’t married, and why is the distinction so important? It’s clear that some people feel really strongly about it, but I really have never been able to understand this perspective, but maybe someone here can help me see it.

      • StellaTex

        For me, it’s about not buying into the social, legal, and economic privileges marriage bestows. Not because I don’t think I deserve them, but because I think *everyone* does, gay or straight, childed or childless or childfree, young or old, short-term or long, platonic or romantic. That plus all the expectations people will make. And the fact that I like – legally and definitively – being “a free agent,” as I like to say.

        Having said all that, I’m in a 6+ year, hetero, totally conventional, cohabiting relationship. We just don’t believe in marriage (due to family history and observation) and don’t think the state should reward people for choosing our particular lifestyle/family type.

  • rys

    I love this post. It’s a reminder that marriage is both so easy–for some (go to court, sign a piece of paper). And so huge–for some (it’s more monumental than inking some paper, at least for thoughtful folks). The ease and the bigness of the decision varies tremendously, depending on legal matters like sexuality and country of origin as well as on emotional states that emerge from years of particular experiences, interests, and desires. Not to mention everything between and beyond law and emotion. “Complex” doesn’t really do it any justice.

  • Lindsay H

    as someone who is 5 years into an unmarried cohabitating coupledom, I totally feel this. I get hassled constantly about why he hasn’t put a ring on my finger & After 5 years the word “Boyfriend” no longer aptly describes our relationship. I go back & forth between a strong desire to get married & being totally content on our relationship. I have no desire to give an ultimatum, I am quite happy married or not but I do long for more security & the knowledge that if something were to happen to one of us the other would have legal rights. I can’t have kids & neither of us want kids so that’s not an issue, which I think also makes these discussions harder because there’s no goal you’re working towards (marriage or kids) you’re just floating along & no big obstacles come up in your life to force the issues.

  • Liz

    A beautiful and brave post.

    And an off-topic comment – I am delighted that APW has stopped ***ing out curse words. I always found it quite off-putting and am glad you’re putting the real stuff out there!

  • I was in the same situation as you.

    I met the love of my life in college. We were together almost four years. We moved across the country together and were practically married, but without the marriage license. I kept waiting for him to propose, and he never did. I came to the realization that he was probably never going to.

    So, I left. I’m not willing to be with someone who won’t give me what I want. This might sound selfish, but what’s wrong with thinking about myself and my needs? I believe that there’s someone out there who wants the same things that I do. I’m not saying that you should leave your man — however, I don’t think that two people should stay together if they have a strong disagreement about something as big as marriage. Again, I’m saying this from experience.

    Of course, if you believe that it’s worth it to stay with him, even though you’re not getting what you want out of the relationship, then who am I to judge? I just want you (and all other women) to really dig deep into their hearts and think about what they want. Because it’s not fair for anyone to stay in a relationship that doesn’t satisfy them.

    I guess I’m just concerned and, even though I don’t know you, I’d hate for you to give in to what your man wants and ignore your own desires. I am saying this completely out of love.

  • tenya

    I felt actually pretty similarly about 6 months ago, I was going to just enjoy being in a relationship with him, I wasn’t going to focus whether or not we’d get married (people were already asking/assuming) and just live in the moment. We joked about ‘renewing the lease’ yearly, but it never got beyond the joke-y “so, we’re renewing the lease for another year, huh? haha!” mentality. Then he went and proposed. Then we had the big discussions about what marriage meant to us, and it still clicked, so we’re going ahead.

    What is kind of odd, to me, is that this relationship is shorter than other ones I’ve had. One of his relatives asked “so, you weren’t married before? No? Is he your first long-term boyfriend?” Not by a long shot! And those other ones, we kind of assumed we’d get married, talked about “hey maybe eventually we’ll get married, to each other, you know one day.” Went to one cousin’s wedding and looked at each other knowingly, “that’ll be us next!” Nope! I’d always leave. Not from the lack of marriage proposals, either, just never panned out. Then I get the semi-traditional (uh, we were lounging after watching a movie about a cult) question popped, after I’d decided to live in the moment. It’s a funny world.

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