This is the year I won’t get married. And it’s not because I’m single. Or because I’m the child of divorced parents. Or that I’m inherently cynical about the whole thing (I love a proposal story; I love a wedding). Or because I’m a broke millennial who’s putting their money towards a house instead. I’m not getting married because my partner and I have decided it isn’t for us.
We’ve been together for three years, we’re in our early thirties and we like each other’s families. For many, this is the ducks lined up and ready for matrimony. I imagine many people in similar situations would be patiently waiting for a small box and nervous clearing of the throat to arrive. “It’s been three years,” an aunt might say. “Are you going to tie the knot before you start a family?”
So familiar is this narrative – from our own families, from films and TV, from everything we know and everywhere we look – round about now my partner “should” be popping the question. But he won’t be proposing. In part, he doesn’t like weddings (weird) but, mostly and more importantly, he doesn’t like institutions that bear no personal meaning to him. And that’s a principle he takes seriously; he is not religious and he’s progressive in his ideas of what commitment and family can look like. Marriage is just not his thing.
My relationship with marriage has always been more complex. To some extent, I agree with my boyfriend. To me, the concept of a man asking another man to decide who a woman spends the rest of her life with is just wrong. The terminology bothers me, the virginal white dress bothers me, even the tax breaks bother me. And I know that people have all sorts of marriages on their own, brilliant, modern, empowered, affordable terms (I’ve shed countless tears at many friends’ beautiful weddings). But I find it hard to see past the patriarchal, problematic origins of what essentially becomes a party with a political guestlist.
The thing, I realised, was that I wanted a wildly romantic proposal and elopement (a family habit, no less) in frayed jeans and Nikes. Or, more honestly put, I wanted a terrible cliché that I’d probably seen in the back pages of Vogue
Yet, when it came to the crunch and we began to talk about marriage, and I realised fully that I might never actually get married, I was really surprised by what happened. “Hang on – maybe I do want to get married after all,” I started whispering to friends in disbelief.
The thing, I realised, was that I wanted a wildly romantic proposal and elopement (a family habit, no less) in frayed jeans and Nikes. Or, more honestly put, I wanted a terrible cliché that I’d probably seen in the back pages of Vogue, and which is really only a modern version of the happily-ever-after narrative I’ve been persuasively sold since I was little. (Sleeping Beauty was my favourite.) Somewhere inside me, I wanted to be whisked away, with some drama and a cool pair of trainers.
It has only been in the past few months that I’ve started to realise that I’ve been craving something I’ve been told I wanted, but actually don’t. Because I don’t want a white wedding dress; I don’t need a ring. I couldn’t stand in front of people and give vows – I get anxious enough about inviting friends to the pub on my birthday. I have gripes with the institution of marriage but, mostly, it simply doesn’t mean enough to me. And, of course, I’d genuinely rather spend the money on flights and Airbnb.
And so, as I unpicked the ways culture had impressed upon my brain that marriage was an inevitable part of my future, I realised it didn’t have to be if I didn’t want it to. I’ve given it a lot of careful thought and, while I totally respect people who do opt for marriage, I’ve accepted it’s not for me and I doubt my feelings will change. The traditional union, borne out of the church, feels at odds with who I am. Marriage served a purpose in the past, but is unnecessary today and therefore meaningless to someone like me.
So, for me, marriage is not on the cards next year or any other, but hopefully some of the things associated with it are. In 2019, I hope for commitment, the good and bad times, the regular reality of arguing about bins and sheets, the unspeakable comfort of shared silence, the reassuring gif sent at just the right moment, the reruns of Frasier and the ability to recognise what is right for us. It is going to be the year when I reject the happily ever after society wants me to have and building one on my own terms, separate from the institution of marriage.