Marriage is overrated
Can we let go of the idea that not wanting to marry means a lack of commitment?
Photo by Andreas Rønningen on Unsplash
18 years ago I left my life, my family, my country, my school, my friends, my home to move to the U.S. to marry a guy I thought I was in love with, whom I didn’t know very well.
I clearly remember standing in my grandparents' bathroom in Germany a couple of months before I left, when my fiance called. I stood in front of the mirror, feet on the fluffy bathmat, the room warm and soft, smelling of soap and laundry detergent. If you hadn’t come to visit me in America, I don’t think I would have come to see you in Germany. I don’t think we’d be together. I remember that moment clearly, looking at myself in the mirror, because I realized then that I was already more committed than he was. Willing to give up everything when his life would stay the same. The risk was all mine.
I dismissed the giant red flag flapping in the wind, hitting me in the face repeatedly.
September 27th marks the 18 year anniversary of my move from Germany to the United States. I was only 21. So young. So stupid. Every year the date draws close, I get antsy.
We met while I was in college in Germany and he was a missionary for the Mormon church a few thousand miles away from his home in the States. I was an “investigator” which is what nonmembers are called who are interested in potentially joining the church. When he was transferred to a different city, we started writing letters, and after his 2-year mission, I flew to a different continent to surprise him there at the airport with his family.
A week later we were engaged.
I went home to Germany with a ring on my finger. While I initially planned on at least finishing the semester in Germany, I didn’t. Instead, I quit school, broke my rental agreement, packed up my stuff, and just left everyone and everything to be with him six weeks after we got engaged.
My mother sat on the floor in my room the night before I left, angry about how much crap I wanted to leave there and how much I didn’t care about cleaning out my room. But maybe more angry that I wanted to move thousands of miles away to be with a guy she only met once. I have sometimes blamed her for not telling me that I was being a total shithead, but then again, it would only have made me more determined. There was nothing she could have said to stop me.
My sister had come by a few days before my departure. She was angry because I was only talking about getting married and she was like, what are you doing? Who is this guy? You barely know him but you’re moving to a different continent?
She did pretty much tell me I was being a shithead and it made no difference. I didn’t want her to ask me all these things, because I had no good answers. Her questions were cracking tiny fissures into my carefully crafted, fragile idea of what was going on. We were soul mates. It was meant to be. I found what I’d been lacking my entire life. I’d get the family I’d always dreamed of. I knew it sounded crazy because it was and so it was easier to talk about logistics and wedding decorations. She got so frustrated with me that she left in tears and I stood outside at the gate calling her back but she didn’t turn around.
When I arrived in America, my future mother-in-law had already picked out and bought my dress. We were going to use most of the decorations from my fiancé’s sister’s wedding since we were both broke and my parents had no intention of paying for a Mormon wedding they would not even be able to attend, as non-members are excluded from temple ceremonies.
I’d like to tell myself that I gave up everything I knew at the time to marry this guy I loved and it just didn’t turn out. But I know that I didn’t run into it blindly or innocently. I saw the red flags, I could have slowed down. I didn’t need to rush. I had plenty of my own reasons for doing what I did, regardless of who this new person in my life was. I wanted a fresh start. I didn’t want to feel like damaged goods anymore. I wanted a way to check off the boxes, for someone else (a church, a prophet, a god) to tell me what to do so I could be happy and safe and taken care of.
My ex-husband told me a couple of years after our wedding that he married me because I was “there” and because he needed a wife to check off the next box on the list of Mormon things to do. He actually had a crush on a different girl while he was in Germany, someone he would have preferred over me. Someone who wasn’t so eager to give up everything to be with him. I would like to believe that had I known that I was his second choice, before moving to America, I would have canceled the whole thing. But realistically, I would have just worked harder to convince him that I was deserving of his love and that he had merely been confused.
You will be so surprised to hear this marriage didn’t last.
After that conversation, I stayed for three more kids and five more years. If you’re familiar with the sunk cost fallacy you’ll understand why. I’d already invested everything I had in this life to work out. I didn’t want to cut my losses and run. I didn’t want people’s I told you so’s. I didn’t want to be wrong about him, about us, about me. In the end, I became so depressed I was almost suicidal, then had an emotional affair, then went back to school to finish my degree, then left the church, and then finally finally finally filed for divorce.
The guilt I feel towards my kids over the divorce and breaking up our family has been debilitating at times. Let’s just say it has never and still isn’t amicable. I stayed for my kids but then I also left for my kids. I remember thinking is this what I want my kids to think a healthy relationship looks like? What example am I setting for them?
Every year I ask myself the same futile question. Am I happy I left 18 years ago? Am I glad about how my life turned out? Do I wish I’d made a different decision at 21?
All those questions are stupid, because I can’t know the answer. I have no belief in fate or in “meant-to-be.” There was shockingly little behind my decision, other than that 21-year-old me thought it was the right thing at the time. It was a decision that has created an enormous ripple effect I didn’t anticipate. And so it is with all my major life decisions that maybe didn’t even seem major at first. My personality coupled with my childhood experiences and my decision on one particular university led me to meet the guy, join the church, make the move, have the kids, and so on. Just one tiny change and everything could have turned out very differently.
And yet, it sometimes all feels like it was meant to be. I cannot imagine my life without these kids that smell up the house. I mean, I can imagine it, but I’m so glad to know these humans and to be their mom and stepmom. I look at Rob and I think if I didn’t make a bunch of shitty decisions I would never have crossed paths with you on a fucking dating app that I only went on for some cheap affirmation after getting divorced. I would not have this job that allows me the flexibility to write on the side. I would live, look, eat, love, work differently. And it would probably be a pretty good life, too. But then I take a moment and am so glad that THIS is the life I have. This man and these kids and this life.
We’ve been together for 9 years now and have never married. I hate calling him my boyfriend. It sounds so flimsy, so immature, so “shacking up with a rando.” He says, just call me husband then if it’s about the title. But I don’t like the word husband either. The only things worse are hubs and hubby. WTF people? Anyway, in the beginning, I really wanted to get married because it meant commitment. Because I wanted security. But security didn’t get me anywhere the first time around. What, you want the state to sanction our relationship? And then we have to ask them permission if we ever want to break up? I only heard the part about the breakup and thought, aha, you’re already planning on how to leave me more conveniently if this gets hard.
But then we clean up kids' vomit and laugh about it. We embarrass the kids by cheering the loudest at every recital. We buy a house. We fight over who’s cooking dinner and we fall asleep in each other’s arms. And even when I roll over because he’s an oven and I’m sticking to him, he keeps one hand, wide and heavy, on my hip.
I feebly attempt to explain that it’s important that we publicly and openly make our relationship official and that our family and friends are there to witness our love and that our kids know we’re a real family. So you want a party? We can have a party without getting married. And the kids already consider each other brothers and sisters.
I don’t want to have a party. I’m not a party person. I’m a one-on-one person. And also, many of the people I’d invite are dead or very far away. And our kids who have been thrown into this blended family experiment bicker all the time and say horrible things to each other. But they call each other brother and sister. They give each other birthday and Christmas presents bought with money they earned themselves. They sometimes do kind things for each other when they think we’re not looking.
We dubbed our first family Christmas “Barfmas” because a stomach bug hit us on Christmas Eve and half the kids were throwing up while the other half had the most disgusting rotten egg farts and burps I’ve ever smelled in my life. There is a picture I took of the Christmas tree, with two kids sitting underneath, a puke bowl next to each of them, clad only in underwear because we had no clean clothes left. In the background, the door is open to the bathroom, where Rob is holding onto another kid about to throw up against the wall (I can almost hear him…Puke down! Into the toilet! Please!).
Sicknesses and holidays and vacations and hilarious family dinners, insane road trips, terrible concerts, and boring sports games, group hugs, and deep conversations — they all quietly, day to day, made us a family. A family that is not made of traditional constructs like marriage, not sanctioned by god or government, not easily recognized by the same last name. A family that I thought was made of broken pieces, messily glued together. But it’s not broken at all.
It’s Rob coming up behind me a few Christmases later, wrapping his arms around me and whispering in my ear: My favorite person cutting my favorite dessert on my favorite holiday.
It’s Sweet Potato Pie by the way.
The man who hates Rom-coms but told me early on: I love you because of who you are, not in spite of it.
We disagree on many things (like the correct inside temperature for a house is such that I can pretend it’s summer all year long), but we agree on this: In our family, we will accept each other for who we are. It will be a safe place for everyone. It will be our soft place when the world is ugly and harsh.
Over the years, I’ve realized that I have no good reason for marriage. I have no belief in god and therefore no need for following religious customs. I don’t think it’s any of the government’s business what should or shouldn’t be considered a valid relationship and I don’t need the state to sanction mine. There are no legal or financial reasons for me to be married (like taxes or having biological kids together). The questions from family and friends on whether we’d get married or why we weren’t stopped after a few years and I became overall less concerned about other people’s judgment. Most importantly, I did not feel secure in our relationship at the beginning but I do now. What we have is solid and the lack of a marriage certificate no longer means anything about the quality of our love.
If Rob asked me today, I’d say yes. Whether it’s my obsession with Rom-coms or my socialization with fairytales and Disney princess culture, or just every love song ever written….I still have a soft spot for marriage, for weddings, for emotional vows, for happily ever after. I fucking love that shit! But loving the idea doesn’t mean it would be that magical in reality, especially if the person I love gives zero fucks about marriage. Turns out I still, and always may, give at least half a fuck about it. And that’s cool.
When I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, I didn’t realize that it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s easily managed but that day I was scared. Also, I had no insurance. So, at one point during the day Rob and I were sitting on the couch and I was crying because I saw prescription meds and specialist visits and repeated lab work in my future and that shit gets expensive. We looked at each other and both blurted out at nearly the same moment, we might need to get married! I cried some more. The man who is offended at the very idea of marriage would marry me tomorrow if I needed him to.
I don’t need him to. I got health insurance (thanks Obama!). And when I introduce him to others as “Rob” (not boyfriend, not husband), they know what we are to each other by my tone of voice, the looks between us, the tenderness. And even if they don’t, I do.
PS: ohmyfuckinggod, I ended a post about marriage with I DO!!! Accidentally! I swear it was an accident. But how fucking perfect is this?