I felt my first pang.
Of what I wasn’t exactly sure, but there it was nonetheless.
When my girlfriend Tori, at our annual holiday get-together, announced that she would be getting married this year, I was elated — and surprised. Not just by her news — she’d shot me an inscrutable, almost dismissive look when I’d teased that she was next at our friend Tarsha’s wedding last year — but by my own twinge of something akin to longing.
In our group of five, Tori and I, though both in committed relationships, were the only ones who had yet to take that walk down the aisle. And for as long as I can remember, I have been perfectly comfortable without that prospect in my future.
I don’t know when exactly I decided that marriage wasn’t for me, though I can’t deny having endulged in thoughts of what it would be like to be married to past boyfriends and even now to Zane. But looking back on my childhood, I was never one of those girls who imagined her dream wedding, tucking fantasies of the dress, the ceremony, the reception and even the groom into a vision that I could then dust off as the big day actually approached. As I got older, I would joke with my mom that if I got married, I would wear a white cotton dress in a simple barefoot ceremony on the beach. Yet as the years went by, and a brief run of failed relationships didn’t get me any closer to that moment, I embraced an easy comfort.
Even as friends around me began flashing their fingers in giddy joy after revealing their impending nuptials and even after the honor of participating in several of their weddings (including actually performing the ceremony), my own contentment remained sealed in a savored freedom. I certainly didn’t begrudge them their decisions or their happiness, but with the ever-expanding richness of my own life, I never felt incomplete without that glimmering horizon of wedded bliss.
There was a time when I thought that marriage would be too confining. I feared that in the necessary compromise and consideration of inhabiting such a union, the capaciousness of the visions and dreams I held for myself would somehow shrink, the flexibility and abandon with which I leaned into life whittled away by a quotidian conformity.
Two summers ago, while visiting family in St. Lucia, my dad asked if the demise of his own marriage to my mom was to blame for my reluctance to take that step myself. I admit, I have wondered if lurking somewhere in all my deliberate hesitation is some unconscious fear, waiting for the opportunity to uncoil in savage victory.
But I honestly don’t think I would get as much joy as I do out of performing wedding ceremonies — a great irony to my friends baffled by my insistence that marriage is not on my radar — if any of the latter were true.
For I now realize that couples are just as capable of shaping a husband-and-wife partnership to fit their own ideal as they are any aspects of their individual lives. And while I imagine that some amount of fear may even be healthy when contemplating marriage — it is, after all, a momentous life change — a more pernicious level, whether acknowledged or not, would already have capsized my relationship with Zane.
This April, we will have been together three years (almost four if you count that sweet and tormented undefined period of dating that marked the start of our relationship). We have not talked marriage or wandered too far down the path of “where this is going.” And though I like to say our relationship is “future-oriented” when pressed — we do talk about places we’d like to travel together and opportunities we can envision ourselves sharing while tossing about phrases like “next year” or “we should do that one day” with great ease — I also take pride in just how present I am to each day we have together.
Rather than worrying about the future or waiting for past relationship saboteurs to intrude, I find myself most often in that rare but precious space of truly being in the moment and appreciating what is working for us right then. That’s not to say that my thoughts don’t drift toward the bigger picture every now and then — usually after a disagreement or rough patch — or that I’m blithely indifferent to what may lie ahead. But I also like to imagine ourselves as part of a naturally unfolding story with a perfect and fitting conclusion, whatever that may be.
Which was why that niggling sensation I felt at Tori’s announcement was so perplexing. Had I been deluding myself all those years by claiming I wasn’t the marrying type? Did I regret so staunchly taking that stance only to wonder now if I would be the last woman standing among my friends outside of those vows and that pledge?
In the days after that gathering, I examined and re-examined my thoughts, on marriage, on what it meant to me, on why I didn’t seem to need or want it in the way so many other women do. … I reflected, too, on my relationship with Zane. I thought about when we first went our separate ways and how sure I was that we would never be in each other’s lives again, given his fear of commitment … and how months later, he was the one to reach across the divide, carrying hope and the surest of love. I recalled how we easily fell back into a comfortable togetherness without ever putting a name to it … and how just when I was beginning to feel unsettled by once again being in such an undefined place, it was he who referred to me as his girlfriend during a casual conversation with a video store clerk that I happened to overhear one night …
If I had reason to question the depth of our commitment or the certainty of our path, an answer would always appear, an affirmation ringing out unexpectedly — like when he asked me to consider moving in with him when I decided to leave my mom’s and get my own place (despite his request, he not only supported but celebrated my condo purchase) — or slipping quietly into a vulnerable moment.
When Tori shared that she was engaged, I assumed, in that group of friends, that all eyes would next be on me. I told myself that after almost three years, Zane and I should at least be having serious discussions about marriage, and imagined the bewildered — and even worried — reactions of others to know that we weren’t.
Somehow I snagged myself on so much unspoken expectation, I forgot that, with Zane, it’s never been a question of will we or won’t we. Instead, it’s about trusting in our journey, growing as much in love as self-discovery along the way and taking each day as it comes. The rest will be revealed in the perfect unraveling of time.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times