My boyfriend and I have a dilemma, one that more than a few couples have had over time.
I want to get married. He doesn’t. We’re both divorced and each of us have a child from our previous marriage. We’ve been together for almost two years. He’s not against living together. In fact, he’s for moving in together. But he says that getting married is just adding a piece of paper to our relationship. I think it’s much more than that.
How do we get through this?
Normally this space is reserved for the menfolk, but I’m happy to occasionally hear from women, especially when they ask a question that, like you said, many couples face. Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution. Either he gives in and you get married, you give in and you cohabitate only, or you break up…right?
I think most people can understand the desire not to remarry after having a bad experience. It must be hard to imagine putting yourself back in a position to deal with such a mess–financial, legal, emotional–if things don’t work out again. And I’d guess that his argument about the piece of paper stems from his knowledge that just being married in and of itself doesn’t necessarily signify love or respect. Presumably, at the end of his first marriage, he wasn’t happy, and yet he was bound to this person by that piece of paper.
I also understand your desire to get married. Marriage, with all its protections and benefits, and its social and cultural significance, is very appealing and important to most people. You’re standing up together and saying, “I choose you, forever.” Is there anything grander?
Because you’re both working from valid perspectives, I would encourage you to do two things. First, accept that if you choose to stay with this man, it means you won’t get married. Erase any thoughts along the lines of, well someday he’ll come around. It is absolutely a mistake to stay in a relationship hoping, planning, or wishing to change someone. I’ve never seen that strategy not blow up in someone’s face. You can’t change other people, and being in a relationship means you accept the person as they are, not as they could be.
Second, try to imagine a life different from the one you’ve always envisioned. Many of us have these ideas about our identities, about our future selves. We believe that we will get married, or stay married, or have children, or make a certain income, or have a specific career…but lots of stars have to align to ensure that we get exactly what we’ve always wanted. For most of us? It doesn’t happen. The girl who always wanted to be a novelist finds that as a woman, she’s really not great at crafting fiction…in fact, she stinks at it. But she cobbles together a worklife based on writing in other forms, including the column you’re reading right now. The challenge as adults is to not get stuck thinking that life has to be a certain way simply because we’ve always thought it would be. Every one of us can lead a variety of different lives and find meaning and satisfaction in those lives. There is not a single path to happiness. Let that marinate for a while.
Despite what I’ve just said, if you decide that marriage is a non-negotiable for you, then that’s fair. It’s not a frivolous desire. But it means that you’ve got to break things off with this man, because you also have to believe him when he says that it’s a non-negotiable for him.
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