The Hook Up: Not wanting to get married

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I had two serious relationship that failed badly—one during marriage (which bitterly ended) and the other just before. Both times with men. Then I met this amazing woman who made me rethink all that I thought I was. We went through the adversities of having to come out to my family and friends, a brief breakup, did the friends-with-benefits thing, but eventually realized we loved each other enough to give us another chance. We’ve been living together close to 10 years and things are going well overall.

GF and I had “discussions” about marriage—she wants to and I don’t really see the point. Before you get upset with me, I support same-sex marriage and equality for all. This is about my doubts about whether getting married again is a good idea. I just don’t think I want to do it again. The last time we talked about it, I ended up hurting her feelings. In my frustration, I told her I’m just making things easier if she decides to leave me again. I regretted it as soon as it came out of my mouth. We haven’t talked about marriage since then.

Our relationship is still the same, which I’m not sure is good or a bad thing. We’re neither moving forward or backwards; sometimes I don’t think we’re moving at all. Don’t get me wrong, I still love her, I’m pretty sure of that. I cannot imagine myself being with anybody else. And I know she loves me, too. But lately, she’s been really busy with work that we don’t find a lot of time together. I miss those days when we’d run off somewhere just because. I miss those little things she did before she got too busy. I miss her romancing me. She’s so busy sometimes I have to check with her assistant if we can dine out.

I know we should sit down and talk but I’m afraid to ask her what’s going on because I may not like the answer. I have a feeling my “aversion to marriage” (her words, not mine) is part of the reason why we are in this state. I don’t like how things are with us right now but I don’t want to marry her just to end the bickering. To complicate things, I met this other woman through work who’s been showering me with attention I didn’t know I was craving until now. I like the attention but I’m pretty sure it will not lead me to cheat.

Sometimes I am tempted to tell GF about the other woman, just to give her a jolt. But I don’t want to hurt her because there really is nothing going on. Should I just give in and marry her? She knew how I felt about marrying again before we moved in together and told me she loves everything about me, emotional scars and all. I just don’t understand why it’s becoming a big deal now. Am I being unreasonable? Not sure if it matters but we’re about the same age in our 40s.—Not Wanting to Marry

Anna Says: Dear Not Wanting, There’s a lot going on here, so let’s see if we can get to it piece by piece, starting with the “other woman” because it’s easiest. You should talk about her with your girlfriend, but not to manipulate her or “give her a jolt” as you said. Instead you should bring it up in order to address the underlying issuethat you miss her and the attention she provides, and want to spend more time with her. The goal isn’t to inspire jealousy or make your partner insecure, which would solve nothing, but to get at the core of things.

You wrote: “I know we should sit down and talk but I’m afraid to ask her what’s going on because I may not like the answer.” But what’s the alternative, sugar shoes? To passively avoid all unpleasant conversations from now until you die? I think we both know that you need to have a heart-to-heart with your partner, and that you try not to view such conversations as a wedge driving you apart or making you say regretful things, but to see them as they are: vehicles for honesty and vulnerability and mutual respect and compromise. In other words, these conversations are key to your survival as a couple.

OK, marriage. You’re not into it, and that’s totally fine. My girlfriend’s not into it. Jon Hamm’s not into it. It’s your choice, and it doesn’t make you weird or a cultural pariah or anything (seriously, why would I be “upset” with you? Girl, I got your back! That’s why The Hook Up exists. That and to house my increasingly large collection of lesbian-themed puns.) I will say that it would be preposterous for you to get married to “end the bickering,” as you say. That would probably make a good Someecard, but in terms of a decades-long commitment, it’s not a reliable life plan.

When my girlfriend and I have talked about marriage, (and by “talked” I mean me trying to convince her otherwise) I was forced to parse out why exactly I was so enamored with the institution, and honestly many of my reasons were laughableI really want a gravy boat shaped like a turkey, but I don’t want to pay for it myself. I want you to have this talk (or several) with your girlfriend. I want you to ask her what it is about marriage that she craves and what about it is meaningful to her and to then see if you can find other ways to attain those things without the contract with the government.

For instance, most people into marriage want some kind of ceremony. You get to declare your love in front of everyone who is important to you and eat cake. It’s a pretty good deal. But you don’t need a marriage to have a party. Hell, you can even have a gift registry. Who’s going to stop you? Not Crate and Barrel, that’s for sure.

What else? Is it the symbolism? Does she want a ring that serves as a visual reminder of your love and commitment? No problem, you also don’t need a marriage certificate for that. Does she want to ensure that she won’t lose your house if one of you should die? Does she want to get on your health insurance plan? This is somewhat more complicated, but you can get a lawyer involved to find out what legal rights you have in certain situations and how you might go about protecting each other from certain losses. Does she want to refer to you as her “wife”? Again, no paper needed, though as we’ve talked about previously with civil unions, naming conventions have their place. (I’m still on Team Jiggety Jigsaw).

The point is, when people say “marriage,” they often mean something else entirely, or many somethings. There are, of course, legit and important reasons for wanting to involve the government in your relationshipif your partner is seeking citizenship, for instance, or parental custody of your children — but in your case, it seems like the piece of paper would be more or less a detail. Can you and your partner find a way to reach across the aisle without having to walk down one?

I’m betting you can, with a little creativity and a lot of trust. Are you up for it?

For more on marriage, check out these Hook Up columns.

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