(I love The Tempest.)
I always wanted to get married. And then I met the love of my life. I don’t want to get married anymore.
I have had a lot of things to say about marriage in the past, about its politics, and about how I think it should be a legal right for all consenting adults regardless of sexuality, or gender, or race, or…
For me, marriage was never about legal legitimation. Partly, I’m sure, that’s because I live in a country in which a couple need not be married, or a woman/man pair for that matter, in order to receive most legal rights. But it was also because marriage has never been about state participation for me; I always saw it as a matter between loved ones, and their family and friends, and maybe their community, and, if applicable, their deity or deities. So when I talk about marriage in this post, I mean marriage in terms of that kind of contract, state involvement irrelevant. It was always about the personal, social, and perhaps spiritual or religious legitimation of a relationship in terms of what I saw mattering. I wanted that kind of legitimacy. I wanted it badly, having lived a life that was in many ways on the fringes and strange. I wanted a big, definitely not white, dress, and everyone’s adoration, and then I wanted two or three kids and a surburban life among other suburban lives. I wanted to be normal. (So this is not a piece about institutionalised politics or legality, for once. It’s not about what we can do, and the ways in which we are limited. Let’s leave that aside this time. It’s a piece about desire.)
As a kid, I saw married relationships as superior to unmarried ones, more serious, less shocking. I may have been a progressive girl, but I grew up in Conservative Land. As I got older, I still emotionally felt the same way, even as I felt guilty and knew that to be wrong intellectually. I knew it was wrong not only because not everyone could access marriage, legally or otherwise, but because not everyone wanted to. Not everyone saw getting married as the end point, as the legitimation of their presumed happily ever after. Not everyone had happily married lives, and I had seen all too well how some people were trapped in them, and, even in the event of their escape – even from abusive marriages – they never, ever escaped from the stigma of Wrongness attached to them as people who were figured as having failed the institution of marriage.
And then I fell in love.
My sweetheart, as it turned out, did not fancy the idea of marriage. By the time this came up, I had already figured out that we weren’t going to get married. The reasons – I am not going to tell you that the reasons are not important. They are. They are simply not ones about which I wish to write. Let’s just say that the positive motives I had for wanting to get married were not ones that fit the circumstances of our relationship. What I was left with, then, was not my positivity, was not my sweetheart’s wanting. What I was left with was the kind of thing at which I have gestured: the smallness and graspingness, the desire for normality and legitimacy that would only comfort other people and leave me ultimately empty.
It is an extraordinary thing, to toss out the script of desire, and to weave a life together constituted of our own rules. It is an extraordinary thing to do what can make us happy, to perpetuate the unexpected happiness that fell into our laps one life-changing Tuesday evening.
I didn’t toss the idea of marriage out the window wholesale. I still think it can be a great idea. I still think it can be a shitty idea. It is not an idea that is going to structure my life. And it is wonderful and strange to rid myself of what I have always wanted – marriage, the script of a happy life – to pursue what I will always need: a life lived between, with, for us. I guess that part of what I’m resisting by telling you this is the idea that marriage is inevitably the best state possible, something we ought to prioritise as a society, in our politics. It should be personal. It should not be necessary. I’m not too sure that it should be a state matter, but people shouldn’t have to be in man-woman couples, or in couples, to live lives of legal and social status as high as those of people who are. Love won’t make you complete, and marriage definitely won’t. Let’s not treat some kinds of desires and lives as less honest or beautiful or true than others.
I am watching as many people with whom I grew up get married. There are some I know are going to last forever – not that that is necessarily the mark of a good relationship! but these ones will be – and some about which I think, Too soon, too young. I am watching as a lot of these people perform the script they’re given. I hope they’re happy, hopefully more for their own happiness together than for the reassurance that they are performing rightly, and some of these performances I am witnessing are so forced. I am watching as their communities and culture jostle around and ooh over them. And it’s wonderful to be so valued. I want to be valued. But the way in which I need to be valued has shifted, and now I can find it in my sweetheart’s face, and in my own heart.
I gave up what I thought I needed to find my way, and to find ours. It’s a new path, and one I am finding freeing.