My partner and I are both in our mid-30s and have been together for nearly six years. Since we started going out, I knew he wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of marriage, but he has always been committed to me and we speak about being together forever and hopefully starting a family. I’ve listened to his arguments against marriage for years — it’s an overrated and outdated formality, weddings are a waste of money, that marriage doesn’t guarantee happiness or commitment.
On paper, I don’t disagree. But I still want it. We went to so many weddings this year and they all made me feel panicked, overwhelmed and deeply sad, like I am somehow unworthy of it all, or that my partner doesn’t love me enough to do this for me. It does also worry me that by not getting married, we could go through a rough patch and have less incentive to work on it and stay together — which I would want us to do, particularly if we have children. My partner is caring, committed and loving, and our relationship is everything I’ve ever wanted, apart from this. I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like a stereotype of a woman demanding a wedding or like I’m issuing an ultimatum.
I also don’t really know how to express how sad this makes me because I don’t really know myself. But I feel very distant from my partner right now and feel myself backing away from conversations about the future. I don’t really want to have sex and have shut down, which he is starting to notice, but I don’t know where to start. He’s been so clear on his views for our whole relationship that I feel like he’ll be angry at me for changing my mind now.
I need you to stop telling yourself stories based in absolutes. The word is not black and white and neither are people. You don’t have to feel the exact same way about marriage — or anything! — the way you felt six years ago. You don’t have to have a rational, logical explanation for every emotion that enters your body in order for it to be worthy of expression and understanding. Expressing your emotion is not some irreparable, unforgivable form of emotional blackmail.
The person with the loudest, most strongly voiced opinions is not the most right. And you can want to be married without being needy, clingy, irrational or any of the other stereotypes that our misogynistic culture has attached to women seeking a formal commitment from their male partners.
Our culture’s attitude towards weddings is bizarre, contradictory and, like so many things, usually punishes women more than men. And you are facing a contradictory attitude towards marriage in your relationship right now. Your partner says marriage is just a formality, that it’s overrated, that it doesn’t guarantee happiness — while ignoring that the “formality” of marriage comes with a lot of protections and assurances that he has not accounted for; that it’s not overrated to you, his partner; and that you not feeling able to express your desire to be married is causing you a huge amount of unhappiness.
If you were to not get married, what types of legal agreements would you come to and formalise that would make you both feel protected, whether you stay together or break up in the future?
I’m not saying his arguments against marriage are wrong — but they are wrong for you. He is prioritising sweeping generalities and cold logic over the lived experience and emotional desires of his partner, who he is meant to care about. That’s a problem.
I don’t know when last you spoke about marriage with your partner, so let’s not start handing out too much blame. He cannot be expected to know your unexpressed desires. So you’re going to have to start talking — and I recommend doing so with a couples’ counsellor. These are big issues and the silence around them is already causing a chasm in your relationship, so it’s time to talk — preferably with the help of a professional.
What might help you start this conversation is getting clear yourself on the reasons you want to get married — and the emotions that may not have a logical, inarguable reason, but that matter anyway.
Rightly or wrongly, marriage isn’t just a formality of a romantic relationship. We live in a heteronormative society where ideas of the nuclear family still define what types of relationships get legal and social protection, and what obligations are formalised in law. Marriage can have impacts on so many financial, legal, child-focused and healthcare-based facets of your life that arguing “it’s just a formality” and claiming that this is the most logical and well-reasoned argument is naive.
Do I agree that marriage should be the easiest way to legally formalise a lot of these issues, or that marriage should be offered these forms of protection when other forms of relationships are not? No. But that’s where we are, and that’s the reality your partner needs to address.
If you were to not get married, what types of legal agreements would you come to and formalise that would make you both feel protected, whether you stay together or break up in the future? Is your partner willing to do this work now — to meet with legal experts and financial experts and to craft contracts and legally binding agreements offer you some of the protection and clarity that marriage would? Is he willing to discuss where the gaps would still be in terms of rights and work out alternatives for them?
You distancing yourself from your partner, repressing a deeply held desire, and being constantly upset and overwhelmed when thinking about the future isn’t sustainable for your relationship
If traditional weddings are too expensive for his taste, what about a civil ceremony? A small gathering of your closest friends and family? An elopement? A ceremony without the legally binding marriage registration? I ask because plenty of people without a huge amount of money get married; and you can have a commitment ceremony without getting legally married, so digging into his reasons here will be important.
They are the logical, formality-based questions. And then there are the emotional questions. If marriage is “just a formality” to him, and deeply important to you, then why would he not want to do this for you? This isn’t a rhetorical question. No one should get married if they don’t want to, but if your desire for marriage is deep and causing you distress, then he should give you more than a flippant response as to why his desire is the one to define the status and nature of your relationship now and in the future.
And both of you need to dig deep emotionally into your attitudes towards marriage, and each other. If he never wants to get married, would you be able to stay and have children and feel safe and loved and fulfilled — or would you need to leave? And if you do need to get married, is he ready to walk away from you and your future together?
You’re not stupid or needy for wanting a marriage and a wedding. Your partner isn’t wrong to not want them. But if you really are in a loving, committed relationship where you are contemplating children, then you should both be willing to have some ongoing conversations about what the future looks like, in practical and emotional terms. Is there a compromise to be reached, or is this an irreconcilable disagreement?
You distancing yourself from your partner, repressing a deeply held desire, and being constantly upset and overwhelmed when thinking about the future isn’t sustainable for your relationship. Find yourself a couples’ counsellor and tell your partner that you need to have some serious, detailed and emotionally honest conversations about your present and your future. Ask him to enter them with an open-mind; the desire to dig into his own emotions and reasoning as well as listening to yours; and the emotional commitment and support that he has been promising you since you have met.