Why I’m not marrying the boyfriend I’ve been with for 10 years

Many aspects of our relationship fit convention. We are heterosexual, monogamous and live together with (if not a dog or children) then at least some tomato plants. Be that as it may, despite being together for 10 years and living together for 5, neither are we married nor do we plan to marry imminently.

Not a day goes by without another social media post: ‘you made me the happiest woman in world’ paired with a photo featuring a slightly less than subtle bejewelled left hand.

In her book ‘Watching the English’, Kate Fox said that the way she identified societal norms was to break them and see what happened. You won’t be jumping queues very long before you can feel the rays of disapproval from the room. Instead of being sent to the back of the line I have been asked “when are you going to get married?” for years now.

I am happy to accept the question from close friends and family, people who have some insight into and appreciation of my relationship, and a well-earned right to ask personal questions and, sometimes, to tease me.

The less connected I am to the person who asks the more intrusive and insensitive I find it. I was at a wedding a couple of years ago and a woman who I had just been introduced to asked “oh dear, are you waiting for him to propose?” in such a pitying tone that it made me flinch.

Since then I have become accustomed to the implication that despite being an independent woman in a communicative, open and equal relationship I am not only desperate to be married but unable to bring it about in any other way than to ‘wait’ for my boyfriend to ask me. For my boyfriend, the question takes on a more accusatory tone, a “why haven’t you proposed yet?” with a hint of “you don’t care enough about the relationship”, “you don’t love her enough” and / or “you’re not romantic enough”.

Of course, what we find normal in relationships has changed over the centuries. Many conventions have fallen by the wayside, as is only right. Online dating and sexual relations with multiple partners is OK, and great strides have been taken towards same-sex partnerships and gender equality in relationships. Yet to my surprise I’m still coming up against an old-fashioned expectation that I should be married by now. This expectation is not driven by my age (or anything else about me) but by the length of time I have been in a relationship.

So I have formulated a well-worn answer to the question which can be trotted out when necessary. Both of us would like to get married one day, whilst simultaneously feeling that our lives would not be lacking if we didn’t. So far, there hasn’t been a time when we’ve both had paying and stable jobs and enough time to organise a wedding.

I have wondered why it is that we haven’t decided to marry, when many of our contemporaries have. Perhaps we didn’t absorb the value of marriage when we were younger (however many Jane Austen novels I enjoyed). Whilst my parents did marry, it did not appear to play an important role in their relationship and that’s born out by their lack of divorce after nearly 10 years of separation. My boyfriend’s parents also married and then divorced when he was 8. But I don’t think our parents’ marriages were unusual.

Of course the reasons will be as complex and varied as the people who marry.

A friend explained to me why she and her husband had decided to marry in their early 20s. Both had been ‘messed around’ in previous relationships and wanted the ‘security’ and ‘commitment’ of marriage. Another friend (who financial constraints had forced to choose between a wedding and moving out of her in-laws house) spoke about the enjoyment of the wedding planning, the day itself and honey moon. One unmarried friend wants to marry as a sign to his family and hers that there relationship is here for long-term and that they are part of each other’s family.

What I found interesting that when I spoke to people they tended to identify very specific reasons why they had chosen to marry. No one appeared to do it on a whim or because they felt they ought; they all saw intrinsic value in marriage. Its made me think about marriage as a tool in the toolbox available to those in a relationship, rather than a old-fashioned tradition to be shaken off. Maybe people employ marriage to meet a need or solve a problem that they see in their relationship and form it into what is useful to them, be that to solidify commitment between partners or as a visible sign of of that commitment to the families.

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