My Relationship Is About Building A Life With Someone, Not A Public Persona

Khadijah Costley White never wanted to get married. But as she enters the third year of a healthy relationship—and watches countless wedding announcements fill her newsfeed—she’s begun to question her stance.

I’m in a good relationship. Actually—dare I say it—a great relationship. My guy and I respect each other, enjoy our own company, laugh at our corny inside jokes, and resolve conflicts with care and patience. Next February will mark one year of living together and today we’re celebrating our third anniversary.

But as these important dates approach, I’ve had an urge that shocks even me: I find myself wanting to get engaged.

I’m not really sure how it’s happened. I’ve always imagined myself as not quite the marrying kind, a hard-lined radical takes-no-shit-from-men feminist. As a teenager, I refused to shave my legs as a symbolic protest of sexist beauty standards and even now I can rant incessantly about how messed up it is that women still assume their husbands’ name. When I was 18, I had convinced myself that I’d never have children and by 26, I was pretty sure that I’d never get married.

I mean, marriage is an outdated, hetero-sexist tradition that perpetuates state and religious control of intimate social relationships in order to maintain an exploitative and racist hegemonic world order, right? Right?

Plus, you know, the guys you date in your 20’s suck.

So, even as I wished and prayed for a partner that would love, accept, and respect me (and vice versa), I started straying further from the idea that such an arrangement would include marriage. And it seemed like I was in good company—studies show that Millennials are getting married much later today than Americans 50 years ago. And a ton of us aren’t getting married at all, preferring parenthood over wedded bliss.

While I was willing to make a serious commitment and be in a monogamous relationship with someone, I never wanted him (or myself) to feel trapped in a relationship based on a promise made years prior. Wouldn’t an arrangement in which each partner could leave with few legal ties make our love more earnest and require more attention and care?

At the very least, it would mean never getting divorced.

So, I would take my time and make marriage an option, not a goal. I enjoyed the romance of year one with my boyfriend, a kind and handsome biologist I met during grad school. I savored the stability of our second year, as the jarring heart-pounding, mind-jumbling, falling-in-love feelings settled into more tolerable and gentle waves of sweet joy. This third year together has been especially wonderful, with us finding new ways to join our lives and navigate our paths together.

And, all along, I’ve been convinced that this was great. In fact, I’ve generally considered myself and my partner pretty smart for taking it slow. As we’ve watched other folks meet and marry (and separate) during the time we’ve been together, I’ve felt like we were playing it safe. Taking our time meant that we were present in our relationship, enjoying it for what it was without any pressure, and it meant that we weren’t rushing into anything that would take several lawyers to get out of.

But, recently, my confidence has begun to waver. While being in a two-year relationship sounds serious, somehow a three-year relationship starts to sound like stalling. Every new engagement announcement on my newsfeed has made me seriously question the quality of my relationship. And here’s the really awful thing: I’m not sure I doubt our commitment as much as I worry about how a three-year relationship with no ring looks to other folks.

I’ve already started getting the questions about when we’re getting married. My boyfriend wants to surprise me with a proposal, which I somehow agreed to in a naive moment (apparently my hard lines can be polished down). So such queries from bystanders leave me feeling…very much like a little girl waiting to be chosen. Is there something wrong with our relationship, I wonder? What does it mean that everyone else seems to feel ready to enter a lifelong commitment after a year and we’re still making our way?

Of course, a recent rash of engagements and weddings don’t help the situation. And all the news stories about fertility and child-rearing seem directed at me (and sometimes are—thanks, Facebook). Suddenly, my ring finger has started to feel naked and exposed, and I don’t even believe in engagement rings! Though the tax breaks sound great, I honestly don’t think marriage is the only way to build strong families.

At 31, I’ve always been the kind of woman who goes after what she wants—but, what do I want?

It’s hard to be sure. I know I care deeply about the person I’m with. I know that if we’re ever going to have children, I want to do it while it’s still relatively safe for my own health. I’ve always wanted to be a foster and adoptive mom, so my biological clock isn’t a primary concern. People get married for all sorts of reasons, but I’ve only wanted it for exactly what I have right now: someone who loves, honors, and cherishes me.

In the face of all the Facebook newsfeed announcements, the engagement parties, and the wedding receptions, I have to remind myself of a few things. First, I generally dislike weddings and the thought of throwing one makes me itch. Life is not one big mouse maze where the winner gets the cheese; we all do things in our own time and there’s plenty of cheese to go around. Also, I’ve always appreciated all the unique ways I’ve chosen to live my life, especially as a feminist, anti-racist, social justice activist. Why should I expect anything less of my life partnership? And, finally, I am happy. I am loved and in love. And that should be more than enough. 

So, I’m going to welcome this third anniversary and all the other ones to come. I’m building a life with someone, not a public persona. While doing things differently from everyone else might sometimes be a bit uncomfortable, I have a feeling that it’ll be worth every single moment.

Khadijah Costley White is a faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.

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