Love & Sex

(Don’t) Put A Ring On It

Pin it
On declining to sprint down the aisle.

Out at a bar over the weekend, as I was waiting for my boyfriend to come back with the next round of beers, his lifelong best friend took me aside. "I just want you to know," he said, leaning over the table conspiratorially, "that if you ever decide it's time to give Tom an ultimatum, I'll totally have your back."

I stared at him. I blinked. "If it's time to give Tom what?" I managed after a moment. The music was loud in there. I thought I might have misheard.

"You know, an ultimatum. Like if you really want to get engaged — "

"No, I know what it is." I paused, allowing myself a moment to fully appreciate what was happening here. This particular friend was hardly the first person to suggest that Tom might benefit from a friendly (or not) nudge toward matrimony, and I'd gotten reasonably adept at deflecting inquiries into our connubial timeline with replies including but certainly not limited to "I don't know; when are you getting married?" and "Not until my symptoms clear up." Still, there's something singularly alarming about an underemployed twenty-four-year-old dude-bro indicating he might like to help you bully his best friend down the aisle. "That's… nice of you," I said finally. "Thanks."

Luckily, Tom returned with the beers. I may have shotgunned mine with more enthusiasm than was quite ladylike.

We are circus freaks, zoo animals, the eighth season of a reliable Wednesday-night police procedural.


To be fair: I get why people are curious. Tom and I are twenty-four, and we've been together since the summer before our senior year of high school. For those of you playing along at home, that's over seven and a half uninterrupted years of dating (well, once we broke up for twelve hours, but I had to reconsider when I realized I couldn't figure out how to make the Playstation play DVDs). That's a long time. Among our friends, we are circus freaks, zoo animals, the eighth season of a reliable Wednesday-night police procedural. I ran into an acquaintance from high school in New York City not that long ago, and literally the first thing out of her mouth was, "Are you engaged?" (Possible answers: "Yes, to a really lovely woman." "No, but I am knocked up.") It makes sense that people feel they have a stake in the next chapter of the story. We've been reading out loud for close to a decade.

But here's the sticky thing — I'm not looking to get married anytime soon.

I know, right? What a maverick I am.

When you say something like I don't want to get married for awhile, people automatically assume one of two things: either A) you're lying to cover up your abject humiliation at the fact that he hasn't asked yet, or B) you're some kind of art-school snot who thinks she's better than the system and everyone who's a slave to it. And while I am, in fact, an art-school snot who thinks she's better than everyone else, for once this is actually not about my psychological complexes or my paralyzing fear of public ridicule.

Do I love my boyfriend? Absolutely. Do I eventually want to marry him and punch out a couple of adorable towheaded children named hipster-y things like "Mavis" and "Claude"? You bet. Do I eye Real Simple Weddings with more-than-passing interest when I see it on the rack at Barnes & Noble?

I mean, that's embarrassing, but yes. Yes I do.

But you know what? I am really young. I have no stable career to speak of. I spend my weeknights eating hummus straight from the tub and watching Hoarders on A&E. My dad still pays for my health insurance. I have a lot of life-learning ahead of me, and when I do get married I want to be confident I've done the work to become the kind of grown-up partner I feel like Tom — or any good husband — deserves. So I just… think we should wait.

True Stories: I Look Forward To Hearing Your Reply – Twenty-something man seeks woman
True Stories: Divinity School Boys – Never come between them and God
I Did It For Science: Heterosexuality

Full disclosure: I am not a patient, mellow, laid-back type of person. This kind of what's-the-hurry attitude is not something I cultivate in my day-to-day life. In fact, I loathe and abhor the whole concept of what's the hurry. There's plenty of hurry! I could get hit by an Entenmann's truck tomorrow (which, while not a bad way to go in the grand scheme of things, would leave me little time to achieve my life's ambitions). I could keep putting things off until they never got done, winding up old and crusty and unsatisfied. Worst of all, everybody else could get to the important parts before me, and then I would look lame.

It's that last one that always stops me in my tracks when I find myself chafing at friendly cross-examinations re: where this relationship is going, and the rate at which it is going there. Because here's the other sticky thing: I like to be good at stuff. I like to set goals and achieve them quickly. I like my trains to run ahead of schedule, and I like for other people to know that they do. I grew up a perpetual overachiever — honor roll, drama club, full scholarship — not because I cared particularly about coming in first, but because I sure as hell did not want to come in last.

That's something to chat about in therapy, but it's not a good reason to throw on a white dress and make a run for it.

I don't want marriage to be a check-box I tick off.

I don't want to get married just because everyone is asking me when I'm going to. I don't want to get married because other people think I'm taking too long, or because all the cool kids are doing it. I don't want this relationship — this person I really, really love — to be a check-box I tick off, just another something I can tell myself I accomplished on the nights when self-doubt starts scratching at the screen. I understand that particular temptation in my bones — the desire for tactile, diamond-studded proof that even if your garden won't grow and you have no book deal and your kitchen sink is full of dirty pans, at the very least you'll never again have to troll for a date on a Saturday night. But that's setting yourself up for disappointment, isn't it? Because once you get home from the honeymoon, the dishes are still dirty and the flowers are still dead. It seems to me like I should get myself some Miracle-Gro and a set of yellow rubber gloves and take care of business before I start expecting a marriage license to make all my fear and insecurity disappear.

There's no doubt in my mind that eventually Tom and I are going to close our eyes, hold hands, and jump. And when we do I want all of it, the church and the dress and the shoving-cake-in-each-other's-faces wedding photos. I want to get married. I just want to be for the right reasons when I do. And really: what's the hurry?

For now, we cohabitate happily, keeping our own last names and Netflix queues, sharing groceries and a bathroom and hopefully the rest of our lives. That's the nice thing about being twenty-four and having found your person, the thing I wish I could effectively articulate to everyone who looks cross-eyed at our reluctance to make it legal: we don't have to rush it. We have all the time in the world.

Although if it ever comes down to theatrics, I guess it's good to know I have the boys' team on my side. 

True Stories: I Look Forward To Hearing Your Reply – Twenty-something man seeks woman
True Stories: Divinity School Boys – Never come between them and God
I Did It For Science: Heterosexuality