I’ve been in a committed relationship with my boyfriend for almost four years. We are both about 40 now, and met in our late 30s. He tells me he loves me every day. I have many good things to say about him and our relationship. We have owned a house together for three years. He does so many nice things for us. Neither of us ever wanted children, which is one of many reasons why we are very happy to have found each other. My relationship is 90% wonderful. On a few occasions during our years together, he brought up marriage favorably and we’ve discussed it calmly.
On other occasions, he has contradicted himself about wanting to get married, and says things like, “I’m against the institution of marriage on principle,” because it goes with “kids, tract houses in the suburbs, and spending too much money on a big wedding.” I agree with him on those points. I don’t want to have kids, live in a tract house in the suburb, or spend money on a big wedding either.
But it’s really uncomfortable to hear him protest marriage when strangers and family pester him about why he has not married me. Our getting badgered by family or even strangers about not being married is so frequent that it has become a running joke. It happens every 2 or 3 weeks. When it is in my face all the time, it is a challenge to be an emotional adult about it.
Here’s why I’m triggered and make his waffling on marriage mean something negative about me: I was overlooked by the boys in high school and college, then got dumped a few times while it seemed other girls were getting engaged and married and having success in this area. Even though I rationally knew it wasn’t all a happily ever after for everyone else, I felt left out. Consequently, when I was in my 20s and 30s, it became disproportionately important to me to get married as a way to prove to myself that I was “worthy” and “included.” I was aware at the time that this was not a healthy reason to want to get married, but I couldn’t shake it. Counseling and therapy just made the unproductive thoughts more deeply entrenched. Then in my late 30s I moved onto various forms of thought work and coaching, and worked in earnest to cure myself of those insecurities and undo what too much counseling had done.
Many of those insecurities and self-worth problems did go away around the time I finally met my boyfriend. My human need for love, affection and commitment are now satisfied. He has consistently expressed his intention to be with me for life. It feels wonderful.
But I’m still hung up on wanting us to be legally married, and sometimes I have the old thoughts from my past like, “his not marrying me means he does not love me” (which I know is bullshit) or “people are judging me for shacking up” (what is this, the 1950s?) and “society and the law treat me as ‘less than’ because I am not married” (partly true, but so what?) And then there’s a thought loop where I blame myself for “manifesting this result.” (Too much counseling and too many new age books.) I’ve done models on all these thoughts, but it feels like I’m playing the “whack a mole” game and they keep cropping up despite daily effort to clean out my brain. At times my last thought is, “can’t we just be normal and get married?”
When I look past the last vestiges of my youthful insecurities, what’s left is a desire to get married for practical reasons. In most years, I pay more taxes because I’m a single filer. As I make more money I fear it will get worse. And there are estate planning considerations, like what will happen with our respective rights to our co-owned real estate if one of us croaks before the other.
But underlying that grown-up sounding stuff about death and taxes is the thought that “society can hurt me just for being unmarried.” I keep trying to get to a neutral place where I don’t have strong feelings about these topics. When I write the facts or the circumstance line, it’s things like, “marriage exists, taxes exist, death exists, I own a house with BF.” Even those words can be triggering, however, so I’m trying to not…think…so many….words. I do realize those things will exist and come with plenty of frustrations if we do get married.
I do believe I need to be at peace about it before I re-evaluate whether I want to get married for an emotionally grown-up reason I like, and if so, how to talk about it with my boyfriend, who has his own childish triggers about the topic.
Any suggested bridge thoughts to get me to that place of peace? On re-writing how I look at my past? Or passing through neutral here? Or owning this shit more thoroughly first?