I love weddings. I stop dead before store windows to gaze at gorgeous dresses and drool over diamond rings. I’m thrilled when I happen upon a noisy banquet in a Chinese restaurant. I read the New York Times wedding announcements every Sunday. I love watching “Say Yes to the Dress.”
But I don’t want to get married again.
It’s not that I don’t believe in love anymore. Far from it. I just don’t need the ceremony, the law, the ring. It’s like paying that extra $30 for a year-long warranty on a clock radio. I’ll keep my money and take my chances.
Before my husband and I married, we already had a rocky relationship. He was Korean and I, merely Chinese, wasn’t good enough for his mother. We broke up once, then got back together. Then got engaged.
After we married, we weren’t just together – we were together in the eyes of the law, God, and all our friends and family. We weren’t just together but TOGETHER FOREVER. Pressure, anyone?
I wasn’t commitment-phobic. I loved the security of always having my husband there. But what we had between us wasn’t ours anymore. It was everyone’s, and everyone was watching. Were we fighting? Was I cooking? Was he bringing home the bacon? Was that a baby bump? Why not? When would there be one?
A multitude of issues led to our final breakup. His parents expecting us to care for them in their old age and his mother’s declining health (she had advanced stage Parkinson’s disease). Our conflicting views on money and status (he cared, I didn’t). His untreated depression and rage, my building resentment and bitterness. Finally, his affair and his mistress’s pregnancy.
Surprisingly, after all that, I still believed in love. After a few months of solitude, I started internet dating. In my ad, I wrote that I had been married before and knew it wasn’t “all that,” and if I ever got hitched again, it’d have to be in Las Vegas conducted by an Elvis impersonator.
After three years of bad dates, good dates, guys who were too busy, afraid of commitment, afraid of babies, and neurotic, I fell in love again. Tall, black-haired and blue-eyed, Alex was a computer programmer who played jazz guitar. He was smart and funny. He turned cursing into an art form, and had the purest soul I’d known.
Four weeks into dating, Alex was calling me his girlfriend. A few months later, he asked me to move in with him. Soon enough we were talking babies. But he wanted to make sure I knew: “I want to be with you for a very long time, but I don’t want to get married.”
I shrugged. We were having lunch at an Italian place in Grand Central Station in New York. We met there often, hurrying over from our corporate jobs. I was surprised his anti-marriage stance didn’t bother me. I had tried it, and in my experience, it didn’t make things better, only worse.
“Marriage isn’t that important to me,” I told him.
He hugged me. “I’m so glad. I wouldn’t want to lose you over something like that.”
Shortly after we moved in together, Alex lost his job, a casualty in the financial crisis. He took his severance money and went to music school, but a year later he was broke. He didn’t want to ask me for money, but I offered. We were in this together.
When he started applying for new jobs, we decided together on San Francisco. When he got an offer, he encouraged me to quit the rat race and write full-time, something I’d wanted to do my whole life.
“You supported me,” he said. “Now it’s my turn.”
We wanted the same things in life: to see the world, to make art (money was optional), and to have a rugrat or two. Not being married didn’t make us any less of a family; being a Mr. and Mrs. wouldn’t make us any more.
My parents knew we didn’t want to get married, but this didn’t stop them from hoping. “Can I tell everyone he’s your fiancé?” my mother asked.
“We’re not getting married, Mom.”
She sighed. “I know, but I’m old-fashioned.”
I dreaded telling my mother we still wanted to have children, but she surprisingly loved this idea. A marriage might not last, but children were forever. “You can get married later, if you want,” she said. “That’s how they do it on the soap operas.”
I loved knowing he stuck around because he wanted to, not because he had to. That he included me in his big decisions because he cared about my feelings, not because I was the old ball and chain. That my dreams were as important as his.
So what is it about wedding trappings that make my heart go pitter-patter? Why do I make Alex squirm by pointing out every beautiful dress and ring, by saying over and over, “It’s someone’s wedding!” as we have a dumpling dinner next to a whooping room of Chinese people feting a chipao-clad bride and blushing groom?
Because every gown is the one I could have worn, still perfect, not altered badly or stepped on. Every ring is the one I’d have picked out, not foisted on me by someone else’s taste. Each raucous Chinese banquet is the one I could have had, instead of my cookie-cutter American reception.
And because they’ll remain in my mind, they’ll remain perfect. They won’t cost too much. There will be no fights with mothers about whether or not to serve pâté, no screaming matches with fiancés over parents’ dueling demands, no random guests asking for a ride the morning of the ceremony. My dream wedding will remain a dream, as it should, since no reality can match it, and my relationship will remain real.