The true nature of my relationship ambivalence became apparent a few months ago, when a colleague at a work event asked my partner and me if we were married. I shrugged in my typical fashion, looked at the floor, and muttered, “Yeah.” My coworker nodded, then did a double take. “Wait, did you just say yes?” he asked, incredulous that I would seem so unconcerned about asserting my legal and romantic status. I laughed, as did my partner. It isn’t that we aren’t thrilled to be together. We just don’t care if you know it.
In a time of compulsive status updates, Facebook widgets tallying the days as husband and wife, and social networking sites specifically dedicated to engagements and weddings, my partner and I opted out of the normal route to online coupledom. When we got married a year ago, we invited five people to the secular ceremony. But our intention to keep things small and simple didn’t stop there. Since I’m largely estranged from my family, we didn’t bother telling them that we got married. Moreover, we didn’t post anything wedding-related online or alter any profile information. We’ve been together for a while and people who know us simply know us as together. In short, that’s been enough for us, and we’ve kept our wedding and marriage a secret from the world beyond our close friends and loved ones.
So many people treat their own lives like celebrity gossip, compulsively sharing everything from their sex lives to the increasingly mundane details that Twitter encourages (“Washing dishes with hubby, then CSI”). Perhaps because my partner and I both work in the media, we thought a different experiment might be more appropriate. It’s not that we don’t have a social media presence. We just choose not to use it to advertise our relationship status, agreeing that a little mystery never hurt anyone.
If anything, our shared undetermined status online has made us feel closer, as if we’ve truly avoided the marital hype that de-emphasizes love and commitment and focuses on frilly ceremonies and gift-giving. We never sought social approval for our union, which has made us feel stronger and more confident that our choice lacked outside pressure.
Mostly, we get a kick out of the fact that meeting strangers presents an opportunity to flip people’s expectations upside down. I introduce him as my partner, just as I always have, and allow the questions to follow. Sometimes, I even answer them!
We’re in our late 20s, but we’re one of the only married couples we know. For one, a lot of our friends are gay or lesbian. When I called my best friend from childhood, he squealed into the phone, shrieking louder than any of my female friends. “Are we having a wedding?!?” A gay man who came out only to me in high school—another time I protected a secret with a man I love—Eric has always been as supportive of my heterosexual relationships as I have been of his boyfriends and current life partner. But even though I knew I’d be getting married in a country where same-sex marriage is legal—my partner is European—I felt incredible guilt and shame that my decision might reinforce my privilege over his. Other gay friends later told me that they appreciated my willingness to queer my own marriage by keeping it under wraps and not rubbing it in people’s faces.
Of our heterosexual friends, few are interested in getting married, even though many have been together longer than we have. Many aren’t particularly taken with the legal aspects of “forever,” so our choice to get hitched flies under the radar a lot in conversation. Among committed straight folks we know, we also don’t give ourselves away by wearing small matching rings. That they’re on our right hands—the custom in my partner’s country—generally throws people for an additional loop.
With our closest couple friends—a man and woman we love like family—we had to break the news that we, unlike everyone else we knew, were going to seal the deal. Admittedly nervous, I must have acted like I had to announce a terminal illness because when I finally spilled the news over dinner, they sighed with relief. “We thought you’d have to do that!” they said. They knew that in terms of international couples, love is not all you need. A piece of paper goes a long way towards being together, even if we don’t choose to advertise its legal bearing on our lives.
As time goes on, we come out to more people. Legal paperwork gets filed in multiple countries, and we assume that, eventually, most people will figure it out. We don’t particularly dread that day or actively avoid it. I suspect by the time my family figures it out, I’ll have shaken off any lingering concerns about their opinions. We know we missed out on some of the advantages of getting married—gifts, a big party, an elaborate romantic getaway—but in our own small way, we got what we wanted. We avoided the drama of planning a wedding and introducing culturally divergent families sure to misunderstand one another. We also saved our loved ones a lot of time, money, and anxiety—not to mention how much of those things we saved ourselves.
Last week, my grandfather and I were chatting on one of our semi-regular intercontinental phone calls. Probing as gently as he knew how, he asked, “So, still have the same last name?” My grandpa knows me well, but perhaps he doesn’t realize just how progressive my values are. I didn’t change my name, and I have no intention of ever doing so. Still, I knew what he was really asking me. But instead of outright lying, I told him the truth. “Yep,” I replied. “Same name I’ll always have.”
Ms. Appropriated is the pen name of a widely published feminist writer living in Europe.