This morning, I told Newman that a co-worker had noticed a diamond ring I’ve been wearing on my right hand for months; she asked if I had gotten engaged and seemed a wee bit disappointed when I explained it was my grandmother’s sparkler. Newman told me his friends often ask about the relationship. Sometimes they even ask in a raised eyebrow “still together?” kind of way. It makes me wonder why. People don’t seem to ask married friends how their relationship is going, or at least not as frequently as we are asked.
Now, you might think it’s because we have some occasional turbulence, but Newman and I are only candid about that with our closest friends (and blog readers!), and I really don’t think that’s it. I think it has to do with what I see as a low-grade generalized anxiety (or at least, curiosity) about unmarried partners. I think people still don’t really know what to do with us, and the will they or won’t they question never really goes away once it comes up, and it comes up pretty quickly when people of a certain age date or co-habitate.
Newman and I are hardly a new couple; our newness is only in relation to the longer duration of our prior relationships. As this blog has recorded, we have our ups and downs, yet we are committed to each other and to all that a life partnership entails. We are slowly learning how to reach out a hand to each other when things get tough, how to gently kiss and smooth away the rough edges. We have moved past the honeymoon phase and into the realities of shared living space, complete with routines, rituals, chores, and children.
On the middle finger of my left hand, I wear the diamond wedding band of Newman’s mother, which he gave me a year and a half ago when we traveled together to my childhood home in Ireland. I wear it on the middle finger because that is the one it fits. It is missing a diamond, and its white gold is bent and worn thin. I love it, and I have never taken it off since I received it–except on one occasion during a bad fight, which prompted Newman and I to clarify that it meant the same thing to both of us.
We still check this once in a while, and this morning was the latest example. The anxiety about unmarried couples that I am projecting onto the world around us ripples into me every once in a while, when I focus on Newman and wonder why the hell he doesn’t want to marry me. I forget, at these moments, that I don’t want to marry him, that I’ve thought it out logically and have never, ever come up with more pros than cons and know I have no interest in ever again walking down that proverbial aisle. Every once in a while, however, all that goes out the window, usually when Free asks me if I’m going to get married or if I’m in a PMS fog and want my man to wrap his arms around me and tell me he can’t live without me. When I’m feeling that way, I go the way of everyone in the world who sees a natural progression from romance to ring to reception to finally relaxing in knowing you’re safely tied down to one person for the rest of your life.
There are lots of advantages to stepping outside of the norm on the marriage issue. Real, practical ones like knowing you’ll save yourself a ton of stress and money if you did have to break up, which no-one ever plans on doing but many do end up having to do. Little things like, oh you know, providing health insurance for your exes and kids are factors too. Whenever Newman and I discuss these issues, which we seem to be doing with more ease as time goes on, we remember a few key things that help settle us down, soothing my insecurity and his anxiety. First, we remember that we are on the same page with why we don’t want to get married. Second, that if we did ever decide to break up, because of where we are today, it would be a long and painful process any way we cut it, and there could never be a scenario where one could just dump the other and run. Third, we already feel married in every other way but legally, and our job, as Newman told me this morning, is to walk through the world together, and what that means is up to us and nobody else.
So we might just stall out in the romance stage and never make it to a reception. We might have to answer queries from our friends more often than married couples, but it’s not a bad thing to consider thoughtfully how you and your partner are doing. Newman and I engage with this issue regularly, and it has helped us keep pushing each other to be better versions of ourselves. Yes, sometimes it means we are unpredictable, but it also means we still flirt and try to impress each other. On the domestic front, we are over a year into living together, and I still feel like neither of us takes anything for granted. Chores are negotiated as they arise, and we both continue to express gratitude for what each person contributes. Even if Free, in her nine-year-old world of black and white rules, is still trying to figure out how this works, I’d rather her see me negotiate a relationship where nothing is taken for granted. Nothing, that is, except deep love, which allows for her, me, and Newman to keep finding each other each day with grace, humor, and respect.
For now, that’s enough.