I lie on the in between. I am not married. I am also not single. I don't consider myself dating, really, because we have lived together in harmony for several years now, with a joint account and plans to buy a house down the road.
When people ask me if I am married, I say no, but I am not single. If people ask me if I am single, I say, no. I am not sure how I feel about the word, label, idea, construct "partner". Mostly, I think of it as a radical feminist term. While that is fine, I don't think that I am being radical in my relationship, though perhaps more feminist than not. My partner is not a radical, but he is perhaps also more feminist than not. I mean, neither of us thinks men are the superior sex, or that there is one.
So, what would marriage mean to two people who are neither overly masculine, overly feminine, traditionally minded, or otherwise concerned about the economic, legal and social rules? For me, there is a spiritual component to marriage, and for him, no. Perhaps, because he has had two marriages, neither based on spirituality, and both with strong economic and social incentive, and neither with much idealism to float. Perhaps, because I am the spiritual one, and he is the atheist. Still, he is not focused on possession, property or control. He is also faithful and loyal.
I have had some relationships that others called "near misses" but I don't see that any of them were that close to marriage. Two people have to be in the same space at the same time thinking about wanting the same things for it to be a near miss. That never happened, despite several years long relationships involving monogamy, or living together, or other domestic rituals. I soon found out that I was not interested in playing house- especially if there was no home, or children, involved. I know I still idealize marriage, in that I respect it. That doesn't make it the right choice or answer even if I would marry my sweetie.
Of course, this time, we aren't playing house. We are living it out. Our relationship blossomed out of mutual friendship and reliance, a person whom the other could count on when other friends could not be found and other dates could not be reliable. All the fantasies and promises of our pasts had to fall away in the face of real need. Social and economic stability in mind, each making a promise to the other to make decisions for the benefit of both, transitioned to love. It wasn't very romantic, if you are looking for a princess story. It was deeply romantic, if you can see that real love, enduring affection, and true compassion come out of showing up, again and again, to real life- not a fantasy date.
We'd both like to think that we'd have worked out fine if we had met younger, before he had kids, and had a chance to do this whole thing together from mostly the beginning. I am not so sure we'd have liked each other much, because I was not then who I am now. I wish I could erase our years of sadness and disappointment in other relationshps, but I also appreciate that they are what have turned us into who we are. Steady, trustworthy, patient, affectionate.
So, we aren't married. Maybe that will change. Economically, not a good idea for either of us. All those pesky credit reports, from his failed marriage and lost mortgage, to my student loans, to his child support payments, to my health insurance. Maybe some things would get better, but so far, nothing is pressing for it. If we needed to, we'd do it. But, we don't need to. And I don't want to unless we both want to. I know it isn't me, I know it isn't us, and I know it isn't him. Marriage hasn't beckoned to us, it has offered us no shelter or illusion of happiness.
Anymore, one must question why they are married or would want to be. You can be single, and not cohabitating, and have a full and fulfilling life, good relationships, even loving monogamy. If that is your thing. You can be married and not have any of that. Marriage no longer means the same thing to everyone, and less often to the two people (assumption) who are in it.
I never grew up with pressure to marry young, or at all, really. Perhaps that is the problem, believing I could be whomever I wanted to be and I didn't need a husband for that. It turns out, that is only partly true. I can be whomever I want to be, but I do need a husband if I want to be a wife. Now that I have the privvy end of several years of private practice, I realize how many wives don't have the marriage or husband they wanted. Some things can be worked out, and some can not.
It seems that the main trauma for so many is the shattering of the myth, that marriage will make your life a better thing. And maybe, for some, that is true. I plan to make the life of myself and my sweetie better no matter what, and have helped the lives of his children by being a great friend to them. I've already told him I don't want us to get divorced, down the road. Not because he is my husband, but because he is my best friend.