The following essay is from guest contributor Melissa Amen, who blogs at “Twisted Words.”
I get two emails from my grandmother every year – one in July for my birthday and one in December for Christmas. I don’t even have to read them anymore because it’s been the same thing for the last four years: “Happy Birthday!/Merry Christmas! Are you and John engaged yet?” Actually, this year on my birthday she mixed it up a bit and posed a question I couldn’t simply respond ‘no’ to: “Are there any plans (wedding!) for the future?”
I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years and although we have many plans for the future, like a house and kids and possibly a few chickens, we have no plans to get married. We want all the things an engaged couple typically talks about — well, maybe the chickens aren’t typical — but we are not “engaged” in the down-on-one-knee, diamond-ring kind of way. And we’re more than likely not going to have a wedding or even elope by going to the courthouse.
If you asked either one of us, we could probably give you quite a few reasons why we decided marriage isn’t right for us, most of which we rarely talk about to others so as not to offend anyone. How do you tell a very devout Catholic that the sacrament of marriage means nothing to you? Or, why would you try to explain that you don’t care about taking your husband’s name (which I can actually do without a wedding, anyway)? I don’t want to dismiss the beliefs of others and I try to respect the way other people feel — even if it’s a direct opposition to what I want for my life — and I wish people who are still holding out for a wedding would respect that my relationship is just a little different.
After years of trying to get my grandmother (and other family members) to understand why I’m not married while considering their traditional feelings on the matter, I still haven’t found a way to get through to them. I’ve talked about how great my life is, and yet, without a sparkling diamond on my finger, they aren’t satisfied with my relationship. In response to my grandmother’s last email, I gave her a summary of our recent trip to Yosemite and ignored the question about the future.
But I have recently developed a new tactic for the next round of questions regarding my relationship. Everyone’s getting a link to the commercial for Citi that features a woman buying new rock-climbing gear with her credit card. In it she says “We talked about getting a diamond…but with all the thank you points I’ve been earning, I flew us to the rock I really had in mind.” I don’t know if they’ll get the message, but it’s worth a shot.
Although I’m only a beginner, John’s been rock climbing for years now, so the commercial caught our eye. We also love to hike and explore the world through outdoor adventures. I’m much more interested in spending two month’s salary on a trip to Spain to hike and rock climb than on a diamond. Besides, I wear a Claddah ring that I got on a trip to Ireland instead. And while other women are picking out wedding dresses and center pieces, I’m Googling the Pacific Crest Trail and looking for deals on convertible pants and rain jackets with armpit vents.
This doesn’t mean that my relationship is any less special than other people’s. To some, the rings symbolize forever. I choose, instead, to trust my boyfriend with my life every time I get on a rock. I have to trust that he’s got a good hold on the other end of the rope and that he’ll catch me if I fall. He has to have the confidence that I’ll bandage his leg and find help when he slips on a rock near a waterfall. To me, that kind of commitment is much more empowering. We don’t need to get married because the commitment is already there. We don’t need a wedding to start our adventure because we’re already on it.
I don’t know if people take my new explanation to heart, but I can’t spend too much energy worrying about it anymore. After all, I’ve got rocks to climb and mountains to summit.
Melissa Amen is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, aka the Gateway to the West, but has lived on the East Coast for the last six years. Melissa’s life explorations have taught her that mountain air is best for her psyche, dancing in the rain is generally underrated, those born under the zodiac sign Cancer have strong emotional ties and love forever, and every problem can be solved as long as chocolate-covered strawberries are included in the process.