I'm not sure what it is about December 26th. Perhaps it's 'December 26th With Jonathan'. Perhaps it's 'December 26th In Jonathan's Parents' House'. Perhaps it's 'December 26th In the Woods'. But any way about it, two years in a row now, on that day, we've had major relationship blowouts.
Last year, it went something like so. We'd spent days on end hanging out with his immediate and extended family. I'd been baking in the kitchen with his mother. I had essentially been doing whatever I could to carve out a place for myself within his family... and then my brain short-circuited, when I remembered the conversations we'd had in which he'd told me that he wasn't sure if he ever wanted to get married (i.e., actually make me a part of his family). Obviously this little revelation of mine was followed by the knock-down drag-out of the year - the "why the hell are you parading me around like a puppet in front of your whole damn family when you never intend to actually make a commitment to me anyway" argument. Fun times. And we didn't so much resolve that fight as it came to a sudden halt when he had to go with his parents to see his great Aunt Tillie, who had landed herself in the hospital on Christmas night.
I didn't go into town with them; I wasn't really in the mindset to be partaking in "family" events. We told his parents that I wasn't feeling well, and off they sped down the winding country roads in his mother's Lincoln Continental leaving me alone in the big house in the woods. Of course, within twenty minutes I was wracked with guilt about sending him off to the hospital and refusing to accompany him, so I did the only thing I could think of: I cooked. I cooked a huge meal for everybody, and then I scoured the kitchen from top to bottom. They didn't return for many hours, and when they did I learned that Aunt Tillie had passed away before they'd even gotten into town
Well, Jonathan's parents retired to their bedroom to collect themselves, and Jonathan joined me in the living room. I apologized for sending him off to deal with his family without my support, but he wasn't upset. Instead, he laughed. He said, "I've been spending time with my family. And I feel bad for you - I'm gonna make you one of these people." Well then. I looked up at him and told him he shouldn't say things like that; it wasn't fair to tease. And he replied that he wasn't teasing, was perfectly serious; he'd realized that he did want to marry me after all. Eventually, at least. I've been in various stages of wedding-crazy ever since.
This of course was not the engagement moment. That took a while. but it was a major turning point. What we've struggled with all along is his preconceived notions of "marriage" - that somehow the minute we get married we have to move to some awful house in the suburbs, buy a Subaru mini-van (do they even make those?), and start popping out kids. We've had many talks about this. I explain to him that, since neither one of us want that sort of life, it's not very likely that it will happen. It's not as if there's some sort of brainwashing that goes on during the ceremony, some subliminal messaging worked into the minister's spiel indoctrinating the new couple with fixations of white picket fences and 45 minute commutes. Usually by the end of the conversation he understands that "marriage", as seen on TV and elsewheres, has little to no bearing on what a marriage between he and I would be. But, somehow, after a month or so he forgets, and then we have to do it all over again.
As you may imagine, all this wedding stuff has not helped. Each level of expense and complication has pushed us that much further away from a marriage for us, and more toward trying to do things the way other people do. Because even though the wedding and the marriage are two separate animals, one is a sort of symbol of the other. I have a distinct feeling that the wedding has become ever increasingly a symbol for Jonathan of the kind of marriage that he does not want. This has been a major factor in all of my waffling on whether or not to even have a wedding.
But, to the instant event. We went into this long vacation trip with the intention of talking to both sets of parents about the financial standing of the wedding. After discovering that every penny of my parents' funds are invested in the stock market, I have become extremely reluctant to take anything from them until things become more stable in that arena. So we'd resolved to see if his parents wanted to contribute anything, and then see where we stood. We didn't want to bring it up on x-mas day, when we were arriving to their house, so we figured we'd wait for it to come up semi-naturally in the days following.
Well, the first wrench in the works was thrown within two hours of our arrival. We learned that his parents, who are now retired, have planned two rather extravagant vacations to take place within the next six months. Now, these are people who live very frugally, but have done relatively well for themselves and so every now and then like to take off to Europe. They're the kind that have worked for every penny that they have - in a very real way they are living out the classic "American Dream". It's almost spooky. Anyway, knowing that those trips would be a significant outlay for them, I started to have doubts that it was at all an appropriate time to be asking for large sums. My real fear, even, was that they would cancel one of the trips to be able to give us what we needed. It's the sort of thing they'd do, and they'd do it without even telling us that they were doing it. That's just not something that I could stomach, especially not for something that is, let's face it, a party.
OK. So the next night, the 26th. The day. Perhaps some quirk of astronomical alignment? Hard to say. Honestly though, it's not that hard to understand - here we are, sitting in the beautiful retirement home of two happily married people who have, more or less, gotten everything they wanted out of their lives, while we meanwhile are in our 30's, still not yet married, have no idea where we'll actually settle down, don't know when or where or how or if we'll ever raise any kids... Of everything I ever have wanted out of life - partner, career, artistic success, motherhood - I have only begun to achieve the first one. And this partner of mine seems to go through waves of wanting to stay in the exact same place forever, literally and figuratively. And so, this time my frizzling took a different focus, the 'when are we leaving New York City and where are we going when we do' focus.
Now we've had this discussion before. He gets in this "I want to live in New York forever" mindset. And then I have to ask, you want to stand out on exposed subway platforms in the rain forever? You want to throw money into the ever-deepening rent hole forever? You never want to own a house? You never want to have a dog? And, oh yeah, what about the fact that I don't want to live here forever? Shouldn't that be a factor? We talk about owning our own house and having a dog like every day. These are fairly basic things that both of us want, that are all but impossible here (prohibitive cost-wise and space/time-wise, respectively). If we are ever to have them, a change must be made. Shouldn't we go into our marriage with a plan, rather than stumble blindly forward just hoping that we'll figure something out?
Well, this time the conversation went on for hours, and grew into something more. Much, much more. It in fact, after several hours, developed into "you don't actually want to get married". A statement which was ever so terrifyingly verified. Indeed, he ended up admitting that no, he did not actually want to get married. That he had ended up proposing because he knew I wouldn't stay in the relationship any longer unless he did so. Which, of course, was absolutely true. But I never, ever wanted to get married for that. It was "I need us to progress or we're over, because what's the point", not "do something you don't want to do or we're over." Getting married to someone who doesn't want to be married is number one on my list of Top Ten Ways to Ruin Your Life.
So that was it. In the wee hours of the morning of the 27th, Jonathan and I were un-engaged. I gave back the ring. I tried to sleep. It didn't work. I wanted to leave, to drive on to New Orleans without him and send him back to New York on his own. He wouldn't let me go. I tried to sleep some more. I managed about three hours.
By around 9am I couldn't stand it any more. I tried leaving the bedroom, but his parents were in the main part of the house and I couldn't stop crying. So I got in our rental car and listened to my ipod for an hour. Finally I just got tired of it, and went back into the room to make him talk to me some more. And, actually, to explain to him that I couldn't do it. That I couldn't be with him as my "boyfriend", that knowing he didn't want me to have his name made me nauseous, that I couldn't live with the knowledge every day that I just wasn't good enough. I wanted him to fly back to New York as soon as possible so that he could find an apartment.
Well, as you might imagine, he was having none of it. He loved me. He wanted to be with me. But people became something else when they got married, and he didn't want... that whole list of crap that neither one of us has ever wanted, and that I have never suggested that we get anywhere near. So, yes, we had that conversation again. I know you don't want "marriage". That's not the question. The question is, do you what what a marriage would be between you and me? Oddly enough, the answer to that entirely different question seems to be, yes.
And so, game on.
There has been one significant effect of this whole blowout though: the wedding is basically nixed. The feeling that it's insane to spend a year's salary (maybe not mine now, but more than mine was for many years and more than many people's) on one day's celebration has officially won out over the need to have a party. I'm not sure exactly what we will do, but the original plans are out. It makes me a bit sad, but what can be done? If we could do the whole thing for $10k, it would be a different story. With the way our lives are situated though, and with what we have (and don't have) at our disposal, we couldn't do it any more simply than we were doing it, and it was still way, way, way too much. So it goes.
The end product will involve a maximum of ten people we're guessing. And even if it is disappointing not to have a "real" wedding, it's also a world of weight off of my shoulders - putting together a wedding is a huge amount of work, especially when you insist upon being different.
So, marriage: on, wedding: off. And we forge onward.