Warning: this is a long one. Worth the time, I think, but you be the judge.
On April Fool’s Day, David and I were in Japan. And we played a wildly successful trick. We posted a photo of us on Facebook. We were in front of a torii gate at Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, David down on one knee, hand stretched up to me as though offering something.
It was April 1 in Japan, but only March 31 in the US. We watched as the congratulations, the excited virtual cheers, and the disbelief rolled in. Even some of the people who knew us best came to doubt in the face of a hundred likes and hearts and applause. So many said, “Finally!”
We had been planning a prank like this for a while. We finally decided to go through with it for these reasons:
- Pranking our friend Jessica, who was with us in Japan, would be (and was) hilarious on its own.
- The International Date Line may (and did) throw a little doubt into the April Fools idea.
- David and I celebrated our 4th anniversary in January, so we were at the point when people were starting to ask about marriage.
Since I was in my teens, I knew I would never get married. I was uncertain on the matter of kids–in my journals, I wrote of adoption as an option, or perhaps going to the sperm bank. But a husband? Nah.
I’ve always had a strong independent streak. My parents didn’t like it too much. I was always in my own world: reading, playing video games. I’m an introvert, and while I like company, my tolerance for people is limited–even people I’m close to. I keep to myself, I work out my own issues. I think my family really didn’t know what to do with that.
My parents are extremely religious (and, if you must know, happily married).
I was raised Catholic, and I went to a private Catholic school for 12 years. I received an excellent education. Much of it predictably didn’t stick, but I did learn important things: I would be terrible at architecture (I hated drafting classes), my stitching is basic at best but gets the job done, and I have absolutely no interest in calculus. Oh, and I enjoy reading and writing, and I am able to reason things out fairly well. One of my teachers said I would make a good lawyer. Or politician. (I was insulted.)
We also had religion classes, variously called simply Religion, or Christian Living, or Values Education. I was taught about marriage in terms of what it meant for the Church. Even then, I was starting to ask questions, because part of the curriculum was learning about all the other religions, too. How could we say ours was the only true way, when millions of other people followed dozens of different faiths?
Higher education was delightfully sectarian. At the University of the Philippines, freedom of belief and expression was encouraged, as was critical thinking. I took a Philosophy elective. Psych 101 was a particular favorite–we had a couple of lectures on the purely chemical nature of love and attraction.
I got my first boyfriend. We both knew I would be leaving for the US, permanently, upon graduation. My friends said, “What if he asks you to stay and marry him?”
I knew he wouldn’t do it. I knew I would say no. He knew it too.
David grew up without religion. His grandmother went to church on Sundays, but he didn’t have to go. His mother dabbled with different belief systems, followed a couple of practices, but never too seriously, and never required the same of him.
After high school, he joined the Navy. He served his four years and left. Halfway through, he got a girlfriend, and they lived together after he got out. After they’d been together four years, they got married, bought a house in the suburbs.
It was the American Dream.
I asked him, not too long after we got together, why he did it. “It’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “It just didn’t occur to me that there were other options.”
I have two rules for any of my boyfriends. Don’t cheat on me, and don’t abuse me. I was willing to work with a lot, but those were always the lines in the sand. Cross them and we’re done.
My first boyfriend and I were like two halves of the same person. We bonded over books and literature, anime, video games, writing. At the time we were together, we were both broody and angsty–me because I had to leave and felt too uprooted, him because he was trapped, his destiny spelled out in the form of a family business he was already in line to inherit. We understood each other, perhaps too much.
When I moved to the US, I had boyfriends who broke both my rules. I wanted new, I wanted different, even dangerous. In the end, I learned my lessons. And I came to realize that the most important things in a relationship are honesty and shared values.
David and I don’t, honestly, have much in common. I read, write, and play board games. He codes, listens to podcasts, and hikes.
But you see, from the start I had told him: I don’t want marriage, and I don’t want kids. Ever. If there’s a chance you want either of those, walk away, before we get too involved. And he said, “Okay, great.” And he stayed.
For David, the American Dream was like soda left out too long. It started out exciting and wonderful, but quickly went flat and eventually disgusting, until the safest thing to do was pour it down the drain.
His marriage only lasted a couple years.
We were together 3 years before we moved in together. He had been living in an apartment, which he hated. I had roommates, whom I loved, but I was ready to move on.
Cohabitation made financial sense. But the loss of independence might doom us. So we made an agreement: separate bedrooms and, if possible, separate baths.
People hear this now and have two reactions (sometimes one after the other):
- That’s crazy.
- That’s brilliant.
What it is, is perfect for us.
There’s usually one person in a couple who cares more about keeping things tidy and organized. It isn’t me. I can tolerate a fair amount of mess–far more than David can. But with our own separate spaces, I keep the kitchen and living room mostly tidy, and he doesn’t mind a little bit of a mess, because his own room and his side of the den are exactly how he wants them to be, and it’s enough.
And I can sleep with as many blankets as I like.
We keep separate bank accounts. We have a shared one for utility bills, groceries, and other house expenses, but we keep the books every month and make sure each person is paying their half.
As long as the bills are paid, I can buy whatever board games I want, and David can manage his own monthly beer budget. When we travel, we split everything down the middle.
Not to say I can’t buy him a new shirt if I feel like it, or he can’t treat me to dinner once in a while. But for the most part, we live within our means and do what we like, and the system works.
Two years ago, we made a Facebook poll asking people: if you remove the concepts of religion and love, why must two people marry?
The only good answer we got was the reason LGBT groups fight for marriage equality: legal and financial ramifications. Tax benefits, health and retirement benefits, the right to make medical decisions for your loved one, the right to a tax-free inheritance. Interestingly, most people seem unaware of these benefits before they get married, and these are not the reasons they choose to do so.
After April Fools, I wrote a quick post on Facebook clarifying that no, I was not engaged. Some people were amused and impressed. Others asked, why not just do it?
Here’s the thing. We have an understanding. We have always been up front about what’s working and what isn’t. Our views on money management are the same, and we have absolute trust that neither of us will break the relationship rules. We agree on the importance of travel, and we are travel-compatible. We give each other space to do our own thing, without ignoring or abandoning each other. Our foundation is solid.
Tell me, what would a piece of paper do to improve what exists between us?
Too often, people follow a formula. Too often, they’re not even aware that other paths are available.
Maybe marriage is the simple solution. Why complicate our lives by needing powers of attorney and having to draft other legal agreements?
We don’t want to just follow the formula. We want to examine the other paths. We already know that in some ways, we’re doing this better than many married couples are. We already know we’ve built something strong and potentially lasting.
We also know that people change and grow, and sometimes that means growing apart. Marriage, legally speaking, is easy: sign the paperwork and you’re good to go. Divorce is not. It’s often a long, complicated, painful process. I’ve often wondered why that’s the case. Is it to deter people from splitting up for “frivolous” reasons? But why not deter getting married for frivolous reasons? Why, in fact, even be involved in how two people choose to live their lives singly or together?
People have said we’re dooming our relationship by even entertaining the possibility that it will end. We disagree with that. You see, it’s an immense thing to ask another person to hang around you for the rest of your life. Some families don’t even do it.
So what we are doing, in fact, is being cognizant of everything we are putting into this relationship. Because when the day comes that one of us doesn’t feel the reward is worth the effort, when the day comes when one of us even feels like the relationship requires too much effort, then we know we have a problem, and we know we have choices to make.
After we returned from Japan, most people laughed off the engagement joke. And some people were sincerely curious. And we would explain–about the marriage thing, about separate bedrooms. I’d like to think we gave them food for thought. I’d like to think the joke meant something.
Either way, it was damn funny.