“I want to be married and have a few kids by the time I’m twenty-five,” I told my college roommate in the early ‘90s as I watched her dry her hair. I was taking a drag of my Parliament 100s thinking, I still have five years.
I had my whole wedding planned out before I even met my ex-husband. I didn’t just want to be a bride, though. I wanted to be a wife and wear a ring. I wanted to refer to someone as “my husband.” I wanted to take care of them and make sure the fridge was stocked and bake his favorite cookies.
When I did meet him when I was 23, and we talked about getting married after a year of dating, it felt easy and right. He felt like home, there were no games, and we both wanted the same things out of life.
I discussed our wedding for hours with my sisters. “I want you all to wear gold dresses and carry hydrangeas,” I told them over dinner at my mom’s house after we’d talked about getting married but before we were engaged. I was eager and couldn’t wait to be a bride and a wife. I knew what music I wanted as I walked down the aisle in a cascading veil, and of course, there’d be wine, cheese, and chocolate-covered strawberries being passed around during our fall wedding.
I got all of it: The veil I made myself (since I couldn't find the right one), the barn reception with the wine and cheese, and most importantly, a man I trusted with everything. I thought marriage was the key to happiness — the vehicle to living a fulfilling life.
When I got pregnant a few months after our nuptials, I was flower shopping with a married friend of mine. She was unhappy and falling for another man. “I can’t believe I’m going to be divorced. I just don’t want to be married anymore,” she told me.
She looked at my belly in my butter-yellow sweater, then her eyes met mine. “That will never be you though. You will never divorce.”
“Never,” I said, and I meant it so much that the mere thought of not being married to him shook me.
After our son was born, I was watching a John Legend video on MTV, “Ordinary People.” There’s a scene where a couple is fighting. One of them is trying to leave and they are grabbing for their child as the other one holds it. I started crying at the sight of it, blaming the emotions on the fact we’d just moved into our dream home, I had a one-year-old, and I was pregnant with our baby girl.
Never. That will never be us. That will never be me.
As a child of divorce, I spent a long time trying to make up for the losses I felt as a child, and I think that’s what I was trying to heal. I wanted my kids to have a sense of security and comfort because I missed out on that. I wanted to be married and live with someone for the rest of my life.
When we decided to separate after sixteen years of marriage, my ex told me he hadn’t been happy for a decade. I still loved and cared about him in the way you love and care about a brother. And a decade was way too long to be unhappy.
But I had been happy in a sense, because being married and having kids was enough for me. I overlooked the fact we didn’t get along. I ignored how we didn’t go on dates or have any intimacy. I thought if I kept baking, keeping up with the kids’ schedules, and decorating the house, we’d like somehow time travel, and life would be like it was when we were in love.
Since the day I took off my wedding ring, though, a realization has slowly made its way into my brain and into my heart. I’ve evolved from “I am okay not being married” to “I never need to get married again.” My teenage self; my twenty-something self; even my forty-year-old self would not recognize me now.
This isn’t an “I’m fine alone and will be happier if I’m alone for the rest of my life” state of mind. I do love having a partner to share my life with. I want passion, bonding, and having someone to lean on (and watch Netflix with).
But a piece of paper means nothing to me. I signed a marriage certificate and changed my last name once. The state said I was someone’s wife and we exchanged vows in front of a lot of loved ones. It still ended. Being married didn’t complete me how I thought it would, nor should it have. Whether I am bound to someone by a contract, or not, my happiness is an inside job.
I don’t care if I sound selfish. We are all different and I prefer to be the only one who has a say in what color I paint my walls. I’m forty-seven and living my truth.
Being a single mom has taught me I can save myself. Running a home with three kids solo, and building my career have made me fall in love with myself and my capabilities. Remembering that has brought me comfort, even on the worst days.
I don’t need a proposal to feel complete. I don’t need anyone’s dedication in writing.
I would be perfectly content to stay in a loving relationship without the marriage. I’ve done the marriage thing and, to me, getting over your old life and starting anew is hard enough without all the other undoing of legal documents.
If I decided to commit myself to a partner I would still have a party. I’ll gladly wear a ring and fully commit. I don’t need to say “Until death do us part” because what does that really mean? Marriage isn’t going to stop those things from happening. It won’t keep you from being lonely, either.
It feels good to not try and grip onto something I thought would be forever. I like knowing life will ebb and flow. I can get through it all without thinking I need a ‘Mrs.” in front of my last name.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.