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I have never really wanted to get married.
As a teenager well-versed in romantic rejection, I’d hotly declare to my family that I was “NEVER” getting married, which usually resulted in more than a few eye rolls from my mother.
“OK, Jess, “ she’d say. “Sure you won’t.”
I think secretly she and my stepfather half-expected me to marry the first boyfriend I met in college.
My fear of marriage is rooted in my childhood. My parents had me very young and unplanned, and separated before I was old enough to be cognizant of it. My mother and father would both later marry other people, only to have both marriages dissolve. Still, my mother’s third marriage -– to my beloved stepfather -– has managed to last more than 15 years now.
After a series of doomed young relationships, I started seeing a guy who stayed with me when we lived states apart as I completed graduate school and who later moved across the country with me when I was offered a job in northern California.
This unexpected gesture of long-term commitment did a number on me. So did his numerous comments about how I was the woman he wanted to marry. When he casually mentioned he’d asked his mother about a family ring, I started to sweat. And in a moment of tipsy post-coital bliss, he proposed.
Weeks later, when he had purchased a beautiful but small vintage ring that fit my personality much better, we did the whole thing again. This time he proposed in front of the ocean during sunset. That would have been a bit too cliché for me normally except that it was near Halloween and there just so happened to be a large group of people practicing the dance from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Now that was definitely more my style. Who wouldn’t want to be asked to marry in front of a crowd dancing like zombies?
And so we got engaged and starting telling friends and family, who of course were shocked given my previously-held conviction.
Almost immediately I started getting freaked out, so I decided to start a Tumblr to analyze my feelings of aversion.
That probably should have been the only red flag needed. If you have to start a blog analyzing why you’re freaked out about getting engaged, perhaps you shouldn’t be.
My blog was titled “Bartleby Betrothed,” a nod to one of my favorite short stories by Herman Melville about a man who works in the dead letters department of the postal office and eventually becomes so disgruntled it turns into utter apathy.
The subtitle? “How I said yes when really I meant maybe, possibly or perhaps someday in the future.”
A sample post from bartlebybetrothed.tumblr.com might be a link to an article on divorce statistics, a photo of a groom dragging a bride to the altar or a musing on the fact that a reality show about Hugh Hefner’s runaway bride was actually a thing.
I also wrote about feeling confused, afraid of losing my independence and fear that marriage would just lead to divorce. I quoted heavily from the songs on the Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” and from poems by my favorite sister in sardonic wit, Dorothy Parker. I waxed poetic about "Breakfast at Tiffany’s." I made jokes about how joining a convent would probably be the only thing I could do to shock my loved ones more than getting engaged did.
It wasn’t all pessimistic stuff. I also posted ideas of wedding ideas that I felt fit my personality, like tuxedo-printed T-shirts and a registry consisting solely of charities I’d like donations made to. I tried to get used to that shiny little diamond perched on my left ring finger.
But I’d be lying if I said the positive stuff about my engagement outweighed the negative. I started the Tumblr as a way to explore my feelings and grow more comfortable with the idea of nuptials, but instead it did the opposite. The more I wrote about rejecting the archaic practice of changing my last name, hating white dresses and being afraid of turning into some sort of Stepford wife, the more upset I became.
And when relatives starting telling me they were sorry I was so confused and upset about getting engaged, well, that really hammered something home.
So I got “unengaged.”
I stopped wearing my beautiful art deco ring from the 1920s and broke the news to my now-ex fiancé that I wasn’t going to be walking down any aisles other than those of the grocery store.
Thankfully, that news went over really well. He cried, I cried. Still, it was a bit messy. He tried to get me to change my mind. I protested. For several months, we stayed together and tried to move past it, but the fact of it would too often rear its ugly little head –- particularly when well-meaning friends and family would ask us when we were getting hitched.
I stopped blogging about it, because, well, it seemed like kind of a moot point by then. Sometimes, usually after a few glasses of wine, he’d bring it up and tell me I should just get over it and marry him. About a year after getting unengaged, I lost my job and he got a new one about an hour away. I realized I couldn’t bring him along for the move. The fact that we had gotten unengaged wasn’t something that could just be forgotten about easily. I broke it off.
So now I’m back in single territory. The whole experience made me realize I’m just not prepared for a serious relationship right now and I’m especially not prepared to give up my anti-marriage stance. Maybe I will be someday, but that’s probably a long time from now.