The assumption was that I would go with him. The whole time that my boyfriend Zack was filling out his applications, that we were reading and rereading his submission essays, that we were laughing about ending up in Tempe or Boston or Pasadena -– the assumption was that I would go with him. Two years earlier, he had left San Francisco to help me pursue my dreams in New York City. Now we were both ready for a new adventure, a global roll of the dice, letting fate and admissions officers decide where we would land. On the day he heard back from his first-choice school in London, early that March morning, his whole body shook as he clicked open the email. “I got in,” he said, his eyes telling me and questioning me at the same time. “I got in.” In my mind, my bags were already packed.
And then the government stepped in. I’d assumed that, with my freelance job, I could simply pop over to mainland Europe whenever my tourist visa for the UK expired. A quick search online proved me wrong. On a tourist visa, I would be allowed to stay in the UK for six months out of every 12. Period, or as the Brits say, full stop. I looked at the screen despairingly, picturing seeing my boyfriend for only half of every year, of being unsettled and without a real home to call my own for the next two. We had our relationship to consider; we had my mental health. We had, perhaps most importantly, a very needy cat.
At this point in the story, my friends and family often ask why Zack and I didn’t just get married. It’s a fair question -– we’ve been dating for almost five years and still actually like each other. We talk about the future as a statement, not a question, and split holidays between our families’ houses. It would’ve been an easy visa to get, the only kind of romantic relationship that, for better or worse, is accepted without question around this country and the world.
When I get married, I want it to be because there was a moment where a man –- my man -– looked at me and decided he couldn’t foresee a life without me. I want to get married because my partner and I are ready not to build a family –- kids, in my opinion, have little to do with marriage -– but be a family, just the two of us as a unit, together. As a fairly pragmatic person, there’ve been too many events in my life that have taken place for the sake of convenience. Zack and I moved in together after six months because his lease ended and it was cheaper. I spent years wondering when I would have made that choice naturally, if it were left as simply a choice to make. I don’t want my marriage to be like that.
I’m proud to announce that Zack and I are happily unmarried partners. After scouring the Internet, we found that the UK (unlike many states in the US) recognizes unmarried or domestic partners -- so qualified by “living together in a genuine relationship for two years or more.” In further proof that the UK and I are ideological soul mates, they specify that this should not be marriage of convenience.
Thanks to the state of New York, we now have a document that declares us in all of our unmarried glory. The process, while not as romantic as the fluttering outdoor wedding I pictured as a child, was not without its charms. As we walked up the steps of City Hall, we found ourselves surrounded by women in white dresses, both traditional and distinctively non. One woman, clad in a dress that was short, tight and reflective in a way that gave it a warped, fun house mirror type of appearance, would have fit in perfectly at a nightclub or strip club. She fit in equally as well in the sea of brides, throwing her head back in laughter, posing in front of the well-lit New-York-themed backdrop the government so generously provides.
It was a welcome counterpoint to the barrage of wedding media we’re privy to on Pinterest and blogs, where beautiful brides with DIY headdresses stand at hand crafted alters with the sun streaming down behind them as if the universe, too, blesses their wedding. There were same sex couples; there were couples who jittered their feet and stole anxious glances at each other; there were couples like me and Zack, wearing jeans and flipping through old copies of the New Yorker. It felt distinctively, unglamorously, beautifully real.
When our number was called (the system is much like the one you’d find at your local deli counter), we approached the woman behind the counter. We handed her our passports, and a copy of our shared lease. She glanced at the lease perfunctorily, more interested in the credit card that followed. And with a few clicks of the keyboard and a swipe through the machine, she issued us our certificate of domestic partnership.
It means I can ride in an ambulance with him, and that’s about it. I don’t have access to his healthcare (national health care in UK, here I come!). We can’t file tax returns together; he doesn’t get access to my money or I to his. If we choose to, either of us can dissolve our partnership with the click of a mouse on an online form. It’s exactly enough to get me a visa to go to London, so that my partner and I can continue to live our lives together, happily unmarried. There’s plenty of time for the rest later.