Sai and I have been together for seven years. We met in December of 2010 and started dating in September 2011, moved in together September 2012. We’ve lived in Waterloo, Toronto, San Francisco and Ottawa in all our years together. We’ve had joint bank accounts since 2014 and have been filing our taxes together since then as well. We’ve enjoyed all the luxuries and privileges of a Canadian common-law relationship – I’ve been covered for healthcare benefits on Sai’s work plan, and I also sponsored him for his Canadian citizenship in 2013. Everything most people think happens after marriage, we’d already done and experienced years into our conjugal, long-term relationship. And throughout it all, we never once felt the need to marry, or think that we were being held back from engaging in the lifestyle of our choice because we hadn’t traditionally tied the knot. And then, on February 14th of 2018, we got married at Ottawa City Hall with only two of Sai’s coworkers and three of our close, personal friends in attendance.
The first time the subject of marriage came up, it was 2014. We had recently moved from Toronto to Ottawa for Sai’s new job and were staying in a small but cozy, 1-bedroom AirBnB in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa, while we searched for more long-term residence. Sai was the one to bring up the subject, and stated one evening while looking into my eyes, “I want to marry you.”
Upon hearing these words, my first reaction was, “why?” We had a good thing going, were happy, and could do anything that married couples could do. What reason was there to jeopardize the harmony we had found in our union by subjecting ourselves to forced, outward portrays of blissful matrimony for others who’d find it a chore to attend our weekend-long wedding party (which would have taken months and months to plan)? The emotional and economic toil just didn’t seem like a wise investment.
Of course, when presented in such cold, rational logic, the appeal of marriage quickly melts away, as was the case when Sai too thought of the implications of actually having to go through it. So, years went by and we stayed happily unmarried.
Marriage was also a form of “patriarchal oppression”, and its roots were in land and cattle ownership that needed to secure an heir for future generations’ wealth. Marriage was an obsolete tool used by those who couldn’t trust themselves to be with someone without the bondages of a state-sanctioned civil union, for those who needed to get married for parental approval, or to live with a partner in a sin-free way. Marriage was a means to an end, and was the least romantic gesture in telling someone you loved them. Marriage was old school.
We had more reasons not to marry than to marry. In my extended family, every single one of my aunts and uncles has been married and divorced. I have an aunt who’s on her fourth marriage right now, and an uncle who’s on his third. One of my uncles recently re-married in his 50s and has a new baby boy with his new wife. My mother is the only sibling out of seven to not have remarried at some point in her life. To me, marriage wasn’t some sacred, life-long bond that two people opted into together. It was a way to get what you wanted from another person – citizenship, financial support, escape from loneliness, having an emergency contact. No one married for “love”; it was all convenience, and I tried to make sure I never had to turn to it as my way out of an inconvenient situation.
In life, I had never once come across a convincing argument for marriage. Married couples didn’t look any happier, or seem to have figured out the secrets of love, life and sex. Religions and governments had successfully turned marriage into a bureaucratic form of declaring who got to decide when to pull the plug if you became an unresponsive vegetable. And for all the aspects of marriage that common-law didn’t have built-in, a living will could provide you with all those too.
I’ve realized that with the removal of outside influences that dictate when people should marry, we have to find our own reasons to marry the person we want to spend our lives with. That’s the case I found myself in, and everywhere I looked externally, all I could see were reasons not to marry. It was only when I started questioning what marriage could provide me that I found its utility in my life.
By 2017, I had done most of the things people aspire for in life and look forward to one day achieving. I had travelled the world multiple times, backpacking through Asia and Australia; completed university and found a stable job that took me on a 5-week paid trip around Europe and Japan; had met and established a life with the man of my dreams; learned to overcome personal demons and make bridges with my family and heritage for better understanding of both; lived in a beautiful house (all decorated with vintage, one-of-a-kind pieces); had friends all over the world and took trips often to meet and spend time with them. I was peaking and I wasn’t even 30 yet, and there was still more to do and more to experience. However, what lay ahead in the future seemed unknown, and I found myself unable to clear the fog from my mind on what direction I should steer my life in next.
This mostly came down to decisions of an existential nature – “should Sai and I have children together?”; “do I want to be a parent?”; “what will I be giving up in life if I decide I wanna be a mom?” None of these questions are unusual, and I’m sure many people find themselves at a crossroads in life when they too have to find answers for them.
My mind, though, was unwilling to explore these territories because deep down, I knew that all these questions rested on my relationship and future with Sai. Any time I felt doubt about what the right course forward was, my mind would always give me a way out by saying “you could just be on your own and then you’d never have to think about these things again.”
I was afraid to allow myself to emotionally enter the next phase of my relationship. In order to do that, I needed to have a level of security and assurance from my partner to know that he, like I, fully understood the nature of the commitment we wanted to make with one another.
Now, getting married is never a one-sided decision, and Sai had his own reasons for wanting to marry or not marry. We didn’t get married when it was determined that’s what I needed, and so it happened. Over the course of many months, the topic repeatedly came up in conversation with each other; over dinner tables and long walks in the evenings holding hands. It turns out, Sai too had been thinking about many of the same topics that had recently occupied my mind about our future. When it all came out in the open, marriage was presented as the answer to what we both had been seeking would allow us to take the next steps.
Now, this is not to say we got married because we wanted to have kids. We got married because we both wanted to allow ourselves to think and dream and imagine a life together where we were parents, and explore whether that’s something we could see ourselves being happy doing together. There’s a big difference between knowing you want children, and knowing you want to explore being a parent with someone (which may or may not lead to kids one day).
Aside from children, there were secrets and hidden parts of me and my past, my psyche and my weaknesses that I didn’t feel like exposing. Again, I needed to somehow know that it was safe for me to lift the curtain of my inner life for someone I could trust, and who could trust me back with his own history and story. Marriage seemed like an appropriate way of saying “hey, no matter what it is you’re scared of, or how ugly you think it is, I’m here and I love you and I’m not going anywhere.”
Once we had the ‘why’, the next step was figuring out the ‘how’. There was no reason to delay once we had made the choice. Planning a wedding and drowning the next year of our life for an event that many people regret having sunk all that time and money into wasn’t very appealing. After all, we were doing this for ourselves and ourselves alone. It didn’t matter if my mom wasn’t there – this wasn’t about her. It was about my future with Sai. A future I wanted and was eager to embark on. Delaying it seemed pointless.
And so, we invited three of our personal friends and two of Sai’s friends from work for our 2pm wedding ceremony in City Hall on Valentine’s Day (because why wouldn’t you get married on that day if you can!), said “I do” to one another, and planted the seeds of a life we hope to explore and grow together.
Traditionally, it seemed to me like most marriages were the end – the wedding day signalled the end of bachelorhood, or the end of exploring yourself and your partner. It was the end of “the search”, and the end of bad dates. It was the end of loneliness. Marriage meant you could let your hair down and just relax now because the hard part was over.
But to me, marriage has been just the beginning.