My boyfriend is considering marriage… but not with me. In any ordinary relationship this would be a dealbreaker. But we are in an open relationship ~ my favorite kind ~ and the badge of exclusivity through marriage no longer applies.
Marriage is a single shot deal. You can’t marry two people simultaneously. You cannot offer the gift of legal status and recognition to more than one partner. For many of us living polyamorously, it’s a bugger… because no matter the strength of your feelings, the amount of awe-inspiring love you feel for several, only one of them can ever win society’s grand prize. Only one can ascend the throne of matrimony.
My boyfriend is oblivious to this symbolism. To him, marriage is a purely legal and economic construct. He is considering marriage for practical reasons. His relationship with a close friend in a different country has been developing into something that could turn into something serious, and marriage occurred to him as a practical solution to bring her to Sweden. His arguments were solely about practical matters: right of abode, right to work, right to benefits.
Ultimately, he’s decided against it… for now. Cross-national marriage comes with enormous legal and ethical ramifications as well as an asymmetric power dynamic which far from encouraging the development of their relationship, may well pollute it. Such a move needs more love, more trust and well, just more relationship. But his decision didn’t shut my Pandora’s box.
I believe he considers marriage to be a legal and economic contract. If his friend-and-perhaps-soon-to-become-lover would move here, we could all grow happier. Because it’s not only what I want for him, it’s in my interests too. I have no desire to be a block to happiness, rather the opposite and if my partner is happier, I am also happier.
So as we discussed the pros and cons of marriage and his hypothetical futures, I was open-hearted and compassionate. But then I put the phone down and let myself feel the discomfort that had started shifting in my chest, like hunger pangs tickling my ribs. It seems I am still operating under society’s paradigm of competition and one true love-ism.
I’m gloriously happy in our relationship, or was until his marriage to someone else entered the equation. But marriage is more than a contract for me. It’s society’s symbol of recognition and worthiness, even if it’s not mine. And by omission, his marriage to someone else means that our relationship (and me) is less recognized and less worthy. It’s also why I choose not to marry him no matter how much I want to. Because of what it means to outsiders. Doing so, would diminish my other relationship in society’s eyes. Marriage is not only personal, it is a society construct. It confers couple privilege by default because ‘Wife’ is considered more intimate than ‘Girlfriend’. That means something to me, but not a lot to him.
‘What if I could marry many people?’ He said
‘It would diminish it’s value and be more realistic for start.’ I said thoughtfully. ‘But since you view marriage as purely a contract I wouldn’t want to marry you anyway. There’s little point if we marry under misaligned constructs.’
‘But this brings up another issue.’ He said. ‘Do you still adhere to some sort of exclusive monogamous paradigm? Do you long to be the special one? What if I were to fall desperately in love? Love that seemed more powerful initially at least than the love we share?’
‘It would be a game changer. And that’s a prospect I embrace. Sure there would be some discomfort too. But this is different. It’s marriage… which means that in the world’s eyes I am the mistress. Dismissed.’
‘But you wouldn’t be by me,’ he said.
I know this. But it’s obvious that my self-esteem is still bound up in at least one exterior architecture. Luckily I have a framework to follow… one that I use with clients caught in the crossfire of our monogamous firing line. Physician, heal thyself.
My worth is not defined by being someone’s wife or someone’s girlfriend, by my relationship, or even by someone loving me. My worth is not what I do, the labels I carry or the stuff I own. My worth is none of this. My worth exists, simply because I exist.
I’m not married to my boyfriend, the father of our children. Our children are worth more than any piece of paper. They are a pure embodiment of our love and we know as does everyone else, that we plan on being part of each other’s lives forever. Children apart from everything else they bring, also serve as a symbol. A symbol to the outside world of the importance of our relationship, of what we mean to each other.
With my other boyfriend no matter what we say, however much we agree that our lives have spun into realms of an infinite amazing-ness previously undreamt of… it’s our destiny to operate solely under the trust we share and outside of the scaffolding of society. Two atoms in a forever unlisted molecule.
I hunger for more validation. More than being embraced by his family, which I am. More than us all being accepted by my friends, which we are. I hunger for the type of validation that marriage brings. A seal of approval. We have nothing else like it in our society. It’s a celebration of joy, love and humility; two people who love so much that they hope to be part of each other’s lives forever and declare it publicly. A testimony to our belief in dreams and miracles. And it’s difficult to ignore that the rest of the world sees marriage as an ultimate recognition of romantic love.
He’s part of the fabric of my life. Part of my thoughts from the moment I wake up until the time I go to bed. He’s the crystal that adds rainbow to the skies above me and the rosy hue which gives greater dimension to my humanity. There are few who would celebrate this with me. Our love is for many incomprehensible and for many more, disgusting. If I let it, it would hurt.
Right now our relationship stands and falls on the strength of our individual, unsupported and unvalidated love and commitment. We continue to build our love whilst it is dismissed as ‘not serious’, ‘immoral’ and ‘downright depraved’ by wider society. It takes immense strength and a willingness to stand up for what you believe in. So as we tread our path to an exciting future, I try to reframe the symbolism we have all been taught marriage means and continue to disassociate my own worth from the rank conferred by it. Because if I fall back into the way the system thinks due to my own insecurities, the freedom and rights we are fighting for will never happen… and neither will the recognition of our amazing love.