I've been with my boyfriend for 12 years. We own a home, are planning to adopt a child, but don't want to marry.

Couple not married posing with art
The author (left) and her partner have been together for 12 years and have no plans on getting married.Courtesy of the author
  • I've been with my boyfriend for 12 years and have no plans of getting married.

  • We own a home together and are listed on each other's wills.

  • We are committed to each other, but people think that because we won't marry we are not.

On a episode of "Abbott Elementary," outspoken teacher Melissa Schemmenti's doting boyfriend Gary heavily hints at planning a wedding proposal, which she insists she doesn't want. She tells him it would take a miracle for her to get married again. Thinking he's found such a miracle, Gary gets Philadelphia Eagles player Jalen Hurts to help him make the proposal.

When she turns him down, he's shocked and devastated, and though she sticks to her principles, she's clearly sad to be disappointing him and losing an otherwise great relationship. As I watched them part ways, I screamed at my TV: You can be in a happy, loving relationship without being married or engaged!

I know because my 12 year relationship is like any other stable, long-term one. My boyfriend and I jointly own a home, are listed in each other's wills, take vacations together, and are waiting to adopt a child. We are as committed to one another as we could be, but to many, what we have doesn't really count.

Marrige is seen as the goal

Even in 2024, marriage is still seen as the ultimate achievement in the game of love. The message that marriage is the endpoint to which all couples, no matter their sexual orientation, should aspire is ubiquitous. Witness the media frenzy about whether Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are planning to get engaged, as if that act would ensure their relationship's longevity.

On our first date in 2012, Drew charmed me with his sense of humor and outrageous stories. Right away, we were smitten and moved in together a little over a year later. If we'd tied the knot then, I would've been saying "I do" before discovering many things about him that have only deepened my love. I wouldn't have known what it was like to support him through his best friend's death from cancer or how tenderly he treated me after I spent six hours solo in the emergency room during my pandemic miscarriage. I wouldn't have known how much I'd have to rely on his emotional support when I became my mom's caregiver last summer.

Every time I see a social media post with a triumphant woman's hand thrust toward the camera, a diamond engagement ring sparkling, I cringe — not because I don't believe in love, but precisely because I do. Elevating walking down the aisle as a goal turns an expansive emotion into a flashy celebration, as if romance were simply the joining of two personal brands rather than two complex human beings.

I want to celebrate other relationship milestones

What if we celebrated other kinds of relationship milestones, like seeing the other person cry, getting a pet, or figuring out how to make up after a fight and truly mean it? What if we saw marriage as one of many ways of honoring love rather than the only socially sanctioned one?

When we make a single ceremony the apotheosis of something far more nuanced, we miss out on celebrating the more intimate, ever-changing pleasures of love as they deepen. Like the fictional Melissa and Doug, real-life couples also miss out on potential relationships that could bring boundless joy by fixating on hearing wedding bells over beating hearts.

Drew and I have decided that if we're still together in January 2027, we'll hold a 15th anniversary party. This will be a chance for us to be with friends and family to honor the layers of intimacy we've built while recognizing how fragile they are. In the meantime, we'll remake our love, kneading it into new shapes, patterns, and possibilities.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the editor of over 70 anthologies, including the "Best Women's Erotica of the Year" series, and edits the Substack publication Open Secrets.Visit her website, rachelkramerbussel.com, and follow her on Twitter @raquelita and Instagram @rachelkramerbussel.

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