“So why aren’t you married?”
The question came from a young Australian married couple during a dinner with some new colleagues. I shrugged, and gave the usual answer: “We’ll probably get married eventually – the timing just hasn’t been right yet.” “Besides”, I added, “nothing is really going to change if we get married anyway”. The Australian girl looked at me with the kind of expression that a couple approaching their golden anniversary would give to a pair of teenagers celebrating their first “monthiversary” ; the look that says “Your love is cute and everything, but you have no idea what real commitment is all about.”
“Oh no,” she assured me, “it’s very different once you get married. Everything changes”.
If I was physically capable of raising a sly, questioning eyebrow, I would have done so at that moment. This girl was only 2 years into her relationship with her husband (1 of those years married), and they were beginning their first venture into couples travel. Brent and I have been together for 4 years, with nearly 2 of those years spent almost constantly traveling as a couple. If anything, I thought she was the one who had no idea of the probable challenges that lay ahead in her relationship.
It’s not the first time I’ve received this reaction from married friends (or in this case from a perfect stranger, but hey): They tell me that marriage tests a relationship in ways that I can’t understand. I counter that there’s no real difference between the challenges of a marriage and those of a committed long-term relationship – particularly when that long-term relationship has involved a lot of traveling as a couple. I find it difficult to believe that there’s some trial that awaits us in a potential marriage that we haven’t already faced during all the times that we’ve been sleep-deprived, lost, hungry, smelly, scared, sick and everything else together.
Is being married really tougher than traveling as a couple? How does 1.5 years of travel together measure up against a hypothetical 1.5 years of marriage?
Merging of Finances
AKA “Do you still have separate bank accounts?”
I guess this almost always comes up because money is an enormous source of stress and conflict for many couples. I don’t even remember the exact moment when Brent and I decided to combine our money. Perhaps we should have given more forethought to such an objectively significant decision. When we first left Canada, we had both quit our jobs, and had no fixed sources of income – just a couple lumps of money to keep us going for an indefinite amount of time. It seemed only logical to combine those lumps into one, since we were going to be spending them on the same things anyway – flights, food, bus tickets.
At first, life with combined finances seemed as simple as no longer worrying about splitting the bill at dinner, but eventually we needed to face emerging resentment over each other’s spending habits. If I was out shopping alone, I began to wonder what Brent would think about the purchases I was making. Then there was a moment when I realized that Brent now thought of my student loans as his debt too.
There have been times when we’ve felt rich and carefree, and other times when we have felt terrifyingly poor. It’s still not always easy, but a year and half of financial uncertainty has tested our ability to work through the money decisions together.
The End of Pretenses
AKA: “Something just feels different after you get married; the relationship changes.”
Married friends sometimes talk about changes in the relationship dynamic that occur after marriage, and the root has something to do with the end of pretenses. You loose the ability to only show your prettiest, thoughtful-est side to your partner, and you start to see each other differently.
Before we began traveling as a couple, I could still ensure that Brent rarely saw me without make-up on, and I could shield him from most of my bad moods. Now, Brent and I work together, live together, and most of the time, we’re each other’s only immediate source of social support. Traveling as a couple has quite literally shown us the best and the worst of one another. We’ve witnessed each other being pushed to our individual limits. We’ve seen each other giddy with excitement and full of enthusiasm, but we’ve also been together in times of depression, fear and utter defeat.
I think we’ll always be discovering new things about one another (which is great because wouldn’t relationships get a little boring if we could truly know another person through and through?), but we already have a pretty profound understanding of who the other person is. We don’t need a marriage to show us that.
A Serious Commitment
AKA: “After you get married, you’re really in it. You feel like you can’t just walk away from the relationship anytime”
Brent and I are 1000’s of miles from our friends and family. Our jobs, our house, and our car are contingent upon us working together as a couple. If we wanted to call it quits, it wouldn’t be as simple as an emotional goodbye and a hastily packed bag. A break-up would mean losing our home, our jobs, and probably separate journeys back to Canada to pick up the pieces and start over. When we fight, we both know what’s at stake if we can’t work things out. It’s true that we wouldn’t have to get lawyers involved to untangle ourselves, but, in the practical sense, the lifestyle we’ve chosen has bound us to each other as much as a marriage.
There are times when I love Brent so much that it hurts, and times when he irritates me more than any other person in the world possibly could. But, at the end of the day, when I look into the future, I can’t imagine it with anyone but him. I haven’t signed any documents to confirm it, but my decision almost 2 years ago to take off into the unknown with him was made with the same trust and hope as any vow.
The funny thing about all of this is that I actually do want to get married someday. If the right time comes, I love the idea of wearing a beautiful dress, throwing a huge party, and celebrating love. But it doesn’t really matter when that happens because when the wedding is over, our relationship will still be the same.
It would still just be me and him, creating a life together – wherever in the world that might be.
Couples: What do you think? What challenges have you faced together? Am I totally wrong about the marriage thing?