I Want A Marriage, Not A Wedding

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couple holding hands on beach

I was that little girl. The one who fantasized about an ivory strapless gown, a black-and-white color scheme, elaborate orchid centerpieces, twinkle lights, and an outdoor (destination) wedding.

Consider me guilty. I was a major dreamer. And I still dream. I still want those things, the romance of it all.

Well, maybe the lines have blurred a bit; my ideal dress has changed, I realize a tropical locale might not be feasible, and I will not break down in tears if those elaborate centerpieces don't come to fruition. (However, the twinkle lights are not negotiable. Obviously.)

Until I actually walk down the aisle — and believe me, I am nowhere close — I will probably think about what my future wedding might be like. It's a girl thing. Right, ladies? Most of us play "mental wedding planner" just because we can, let our thoughts wander to champagne flutes, pretty place-cards, and perfect bouquets, which we've no doubt discovered on Pinterest.

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And, hey, I think dreaming is just fine. Most of the time. The problem arises when we let our dreams cloud our judgment.

For years, marriage seemed like such a long way off. But I realize it's not anymore. It's a reality. More and more of my friends and family members are tying the knot. And as a young Christian woman, growing up in a traditional household in a Midwestern neighborhood, everyone's relationship seemingly revolves around the same question: When can we expect a wedding?

Statistics show most people still want to get married someday. And it seems some women I know want to get married in the worst way. I worry about them succumbing to the pressure.

I know plenty of ladies willing to sacrifice everything to get to their big days. Some jump into relationships too fast, hoping their risks will end in "I do," but feeling all the while that something isn't right.

Others stay in relationships too long, with partners who want different things, knowing they should cut their losses but afraid to start over when an engagement might possibly be on the horizon.

Someone close to me falls into the latter group. She has been in a relationship for six years. And for as long as I can remember, she has wanted to get married. Plan a wedding. Fly to New York to pick out her wedding dress. Slide on a shiny engagement ring.

But she's spent most of her twenties in a relationship with one guy, 13 years her senior, who has never proclaimed he wants to marry. She's been waiting for a proposal and wedding that may never happen. And in the process, she's lost her sparkle.

She used to be bubbly and full of life. Now, she's nearly stoic.

Six years of holidays and milestones passing with no engagement have worn her down. I hear hints of sadness drift into her voice when I talk to her on the phone from Chicago, where she moved three years ago to be with her boyfriend.

She won't talk to me about her relationship anymore, either. She used to email me photos of the perfect ring, or the perfect table setting. She hasn't done that in several years now. And she won't admit that anything is different, anything is wrong.

It's dangerous to spend so much time waiting and hoping for a wedding. You forget that a relationship is supposed to bring you joy — and if it doesn't, you don't want that wedding anyway.

Trading a lifetime of mediocrity for one fairytale day is a ridiculous thought. It breaks my heart to think that people settle for that because no one has to.

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I know another woman who faced the big wedding dilemma: my mom. She dated her high school sweetheart through her mid-twenties. About seven years into the relationship, she could see herself getting married. She felt ready.

But her boyfriend didn't. He said he didn't want to get married yet. Wasn't ready. Wasn't the right time. With years invested, my mom quietly accepted that and stuck it out. Three more years passed.

Finally, at the decade mark, her boyfriend said he was ready to get married. After all that time, my mom should have been happy. But she wasn't. Not at all. It was like a cold slap in the face; it took ten years, but she woke up.

Suddenly looking at her choices — a lovely wedding, or marriage to the man who said "no" the first time — she shook her head. This isn't what I want. She said no, and broke up with him instantly. "I didn't want it anymore," she told me. "I saw it wasn't meant to be. It never would have worked out."

It would have been so easy to say yes to his proposal, though. It had been ten years. She was comfortable. She loved his family. Some of my mom's friends were married, or about to get married, and she could have reveled in wedding excitement with them. But she decided the trade just wasn't worth it — a lifetime for a day — and made that painful decision to discard a ten-year relationship and start over.

"God planned it. He knew," she said. Today, she's blissfully happy in her marriage to my dad.

And I admire her for what she did. Not just because I am here as a direct result, but because I see so many women who lose sight of what they really want for the immediacy of what they want right now: That wedding. It's so enticing for many of us, isn't it?

Enticing, but ultimately unfulfilling. Because at the end of the day, no matter how beautiful, it's only one day.

I decided a while ago that I wouldn't let myself be blinded by the dream of a wedding. By an engagement ring. By the dress. By the cake toppers, invitations, or sheer excitement of planning the biggest event of my life.

Remember those lines that I said had blurred? I realized none of those romanticized notions mattered. Not the color scheme, not the gown, not the centerpieces.

I want a marriage. Husband and wife. For better, or for worse. 'Til death. However long it takes to find him.

And if I'm not most excited about that moment just beyond the wedding, that split second where everything changes and it's suddenly a marriage, well... then I'm not getting married.

And I think that might be the most romantic notion of all.

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Jenna Birch is a freelance journalist for women’s magazines and national websites, focusing on topics like health, wellness, dating, relationships, beauty, and lifestyle.