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A couple of months ago, when a group I was traveling with for work made a stop at a heritage church, an old man who was barely an acquaintance told me, “You should get married here. The long walk from the church door to the altar would look great in your wedding video.”

First off: how dare he assume to be my wedding consultant? That’s what I use Pinterest for! Second, where the hell did he get the memo that I dream of getting married? Because I sure hadn’t issued one. Typical male entitlement, he came at me with “advice” on how to live my life even though he knew jackshit about me.

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Since I was already too familiar with that kind of situation, I was quick to answer, “I don’t want to get married.” When he started making what I immediately understood as the beginnings of a mansplanation (“No, but—“), I just repeated myself: “I don’t want to get married.”

For every Helen Mirren who revels in her single lady glory and is worshipped for it, there are countless civilian women who have to parry society’s constant meddling with their personal choices, from having agency over their bodies to being in control over their lives.

To add insult to the injury, the meddling is almost always done with patronizing faux-concern, as if they were doing it out of the generosity of their hearts, as if it were their lives on stake.

I know one should never say never, but since the last decade, my stance has been that marriage is a trap I don’t want to fall into. It would take a really good reason, i.e. a very compelling man who’s worth the trouble, for me to reverse my position.

So far, all my past crushes and pseudo-romantic relationships were bullets I was lucky to dodge. Riz Ahmed seems like a compelling enough candidate, but he’s a movie star. Until we somehow meet and fall madly in love, it’s a hard pass for me re: marriage and children.

Like most women, I got conditioned at a young age to aspire to marriage. I’ve had my share of dreams of walking down the aisle. But now I understand that’s the problem: Marriage is sold to girls wrapped in the glitzy, romantic package of a wedding, presented both as a most desirable dream and an inevitable stage in life—as if our hobbies, interests, and career goals are mere placeholders until marriage happens to us.

It’s marketed as the happy ending to a love story when it’s actually just a new cycle of much harder work—a lifelong duty that I honestly don’t think I have the temperament and the stamina for.

Anyone who swears off marriage would understand best why, so anyone who’s outside of that equation just needs to butt. The fuck. Out. And it’s really annoying whenever someone tries to go around and even disregard an adult woman’s decision about how she plans to live her life.

“You just haven’t been in love.” “You’ll change your mind.” Um, did I stutter? When I say I’m not interested in marriage, I’m not taking a poll, okay? It’s not a democratic process where any Tom, Dick, Harry, and Tita Baby can chime in.

In her Baby Cobra comedy special on Netflix, Asian-American comedienne and Fresh Off the Boat writer Ali Wong had a running bit about why she got married. She found her husband hot when they first met, but upon learning that he was also attending Harvard Business School, she made up her mind right there and then: “I’m gonna trap his ass!”

On top of the guy’s looks, his Harvard graduate status meant he could support a wife and a family, and Wong was tired of working and would like an early retirement. So she “trapped” him by delaying their first kiss until the fifth date and making his lunch every day since they became a couple “as an investment in [her] financial future.” The two got married, she got pregnant, and soon after, they decided to buy a house.

All her dreams seemed to be coming true until she discovered that her dream husband was $70,000 in debt. Her voice rising with incredulous resentment and her belly straining against her form-fitting dress, Wong concluded, “And me, with my hard-earned TV money, paid it all off. So as it turns out, he’s the one who trapped me. How did he do it?! How did he bamboozle me?! Now if I don’t work, we die! Why else do you think I’m performing seven and a half months pregnant?!” (She has since given birth and seems happily married.)

I find Wong’s “marriage is a trap” bit funny not just because of its unexpected twist but also because it rings true. If you’re lucky, you get trapped with someone kind, decent, and mature enough to put in the work beside you.

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If you get bamboozled, you’ll be carrying your spouse’s problems on top of your own, plus inherit their version of a $70,000 debt that has nothing to do with you: bad marriage role models, commitment and intimacy issues, other unpacked personality disorders, violent tendencies, etc. (Conversely, you could be the one saddling your spouse with additional troubles.)

It’s a gamble I’d rather not take, or at least take lightly, because it’s dangerous to do so otherwise. It’s especially dangerous with our lawmakers dead-set on making the country the last hold-out on divorce (a dubious distinction) instead of taking the public pulse and looking at the reality that some couples, despite their best intentions, are terrible for each other.

I have a real fear of having the life I’ve worked so hard to build turn upside down because I got shackled for life to a Baste, a.k.a. a loser. I fear the erosion of my personal space. I fear not having a relationship exit strategy that wouldn’t require psychological warfare, wipe out my finances, and take forever. I fear giving up my freedom for someone who turns out to be a lemon, and I fear that I haven’t completely shaken off the effects of rom-com brainwashing yet to know better.

You say I shouldn’t live my life guided by fear, because I might regret missing out on the joys of marriage? Well, I’d rather not jump into something pretty permanent based on hypothetical regrets either.

Maybe if the collective attitude toward marriage becomes flexible enough to balance both the benefits and the risks, if it’s talked about more honestly (including its relentlessly boring parts), if it’s approached more thoroughly like a business contract with an expiration date and an option to renew, then I’d find it a bit more desirable. Maybe if men also feel the same pressure to cultivate themselves to become great life partners, then I’d feel that the odds were stacked against me less.

Until then, it’s Riz Ahmed or nothing.

Illustration: Madel Crudo

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