Maybe Tinder's reputation as a hookup app is well deserved at this point, but just over two years ago when I was swiping to the brink of tendonitis, all it took were the words "not casual" on my profile to shelter me from too many untoward propositions. In fact, they were the only words on my profile, and after four first dates with four men, I found the one who took me at my word when I said I was seeking a monogamous relationship. Indeed, he was visibly relieved by it, having come from a relationship with a woman who believed in polyamory-behind his back.
We had selected a time and place to meet after a handful of Tinder messages and as soon as I saw him-vintage clothes, shades, musician vibe-I knew he was "my people." A couple of cocktails later, we were strolling barefoot on Venice Beach at night.
Neither of us was particularly conventional given our artistic bent, love of nightlife and general rejection of routine. So we fell for each other, yep, like teenagers; like no one had tainted our idea of love as something magical. Spending time together felt more like recognition than like getting to know each other. Friends asked how long it took for us to "know." Both of us had known right away, but we didn't give it our full trust until our brains caught up to our euphoria.
"I'd seen too many women lose themselves in their role of wife and homemaker."
Two years later, we share a dreamy apartment and dreams about the future, but there was a single glitch we couldn't seem to get around. For a while, I didn't know how to tell him I might never marry him. I like to brag that I've escaped marriage even though there's been no shortage of proposals or matchmaking schemes. But anyone who knew me enough to want to be betrothed to me understood that identifying myself as someone's wife was unpalatable to my make-up. I'd seen too many women lose themselves in their role of wife and homemaker, which often seemed synonymous with caretaker.
Paradoxically, my ideas about sharing a life are strictly traditional when it comes to fidelity, solidarity and putting one's partner before any other person.
In my current relationship, we enjoy each other's individual and joint nonconformities except for that one confounding glitch. It isn't my less-than-lukewarm feeling toward matrimony, but that I want us to behave like a traditionally married couple without the marriage part. A tiny ill-fitting cog in a complimentary mechanism can stall the entire setup, and in our case, made us question our entire relationship.
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It means, for example, that while we both believe it's acceptable, even important, to remain friends with our exes, we diverge on how to maintain such friendships. For my part, the rules of conduct might be uncharacteristically conventional, but simple: have breakfast or lunch with friends of the opposite gender, reserving night activities like dinner, cocktails or visits to music venues for your partner. On the rare night we might do something without the other, I would expect us to show the courtesy of getting home before midnight.
My partner disagrees. He believes it's a mark of distrust to impose "rules" and "curfews" on one another. At the same time, he adamantly wants us to be married. For him, "legitimizing" the relationship is our seal of authenticity.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's not a document that authenticates commitment, but loyalty and respect."
As far as I'm concerned, it's not a document that authenticates commitment, but loyalty and respect. Getting home at a universally understood "decent" hour is a matter of respect. Meetings between opposite genders during daylight hours are less likely to signal anything other than friendship, but dinner and drink amid mood lighting can be open to interpretation. Infidelity can take place at any hour of the clock, of course, but as a person who goes out of her way to send other men clear signals about my loyalty toward my partner, I merely expect the same in return.
On a night my partner met up-however innocently-with one of his exes, he and I ended up exchanging words. I didn't feel respected or put first in the way I associate with a committed, monogamous relationship, and protested:
"But when we met, you were relieved that I wanted to be in a traditional relationship. You were so jarred by the idea of non-traditional after the whole polyamory fiasco."
"It's true," he replied. "But coming from that kind of relationship should've clued you in to the fact that I stand somewhere in the middle when it comes to tradition."
My jaw unhinged itself, fell to the ground and ran away.
"You want to us to marry," I reminded him. "That's as traditional as you can get!"
"He wants the traditional label of marriage while I want the traditional behavior of marriage."
The defective cog in our relationship is that he wants the traditional label of marriage while I want the traditional behavior of marriage. In a way, it's a fascinating distinction, and not necessarily an impasse.
It seems all euphoria, by nature, comes to an eventual crash and the reality of life hits. We didn't experience a crash exactly, nor did our philosophical difference break us. But now we're facing the same reality as any other pair who share a life, no matter where they fall on the scale of couple conventionality: there's no escaping that in order to work, relationships demand compromise.
My partner still thinks it's perfectly normal to have drinks with another woman late at night, but for my sake, he refrains from it. I still don't want to be married, but for his sake, I'm willing to revisit my answer if or when he proposes. For the two of us, compromise is a matter of choosing to bend a personal ideal for the other's sake, even if it might mean having to both act and be married.
In the end, it comes down to which is more important to us, our love or our individual nonconformity. So far, love has won.
Hedia Anvar is a New Yorker transplanted to Los Angeles by way of Iran. She was recently published in "I Just Want to be Perfect," the fourth book in the New York Times best-selling series of humor essays. She is currently working on a novel and writes about her severe case of "chronic dichotomy" at Gunmetal Geisha.
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