I have two beautiful engagement rings, yet I’ve never actually made it to the altar, nor for that matter, even looked up a wedding planner. Yes, I’ve been in two common-law marriages, but never actually have been a bride. It hadn’t really affected my life, until it did…
Last week, when my 7-year-old son, Holt, found out I wasn’t “technically” married to his father, after my 15-year-old daughter, Rowan, from another father, told him, “Mommy didn’t marry your daddy either!”
Oof! My poor son! His expression, upon hearing this, was one of confusion, shock and dare I say it, even a little sadness? “Yes, she did,” he argued back, to which his sister said, “No she didn’t.” So how did we get into this conversation, about marriage, as we were all cuddling and goofing around so happily and all together on my bed?
Well, my boyfriend happened to call and I had put him on speakerphone, and my daughter was in a silly mood, and yelled out, “So when are you going to marry my mom?” She wasn’t being serious. She was joking around, trying to stir the pot, enjoying putting people on the spot. I told my boyfriend I’d call him back. But, somehow, that phone call led to my son finding out that I had never technically married his father. And he didn’t understand it.
I jumped in and said, “I was technically married, under the law, to both your daddies, because if you live together for more than 3 years, you’re considered married.” (In Ontario, two people are considered common law after they have lived together for at least three years – unless they have had a child together and have cohabited in a relationship of some permanence) Trying to explain common law marriage was as confusing for me as it would be to answer a question out of my daughter’s Grade 11 physics textbook. I stumbled over my answer, and even thought, “Maybe if I redirect this conversation to promising to take him to the toy store, he’ll forget about it all.” I really had no clue how to answer, not because I care that my son’s father and I never had a wedding, but because I never thought I’d never have to explain my actions (or lack of actions) to a 7-year-old. I never thought he’d care!
It doesn’t take a genius to see that, for many, the tradition of first comes love, then comes marriage and then comes baby in a baby carriage, is still popular but on a downward trend. Common-law marriage – or even just living together before marriage – is on an upward trend. But I think it does take a genius to explain common-law marriage to your children.
My heart melted, not because I regret not marring his father or walking down an aisle, but because, possibly, him realizing that his mom and dad never got married was something he wasn’t emotionally prepared to hear. Who knew that not being “technically” married to his dad would hit him harder than us getting divorced?
My son understands divorce, as he grew up seeing two of his sisters, on his father’s side go off with their mother 50 percent of the time, and also watching my daughter go off with her father. In fact, there were absolutely no tears over the demise of the relationship between his mom and dad. There weren’t even questions why Daddy was now living in a different house.
I do sort of remember my son’s father and I trying to talk to him about why Daddy was moving out and into a new place, but my son was way more interested in playing X-box than hearing that we still loved him no matter what… and “blah, blah, blah, blah.”
In fact, I think my son likes these living arrangements, spending 50 percent of the time at my house with my daughter and 50 percent of time at his father’s house because now he’s just like his sisters. From the time he was born, he just thought that it was normal for kids to have two houses. If anything, he was excited to follow in his sisters’ footsteps, which is kind of sad, isn’t it? But it shows that many kids these days aren’t overly affected by divorce.
So, why haven’t I ever been married? It has nothing to do with politics or believing that marriage isn’t necessary or the cost of throwing a wedding or me not loving and wanting to be with either of my children’s fathers when we were together. It mostly came down to pure laziness! Seriously!
After both of my children’s fathers proposed to me (and, yes, both asked my father’s permission first, which may seem weird in this day and age, but actually, I think it’s hilarious) I was so happy. I loved them both enough at one time to say “YES, I’ll be your wife!” and, yes, I loved both of the rings my children’s father had picked out, on their own, for me. I felt blissful being engaged. I wasn’t rebelling against a wedding, or marriage. In fact, I absolutely LOVE going to weddings. But, no, with both of my children’s fathers, after they proposed, I kind of just let it sit, believing, like canned goods, there was no expiration date, after a proposal to an actual wedding date.
While I love attending weddings, personally, I had no interest in picking out napkins, main courses, and table settings. I was even too lazy to make a phone call to a wedding planner. Both my children’s father’s just followed my lead – which was doing nothing when it came to preparing for a wedding – and we just continued to live our lives, under the same roof for years, the only thing that was different was that I had a sparkly diamond ring on my finger.
My daughter has never once asked why her father and I didn’t get married. Perhaps it’s because she has always been so wise, and understood that, just because her father and I never had a wedding, that it really didn’t matter. But when she told her brother, last week, that “Mommy didn’t marry your daddy either,” and seeing the shocked look on my son’s face, I actually wanted to cry.
Telling my son that I just didn’t really have any interest in table settings, or asking friends to be bridesmaids, or finding the perfect wedding dress seemed so flaky and sort of an idiotic answer, though it is true.
Interestingly, at my parent’s house, there are beautiful photographs of my brothers’ weddings, my siblings looking lovingly at my sisters-in-law in their beautiful white wedding gowns. My parents do have a large photo of me in my gown… after graduating high school! Yet, neither once have my children ever asked, “Where is the wedding picture of you with my daddy?”
I knew I had to explain divorce to my children, but never did I ever think that one day, I would have to explain common-law marriage. In an article on the topic of how Canadians feel about marriage, it says, “A recent poll by Angus Reid Institute found 53 percent of Canadian adults felt marriage wasn’t necessary, while 47 percent thought it was important for couples in long-term relationships to have legal marriages.”
Then again, and maybe because it’s because I’m now in my forties, or maybe it’s because I’m really happy and I know I couldn’t do any better than my boyfriend who I think so highly of, I do kind of want to get that white dress, call a wedding planner, invite all my friends and family to gather as we make vows to each other, and to celebrate such a meaningful and loving moment.
Let me be clear, I’m still lazy, and this time, if it happens that my boyfriend someday proposes to me, I’ll still be lazy. I’ll probably just call a wedding planner and say, “I like white flowers and a lot of candles and I want it to be a party.” But I will happily go find a wedding dress and set a date. And, yes, I do want my guy to call my father, just for the entertainment value of my dad getting a third call, asking if it’s okay to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage, because my dad will probably say something like, “You know what my daughter’s like, right?”
I tried to explain to my shocked son that yes, his father and I were married under the law, but we just never had a wedding. I’m actually glad my son asked, as painful as it was to see his initial reaction, because I want him to know that there are all sorts of serious relationships, that it’s his choice whether he wants to technically get married, and that common-law marriage is pretty much the same as marriage, just without having to figure out where one close relative who doesn’t talk to another relative will sit while doing a seating chart.
Also, being married doesn’t guarantee happiness or a good relationship. I know people who have been together for 20 plus years and have never gotten married, and I want him to know this. Luckily, my son still has the attention span of a goldfish, and after I explained that we actually were married – we just didn’t have a wedding – all three of us went back to cuddling on my bed, watching a highly inappropriate episode of Family Guy, in our oh-so-very modern house, with my son moving on to asking, “What’s a threesome?”
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