Growing up, I didn’t always fit in. Early on, I became comfortable with being uncomfortable on the outside from the fraught social dynamics of school to the traditional views of my family at home — both challenging situations that shaped who I am today. While it felt isolating almost all the time to be in this position, it also felt extremely liberating to live according to what I felt was true to me. I didn’t want to live a life dictated by the fear of what others thought. It’s not surprising then that when I met my husband, who is very similar in this regard, we eschewed common checkpoints of what a relationship may look like and how it progresses and forged a path that was based on our values and priorities as a couple. That included not having a wedding.
My husband and I met through a mutual friend and started dating after we went on a whitewater rafting trip with a group of friends to West Virginia. It was my first time rafting, and I was terrible at it but shamelessly confident in my abilities — or lack thereof. Somehow he thought this was amusing and we hit it off that weekend. Things happened lightning quick, and during our second month of dating, we took a trip together to Honduras. It was there, on New Year’s Eve, that we heard the sweet laughter of children excited over a firework display that sparked a deeper connection — one in which we saw a future together with children of our own. I was pregnant the following month.
More than anything I could articulate in words, it was an instinct that he would make a good partner and father that attracted me to him — an innate feeling. We’d only been dating two months, so I didn’t have much experience to go off of. I guess when it comes to the matters of the heart, sometimes, you can’t explain a rationale but often simply feel that it’s right. Naturally, doubt would trickle in now and then because I was conditioned to think that a relationship should look a certain way, and it was hard to unlearn those notions.
I didn’t share this plan of getting pregnant with my family, and only confided in two to three friends. While one friend was supportive, another was not; and while I felt disconnected from the latter, if I was really being honest with myself, I wasn’t seeking approval. I wanted to share what was happening in my life, but I didn’t expect anyone to fully understand what I was going through. It all sounded crazy even to me!
In general, I know that it’s impossible for anyone outside of a couple to fully grasp the dynamics and nuances between two people in a relationship. A friend, family member, or colleague only receives a one-sided, edited version of what’s going on, and if they feel inclined to offer their advice or opinion, it’s based on select, and possibly skewed, information. I chose not to share the more intimate parts of my relationship and didn’t seek advice regarding it; I wanted to keep that part of my life sacred and protect it from external influences. I wanted all decisions made for the couple by the couple.
I eventually told my parents, and while they weren’t thrilled that I was pregnant and not married (and with a man I’ve only known for a few months), they handled it surprisingly well. I come from a traditional Korean American Christian household where we ate home-cooked dinner together every night and went to church every Sunday. This was not part of the plan they had for me. Those details aside, my parents came to visit me in New York to meet my partner and discuss our future. My now husband was so nervous that he served each person three beverages; we had 12 cups on the coffee table! No one drank anything. After a few minutes of silence, my mom got right to business and asked when we were planning on getting married — which we had no plans for. My dad thereafter asked for a certificate verifying that my husband was never married in the countries he’d lived in prior — I don’t believe such document exists. My dad let go of that one, eventually.
Not surprisingly, my parents insisted on me getting a ring, getting married, and having a wedding celebration — customary steps a couple takes before starting a family. Those options didn’t excite me or feel necessary to fortify our relationship. It felt like I was being boxed in, squeezing our relationship into a mold that was considered standard, predictable. Don’t get me wrong: As a former jewelry editor, I do appreciate the beauty of a diamond ring. But I was not sold on the marketed idea that a gem represents the commitment between two people. To me, it materialized a connection that I feel is beyond an object.
The fact of the matter was we were having a child together and that was more binding than a piece of paper telling us so. We didn’t feel the need or rush to legalize our union — until I decided to quit my job (more on that later). During that time, we were intently focused on establishing a solid foundation of trust, honesty, and communication between us before bringing a little being into the world. And so, a wedding celebration was not on our radar, and to be frank, I am terrible at planning events anyway. From the coordination itself to an actual event, I stress about everything being perfect and whether guests are having a good time. I could have hired a wedding planner, but I really had no interest in walking down an aisle and professing my commitment and love in front of other people. We had a baby on the way and I was excited to start our life together in that way.
No matter the amount of awkward experiences and looks of disbelief I received when I said I was not interested in having a wedding or a ring, let alone having a baby out of wedlock, or how much my parents insisted, my husband and I didn’t acquiesce to what was expected of us as a couple. It wasn’t easy but, as previously in my life, I wasn’t looking to fit in and I decided that the criticism of others would not affect important decisions in our life together.
A few months after our daughter was born, we did get married, spontaneously, the day before we left on a trip to Tulum. My husband spat out the idea and how it would be sweet to have his sister, who was visiting from Italy, be our witness. I was surprised and joyfully agreed. I called my family and told them our plan. They were happy.
Besides the thrill of an impromptu decision to get married, we had a practical reason for doing so: I had just quit my job because I wanted to experience motherhood to the fullest and not be torn by the fairytale idea of a “work-life balance,” which I knew was impossible to achieve. So, I needed health insurance. We went to city hall in NYC, the most unromantic place possible, where the clerk processed our paperwork behind a bulletproof window, and made it official. We celebrated with Shake Shack burgers. It was perfect.
It’s been 10 years since then, and we occasionally bring up the idea of having a celebration of some sort with our family and friends. My now 9-year-old daughter says she would like to wear a white “wedding dress” to our nuptials. It’s fun to think about where we would have this celebration and how we could bring all our loved ones together. But it’s more of a fleeting thought than a real attempt at planning one. I still go on jewelry appointments and marvel at gorgeous diamond rings. Yet, I don’t regret not having an engagement ring or a wedding. Perhaps in the future it may be a possibility. As a couple, we are constantly evolving. But for now, this feels right. It feels like us. And that’s how we choose to live together.