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Why one woman says ‘I don’t’ to marriage

Jane Pratt shares the reasons why she gets emotional at weddings when she has never really believed in the institution of marriage.
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I’m the wedding crier. Not just little dabbing-at-the-corners-of-my-eyes-with-a-handkerchief mistiness. I’m talking audible sobs, guttural noises, everything. I cry at weddings where I can’t understand the language. I cry at weddings where I don’t believe the marriages will last. I cry at weddings where I’ve never met the bride or the groom.

I’m sitting in a pew in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco watching my friend walk down the aisle wearing a gorgeous Valentino gown. I’m crying, of course. The friend next to me whispers, “This is the moment every girl has dreamed about for as long as she can remember.” I search inside myself to see if this moment in fact resonates with any dream I’ve ever had and I can’t find one example. At the reception following the gorgeous ceremony, I run in the opposite direction when the bride throws the bouquet.

This is how little I’ve cared about weddings, at least my own: The first time I almost got married was my sophomore year in college, where students were only allowed to live and eat off campus if they were upperclassmen or married. A platonic guy friend and I decided we’d get married down at the courthouse as a way to get out of dorm life early. Then we found out the blood tests for the marriage license cost $80, so we said forget it.

In my early 20s, my best girlfriend and I went to the diamond district in New York and bought matching standard-issue gold wedding bands, which she and I wore to make the point that a wedding band only means what the person wearing it means by it and that it can in fact be meaningless or have an entirely different meaning altogether. It felt like rebellious fun to wear my wedding band to clubs and see which men came on to me anyway. It also helped keep some men away when that’s what I wanted. My friend and I wore them for about a year, until she met a guy and got engaged and then she wore a wedding band the way it’s intended to be worn for a few years until she got divorced.

The second time I almost got married, about seven years ago, I let my assistant plan the whole thing. I was really busy at work, plus I figured that I didn’t know nearly enough about what a wedding was supposed to be since I hadn’t been paying attention to them my whole life like most girls, the ones who’d dreamed of their weddings since they were 3. I joked that I’d be walking down the aisle and shout to my assistant, “Hey Karen, these are nice flowers. What kind are they?” Anyway, I got pregnant and so we decided to put off the wedding and that was a relief.

I had come to relate much more over the years to marriage-phobic men who wanted to stay bachelors as long as possible than to most women I knew.

I’ve always felt lucky and proud to be unburdened by this aching need to marry. And I’ve tried to use my stance to help unburden other women whose desires to get married compromise the choices they make in mates and other areas of their lives. When I started the teen magazine Sassy, we promoted the idea that it’s cool to not have a boyfriend. Then one of my missions with Jane magazine, for women in their 20s, was to encourage women to enjoy their single years rather than race to get married. On my radio show I counsel many callers to put off their weddings until they are more certain about them, and I tell others to not stay married for the sake of the children.

I espouse the idea that I’ve never viewed getting married as an accomplishment in itself — but I did learn, by witnessing the strength it took my mom to leave my father, that getting divorced can be. It shocks me that there are still shows like The Bachelor that presume that getting a marriage proposal is some sort of prize. A boyfriend and I said the line “We will get married when our gay friends can all do the same” years before I heard Brad and Angelina use that excuse. I’ve also said, “The only time I can imagine getting married is when I’m 90 and need some help getting around. Then it might be worthwhile.”

So back to me out-crying the mothers and fathers of the newlyweds at every wedding I’ve ever attended. Why, if I truly care so little about weddings, do they make me so emotional? Did my parents’ divorce have a different impact on me than I’ve realized? As I’m discussing this on the air, a guy calls in and tells me how deeply he feels about the woman he married years ago. He tells me about the vows they took and about how much more they’ve endured than they could have imagined the day they took them and I start to get teary-eyed. I realize that I cry so much at weddings because I could never imagine anyone actually knowing me that well and loving me that unconditionally, that permanently. “She is the best traveling companion I ever could have hoped for,” says the caller before we hang up.

After the show wraps, I think about what he said. Maybe he’s on to something. Being married might be something like being a lifelong traveling companion. Life’s a journey, after all. And marriages can morph along with life’s circumstances, just like rolling with the punches on any good trip I’ve ever taken. Maybe it’s the most safe yet fluid journey out there. And I may even take it myself one day. Maybe even before I turn 90.

This article originally appeared in Modern Bride magazine.