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Coupling

A very long engagement

A decade after he proposed, we're finally tying the knot.

By Grace Talusan
April 10, 2011

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In a picture window framing snow falling onto Faneuil Hall, my boyfriend, Alonso, presented me with a sapphire and diamond ring. I wasn’t surprised; by then, we’d been together five years. We planned our wedding, first debating the merits of nuptials in Louisville, Kentucky, where he’s from, or Boston, where I’m from. We would include Filipino marriage customs, such as enclosing the couple in a veil and cord, and from his African-American ancestors, jumping the broom. (Although not at the same time. We might fall). My godson, Andrew, would be our ring bearer. At bridal fairs, I collected materials describing reception sites, cakes, and honeymoons and entered a raffle in which I won a bridal gown made of hemp from an organic-wedding website. They sent me swatches in a variety of whites. I promised to be in touch as soon as we finalized our plans.

By the time we set a date, almost a decade later, the website had long since disappeared, along with the Hotmail e-mail account I had used for correspondence. And that little boy who was going to be my ring bearer? He’s graduating from high school this spring. About a year after our wedding plans stalled, I stopped referring to Alonso as my fiance because this encouraged people to ask annoying questions such as “So when’s the big day?”

There are many reasons we didn’t get married. The short answer is money, but the longer, truer answer is more nuanced. Alonso quit his job in Los Angeles to join me in Boston and was a full-time student again, pursuing his dream of becoming a photojournalist. I was working on my literary career. At that time, we couldn’t afford to host even a budget wedding. Besides, with more time, maybe I could lose that extra weight. White isn’t very slimming. We decided to marry once we were in a better, more stable place in our lives. You can wait a long time for that.

There was the year my toddler niece had eye cancer, another year when my sister had breast cancer, followed by Alonso’s grandmother dying of lung cancer. We had no taste for weddings in those years of grief. One evening as he strolled through Cambridge, Alonso was beaten and robbed by two men. That experience turned everything sour for a long time.

At first, we patiently answered questions about the postponed wedding, but other times we lost our cool. “Look, we both work jobs with benefits. We don’t own property or have children. And we’re keeping our names,” we would say. “What would marriage change?” And if we didn’t marry, then we couldn’t divorce, like his parents and the partners in half of American marriages. We’d been together long enough to see some of the couples whose weddings we’d attended split up. Some of those friends had since remarried, and one had even divorced again.

Why did we need to marry when we were already so happily unmarried? We’d already shown we could love each other through sickness and health: He helped me recover from a double mastectomy, and I did the same when he had his gallbladder out. We stayed together through poorer and slightly less poorer. After lean years of uncertainty and cobbling together different jobs, Alonso was hired as a staff photographer. I’ve started to figure out how to balance writing and earning a living.

During our long engagement, I was warned that men who drink free milk don’t buy cows, but this cliche only served to remind me about that ice cream maker I’d always wanted. “We don’t have to get married for you to register for an ice cream maker. I can buy you one now,” Alonso told me after landing his full-time job. My long-married sister reported, “Ice cream makers are overrated.”

And then something shifted. While walking on the beach on Cape Cod recently, we realized we’d reached that place we’d been working so hard to get to. We wanted to put a ring around our relationship, to pledge our intention to love each other for the rest of our lives. So even though I still haven’t lost that extra weight and now we both have more white hair, we’ll marry this summer. What will change after we say “I do”? We’ll soon find out. And with any luck, I’ll have that ice cream maker I’ve always wanted. Maybe even two of them.

Grace Talusan teaches writing at Tufts University. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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