What do you do when you end up married, but never actually got engaged or had a ceremony?
I got married backwards.
My partner and I met and moved in together not long afterward. Neither of us wanted to get hitched — both of us come from families affected by pretty acrimonious divorces, which made us as trap shy as a pair of coyotes. Even if we did end up marrying, we didn’t want to have a wedding. Between the divorce thing and the link between wedding spending and marriage length, this seemed like a pretty reasonable decision. Being married wouldn’t impact anything about the way we lived or viewed each other, so it was an unjustifiable expense for something neither of us felt was necessary or desirable.
Then the pandemic came. It was frustrating to see that, since I was classified as a dependent, we’d miss a lot of the economic help offered to other families. That wasn’t my primary worry, though.
That was the next of kin thing.
If something were to happen to me, then my partner, the person who’s been looking out for me and present for all of my medical stuff for years, wouldn’t have any input into my care or burial arrangements. That would go to my legal next of kin, from whom I’ve been estranged for over a decade. My partner also knows exactly how I want my corpse to be disposed of, but my legal next of kin a) has no idea, and b) probably wouldn’t agree to do it even if they knew. The idea of my next of kin making medical and burial decisions for me was terrifying. There are legal ways around this, but they’re not very straightforward when compared to being married. Unfortunately, the more paperwork is involved, the more complicated things get, and the more easily they can be contested.
We lived in DC, so we looked up the laws on common law marriage. After having lived together like a married couple, grocery shopped together, shared health and life insurance, and adopted animals together, we decided to declare ourselves married and filed taxes to demonstrate it.
Because we’re both basically eleven jackdaws apiece crammed into human suits, we also wanted rings. Since we never did the whole engagement and ceremony thing, we had to kind of feel our way through what to do when you want to give someone a ring, but you’ve kind of technically already been married for several years and also didn’t actually have a wedding or engagement.
We chose our rings from independent designers on Etsy. He had a harder time choosing than I did — I picked a few designs I thought he’d like, got his input, then narrowed down my search until we found one that he loved. I knew exactly what I wanted, so we contacted the seller and requested to have it made. When his came, I held onto it in secret until we were somewhere special, then surprised him. When mine came, he did the same.
He gave it to me while I was sitting on his lap, overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, under a sky full of storm gray clouds brilliantly streaked with sunlight. I had on a thrifted flannel shirt and a pair of emergency sweatpants we’d bought at the gift shop because it was colder than I expected. There were a bunch of other people there, but we were too busy kissing to ask anyone if they’d mind taking a picture.
The ring was made by Green Gem. It’s silver (my favorite and most-worn metal) with a round cut Herkimer diamond. I knew I wanted a Herk because I love them, I’m not a fan of carbon diamonds, and this allowed me to get a larger, clearer stone that appeals to my crow-like desire to hoard shiny things. (Plus, if anyone asks me about it, I get to gush about the virtues of domestically sourced crystals over carbon diamonds.) I saw a twig-style ring I loved, set with an uncut Herk. I asked if it was possible for them to swap it for a faceted one, and they agreed. In the end, I got a beautiful, ethical ring that matches my style. You can see more of their rings, faceted stones, and raw crystals on their Instagram. Even if you’re not into Herks, they have a bunch of other beautiful, faceted crystals.
If you’re going down the path of non-traditional partnership, it can be challenging to figure out how to do it “right.” From the legality of next-of-kin stuff and inheritance laws, partnering without marriage can feel like a minefield. When I was in a same-sex relationship, we didn’t really put much thought into this kind of stuff — hospitals, death, and inheritances seemed ages away, so marriage and legality just never came up. I feel a lot better knowing that someone who knows and understands me has my back, even if we didn’t go through the traditional marriage path to do it.