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Dear Fifi: How do I get over not being asked to marry him?

Xin ciao! Dear Fifi is in Vietnam.
Feb 12th 2019, 6:00 PM 7,790 1

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Time really plays tricks. The few weeks I spent in Laos seemed so go by so slowly, but already two weeks in Vietnam have zipped past me in the blink of an eye. It’s jarring, sometimes, looking back and seeing that time can make a fool of us like that.

My parents are arriving at the end of this week for a fortnight trip, so if you’ve ever wanted my mother and father to input on your advice, the timing has never been better. Get at me right here.

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Dear Fifi,

I am an Irish citizen but I didn’t grow up here. I have been with my partner for 17 years. We have two amazing kids and a house. We have a happy, loving family. The only thing that bothers me  is that he did not ask me to marry him.

A wedding would have been a nightmare, both families are rather complex. But it hurts my heart that I wasn’t good enough to ask. As I have gotten older I have realised that cohabitation in this jurisdiction doesn’t give us the same rights. The recession hit us hard but things are a lot better now, however we don’t have the same financial freedom we did before.

I wish he would ask me to marry him,  I know that it isn’t going to happen and I want some advice on how to get over it. How to say that wasn’t meant for me this lifetime and really be okay with it?

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of what you’ve asked me here, I just want to say one thing. You and your partner are just that: partners. You have shared a life together, raised kids together and built a home for them together. You already have all of the love, commitment and history that a marriage licence symbolises in bringing two lives together as one. You may not be husband and wife at the moment, but you are true partners. 

From the way you speak about your respective families, it seems like a marriage ceremony would have been a logistical or emotional nightmare. For that reason, I presume a wedding was discarded as a viable prospect quite some time ago and probably has not been raised since? In this case, it is very likely that your partner believes you have made your peace with it. After all, with the kids and life getting in the way, you’ve been busy together in the meantime. 

I think the problem here lies in crossed wires and a lack of communication. After 17 years, it’s understandable that your partner may consider the matter of an engagement and big wedding closed – but he may not truly understand how much the idea of marriage means to you and how the lack of official commitment has hurt you. You have to let him know, as he won’t spontaneously guess I’m afraid. 

Please don’t think that this is about you not being “good enough”. You were good enough to raise kids with and make a home with – this isn’t about not being “good enough”, and I hope you stop seeing it this way. It’s much more likely that your partner doesn’t see the romance and symbolism of weddings and marriages as you do – or else simply assumes you’re content with how things worked out, considering the in-law family problems you avoided by not having a ceremony.

If this hurts your heart as you say it does, I think you owe it to yourself to tell him. A wedding at this stage could be a personal declaration to one another – a commitment ceremony, a renewal of the implicit and unspoken vows that the past 17 years together essentially have been. You could even do this just the two of you and not tell anyone, or just bring your kids, or two witnesses. You can do this however you choose. You can propose to him. You can talk about it and propose to one another. The world is your oyster!

The way things worked out, you didn’t get an engagement and wedding before you got the happy life together – but you still got the life together, and that’s what counts. A wedding is just a day, when it comes right down to it – but I understand your need to make it official and make it special. The hard part is that your partner isn’t a mind-reader: you’ll have to tell him you need these things. Start talking. Tell him how you feel. He may have no idea. He might surprise you by feeling the same.

Whether or not the later-in-life marriage comes to pass, I think the important thing to remember is that it wasn’t due to you, but circumstances. And it doesn’t mean your life and love is any less real or valid. 

Now onto the slightly more dry but massively important bit. As you mention, there are also legal protections that come with marriage – when it comes to inheritance of money, guardianship of children and citizenship, as well as other things I’m not qualified to talk about.

I can’t advise on the specific legal ins and outs of your situation, but for the children’s sake it might be worth looking at legally joining your lives together – or at least assessing with a solicitor or family law specialist how this will affect their guardianship and your livelihood if the very worst was to happen to you or your partner, for example. 

But back to what I said at the start. Focus on that happy, loving family you mention. Congrats on the life you share together and best of luck with ensuring it keeps going that way for a very long time to come. 

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