Without the Vows

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| This is the 361st story of Our Life Logs |


Growing up as a young boy in a military family, most of my childhood was spent moving from place to place. I was born in California in the 1970s, but after California, we lived in Maine, Hawaii, Washington, and then finally, Georgia. By Georgia, my parents got divorced. After seeing their marriage decay, I stopped believing in love. I stopped believing that I would be loved.

This feeling only grew stronger as I found myself viewing women more like platonic study buddies than lovers. For almost two decades, whenever I told others about my platonic “girlfriends,” they either thought that I was a liar and a player, or an asexual saint. Really, I just had a different focus at the time. I had my eyes on academic success and a career. So, I finished school and found a job at my alma mater as an instructional lab coordinator, and chose to pour myself into developing a strong work ethic.

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But things came to a crashing halt after the university downsized and laid off many of their staff (me included). I moved back to my town and found whatever job I could to support myself. I had to make money again. I thought I was wasting my education, but I needed a job. So, I started working in a warehouse. I was a part of the new poverty: well educated but underemployed.

With less time to worry about a career, I realized that my mind had shifted from work to something…new. I had fallen in love with a most unusually delightful woman (whom we’ll call Angela) when I was 38. Angela and I met through a mutual associate who had heard that we were both looking for someone to date and have fun with. I got her number and called her soon after. We talked for four and a half hours that Friday night. Previous strangers became quick acquaintances. It was the most wonderful way I had spent a Friday night in a long time. All I had was Angela’s voice. With each word, her beautifully melodic voice kept me interested, sober, and desirous to meet her.

We decided to meet for coffee at the local bookstore the next Friday. I was terrified she wouldn’t come. But when she strolled through the door, I knew it was fate we met. Angela and I stayed until the bookstore’s cafe closed. This became a theme of ours. We’d meet at a restaurant, then talk until the closing time. With each date, I found myself more and more intrigued.

We came from different family backgrounds, but it just made our conversations more interesting. It was like meeting someone from a different universe. She was from a two-parent home, while my parents were divorced. Both of her parents had been to college, while my parents never completed college. Her father worked as a vice president and her late mother had been a housewife. My dad was in the navy and my mom was a working single parent. Angela had a master’s degree and worked as an Administrative Hearing Officer while I had a measly bachelor’s degree in physics, yet, I was working in a warehouse. Rather than seeing these differences as obstacles, we believed they were what made our relationship so special.

While there were many differences, we did find some common ground. We both had lost one of our parents. Angela lost her mom at 19; I lost my dad when I was almost 30. Most important of all was that we were both irrevocably in love with each other. Like the hands of a clock, we clicked together with ease and became a unit. She chose me despite all our differences, and I was shocked to learn that I was worthy of love after all.  I was beyond smitten. I knew from the first phone conversation that I wanted this enchanting woman in my life forever.

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I gave her a promise ring on Valentine’s Day of 2016, complete with a dozen red roses and brunch at her favorite French restaurant in downtown Decatur, Georgia. By the time I was ready to make her my wife, we had already been together for five years.

I proposed and she excitedly said “YES!” Soon after, we completed pre-marital counseling with our pastor, and upon completion of the sessions, we announced our engagement to our church. Our church family was supportive and kind toward us, seeing how far we’d come in five years. Next, we planned to tell Angela’s family.

We were invited to her father and stepmother’s home for a Mother’s Day party and decided this was the opportune moment to share our news. Everyone in her blended family from her father’s remarrying was at the Mother’s Day gathering. Well, everyone except for her stepsister, our usual advocate at family gatherings. We knew that Angela’s family weren’t totally supportive of our relationship because of the differences in our backgrounds, but we hoped this news would show them how serious and true our love was.

I couldn’t stop smiling as Angela and I stood up from our seats to state our intentions after the communal meal. The news was met with cheers from those guests who were of our same generation. Angela’s stepmother and her stepmother’s best friend, however, stated that we needed to stand up, go to the center of the tables, and repeat the announcement.

After the second announcement, they made sure we stayed in the center of the tables until they could recover from their shock, which they seemed to express by pummeling us with personal questions: “What did you say? I want to make sure I heard you correctly. Do you have a planner? Don’t people ask for the father’s blessing anymore?” Where our church family focused on all the positives of our relationship, Angela’s family zeroed in on all the negatives of why I was not marriage material. Ultimately, looking back, it went as well as a surprise could go, and we both thought we had cleared with best wishes, congratulations, and implied blessings.

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A few days later came the phone call. Her stepmother called and wanted to meet right away. My newly minted fiancée and I traveled up State Route 138 to go to her parents’ house. The conversation on the way there was light but nervous. Our pastor, who gave us premarital counseling, assured us that such a meeting was normal and we clung to that promise. We were still foolish enough to have hope then.

I can’t explain how a couple in their 40s could sit and let someone critique their relationship, but that’s what we did. Her parents did what they believed that they had to do as parents, and maybe we wanted to respect that. Whatever it was, we sat still as they grilled us—but mostly me—for two hours. I was not invited there to be heard. I was there to be told. If I could have explained how deep my feelings ran for Angela, maybe things would have turned out different. After all, I came for their blessing, not for their permission.

We received an ongoing onslaught of harsh criticism, veiled threats, and verbal abuse because to them, I wasn’t good enough for their daughter and never would be. Angela’s stepmother said nothing loving. Her questions hit like bullets: “Who’s paying for this? You aren’t using my money! Whose idea was this? You just have a part-time job? You need to get a second job…a third job…you have a wife to support! Her money is supposed to be extra. You’re a grown able-bodied man, aren’t you, and you are living off her money? You just have a bachelor’s in what: physics? Nobody needs that.”

Then it got worse, “We suspect abuse is at play here. If you do this, you’ll lose all support, Angela. You won’t be our responsibility anymore. You don’t even want this, do you?” No response was possible that would have welcomed and engaged in any true dialog, so, to keep the peace I tuned them out and just stopped trying to defend myself. I gave up and gave in, but it was hard not to hear and be hurt.

The bright, beautiful sun danced through expensive glass as the four of us sat together at the table. Negative words rained down on us, sprinkled over our hopes, and flooded out our dreams. We came with nothing and yet we felt that we left with even less.

The ride back home was silent. No radio. No conversation. We fled the scene and left behind its sting, but we still felt their venom in our veins. At that time silence was appropriate for more than a moment as miles traveled turned into prayers.

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A few days after the dreadful meeting, Angela’s parents’ executor contacted her to inform her that if she married, she would receive no inheritance from her father. She’d be on her own. Her parents’ disapproval, despite our love for one another, felt intentionally well-articulated; yet delivered an ongoing, inescapable sense of pain. Angela was processing the parental disapproval we experienced as a mixture of depression, anger, understanding, and profound hurt.

The rest of that week, it felt like we were walking on eggshells around each other in our one-bedroom apartment. The desire for our marriage was mutual, but a week after the meeting and, due to the threat of a financial setback along with the pain it brought, we decided to postpone our marriage indefinitely. We tried returning to who we once were without a bridge to who we thought we could become together.

Eventually, we started taking the steps of undoing. We contacted guests with a well-crafted message that the wedding was postponed. We canceled the cake. We mourned the loss like a couple grieving a miscarriage.

Then, as we rewound our plans, I realized something. What really is a marriage besides a piece of paper legally binding two people? It wasn’t like my love for Angela was weakened if we didn’t become husband and wife. In fact, the hardship had made us closer than ever.

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Making the choice to commit to each other in the absence of a celebration or legal ceremony was difficult, but in our hearts, we knew we really didn’t need a big party to showcase our love. We didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. The love we felt in our hearts remained, no matter what her parents said, and while they may stop us from getting married, they can’t strip us of our love for each other. Every day, we choose to love each other, without a certificate, without ceremony, but just as committed as we can be without the vows. Because it was never about the vows. It was about the love.

 

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This is the story of Tajhid Andre Robinson

Tajhid resides in Morrow, Georgia, with his partner Angela. In his early life, Tajhid focused on his career and never bothered much with love. After failing to find a secure job with his degree, he went to work in a warehouse which led him to meet the love of his life. Yet despite their devotion to one another and desire to marry, her parents disapproved and threatened them which ultimately led them to decide they didn’t need to legally get married right away to prove their love to one another. While their wedding is currently postponed, they hope to find a good time to go through the wedding someday. For now, they’re contented with just being together. Tajhid is a graduate of Mercer University, where he received his Bachelor of Sciences in Physics and Mathematics. He is now working as a professional math tutor at a local community college. He spends his free time playing chess and riding his bike.

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Tajhid, 2019.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on May 28, 2019.

| Writer: April Desiree McQueen | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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