The Virgin Diaries: Why Marriage Is Not for Me

photo by jronaldlee.com

Our contributor Katherine Chen, who is a junior English major at Princeton University (check out her personal site here), is penning a series of confessions for EMandLO.com collectively called “The Virgin Diaries.” Here’s her eighth installment:

Around two years ago, just when I was about to go to college for the first time, my father had an operation to remove the colostomy bag he had been using and restore what remained of his colon. My parents and I were generally unconcerned about the operation: we had been assured on nearly every visit to the clinic that this was an easy, straightforward procedure that would be done by an experienced surgeon. I went to work that day while my mother accompanied my father to the hospital. Hours passed, and I began checking my phone every ten minutes or so for an update — but no one called. Finally, my mother rang, and the news was not good: the operation was unsuccessful.The doctor had emerged from the operating room shaking his head — he couldn’t even pinpoint what had gone wrong. And now my father would have to remain in the hospital for a good while longer. I was furious, and my mother was heartbroken.

Over the next few months, my mother visited the ICU every day, keeping my father company and bringing him food she’d prepared that he had no appetite to eat. That whole year, my mother must have slept an average of three to four hours a night. The hospital was her workplace, and my father’s ICU room her office. She was more vigilant than the nurses, and when they ignored her, she went to fetch the doctor herself. She fought tirelessly to bring my father back to life. Today he’ll tell you he probably would not have survived the ordeal at all if it weren’t for my mother’s hard work and persistence.

I watched my mother’s devotion to my father with awe. While I certainly admired her strength and patience, I realized I would never be able to do the same for my hypothetical husband.

Thinking back on that year, I’m reminded of the wedding vows that a bride and groom make to each other at the altar. My mother must have taken my father’s hand in her own and said something along the lines of “I, Betty Yu, take you, Ray Chen, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, till death us do part.” If this vow is intended to be taken both seriously and literally — and I believe it is — then it absolutely terrifies me.

Could I spend all my free hours taking care of somebody and tending to his medical and emotional needs? Could I willingly put my own career on the wayside and make him the utmost priority of my life and existence so long as he needed me? What if he asked me to quit my day job and spend all my hours with him at the hospital, like my father did with my mother? Could I agree to do all that? The answer is a resounding no! And I don’t think it’s a heartless answer, just an honest one.

I am not prepared, mentally or emotionally, for the obligations and responsibilities that come with a union as colossal and consequential as marriage. I just can’t imagine ever sacrificing my independence and ambitions for someone else, and so far in my life, I’ve never had to. In a discussion I had with my mother not too long ago concerning marriage, I told her, “I can never marry because I love myself more than I could ever love another human being.” I’m not afraid of coming across as selfish or superficial by making such a statement: I do love and cherish myself. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of loving another person. It’s just that I’m unwilling to sacrifice my own livelihood, dreams, and well-being for anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’ve never felt responsibility or obligation to another human being. I feel a strong sense of both towards my parents because they were the ones who raised me, clothed me, fed me, and spent thousands of dollars on my early education. That whole academic year, I traveled every other day from my dorm to my home to the hospital and then back. I juggled a number of jobs to pay what small bills I could for my family and to help ward off creditors. Because of all my efforts to raise and save money for them, my schoolwork suffered and my social life was virtually nonexistent. But I was more than happy to help them out during such a difficult time.

On the other hand, I cannot imagine ever possessing such strong feelings of responsibility and obligation towards a lover, someone I’ve only known for a small part of my life, someone not blood-related. And I’m not just talking about when tragedy occurs. Whether it’s having to negotiate where to go on vacation or what car to drive, I despise that feeling of being controlled, not getting my own way, or just having the course of my life altered from my ultimate dreams and ambitions. Relationships are all about compromise — something I’m not willing to do right now. And I doubt I ever will be willing.

My parents do not have an ideal marriage, but their relationship is built on a solid enough foundation that my mother was willing to dedicate everything to her husband — in essence, give up everything — during one of the most trying periods of his life. There are certainly pros to marriage that even I can’t deny, such as companionship, intimacy, and support — and hey, it works for millions of couples worldwide. But none of these pros are advantages that I don’t think I couldn’t find in a less romantic permanent relationship, or even platonic ones with friends and family. For better or worse, marriage, with all its heavy vows and responsibilities and burdens, doesn’t fit my temperament or my dreams right now. And isn’t it better to stay honest and sane, even if it’s at the cost of being single?


  1. I think your problem is that, you see marriage as a situation where the WIFE makes sacrifices, as as in the marriage vow you cited, the wife consents to OBEY her husband.

    Well no wonder you don’t want to get married! You need to find some one who does not see you as a submissive woman, you need some one who will support you just as much as you support him.

    Go follow your hopes and dreams, become a successful woman and after you’ve become accomplished, perhaps there will be room for a partner in life. But I believe you are right to put yourself first at this point. You are not being selfish, I wish more women were like you!

  2. Finally!! someone who gets it. I dont think its being selfish. I think its about living your life for you and not someone else.

  3. I totally agree with da author, she is wise, intelligent & smart. I am much older but not much wiser, I believe tht da older I get the stupider I get. On my part I’ve had my share of boy friends & on my 2nd husband, my current husband was very ill from 2002-20004 & i took care of him & worked, he never appreciated me & still doesn’t and most i have known r a..h…. 2 their wives, dont appreciate nothing u do 4 them..my step-dad of ovr 40 yrs didn’t appreciate my mom either, my mom made the ultimate sacrifice for him,like the authur,s mom did, bc my step-dad was a heart patient, had a triple by-pass & his heart was 2 weak, he cud have died in his sleep. but wen mom was sick, he didn’t wanna take care of her. he put her in a nursing home, mom gave up, got sicker & sicker, although we were there for her, she loved & depended on her husband alot, he hurt her alot, she wanted 2 go home & he wudn’t take her home bc he didn’t want 2 deal w/her, he started seeing other women & wen mom died,he was talking bout other women at da funeral. so the aurthur is a smart woman..that’s wat I gotta say.

  4. I am totally in agree with the author of this post. We should know ourselves better than anyone else… We should know how far we have the ability to go for others…It is always better to have peace in single life than to create big hassles together…It is much more painful when you find you are not happy with or you can not make somebody happy whom you love so much…!!!

  5. people have different options, you can’t balance two things to make success. one must suffer and endure. it’s a matter of compensation.but if i were you. go to where you think you are happy but there’s no happiness forever.in every relationship there is no pluperfect. challenges makes the bond tied together.if you’re not that ready never force yourself. think twice and even thrice or plan before making changes in your life.

  6. I agree with most of the other posters, your have a solid understanding of yourself is inspiring.

    I’m young too, so I could be all wrong… but I do feel like we are at a time in our life where we want to be selfish and we get to be selfish. However, I think when we get older our nurturing side may kick in a little more. We might want to give a little more and let ourselves love a little more.

  7. I felt completely the same. I think a lot of it was due to not having established myself in life and achieved my dreams, and I’m glad I did that before getting married. Now I have a clearer sense of who I am and what I can do, I feel much happier about giving things up for my husband. I’ve already made some sacrifices for him, but they don’t feel like sacrifices, because his happiness makes me happy. And it turns out that having made those promises in public has made me feel different than when we were just long term live in partners.

  8. I commend the author for being so forthright about her feelings toward this topic. But I also agree with the previous posters – things change when you are in a relationship.

    I used to joke with my ex that she* re-wrote my DNA when we had children; that the act of absorbing her sperm meant I now was a hybrid of her and me.

    Although we are no longer together, if something (anything) happened to her, I’d be on the next plane available to take care of her — even if it meant years. Not out of a sense of guilt or obligation, but for the love of her and who she represents in my life, as well as the lives of our children.

    I’m not saying this is how other people feel about their partners or that the author would feel this way about a future partner…I’m saying it is a different set of variables when the situation changes from single to couple.

    *My ex is a preoperative M>F transsexual woman. Where she lives, she is legally considered a woman.

  9. It’s great that you have such a clear head about your intentions. You may want to keep a pin in this idea though and not consider it to be concrete.

    Take the time for yourself while you can, but don’t rule out the effects of a loving relationship. Marriage may be something you never do. It may be the best thing you ever do. Your dad didn’t just ask your mom for help; she did all of that work because she loves and cares for him. It’s not easy and not something to take lightly and it’s nice to see you take it seriously.

  10. I totally relate to this post. My dad was slowly dying for 10 years and while my mother still worked (someone had to), she did pretty much give up on having a life for years. I think people who haven’t seen someone do this and haven’t done it themselves don’t get what it’s like. It’s quite a mental transition from life partner to well… giant adult baby’s caregiver and you have to wipe their butt all the time. It’s not something you think about when you sign up (and in the case of the author and me, since it happened to a parent, we definitely didn’t sign up). Caregiving feels like it eats your soul. You feel massive guilt if you aren’t utterly self-sacrificing and even want to say, eat or take a shower when the sick one needs you 24-7. And given the state of healthcare today, you won’t be able to afford a home health aide, so it will be ALL ON YOU.

    Don’t rag on her for not feeling enthusiastic about signing up for this. If and when it happens to your life partner, you’re going to be STUCK doing it, and everyone will think you are the world’s biggest asshole if you aren’t 100% self-sacrificing and enthusiastic about it. (Example: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier)

    It gives me pause about settling down for life too, even if I was getting laid (you stay classy, Johnny). My last ex had health problems that could have led to something like this, and when I expressed my concerns about it, he just brushed me off and said, “You’ll be fine!” Sure, you say that now, but in the moment….

    “In sickness” is a scary prospect, folks.

  11. Good for you. Most people ignore the fact that they’re not cut out for marriage and can’t uphold marriage vows. They get married anyway, then, predictably, divorced.

    That said, I strongly predict – prophecize, even, that’s how accurate this one’s gonna be – that the author will do a 180 on this when she starts gettin’ some.

  12. I respect the author for being so honest about her feelings. I think admitting that you are not ready for a relationship is a very mature and thoughtful thing to do. Far more mature that entering a relationship that one is not ready for.

    But, I have to wonder… If you find a person that you really want to marry, why would that person compel you to give up your dreams? I would only want to marry someone who encouraged my dreams and ambitions whenever realistically possible. Of course, in a crisis situation, sacrifices often have to be made. But, I hope that the person one loves will usually be worth it.

  13. When you are committed to a relationship, you may be surprised at the sacrifices you would make for your partner.

  14. Since when did “compromise” become a bad word?

    Yes, some things are too important to compromise on – no one should ever have to compromise their “ultimate dreams and ambitions” for a partner. But having to compromise on whether to go to Paris or London for vacation, or whether to buy a red car or a black one? Those seem like worthwhile compromises, when viewed in light of all the amazing things that a meaningful relationship can bring into your life.

    Is everyone cut out for a relationship at every point in their life? Of course not. But I do hope that the author doesn’t close herself off to the possibility of finding a long-term partner while she chases her dreams. Because, as corny as it sounds, I believe that with the right person, those “compromises” are completely worth it.

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