Over the weekend, I met up with my extended family for the first time since my grandfather’s funeral in March. We celebrated several recent birthdays with BBQ and cake, teased my younger cousins for their grey hairs and bald spots, and recited my grandpa’s favorite toast. We listened to stories of recent bouts of COVID, international trips, new jobs, and an upcoming retirement. But one topic broke my heart a bit.
My grandmother will be turning 90 this fall. Her eldest grandchild is 33 and the youngest is 18. None are married yet, and none have given her a great-grandchild. She’s pseudo-adopted her son-in-law’s grandchildren, as well as the children of my late cousin’s fiancé and her boyfriend. But it’s not the same. When she learned that the fifth of her nine grandchildren would be moving in with a significant other, she wondered out loud when one of us would get married.
And I teared up because I want it to be me. I have been with my boyfriend for nearly nine years, and I’ve known since the start that he is soulmate and my life partner. I would love nothing more that to marry that man. But we can’t because of the disability marriage penalty. I can’t afford the thousands in monthly medication costs that Medicare currently covers. So, we have to wait until he has a career that will cover those costs.
I want my grandmother to be able to attend the wedding of at least one of her grandchildren, and I’ve prayed for that for years. Hearing her that express that out loud brought me close to tears. While she’s in good health, I understand that could change in an instant. And it’s endlessly frustrating that, unless we experience a significant windfall, it will be another three-to-five years before my partner and I can realistically consider marriage.
We’ve talked about trying to bypass social security requirements by starting a family before we get married. However, we’re both very traditional and even thinking about trying to conceive out of wedlock feels wrong. I know it’s the norm nowadays and I’m confident that having a child with my partner won’t change our relationship, but it’s still an impossible choice. Even more challenging is the consideration that I will be in my late-30s and my partner will be in his mid-40s by the time we will be able to marry. I worry that that will be may be too late.
It’s such a conundrum, and it feels completely out of our hands. It’s a struggle I’ve been waging internally since I met my best friend’s daughter twenty-one months ago and realized just how much I want a family of my own. Not simply knowing, but actually hearing that my grandmother would love to meet a grandchild felt like a corkscrew through my heart. I don’t see any of the other grandchildren getting married or having children soon, if ever. So, it feels like I am personally depriving her of that experience. And it’s especially painful because I can’t do anything about it.
If it weren’t for the disability marriage penalty, my partner and I would have married seven years ago and likely be starting a family around now. But the issue no longer feels like a mere consideration of what’s best for us. It’s not an external pressure to achieve the key milestones of marriage and childbearing, but instead a reminder of personal desire that can’t fulfilled.
My grandmother’s wish is a reflection of my own. Her sadness and longing is my own.