There we were around that small glass table filled with alcohol, chips, and chicken wings, relinquishing old memories of wasted nights littered with vague moments of drunk sob stories, crazy recollections, and mad antics. It was a welcome sight that we absorbed with great longing before digging in.

Ours was a small group of six, four of whom are my partner’s friends from his all-boys’ high school. Naturally, the night started with an overindulged reanimation of the highlights of their school days, as they recounted the best moments of their youth with an obvious longing for the days that were.

But they were no longer in high school. They were already approaching their 30s. Two of the said classmates are already married. The other two have settled down as well.

Then came the usual question: What about us? When are we planning to get married? At what age do we plan to bring a child into this world?

My partner answered with the words he always says whenever the topic comes up: not soon. He recently passed the medical board exam and is about to enter residency. He will also embark on a specialty after. By the grace of God, it would still be at least 10 years. He needs a decade more for his dreams, and only then will he be ready.

Unexpectedly, the criticisms came flooding in. Whereas others will just nod and acknowledge, this all-male group vehemently questioned my partner’s entire proposition. In 10 years, he will be 39, and I will be 35. Did I consent to such an arrangement? Am I willing to wait that long? Do I want to give birth at such a high-risk age?

All of a sudden, words of wisdom were pouring. One guy went on a spiel about how marriage is a union between two equal people who go through the process side by side, and not with one dictating on the other. This is even more so in the Philippines, where it’s more of families rather than individuals tying the knot. Partners must also heed each other’s loved ones. Their perspectives and interests will contribute to the pile of things to be honored, that’s why marriage can never be one-dimensional.

It’s true that I do not remember outwardly consenting to our arrangement. Behind closed doors, I listen intently to my partner whenever he verbalizes his desire to focus on his career and achieve financial stability first before settling down. He also apologizes for the long wait I will have to shoulder, before asking if I am okay with it. I always neither agree nor protest. Instead, I look him in the eye and observe the apologetic look that always ensues after he declares his determination to achieve all of his dreams first. I feel the warm hand that reaches out to mine, hoping for me to understand the aspirations and the sacrifices he has to go through to realize the life we both desire. I hear his bated breath, secure that the end of his labors will come in the fullness of time but pledging no words of blame if I ever choose to refuse to wait. I taste his anxiety in the air, attempting to imprison the slightest possibility of us drifting apart for fear that it may germinate and trigger more second thoughts and lack of faith.

I bear witness to his struggle whenever marriage is discussed. Whether behind closed doors or in front of people, this subject never ceases to burden him. Patriarchy has saddled him with the responsibility to leave his bachelorhood on the dock and set sail as soon as possible with his own family. After all, he is already of that age.

But I refuse to nourish such rubbish. Times have changed. And while I appreciate these men for championing my voice in the matter, my silence has long since yielded my thoughts on the issue: Marriage is between two financially, mentally, and emotionally prepared people who consent to the union on their own free will, not due to the pressures of tradition. This for me — a product of a dreadful marriage — is a non-negotiable point.

So I may not regularly say it, but I always look him in the eye and feel grateful for all those things his heart is working for — our bright, financially secure future and I included. I wrap his warm hands in mine to soothe his insecure thoughts, peeling him away from the waves of remorse that weigh him down. I chuckle at his bated breath, forcing him to breathe in and re-embrace the reality of a stage partner who will not tire from showering him with love and support, especially when he’s pursuing his goal for the both of us. I relieve his lingering anxiety by inviting him to stand up and hug our source of strength: each other.

Because love is a choice, and a decade is an easy one to make, especially when I, too, have my own dreams to pursue, and my uterus isn’t needed in an overpopulated world filled with young abandoned children, some waiting to be adopted into the warm home of a tenderhearted doctor and a zealous writer.

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