A Swede in sambo

“Are y’all going to get married?”

I can’t believe that I am old enough for this to be a common question in my life.

Just the other day a friend asked me if I thought Joel was going to propose soon. After I was done laughing, I tried to explain. Swedes don’t get married very often. I have a strong distaste for weddings. Both of these things have been hard for people to grasp.

Swedes have sambo. Basically, it means “living together.” It is a way of categorizing your relationship without being married. This means couples in Sweden get all the benefit, legal and otherwise, that a married couple would get. This, mixed with the fact that Swedes are not very religious, means sambo is a very practical and popular choice.

Sambo is one of the harder things to explain to Americans, especially my more traditional, Southern friends and family in Texas. Somehow, they hear this and think that these couples are not committed to each other. When I tell people that Joel and I are not very keen on getting married, I have to follow it with “we still plan on spending the rest of our life together.” For some reason, people think that marriage and lifelong commitment are not mutually exclusive.

In some ways, I think the Swedish people take relationships more seriously than Americans. There is a firm belief that something worth doing is worth doing right. If that means waiting for the right person or working through a problem, they will. The other part that I find commendable is there isn’t any shame when a relationship doesn’t work out. Everyone knows they tried their best and they know life will move on.

Then there is me. Last time I was in Sweden someone asked Joel and I if we would have a “big American wedding.” My face scrunched up and I looked at Joel.

Weddings freak me out. I have never quite figured out why. It might be the fact that I am expected to wear a big white dress and I have avoided all forms of dresses most of my life. Maybe it’s the idea of all the attention being on me. I always knew that whatever wedding I would have would be magnified by the fact that I am the only girl in my family. The whole idea of spending thousands of dollars on an event that I have no desire to plan or attend is very unappealing.

This is a surprising statement from a southern girl. I was supposed to be raised thinking that my life didn’t begin until I committed my life to a man. Sorry, (not sorry at all) that was not how I was raised. I did not grow up pretending to play bride and I did not plan “my big day” when I was five. Weddings freaked me out now and they did then.

But here is the thing: I am from America and Joel is from Sweden. Not getting married could complicate the legality of our international relationship. Sweden might have sambo, but the rest of the world does not. Unless we want to hide out in Sweden for the rest of our lives, we will need that scrap of paper called a marriage license that is supposed to prove that we are committed to each other. Not getting married leaves us venerable in ways that “same country couples” don’t have to worry about. So, will we get married? Sure.

But don’t hold your breath. For now, we’re comfortable in sambo.

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