CLAIRE:

In January of this year I celebrated my fifth anniversary (of dating) with my boyfriend, Corey. Five years might sound like a long time - though how long it really sounds is probably more indicative of your age than that of my relationship - but when you consider the fact that we spent most of those years in college, cradled in the forgiving arms of dorm rooms and meal plans, it suddenly sounds like no time at all. In hindsight, it's easy to spend three years in romantic bliss with another person while sporadically attending class and hanging out in a rec center playing ping-pong. Only now that I'm ostensibly in the "real world" am I beginning to realize how difficult a relationship can be, especially when the economy is bad. Relationships are much harder when they're not sustained in a closed-off, paid-for environment.

And yet it seems I've also reached a threshold: apparently, I'm supposed to get married now. In fact, if I were normal I would already be married, at least according to the many friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers who feel compelled to comment on such topics. Ever since we hit that five-year mark, I've started getting it from all sides. From my boyfriend's family: "Isn't it about time…?" From my own family: "When are we going to get to go to another wedding?" From the stranger on the bus: "Five years?! Time to get moving, eh?" My doctor's receptionist actually did a spit take when she heard I'd been dating the same person for five years and hadn't yet finagled a proposal out of him (because it's always the woman who has to convince the man, and usually through some sort of sorcery, right?). Because five years is long enough, gosh darn it!

But I simply don't feel the urge, whatever that urge is that gets women to drop hints to their boyfriends about ring size and clarity (at least in romantic comedies). It doesn't have anything to do with the divorce rate, though that's one good reason to give marriage the side-eye. But both my parents and Corey's parents are happily married after all these years, and so marriage isn't the proverbial walk off a plank for us that it is for some people. I'd like to say I have incredible judgment, that I'm just too smart and educated to risk taking the plunge in my early twenties like my parents did - but I don't think that's true, either. In all honesty, I think the fact of the matter is that Corey and I simply haven't gotten around to it yet.

I'm constantly hearing that my generation is taking longer to grow up, that we're stretching our adolescences into our mid-to-late twenties, and I don't disagree. A failed job search after graduation led to my still-developing freelance career, and thus, I've spent the last two years figuring out if and how I can make this alternative lifestyle work. I have few friends who are on a career track; most of them are still searching for the job that will both make them (somewhat) happy and pay the bills. I'm not saying I won't be getting married any time soon, but like many people my age, it's not a top priority.

JIM:

The TLC channel airs a show called "Say Yes to the Dress." I know, because my wife and daughter watch it together and then discuss the latest episode over dinner:

Joanne: "Do you believe she was going to pick the $5000 dress, but then all her relatives insisted she go for the $11,000 one?"

Claire: "Who brings her fiancé, her parents, and her Aunt Tilly to help pick a wedding dress, anyway?"

Neither of my ladies notice that my face has assumed the "sticker-shock" expression worn by George Banks (aka Spencer Tracy in 1950 or Steve Martin in 1991 - take your pick) in "Father of the Bride." I'm the guy with the $7.00 sport coat from TJ Max. Eleven-Large for a dress? My entire wardrobe cost significantly less than that!

What to do?

A few minutes of Google research revealed that True Value Hardware will sell me a 28-foot extension ladder for $305 plus tax. That baby is more than tall enough to get Corey up to Claire's window. I'll even toss in the airfare to Vegas, when they've finally "gotten around to it."

Further Googling revealed that the Allure Wedding Chapel on South Third Street in sin city may be their perfect destination: "As a family operated business, Allure Wedding Chapel is here to make your Las Vegas Wedding the most memorable yet affordable one. Their excellent staff will provide you with a comfortable and friendly atmosphere and offer the finest quality products. They have wedding packages from classy and traditional to modern and elegant. They will provide services to fit any budget, whether it is for an intimate gathering or an exquisite wedding."

"Memorable yet affordable" and "to fit any budget" - I like the sound of that. I once bought a Ford Falcon for $90 that ran for a year.

My marriage has been running along for FORTY-TWO years, as of Wednesday, the 13th. When Joanne and I want to recall that happy day in 1970, we haul out the album and ogle the dozen or so black-and-white snapshots that a friend took at the reception. No, we had no videographer, no professional photographer… and I'm pretty sure Joanne's dress came in at something well below $5,000, though she was unforgettable in it, with or without the full-color, life-size portrait.

So, when you get around to it, kids, don't worry about this old man's wallet. It'll survive whatever you decide. But do bear in mind that it ain't the dress, or the ring, or the dvd that guarantees you'll go the distance. For my money, it's whether you are marrying your best friend.