Getting to "let's do this".


When I was seven or eight years old, my mom brought home a puffy collection of wedding attire from her carpool friend Malia. She told me they were bridesmaid gowns and a wedding gown from Malia's wedding and I could use them for playing dress up. There's one picture of me in this very-1980s white dress, my hair a tangled mess, with my best friends on either side (they are twins) of me in the rose-colored bridesmaid dresses. My brother and my best friends' brother were in the photo too, in their regular kid clothes, and I can only assume that we gave them the dubious jobs of being footmen, or caterers, or florists or limo drivers. I looked incredibly happy in that photo but I have no idea why...I never have been the type of girl who gets excited about getting married.

I've yet to, in so many words, announce this here so here goes nothing: Em and I are engaged and we have been for almost two years. *cue boisterous music and applause* Yes, we're engaged. Two years ago this August, on my birthday to be precise, Em presented me with THE SWEETEST proposal. Carefully integrated into a homemade, all-about-us crossword puzzle were the words "will you marry me?" And I said yes, of course. Em is My Person and despite the multitude of hurdles we have jumped over, individually and together, this fact has never changed. What do two engaged people do? They plan a wedding, of course.

Ha. Despite my love of parties, this is something I've struggled with long before I ever met Em. An ex of mine was incredibly focused on heteronormative milestones and when she suggested that we one day get married, I froze. I froze the first time Em asked me if we should get married, which was at a gay marriage rally (of all places) and within weeks of when we started dating. I freeze when people ask me about it, when people bounce up and down and squeal with delight. There is something about the act of getting married that stuns and overwhelms me. Over the past two years, I've tried to work through it, and it wasn't until Em's brother and sister-in-law got married in March that I truly understood the big deal. Marriage isn't just about making a legal and spiritual commitment in front of your family and friends, it's REALLY about making a legal and spiritual commitment in front of your family and friends! Wait a minute.

I know I just repeated myself, and that I'm probably not making any sense, but please bear with me. It's my opinion that there are two major things that stop a lot of gay people from getting married: it doesn't mean anything pretty much everywhere you go in the US and it's a heteronormative institution to which we don't belong (and to which we generally don't conform). Those two things, in and of themselves, can strip a person's motivation no matter how much they love throwing a party. Couple those things with the significant amount of family strain inherent in the planning of a wedding...any wedding, not just the gay ones (but the gay ones run the risk of being far worse)...and the oft-presumed but rarely talked about fact that a lot of money to pay for weddings comes from both of the engaged couple's families, their parents in particular, and you're left with little that's delightful. With gay people, the presumption of financial support or the process by which we ask for it is infinitely more complicated. I hate to generalize here, but I am quite certain that no straight couples have had to justify to their parents that they are indeed straight and plan on being straight forever to justify the financial investment. These are all things that can seem and are daunting (and homophobic in many cases), and for me these things inspire a lot of face-fanning anxiety.

One of the most fundamentally frustrating parts of this process for me, which relates strongly to the anxiety I mentioned above, is the suggestion that I (or anyone for that matter) deserve this...to be married, a wedding, etc. I cannot for the life of me figure out how that works, aside from the part of me that embraces frippery and fanciful things like manicures and apple turnovers fresh from the bakery. To view this as a rite of passage, especially a spiritual one, is kind of absurd. My faith is complex and personal, and while I am certain I want an officiant to guide the event (a specific one, too) if/when it actually comes to fruition, I am left to constantly wonder why I can't just do it myself in my pajamas on a random Sunday morning holding Em's hands. Legally speaking, there aren't any enticing options for us either. We can get married in DC, but it doesn't mean anything when we cross any of the bridges that link DC and Virginia. Somehow, though, I'm supposed to do all of this with music and champagne and a big cake and thousands of dollars and a lot of people we know (who are expected to pay to get to our venue, hotel rooms, gifts and other incidentals). A rite of passage, you say? You're asking me and everyone I love to do all of this? We deserve this? For our wedding? There's a cognitive (not to mention moral and political) wall.

It's not possible to encapsulate all of my feelings into one post here, so expect a few of them over the next long while. What I've found on the internet is generally accessible but not expressly my own, and if I can add my voice to the crowd, I will. What I've written here feels like only the tip of the iceberg. If you are married, how did you get there? If you are engaged, how is it going? If you are neither, do you want to be? Have you thought about these things? Please share in the comments. I truly appreciate it.

5 comments:

  1. Dude. As a person who is not married but has been recently considering what it would mean if I was, the "deserve" part of it is HUGE. So many people seem really comfortable with the whole "Hey! It's my special day, so I'm going to micromanage all my loved ones into a pulp so that everything is perfection or I will explode" thing. What a piece of cultural weirdness, especially if you are not totally comfortable with the idea of a wedding in the first place. BUT, if you are girly and like good cute stuff (i.e. us), you want to a have a sweet party.

    For me, a wedding done "my way" also involves coming clean about religion stuff (which my parents know about, but we're working under a "don't ask don't tell" situation. I don't know what would happen if I uttered the words "secular humanist" to their faces.) Honestly, only very recently have I felt brave enough to face that conflict. Stuff like this makes me want to have a private forest wedding with only me, my person, and the owl that blesses our union, but again, WHAT ABOUT THE AWESOME PARTY?! Complicated.

    These are the things I think about when I think about getting married, when my eternal love for my person is never an issue. Then I get annoyed at the whole thing and remember that no one has asked me to marry them yet. :)

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  2. "So many people seem really comfortable with the whole "Hey! It's my special day, so I'm going to micromanage all my loved ones into a pulp so that everything is perfection or I will explode" thing."

    This is precisely what I want to avoid! I can't seem to shake the desire for a big party (because you're right...girly + cute stuff = must have shindig), but I also want to make sure the energy I dedicate to it is genuine and kind. I don't ever want to come off as an entitled brat, but it seems difficult to achieve that and be assertive in this context. The fortunate thing thus far is that two out of our three "sets" of parents have expressed little to no interest in anything about our wedding (which is a completely different post), so at least we won't have dragon parents breathing down our necks. That might change, though.

    In any case, thank you for your comment. It makes me feel better to know that there are people thinking the same things I am out there. I would ask you to marry me Polly, if I wasn't already taken! What a party that would be...

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  3. This has been challenging to put into words, but I guess it’s one perspective from a place of privilege.
    When I met Mike, it just seemed like I knew that he was “my person”. We share the same bizarre love of 80’s television and strange sense of humor. That just doesn’t come by as easily as one would think. Marriage just seemed like what you did when you fell in love. I wish I could say it came with all the profound thought that you’re putting into this. I didn’t have to fight unless you count the little old lady organist who insisted that the church was too short for the bridal march- (I won that battle by the way). In retrospect that doesn’t make my commitment any less real or valid, or valuable, but it does make me stop and think about the bigger picture. IS marriage really is what you do when you find your person? What is it fundamentally? For me, the answer was and is yes. You pledge yourself to another person, to support and love, to have and hold, to bear the bad times and to celebrate the good. You promise these things in front of witnesses- your family whoever they be (genetically or otherwise) by whatever authority your recognize- God, Godess, Buddah, or simply a justice of the peace. You do this so they can celebrate the happiness and completeness you have found with another, with the two of you and so they can pledge to support you in your endeavor. It’s not about location, appetizers, or whether you’ve forbidden the chicken dance during the reception. When Mike and I got married, the limo broke down, my grandmother was an hour late (kidnapped by my uncle), my father attempted to hire a hit man to kill the aforementioned uncle, and it was a thousand degrees in the church where our guests patiently waited for nana to arrive while listening to Pachabel Canon no less than seventeen times. I remember feeling strangely calm about the entire thing (kind of odd for me considering my ability to meltdown in situations where events unravel) because the point of the day, as I saw it, fundamentally, was that we were going to be together. That we were going to pledge ourselves in good times, in bad times, and in lack of church ceiling fans. We would have gotten married without the trappings, without family support, and without the bells and whistles and tulle and bird safe rice, because the two of us were the important part. I may be rambling at this point, and I may totally be off the mark but I say boil it down to the simplest denominators. You and Em belong together. No matter who recognizes that, or supports it, or pays for it, or plans it. No matter what you wear, what you eat, or who you invite. It’s about the two of you, because after the bubbles have blown away, the dancing has ended and the cake is a crumb, that’s who you are going to be. And isn’t that the point?

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  4. First of all, congratulations!

    Secondly, marriage is a difficult topic in so many ways. We all approach it differently, but it's a huge societal construct and it can be hard to figure out where you fit in there. AND the very fact that it is a huge societal construct means that it does mean something huge, to a lot of us. So even as we might want to dismiss it, fundamentally, it does make a difference to a lot of us. You have an additional several layers of complication because of the legal unfairness in our country, and the attitudes of a lot of people everywhere, and that is heartbreaking to me and obviously I can't speak to it.

    But, with all of that, I think we all have to personally decide whether a community/family involved wedding will be worth it for us. The answer might be different for everyone. I believe that it will be worth it, because the wedding is a chance to publicly affirm our commitment and to have the people we love witness that affirmation. It feels right to us, so we're doing it.

    None of this is coming out quite right, probably because I think a lot about marriage and choices and it's hard to articulate all the nuances.

    As far as deserving goes, I don't fuss too much about that part, because I don't feel like anyone "deserves" anything as a matter of course. We get what we get in life, we make our choices and we move on with it. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it's awesome, but we can't control what we're dealt, just our choices. I'm choosing to spend (what feels like a ridiculous sum) on our wedding, and those guests that we invite will choose whether they can come or not.

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  5. late to the party, i am .

    i've been "married" 3 times.

    the first was huge. lots of money, church, awesome reception, the best party i ever attended (truly). it had no legal ramifications, and the relationship went to hell shortly thereafter. i think i was so excited about getting married that i didn't look at the 'who' all that carefully.

    the second time, i had been with jo for 7 years. things were ok. not great, but ok. she had wanted to get married all along, civil unions had just been legalized in vermont and after all she put up with in the form of my daughter and my cancer, i figured it was the least i could do. yes, you see the problem. i did not. within a couple of months, she started cheating on me. yes, for the first time. it seems she thought that i would actually change (after all those years) just because of that piece of paper. the marriage was by a j.p., in her home, and we did have a low-key backyard reception with about 40 friends, casually catered. it was all her friends, because i had already 'done that' and wasn't really into that aspect.

    tj and i did the paperwork only so that i could put her on my health insurance. after 8 years, we are still giddy and delightfully in love. we enjoy each other's company, respect each other, plan to grow old and grumpy together. some day, we will do the wedding properly. as with the first one, i plan on having a blast, surrounded by loved ones. as with the second, i will not break the bank. it is hard to not be jaded at this stage of my life, but at the same time, that is what i love about tj - that she makes a jaded old slut like myself feel on the cusp of undiscovered joy. that is some magical shit, right there.

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