The state of your unions

Salon's readers share their tales of newlywed angst, post-divorce shock and bridesmaid blues.


Salon Staff
December 17, 2003 9:49PM (UTC)

Suburban limbo

I waved "ta-ta" to my mythical singleness rather triumphantly. Even though I'm 27 years old, it was OK to go to bed before 10 p.m. I didn't need to know what the cool people were drinking or where they were hanging out.

After all, I was married. My flush-faced nights exuding single, sexual confidence and cavorting with my cadre of sassy girls, taking in the flash and flutter of the city at night, were a thing of the past. Who needs that when you've got a home project to attend to?

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Then suddenly I found myself reaching in the back of my underwear drawer for my push-up bra, even though I was only going to pick up the dry cleaning. I had this strange itch. I was hungering for something. Had I spoken too soon about how great it was to just hold hands in Starbucks?

As Manhattan nightlife flashed before my eyes in the comfort of my suburban living room, I approached my second holiday season as a married woman and homemaker. I tried to hide my longing amid the covers of married-women's magazines in the supermarket, but all the glow of homemaking, hearth and holiday entertaining was too much to bear. Screw mulling spices. Where can a girl get a cosmopolitan around here?

Once home, I reflect. Fleece-clad babies and holiday domestic perfection have dangled in front of me all day while thoughts of an incredibly diverse sex life, wardrobe and social calendar gallivant in my head. I am in the middle. Not carrying, not Carrie Bradshaw. I am not staying out late partying nor am I up at dawn with baby. I am in that predicament that's called "just married."

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Just like those kids age 10 to 13, the "tweens," I'm teetering between two sides of life, and both sides are appealing in opposite ways. On one end, there are bras, zits, lust, boys, nights out, goodbye innocence. On the other end there is the softness of having -- and being -- a child, and toys that can be played with in the privacy of your own home long after you're too old for them.

Knowing that this quandary has already been captured by a Britney Spears song, I'm aware it's not really the largest of life dilemmas. But the pressure does reflect our cultural push -- we like to see established encampments represented by "married" and "single." As in, domestic and with child and house. Or wild, independent and living in an apartment.

But as someone who does want a family someday, I know I am not "here" for long even if I don't want to be "there" just yet. I think to myself, over dinner at our local, dimly lit, Tex-Mex suburban strip mall restaurant, that, yes, I am in between, and where I am fits.

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I wish, when I was 12, someone had said to me that it was OK to stay still -- to stay a child, not to rush into being a teenager. That there really was no rush to kiss boys and have curfews and drink. That there would be plenty of time for mascara. It's nice to know I can tell myself the same for now -- that it's OK to stay put, to accept, even relish, where I am today: novice homemaker and wife, blissfully boring and getting more than my share of sleep and free time. I can close my eyes and enjoy the children and the baked goods I didn't make, knowing exactly where my underwear is and who I took home last night.

-- Paige C. Rienzo

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A marriage of convenience -- and more

The first time we talked about getting married, we were both dating other people. He wanted to become a legal citizen; I thought that was a good idea. But I backed out of the deal after months of tossing the idea around. I backed out because I was in love with him, and it occurred to me that I couldn't have a sham marriage to someone I loved. He didn't know that that was why I suddenly changed my mind. He was really pissed off. I was too.

I'd surprised myself. I had been under the impression that I didn't give a crap about marriage as an institution, that love had nothing to do with marriage. I'd really believed my inner monologue about subverting the whole thing so that my friend could work legally and live like a visible being in this stupid country. So why did I balk? Who knows? But I couldn't go through with it. After years of struggling against all things Traditional, one of them managed to bite me in the ass. It turns out that love has a lot to do with marriage.

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Fast-forward about a year and half. We're talking about getting married again. This time, we've been dating for more than a year, and now we live together. There has been no proposal, no ring, no church, no family involved. This is exactly right. The reasons are the same, the benefits are the same: He gets to start the bureaucratic process of becoming a citizen; he can join my health plan and finally see a dentist about the gaping hole in his mouth where a molar used to reside; he can go find a job that won't screw him over; he can travel without worrying that he'll be deported every time he shows up at an airport. He can become visible. I get to help. I get to stop watching someone I love struggle with problems that could be solved by documenting our relationship in court.

This time it's for real. I even got the application for a marriage license and arranged for the blood tests. I haven't told my family or decided if I'm going to tell them. I'm sure I will. I'm sure, whatever their response, things will turn out OK. And then there's my first love, for whom I will always care deeply. I have spent every day for the past few weeks trying to find the words to tell him I'm marrying someone else. I almost told him in the middle of a blizzard the other day, but as I began to speak a giant chunk of dirty snow fell off a windowsill and landed on my head. I took that as a sign, albeit a cartoonish one, that I hadn't yet found the right time to bring up my impending nuptials. Maybe I'll just send him this story.

-- Lauren Lastrapes

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Marriage has a whole new meaning

It started off as harmless flirting. I was happily straight and single. Having been out of any serious relationships for seven years, marriage -- let alone gay marriage -- was about the furthest thing from my mind.

I was facilitating a workshop she was attending, and she had the same first name as mine. I must've smirked at her when she handed me her class card, and said something inane like, "Nice name." That beginning went from awkward to embarrassing, involving a flurry of e-mails in which I had to explain that I was straight and she had to explain that she wasn't interested in me romantically. But from there we became very close friends.

In increments so small that neither of us knew what was happening, the friendship turned into romance. All I knew was that I was endlessly fascinated by her, that I admired her mind and her passion, that I wanted to be with her all the time, that I felt an urge to protect and nurture this amazing person. Nothing that could be measured, except in the hours that we spent together -- letters first, then dinners that would stretch almost till breakfast, phone calls that never wanted to end, any spare hour or so we could find during the workday. "Sometimes I wonder where could we have turned back," she said. "I think it had to have been the day we met. After that, it was no longer a choice."

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So now, here I am, deeply in love and committed to sharing my life with her. And the institution of marriage -- which I always thought I could live with or without -- has suddenly become very important. What had always been inconsequential to me became very present, precisely because I was now cut off from it in all its aspects: political, social, legal, emotional, religious. Now I think about marriage -- a lot.

"Would you marry me, if you could?" I asked her this morning. My question wasn't a proposal, and she knew it; it was, however, honest. She put down the magazine she was reading. We were both in bed and reading, the light still soft, cups of coffee on the floor and the scent wafting through the room. Such a domestic scene, a tableau I never imagined for myself. "Yes, hon," she answered. "You know I would."

"Why would you? What's so important about marriage?" I asked her. Some days it's like this -- after living 28 heterosexual years, everything about love and relationships is suddenly strange, and I have to ask questions like a child. The simplest things have to be rethought. The answers I have for myself are practical: I want for us to be able to share property, finances, insurance policies. Love is difficult enough; I want whatever help the world will give me. She tells me that it's recognition that she wants out of marriage. She wants for the world at large to recognize who we are to each other, and be accorded that respect.

All things, big and small, that marriage bestows upon a union -- they all become important. It's frustrating, of course. Sometimes, like today, when the news tells us that bishops of the Catholic Church issued a statement condemning same-sex unions, it hurts outright. But sometimes, small things make us happy. Like the day I went to my travel agent to book her a plane ticket. The agent booked it under my name, of course, so I had to call him back and tell him that the ticket had to be issued to "Kristine C" instead of "Kristine F."

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"Oh," he said, startled. "You're married now?" I laughed softly at that. "Yes, I am," I told him. "I am."

-- Anonymous

Marriage with an expiration date

I remember it perfectly: how his gaze was intense, how his voice was soft, and that even though his cheek was right next to mine I had to strain my ears to understand what it was he was saying. Which wasn't easy, because he was talking in circles about heaven-knew-what, until all at once I understood that he was asking me to marry him and oh my god, I was completely caught off guard.

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OK, he had already asked me once, but that was in the middle of a long, rambling message left on my answering machine. At work. No, I didn't save the message. I didn't take it seriously. Chalk it up to being just another jaded child of divorce who had been left with the impression that getting married was about as sane as jumping out of an airplane. The way I saw it, despite all the assurances that your parachute will open and float you safely to the ground, it's still one huge mother of a leap. So I erased the message and forgot about it. And him? Somehow he beat back his impatience, sat back, and waited and sweated through three agonizing weeks before breaking down and asking me again.

For a long time I kept my eyes on his mouth, watching him talk, then our gaze met and there was silence. Never before had he seemed so palpable and so fixed and marvelously solid. Suddenly I found myself on the brink of a fabulous discovery. Because I understood for the first time that my past, my future, my whole life fit together, as if some benevolent design had suddenly revealed itself. Right then and there I was able to throw off the exhausting habits of anxiety and self-protection. And that was it. It was unthinkable to turn back. There was only one thing that I could possibly do: I was going to get married!

How we ended up in the south of Portugal is, as they say, another story, but on Sept. 29, 1996, the two of us got on a plane and flew across the ocean, toward a country where neither one of us had ever been before.

The chapel looked like a picture at the beginning of a fairy tale. It was mincingly small and white and perched on the top on a hill not far from the sea. Inside, the walls and ceiling -- dome included -- were entirely tiled in blue and white ceramic and the lintel was inlaid in gold leaf. On a good day you could fit, at most, 20 people on the dark, wooden benches.

I remember the monsignor who married us also played the organ, slightly off key. I remember that there was a fly that landed on my nose in the middle of the ceremony and after we always referred to him as the unexpected guest. I remember the bells ringing and that I could barely fit into the back of our tiny rented European car with my crinoline.

Somehow word had gotten out that the two strangers who had been seen around the village had flown over 7,000 miles to get married. When we arrived at the restaurant, after the ceremony, the whole town was there waiting for us with a traditional Portuguese feast. Some one started playing the accordion. People got up and danced. Strangers bought us champagne, kissed us, and wished us all the best. So we spent our wedding feast laughing and drinking and eating with sudden new friends and it was heaven.

Seven years have gone by since then. My husband has just moved into his own apartment. We're selling the house we bought five years ago. Tomorrow morning we have a meeting with a mediator to help us split our assets in the divorce. It is as amicable and civilized as these situations can be. Which helps -- but not completely.

However, I now know that a marriage can be a success even if it has an expiration date. Whenever I remember the day he asked me to marry him, it seems to me that was the exact, precise, mathematical moment that my life swerved off into another direction. That was how I found myself on a road to Portugal, where on Oct. 6, 1996, God smiled down at the two of us, happy and delighted to show us that the world was not a hostile place but a warm and playful ball.

-- Miki Laval

Always a bridesmaid

"Ooh, you must feel really left out," my niece Emma tells me. We are sitting outside on patio furniture sipping drinks and looking at photos from my sister's recent engagement. I have five sisters, and all of them except me -- Kim, Lisa, Dawn, Ariana, and now the only one younger than me, Elita -- have received engagement parties. My whole family gathers over at Elita's fiancé's family's house, where Elita has spent the entire day with his Indian family, preparing food for the auspicious meeting of the families.

"You must feel really left out," Emma repeats, waiting for my response. "Yup, I'm pretty left out," I finally retort and delve into fifth-grade debating tactics -- "But, Kim is divorced. Doesn't that count?" Eleven-year-old Emma cuts to the chase: "She was married."

With all the wedding energy in the air -- fork tines and letterpress invitations and wedding cakes and rehearsal dinners and in-laws and toasts to the young lovers -- I'm paralyzed by my place in it all. I'm gay; my serious relationship is with a woman I love. My niece knows that it's likely that when she sees her Auntie Chrissy, she's likely to see Elspeth too. We take Emma on adventures in the creek; we color Easter eggs with her; we play a mean game of Duck Duck Goose.

But then there are times like this -- like the time when Emma toured our studio apartment and said, "God, it sucks you only have one bed. It really sucks you only have one bed." I laughed half-heartedly at the time. I imagine Emma thinks that Auntie Chrissy will be Old Maid Chrissy. My jaw lowers and tightens. "I have a lover!" I want to shout. "She slow dances to the cha-cha with me! She makes my lunch in the morning! She is my one and only!" But instead part of me disappears.

All this said, I'm not walking by jewelry shops, pointing out rings I like, and waiting for a proposal to validate my success at coupledom. After bridesmaiding for four sisters' and three friends' weddings, the luster of the registry and the mania of the details don't exactly make me jealous of awkward wedding cake photos. I've watched my sisters move from falling in love, to the anxious anticipation of the proposal, to high-gear wedding planning. I, myself, have been on the pumps-patrol team, the window-washing team, the petunia-planting team, the music-selecting team. I've scrubbed my parents' door hinges with a toothbrush (for the reception) and have chosen Michael Jackson over Michael Bolton (for the first dance).

But in the midst of brainstorming table arrangements, perhaps any bridesmaid sister stops to imagine herself at the center of the excitement. And despite the indentured servitude, my sisters' weddings did eventually remind me of a wedding's function -- to help a couple embark on a new phase of life with the support of the community. My competitive instincts tell me to match all my sisters. This new expansive wedding widens the gap between my youngest sister and me. Well, I'll have a celebration for my love too. Sure, Elspeth and I have talked about it. I want the spotlight. For us now.

My dear Ellie and I have just celebrated our third anniversary. On good days, I've imagined our wedding into a big party. I invite all of our friends, we eat cake, and we dance to bad '80s music. However, most days, marriage and anxiety tie the knot: the whole idea of my commitment metamorphoses into a personal test. Potentially anxiety-inducing details materialize: I predict my great-aunt's confusion by the invitation, my mom explaining the ceremony to her friends, and the constant comparison to the other weddings. My internalized homophobia burns goose bumps on my arms. Am I worth celebrating? Can I get the father-daughter dance? The wedding photo on the piano? Who will be in charge of proposing? Will we register? Who will pay?

And then I'm suddenly in the wedding frenzy I detest. I refocus my eyes on the current wedding engagement party that I am a part of. I orient myself by the butter chicken. The embarrassed young couple reluctantly reenacts the proposal in front of us. The groom's parents sing a playful Hindi song about the groom's subservience after marriage. My father raises a glass. He finishes his toast, "I understand that in your tradition, marriage is also about bringing two families together." The families clink glasses.

I can invent my own traditions. I don't need to walk down an aisle or throw a garter. I just want the whole community to support me in my love, the whole town to show up and cheer, for my mom to want to dance. The scale of the Indian wedding lets the new couple know the magnitude of this commitment. I want my love to be big, serious, festive.

My niece pulls up a lawn chair. "So, Christina, who are you dating?" Pause. "Ellie." This is the first time she or I have been so bold. We both sip our drinks. Will she fumble? Will I? How will she react to the news? "I thought so," she says. "But I was right, you aren't engaged."

-- Christina Amini

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We want to make you a part of this series. What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to marriage@salon.com.)


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