few weeks ago E and I were driving up to Maine late on a Friday night. We were chatting like you do in the car, not talking about anything difficult, catching up on the week. It must have been two or three weeks after the clambake (E called it our wedding, I called it our legally-binding clambake), and she appreciatively mentioned that she thought that people looked at our relationship differently now, that people saw it as more valid somehow. I might have quickly replied that if I thought that people looked at me or us differently because of this ring on my finger than I’d throw it in the ditch. Not my best moment, but true.
Let’s start with how amazing the whole clambake was, especially the legally-binding ceremony part. Pretty much everyone we loved in the world sat in a circle in my three-hundred-year-old church, sang songs, cried and laughed and prayed with us, and blessed our relationship and our future together. I’m not sure how else to describe it but as holy—that place and that time felt the closest I’ve ever felt to that thin space that folks talk about where you can really know that there is some kind of force beyond just our physical selves. I felt the power of our bond, of our community, of the history of that building and that congregation. All of it.
I say that as an introvert, as someone who had months of panic about having so many people in the room at the same time, looking at me, focusing on me, maybe wanting to talk to me. I’d say maybe it was even more important for me because of that introversion, that instinct to keep things quiet and shift the conversation away from me. I’ve always been a very private person, at least about some things, and this whole process was a real stretch for me. I’ve had relationships in the past where my partner didn’t know everyone in my life and not everyone in my life knew about them. I wanted to make a stark change to transparency in this relationship, and that meant bringing my ninety-two-year-old grandmother and my college best friends and my old colleagues from New Orleans and my parents and my beloved college professor and our Brooklyn neighbors and my friends from church, it meant bringing them all together. Even if that made me kind of want to throw up.
And as a somewhat bossy introvert, I found it even more difficult but ultimately rewarding to bring all those people together and hand over the reins, to not be in charge. E and I made sure that things were well orchestrated, but by the week before, we were really out of the driver’s seat. We had recruited friends and hired a few college students to run the parties, and once we were two days out, it was just our job to show up and smile. I had to be okay with being served, being loved, and not doing. That was a close second in terms of powerful pieces, after the ceremony. Other people are willing to—want to—step up and show how much they love you by doing tasks. I’ve done that for others for my whole life, but never received it in quite this focused a way.
So we had an amazing weekend, and as we drove upstate for a few days away with our novels and leftover lobsters, my face hurt from smiling so much. But when we came home a few days later, the comments began. “Hey married lady!” “How’s it feel to be tied down?” “Married life is different, eh?” etc. Innocuous, I know, but they make me crazy (not in the least because “lady” is just about the last word I’d use to describe myself). I shrug and smile and say, “Just the same as not-married life!” in as cheerful a tone as I can muster but it somehow never seems to be the response that they’re looking for.
I know people mean well by these comments. But to me, it seems like our relationship has remained steady throughout all this, and that the day that we celebrated it was a day that recognized something that already existed and continues to exist. It named and celebrated a bond between us that had been developing over the past few years and will continue over the rest of our lives. It’s not like one day changed anything dramatically. It’s not 1900; we already live together, we already share finances, we already fight about vet bills, we already have favorite dinner recipes, we already have navigated holidays. Post-marriage is exactly like pre-marriage but with our community’s smiles and tears and stamp of approval.
If there was a day when things in my life changed, it was when we met, or when we moved in together, or when we took tiny plastic cows home from the artisanal farm-to-table restaurant down the block to memorialize when we decided that we wouldn’t date other people.
Now that we’re a few months out, what I’ve realized is that the institution and all its baggage—language and practice around wives, marriage, engagement, etc.—don’t work for me, but ceremonies (or their more common and complicated name: weddings) do. The day when your community comes together, and affirms that it will stand by you and your partner through thick and thin. That they’ll continue to remind you that relationships take work and that you chose this path, and that they believe in that choice.
So that’s my one tiny concession to change, I suppose. After the ceremony, after the clambake, after our friends brought over 36 post-clambake tacos from the deli across the street, after drinking bourbon in our little neighborhood bar, after walking home in the rain, after feeding the cats, all after of that, we went to sleep talking about that feeling of holiness. I know we’ve both been changed by this experience and even more so by sharing it, and we’ll see how as our lives unfold together. I’m in favor of that.