On a Sunday morning almost two weeks ago my girlfriend asked me to marry her. We are doing the long-distance thing at the moment—she lives and works in England, while I live and study in Vancouver—so I went to pick her up for the first time in almost six months at the airport on Friday. We hugged by the arrivals gate for far, far longer than is really socially acceptable, stroked each other’s hair, and she tried (mostly successfully) to wipe away all of my tears. We went back to my apartment, where she did the good social media thing and messaged all of her friends back home to tell them that she had made it, that we were together, and that we were happy. They messaged her back, and we cuddled in bed and cooed over all of their sappy comments together.
On Sunday she waited until I had gotten out of the shower and she sat me down, hair dripping, on the edge of my bed. She told me—in the form of a video, which is very, very her—that she loved me, that she wanted to be with me, and that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me. I said yes, and she gave me the fiercest little black engagement ring I have ever seen. We then hugged for far, far longer than is really socially acceptable (even in private), stroked each other’s hair, and she tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to wipe away all of my tears. Of course she then did the good social media thing and messaged all of her friends back home to say that she had asked me, that I had said yes, and that we were happy. They messaged her back, and we cuddled in bed, read all their comments, and made Oh my god what just happened?!?! wide-eyed faces of wonder at each other.
Then we both realized that, because we were planning on doing the Real Official Adult thing that getting married was, we would have to tell our families that we were engaged. And that was when panic set in.
You see, neither one of our families knows that we are dating. I’ve met my fiancée’s father (as a friend), and she has met my mother and stepfather (also as a friend). Her mother vaguely knows—as of two years ago—that she likes women and—as of a slightly tipsy confession a month ago—that she has a vague sort of a girl-friend-thing, but I have never really come out to my immediate family. Call me a coward, but I swing both ways and I have never really swung over to girls in a serious way before her.
The thought of telling our families is big, and more than a little scary. And this is the case for both of us, even though our families are entirely, entirely different. My family is large, sprawling, and loud. Come over to my house for the first time and my uncles will call you “love” or “ducky” and tease you about your accent, while my grandmother will busy herself making your favorite meal. We are overly friendly, we are overly attached, we hug and we kiss, and when we go to church on Sunday (every Sunday) we hug and kiss everyone else, because we know everyone. Her family, on the entirely opposite side of things and the world, is tiny and formal. She has scheduled Skype sessions with her mother, to which she is always punctual and properly presented. They do not discuss feelings, they do not discuss personal matters—instead they discuss inheritance and formal functions and art auctions.
I know that these scheduled Skype sessions are important to her, just as she knows that being called “love” by my uncles is important to me. She mocks the auctions and pooh-poohs the functions, and I regale her with painful church stories, but we are both acutely aware that we are going to miss all of that when we do finally tell them all. Because we both know that, odds are, our respective coming outs are going to go badly. We’ve both heard enough comments made about “the gays” in our households to know that identifying as a member of this group isn’t going to be greeted with jazz hands and glitter, much less rainbow banners and wedding gifts. We are both well aware that she will never get to meet my grandparents as my wife. My mother will probably stop talking to me for a very, very long while; her mother will probably avoid the topic entirely. It is unlikely that my father will be okay with being at my wedding, much less walking me down any aisles.
And when I think about any of this for very long, the panic really starts to set in. I know from past relationships how hard it is to date someone when you family disapproves of them, when you have to spend your life pretending you haven’t heard snide comments, when you have to tactically mediate between your family and your partner or else cut one group out (or be cut out) entirely. It saddens me that my mother probably won’t be able to look past the fact that my fiancée is a woman to see her for the wonderful person that she is, or notice how much she cares for me. It saddens me that we have to think so long and so hard and so strategically about how we are going to tell them—we can hardly do a spontaneous early-morning phone call to the tune of guess what happened!?!?!?—and that it is going to be a very, very long while before we can share photos with them or talk about wedding planning.
But when I have crawled out of my blanket of panic—I remember that it is okay. Even if my mother stops talking to me and even if my fiancée gets cut out of any inheritances, in that gushy love-conquers-all sort of way we’ll still have each other. And, just in case that isn’t enough, we are both trying out damnedest to build our own little family. We have our own little international group, our circles of friends, who love us and love that we have found love. They gush over photos we privately send them, they “like” our private status changes. They wish us well over Skype, and they send us emails of congratulations. And we will continue to lie in bed—either with each other, or over some form of technology—and read everything they send us. And we will continue to coo and cry (to be fair, I will probably continue to do most of the crying), because we are incredibly lucky to be starting our life together with a family that loves us as much as they do. And that is more than enough.