Those of you who have been reading APW forever-ever will remember Avis’ courthouse wedding and backyard fiesta from 2009. Her Wedding Graduates Return post is a perfect bookend to my post earlier this week. Because if for me something very clearly changed inside our relationship, for Avis what changed was external, but equally profound.
I wasn’t sure that marriage was for me. The truth is that Vince and I have been as committed to one another as we are now since about date two. Which might be strange for meeting and starting to date at 19. We’ve never broken up, and we’ve never really even considered it. We were the couple that people would tell me on drunken nights in college that we were going to get married. And yet I held on to that feminist idea that I didn’t need to be married to be complete. And as we got older and moved in together and really started our lives together, navigating jobs, dishes and a new city, I thought that was good enough. We were happy, committed and practically married in every way except for legally. I didn’t need that piece of paper to define my relationship. We were in charge of defining our relationship. Actually defining our relationship has never been something we were interested in, hence the reluctance to get married.
About this time, I started to grow up and learn more about the world, society and myself. I started to feel societal pressure to be married. (Luckily my family never once pressured us.) It was in the little things, like every time I had to call him my boyfriend—my boyfriend of seven years with whom I shared a mortgage. We had many discussions of what other descriptors we could use for one another:
Life Partner: Most people would probably think that Vince was gay with his Life Partner Avis. Especially since we have always lived in neighborhoods with large gay populations. So not that reflective of, well, reality.
Partner: This could allude to the former or that we own a business together and have a platonic relationship.
Lover: Implies that’s all we do.
I think that’s as far as we got before giving up. So I started to feel these little moments of inconsistency between the way I saw and understood my relationship and the way the world viewed my relationship. But that wasn’t enough to put me over the edge.
And then, in the spring of 2008, Vince’s father passed away. He and his family had battled ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for six long years. In those six years, I witnessed a horrible disease consume a strong, intelligent man. I witnessed Vince’s mom give up everything to take care of him day and night. There were nights that she would sob to us about how hard it was and then get back up in the morning and care for him with tender love. Vince himself took care of his father for a solid month when help was needed while I stayed in Atlanta. I saw his family navigate the most horrific situation that I can imagine with honesty and integrity. I was there in the room with the family as his father took his last ventilator assisted breath. Vince’s father was not a religious man. He did not want a funeral. He did not want to be buried. He wanted his ashes scattered in Greece. So a small visitation was planned so that the many people of their small community could pay their respects. We stood in a receiving line: Vince’s mom, his older brother and his wife, his twin brother and his wife, Vince and his girlfriend. I met everyone I didn’t already know that day. And what I took from that experience was that I wanted to be a part of that family. I have a wonderful family of my own; this isn’t a case of someone needing a family that doesn’t exist. I wanted to be a part of his family in every way I could be. I didn’t want anyone to think of me in that line as a temporary fixture.
That was one of the hardest weeks of my life. It’s still hard. But it was nice to see everyone come together. It was nice to meet these family members that seldom are seen. It was nice having my family and his family together. And it was shortly after that when I realized that I was really the only one that had the power to bring everyone together again for a joyous occasion.
And it was. For someone that never wanted to get married, our celebration was one of the best weeks of my life. I never planned a wedding as a little girl. I barely planned this one. It was a rare moment of totality and magic. Where everything seems right with the world. I was surrounded by the people I love most and it felt natural and yet exhilarating. I walked away changed. I can’t really explain how, but I will say that it didn’t change our relationship.
Marriage is not wholly different than pre-marriage for us. (I am speaking for myself here, although I suspect he feels similarly.) We still fight over the dishes from time to time, we still live in the same condo, we generally do the same stuff. But I do feel that societal question mark that was on my back has been removed. I feel as though I fit neatly into the puzzle of our community with my shiny new label of wife. And while that is a comfort, it did take some time for me to get over being angry at them for not respecting my relationship before. We were already married but no one knew it until we signed that piece of paper. And as I write this, I know many gay people must feel the same way.
I actually had someone who will be married in a week ask me, “What does marriage mean to you?” I had just come from a wedding where the wine was flowing so I can’t remember what I told her. I hope it was sage advice. But Vince and I did have this discussion one day as we were trying to resolve an argument. I posed the question to him that I had been pondering myself. “What is your purpose in this relationship? Why are we together?” As I write those questions, they seem harsh, but I was trying to get us to define why we share resources instead of being two people that live separately but are still together. And the conclusion that we came to was all about support. We provide a support system for one another on a daily basis, dealing with issues large and small and in completely different ways. We decided that together that with each other’s support we can be more successful and accomplish more goals together and singularly. And that is the best way to describe it for me other than not being able to imagine my life without him in it. Marriage has been no less and no more that I expected and wanted. And I suspect that my definition of what it means to me will change over time. As it should.
Pictures: Personal pictures, Avis’ invitations similar to those designed by her company Avie Designs