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Elisabeth: Why Marriage Requires a Number Two Pencil

K and I were both interested when our awesome priest (words I feel weird saying, but that’s another blog post) gave us our first assignment as part of our mandatory pre-marital counseling. “It’s a relationship assessment Scantron test that’s guaranteed to give you at least seventy-eight conversation starters about your relationship,” W said. I wondered why we needed seventy-eight more conversation starters, while K gleefully mused, “It’s like getting to take the ACT all over again! I love tests!”

“No cheating,” W admonished us, “I’ll be able to tell if you talk to each other and decide to answer in the same way.” Dutifully, we only spoke in vague tongues about the test, although truthfully, the possibility of answering in the same was unlikely. Since we began this poignant and profound journey of planning our wedding, guess what K and I have agreed on? Exactly nothing. Seriously. Here’s how K decided to marry me, in mostly her own words:

1. “I came home from our first date and g-chatted Denny to ask if it was too early to invite you to Chincoteague for summer vacation.” (Writer’s Note: summer vacation was three months later. This is what we lesbians call the U-Haul. PS: Absolutely too early, and I totally freaked.)

2. “I eventually determined I liked sleeping next to you and was interested in always sleeping next to you.”

3. “Here’s this syllabus I made called ‘Graduate DTR Seminar’ with a list of different topics we should discuss like family, cats, and long-term health care. And then at the end we’ll see how we do and decide if we want to be together forever.”

Can you even handle this adorable accountant?! She is so many facts to my feelings! We are a delicious yin and yang of pocket protector meets processing! Where she speaks in binary black and whites, I speak in emotional grays. Where she mulls things over in a calm, robotic orderly fashion and comes to a conclusion three days later, I say everything I’m feeling immediately, emphasizing that these potentially conflicting emotions and thoughts are all true because I’m feeling them all. The other night K asked me, piteously, “But how can I take you at your word if there are so many words?” I just looked at her meaningfully.

Our communication styles aren’t our only differences. We have wildly different families of origin, different views of marriage and how or why we, as a queer couple, should participate in a tradition that continues to exclude us. In fact, we can’t even agree on what to call this current nebulous period, as in, the time when we’ve decided to get married and are planning a wedding party and letting our friends in on it. You know what that’s been called since the voyage of the Dawn Treader? An engagement. Since we can’t agree, I’ve resorted to calling it our Initial Public Offering, as if we’re a plucky start up negotiating with Wall Street. (Wedding Planning Conflict: not just for straights anymore!)

Soooooo, we have not exactly been in sync with each other while planning this wedding. We’re both coming to these conversations with a lot of baggage, politics, and emotion. And those conversations beget more conversations, and we both end up holding so tightly to what we want, or thought we wanted, that we can’t seem to inch a step closer to the middle. How can K acquiesce and let me call it an enga(y)gement when this feels like a negation of her moral code? And if I, so accustomed to celebrating every milestone large and small with my community, agree that we don’t need to mark it as a moment in time, will I feel like I’ve missed out?

Being as in touch with my feelings as I am, I thought I’d breeze through the test, merrily filling in bubbles about my beloved. But wow, was I wrong:

“The romantic love of our relationship will fade over the years.” Agree/Disagree/Undecided

Well I DISAGREE, since I’ll always love her, but I AGREE since someday I may not fervently love her as much as I do right now, but I don’t want to say that and hurt her so what the hell am I getting a divorce if I answer this.

Good news, though! I ultimately decided to be honest in my answers, and soon we were back in W’s office listening to our results.

It turns out that while we both found sections of the test a little lame (“Do you think your partner is pregnant?” WE’RE LESBIANS, TEST!), the umpteen personality, couple, family, and relationship dynamic scores it spit out were enlightening. Equally helpful was having a neutral third party there to take us through it, to congratulate us on spots where we scored high as a couple, and to point out sections where our discrepancies showed room for change. As W took us through the reasons why K might be feeling emotionally triggered about stepping into a mainstream system she felt ostracized her, and the reasons it was absolutely okay and important that our friends insisted on delighting in our joy, I realized we were both nodding our heads. We both listened intently as she said, “You both are right.”

There have been easily a dozen insights we’ve gotten from our mandatory, and incredibly valuable, premarital counseling. Those conversations, the hard ones where we feel most vulnerable about putting some control of our lives into someone else’s hands, feel so much safer with W sitting there ready to help interpret if we need it. I never leave without feeling closer to K, even if one of us is a little teary about some of the hard stuff that comes up. But the reminder that we both are right, even when we can’t agree, and what we have to stay is worthy of being heard, stays with me as perhaps the biggest lesson of all. It’s so simple, in fact, that I feel a little disappointed in myself for forgetting this very basic courtesy.

Waiting for the other person to finish and take a breath, so you can sneak in there with your next persuasive argument, is nothing like the basic act of listening to someone and witnessing them. Being mindful to stop and listen to what the other has to say, whether we’re talking about what to have for dinner or the difficult decisions about her tiny family and my sprawling one, has made the business of wedding planning easier than it was even a few months ago. Our results, a thick handbook of bar charts and statistics, sits on our living room coffee table, where we can see it every time we flop down to negotiate whether it’ll be Mad Men or House Hunters, and I suspect we’ll keep it there long after our stock goes public.

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