I honestly can’t remember the first time I thought about marriage. I get the feeling that I never really thought about it until just a few years ago. In some respects, that makes me a very lucky person indeed. In others, it makes me feel very much outside the boundaries of “normal.” Growing up in America, at the end of the twentieth century, specific values were decidedly in place: college, job, husband, children.
I don’t believe that I ever questioned the possibility that I would get married. It was simply a part of the future life I’d have: a nice house and a job that paid me enough to buy what I wanted with relative ease (as a child, I’m pretty sure I was looking at all the She-Ra dolls I could handle and an awesome swing set; as an adolescent, books and sweaters and movie tickets … and an awesome swing set). I’d have pets (many cats). I’d still spend most of my weekend evenings with my best friends. And I’d have a husband: some nebulous, vaguely man-shaped idea that hovered on the sides of all imagined futures as a comforting presence.
Please don’t misunderstand: There was never any conscious pressure from parents, friends, or family to conform. But from my earliest consciousness through adolescence, these ideas (which weren’t really ideas, but were more of an understanding) didn’t waver. Strangely, though, when I played dress-up or imagined my future self, it was never as a happy homemaker. It was typically as a spy or a warrior or a (mostly) benevolent monarch. I never even envisioned myself as a bride. Lady with awesomely huge gowns? Yes. Lady wearing awesomely huge gown for the purpose of marriage? No.
And now, in my early-30s, I have many of the things I thought I’d have when teenaged me envisioned my future life. I have a nice house (well, it’s a condo – but it’s nice). I have a job that unsteadily pays me enough to buy books and sweaters and movie tickets (and consider myself very lucky, though somewhat unhappy, with said job). I have 2 adorable (if insane) cats. I do indeed still spend most of my weekend evenings with the same people I hung around with as a teenager (because they are awesome and I love them). And I share my life, my home, my financial present and future, my pet cats, and my books with the person I’ve loved for over a decade (although I don’t really like sharing my books with him, as he’s impossibly hard on paperbacks and they go back in the shelves with broken spines and torn covers).
I am privileged in uncountable ways: I live a comfortable and unremarkable life. But in my social interactions, I’m somehow made to feel remarkable (and not necessarily in a positive way). Because I don’t have a husband.
And now we’ve entered the point in my brief narrative where my mother would quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But you know what? Though she was seriously awesome in so many ways, Eleanor was wrong. Words and judgments and vibes and sideways glances have a real effect. Even if you don’t want them to.
For years and years (yes, it’s been that long), the fact that Chris and I were “together,” “boyfriend/girlfriend,” “partners,” etc., bothered no one. No one questioned us, no one judged us. We existed in that blissfully non-judged state of hetero-normative understanding that comes from the committed monogamy of late teens and early-to-mid-20-somethings. We were with each other, and no one questioned our commitment or arrangement. We graduated from college. We found jobs (I wound up finding several in a row: job after job after job, because I am the quixotic one and none of them “felt right”). I went to graduate school (school feels better than jobs). We moved in together. We started giving friends and family members gifts from “both of us” (which is obviously one of the surest outward signs of commitment one can give). I found some more jobs. We went on vacations. We found out our asthmatic cat was also diabetic. We discovered foodie-ism. We opened a joint checking account. We read books and watched movies. We bought a house. And (in the best possible sense) no one cared.
But a few years ago, a little after we bought the house, something very strange happened. People started questioning. Given the fact that we’d lived for so long with no one questioning, this was extremely confusing, as questioning often equals a form of caring? But this new inquisitiveness on the part of our family, friends, & acquaintances didn’t feel like caring. It felt like judgment. And it felt pretty damn crappy. At first I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was being hypersensitive (it’s been known to happen).
Throughout our life together, I’d occasionally field an inquisitive line or two from a well-meaning parent of friends or from a distant relation regarding our future plans and commitment. At friends’ and family members’ weddings, I was asked, “When’s it your turn?” (Strangely, Chris was very rarely around when these conversations took place!) And at work, he heard, “How’d you get away with it?” or some variation. Obviously, the differences in these lines of questioning raises some serious fuckedupedness in terms of social norms. But we’ll get to that in later posts, I promise. Still, though, the questions weren’t invasive and were quickly dropped when one of us laughed and changed the subject. Because the thing is: we are married. We have built our lives around each other. We’re never wanted to be with anyone else. Neither of us actually has been with anyone else. We’re partners for life, and that’s that. So the issue of having a giant party, wearing rings, registering for gifts – it was never really something that we felt we needed. Which is not to say that we don’t like parties and gifts, because we do. We love food and our friends and our family and celebrating pretty much anything that comes up. Also, I love jewelry. But none of these things were considered necessary as precursors to us spending our lives together.
But somehow, now that we’re in our 30s, our lack of public proclamation (aside from the joint gift-giving) is somehow unacceptable? The questions aren’t one-offs at the occasional wedding or holiday anymore. Every holiday, every gathering (weddings, funerals, random Sundays and Thursday evenings), the judgment is there. And now the questions aren’t just about when we’ll be “making it official.” Now there’s another generation involved: our non-existent children. When will they be planned? When will they arrive? When will they grace the world with their unquestionably awesome presence? The problem is that not only are the children non-existent, they’re not wanted.
It’s him and me (and the cats), and we’re fine. We’re better than fine. We’re good. Great, even! And this has somehow made us wrong. But we don’t feel wrong. We feel the opposite of wrong. We feel so right as to think of our life together as a foregone conclusion, pretty much from the moment we met.
So where’s the disconnect? Why does there seem to be such a wide gulf between what he and I feel and know and what society believes and has institutionalized? What, if anything, are we missing? If we were to get married, would we feel any different about each other? About our lives? Why is marriage such a heated topic of debate? (And why the hell do people think it needs “protecting?”) And is there something intangible that connects a public legal status with a private emotional connection?
That’s, in a nutshell, what this project intends to find out.