On Engagement, Weddings, and Punk Rock: A Long-Time Marriage Cynic Puts A Ring On It


I'm getting married in September.

This is weird.

Ask any of my long-time friends. They'll toss out barbs about pigs flying and hell freezing over.

* * *

I never wanted to get married.

In fact, for about 15 years, I was vehemently against it.

When my little sis got engaged back in 2006, I congratulated her sarcastically on "getting branded" and "tagged" with her new bauble.

She was not amused.

I was against marriage out of solidarity for my gay brother, who couldn't get married even if he wanted to; against it for all the queer people I know and love who can't benefit from state-sanctioned support for their unions; against it having read everything that's been written about how contemporary marriage blows and how it's based on the exchange of property and rooted in obsolete patriarchal traditions marking women as chattel and how it celebrates a myth of female virginity and means your sex life will dwindle to a slow nothing and how the whole wedding-industrial-complex is one big gross consumeristic pretty-pretty-princess opportunity for women to become sniveling, selfish, narcissistic high-maintenance brats for a day.

You get the picture.

I scoffed (internally, quietly, judgmentally, self-righteously) at my peers who got married at 21.

It wouldn't be me.  No sir, not this one.

I was a lone ranger, I would be punk rock, countercultural, against the grain, I would have nothing to do with a suburban bourgeois existence. I would be Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, living a Parisian-style sexually liberated bohemian intellectual life. Anti-establishment, outside the box, certainly not constrained by life-sucking bourgeois institutions.

My parents married young (well, relatively so, I suppose, though they were very normal for their generation) and were probably married about 15 years longer than they should've been.  Inertia, Newton's first law, you know.  They weren't miserable miserable; they just outgrew one another. Let's just say their model didn't exactly give me hope that marriage could last (and thrive, and grow) for decades.  And most marriages around me seemed to reflect that same stagnant, murky, muddy energy.

Ironically, over the last few years, I've officiated four weddings for dear friends.  But that was different.  At least, it felt really different.  It was a sacred gift, a precious honor, a rare opportunity to be present in their relationships in a most-intimate, most-beloved kind of way.  And I will ever savor those four ceremonies in my mind, such that every time their anniversaries roll around, I find myself transported in memory to those breathless moments on Long Island, in New Hampshire, in Los Altos Hills, and on Railay Beach, Thailand. And I hope and I pray and I know that each of those couples' sacred commitments will stand the test of time.

But that still doesn't mean I thought marriage was for me.  I was quite happy to be the autonomous Rev. Rach, post-ceremony cocktail in hand, free to slip out at the end of the party and quietly go my own way.

* * *

BUT — you know what?

You get older.  You experience loss.  You realize that we don't get this life forever.  Your parents die.  Your grandparents die.  You make your own life, you become your own safety net, your siblings spread out far across the country and your existence takes on a whole new shape.  And in all of that, you realize that very basic, seemingly-crass-but-simply-honest anthropological truth, that this is how life works: you're born, you age, your family of origin dies off or moves away, you find a partner and create a new family.  Simple shit, really.  Same thing whether you're talking prehistoric peeps or 21st century ones.

So, anthropology in mind, you start to soften to the fact that this whole bizarro wedding industry thing is less an oppressive outdated excuse for narcissistic self-celebration and more just the most-recent cultural ritual for marking this evolution, this transfer, from family of origin to family of choice.  Neanderthals back in the day did something similar, you are sure, just with less taffeta and more loincloths.

Even though you still want to vomit when you watch Bridezilla reality tv shows or run across ads for bridal magazines.

* * *

BUT — then one Thursday evening in late spring 2011, while assisting for MC Yogi, you put your hand on some dude's lower back in Pigeon and he whips around in irritation to see who the hell's touching him, and it turns out to be MC's best friend, and after class he stops over to say thanks and hello in a deep rich radio voice, and he's charming and smart and sexy and confident and a long-time yogi, so you toss him your card and rush out to meet some girlfriends for the dinner date you're 45 minutes late to join...

...and two springs later, you're engaged.

* * *

Time has softened my college-age radical feminism a bit.  Loss has done that, too, as has Buddhism.  These days, I may shave my legs or wear a miniskirt or sport glittery toenail polish from time to time, but I still have no desire to crank any funds into the wedding-industrial complex.  I feel shy about even the idea of having to walk down an aisle and have people turn around to look at me.  I have zero interest in planning a $50,000 party or sending out frou-frou invitations or worrying about all the rest of that superficial girl shit we are supposed to care about.

So we're doing it our own way.  Sweet, simple, rustic, perfect, us.  Surrounded by the people we love.  In a place that feels like home.  Sacred, thoughtful, real.  Intentional.

There will be no Princess Jasmine dresses or pastel cummerbunds a la the kind your little brother wore in Junior High show choir.  There will be no 8-piece wedding band and there will most certainly be no awkward reception entrances or YouTube-worthy first dances.  There will be no expensive registry and certainly no horse and carriage.  Fuck that shit.

And don't even get me started on that word fiancé.

But, damn: partnership is sweet.  How lovely it is to have someone waiting for you at the airport.  To list a life insurance beneficiary who's not your sister (no offense, Bek).  To share a caesar salad with the croutons on the side (for him) and extra parmesan (for you).  To meet his family and find that they're kind and warm and oh-so-thoughtful.  To wake up and go to bed with the same open, living, loving, breathing, practicing creature.

And then he ends up being even more fantastic than you realized, and he laughs well and works hard and fixes the car and makes homemade almond milk and runs a mean vacuum and has great taste in music and buys fresh flowers and reads the NYT in the sun on the porch and cleans the toilet and makes you a fire in the fireplace while you stay under the covers so you don't have to get up in the cold and nails a killer Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B next to you there on the mat. And his light, his ease, his stillness is the perfect counterpart to your seriousness, your ambition, your freneticism.  You find that rare combination of ease and laughter and the desire to hang out all the time and maybe even to someday produce small people who look like him.

(WHAAAA?!?!?)

As an introvert especially, I know the rarity of finding both comfort and strength in another — that perfectly balanced blend of Shtira Sukha Asanam, effort and ease, strength and softness — that we seek on the mat and off. And there is great power in speaking commitment in community; in affirming, in front of the people closest to you, that rare experience of another person feeling like home.

I don't harbor any delusions about permanence or things always being rosy.  At times, they might blow.  Such is the nature of life.  And nobody gets married thinking they'll be the ones to divorce.  But I do know that there's a sweet kind of ease, of laughter, of solidarity here that I've not experienced before.  And it's worth fighting for, working for, committing to.  I like the active implications of the word "engaged": meaning, present, aware, active, not-on-autopilot. To me, that's what commitment looks like: commitment to being engaged, commitment to staying present, commitment to being in this for the long haul.

Commitment to growing old together.

* * *

Sure, there are scary bits about it.  I fear being a sellout.  I worry about betraying my queer friends.  I'm old by Heartland standards: 34.  OB-Gyns warn about drying up with a clucky tone in their voices.  (Shut up, I say.)  Between our recent purchases of both a crockpot AND a Vitamix, I fear that I've crossed over into that very suburban bourgeois territory I've always loathed.  (Don't even get me started on the vacuum.)  I'm terrified about not having the same space to write or create that I had as a committed singleton.

But there's also that little thing called companionship.  The joy of feeling that you've got one anothers' backs. And the fact it gives my Lutheran mother in Nebraska something heteronormative to tell her church-lady friends about, something that she understands, something she's excited about, and that's incredibly healing for our tenuous relationship.  And the fact that every time I see him walk around the corner, I get a buzz in my throat, and a whirl in my belly, and it's warm, and I'm home.

* * *

I'm learning that you can either reject old models and fight to live outside them (in which case, good luck ever getting that health insurance), or you can step into the old and crack them open from the inside.

The question is: how to queer it?  How to make this marriage thing your own without becoming just one more contributor to the wedding-industrial-complex?

My colleague Andrea talks about changing your story.  We get stuck in one way of being or another — I am straight or gay, perpetually single or a serial monogamist, I'm a morning person or a night owl, a feminist, a douchebag, a pushover, whatever.  If there's one lesson that yoga and Buddhism have taught me, it's that our stories are just that: stories.  Illusions.  Ephemeral, fluid, transient, ever-changing.  To get attached to one identity without remaining open to unexpected others (hello, love!) is to resist the natural way of the world, to swim constantly upstream whilst fighting against the current and clinging with everything we've got to that one old skinny rotten decaying branch.

Perhaps, then, the most radical thing for this anti-marriage post-feminist queer to do is to slap a big honking ring on my finger.  (I did, actually, and secretly, it feels great.  He chose it, lovingly, bought from a sweet 60-something man from Long Island who runs his own jewelry shop in West Marin.  I am crazy about it, not because I was ever a bling kind of girl, but because it reminds me of him, and his love, and his kindness, every time I look at it.  It could be a gumball machine ring, for all I care.  It'd be just as beautiful).  Maybe the hardest, most noble work is to transform the institution from the inside out, to queer the symbols, to make them our own.

Hell, Virginia Woolf did it.  Joan Didion did it.  Sylvia Plath tried, and it was too much for her to take, okay, yes, so she made the kids some sandwiches and stuck her head in the oven while Ted was away.  But, dude: even Gloria Steinem did it in her golden years, decades after ripping the whole institution apart.

Three outta four ain't bad, as odds go.

If those brilliant, passionate, iconoclastic, highly-literate, incredibly-autonomous feminist chicks could find a way to negotiate marriage, to make it their own, I suppose I can, too.

You can hold off on the registry, though.  No silverware sets to validate our love.

We've already got everything we need.

Comments

Ann said…
Thank you for articulating this so beautifully. I spent my 20s feeling the same way. And then I met someone, and got married, and our 10-year-anniversary is coming up in 2 weeks and we have a 3-year-old kid (and I DEFINITELY DEFINITELY did not want children... I thought). And I can confirm that getting married does not equate to becoming a bridezilla. I did not get a diamond engagement ring. We got married at the City Hall on a Friday afternoon, with our closest local friends and my parents in attendance (and boy, were our out-of-town friends pissed!). We've grown together, we still make each other laugh, and I am really happy that I didn't stick to my feminist anti-marriage guns.
Good luck to you.
Catherine Davis said…
What a beautiful post. Congratulations to you both. I've been married for 13 years to a guy I've known for 23 years-- took us 9ish years to finally decide to get married so I do relate to your conflicted feelings about the institution itself... but the day to day of my marriage really is a gift. I admit at times, we've experienced some seriously stagnant energy but overall, marrying him is far and away the best thing I ever did and marriage has contributed to my growth immeasurably. And personally, I don't think you need to worry about him encroaching on your creative time-- it's the babies who did that in my experience:)
As always, thanks for sharing your journey. I always love reading your blog.
Final Project said…
Hi Rach,

This is a lovely piece, and I am so truly deeply glad for your happiness. I've always wondered if I'd change my anti-marriage tune, and I feel so sure that I won't, but, it's true -- people always say your tune changes when you meet "the right one." I dunno, though, queer-ing marriage seems problematic. Either way, it's nice that you've given it so much thought, and i love you and wish you continued happiness. xoxo.
Rach said…
Ann, thank you so much for sharing your story!

It sounds like a lot of grace came out of letting yourself soften up and go with the flow — even when it was taking you in new, unexpected places. Congratulations on your upcoming 10-year anniversary! If there's anything I've realized, it's that a relationship is a beautifully living and breathing creature, brand new every day — not unlike a yoga practice. Three cheers for simplicity, authenticity, and the kind of change that brings great joy.

Xoxo
Rach said…
Catherine and Ali — thanks, too, for your words, and for reading in the first place!

Catherine, I love your honesty about feeling conflicted and sitting with stagnance, and the ways in which your marriage has lent you growth. I see that already, immeasurably, too, this early into our relationship, and it blows my mind — such beauty and transformation already. A true gift.

Ali, I hear you — sometimes I feel like a romantic who's too-easily ignoring all the problematic aspects of trying to transform a pretty messed-up institution. And there's definitely a lot of complicated schtuff that comes with it. But I also realize life is short — and I don't want to look back and regret not opening up to something out of fear, or judgment. I'd rather dive in and get messy in the process, especially when so much goodness has already come out of our time together.

Love love love to you all.
John Meyer said…
I love this! I read this looking at my ring (you did call it a branding, but I got over it) and thought about how awesome it is to be loved. What a blessing! I thought about your dad, who held this ring the day I was married and blessed it. How proud he was to have had a part in our relationship. He was so proud, and he would be very proud of you. Not for entering into the state sanctioned union of marriage, but because you let love into your life! You have always been the awesome cousin I can harass my conservative SD inlaws with, and I dont think Yoga Rob will slow you down, he will just be there when you get home to love you and give you the strength to get up the nexr day and take on the word!!
Rach said…
John, did you have to go and make me cry??! :)

You are so right. I am so touched by what you wrote about my dad. He was indeed SO proud to have watched your relationship with Nici bloom, to have been a part of your marriage, and as you wrote, I know he would be so happy to see where life has taken us all.

There are many moments with Robb when I think to myself, "Oh man, my dad would've loved him so much!" That is a gift and a grace to know in and of itself.

What a blessing, indeed, to love and to be loved.

Xoxo
Mariah said…
Love this Rach. Every part of it.

But where's the apology for brand mark comment?!?

Seriously though. Love you. Robb too...so delighted he's joining the fam (but not more than Paul, who has been the lone in-law trying to understand us all for too long now). We are all creating our own stories, marked by where we came from, always, but colored daily by our rewriting - especially of what marriage will be for each of us.

xo

Mari
Anonymous said…
Do you read the blog A Practical Wedding? Because this is about perfect for that. Many congratulations to you.
andrealeber.com said…
All these thoughts are familiar to me. And if I may add one more I struggled with? Do I take his name - or not? Or (what a radical thought) would he take mine?
I loved this post, it's so brave!
Anonymous said…
Congratulations! I love your post! My husband and I have been married for almost 20 years. Every night we go to bed listening to dharma talks on itunes! We have in-depth discussions about yoga philosophy and Buddhism. It's so important to marry someone you can connect with in this way! I wish you much happiness. I love your blog! I've been reading it since the article about your special cakes in yoga journal!
Robb Truedinger said…
"Heaven, I'm in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak"...... or type....

You are magnificent love. Absolutely magnificent.

I love you with all my heart.
Rach said…
Thanks for all of the kind words, y'all. They mean the world to me.

Much love!!
Angie said…
Thanks Rachel-
This is so beautiful and well-articulated and was a nice before bed little inspiring read, not even because of the marriage part.
Thanks for writing and for being real! Lucky us.
Angie

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