Saturday, March 26, 2005

The marriage thing

Thought I would re-post this from an old live journal entry, since some of my (very kind) friends liked it the first time, and because it's important to emphasize the "dyke life" part of my blog subtitle as much as, or maybe much more than, the "on the other side of the tenure tracks" part. Although they are both so related, actually. Hmm. Maybe I'll write more about that thought in my next post.

From a December, 2004 Live Journal Musing:

A few days ago my girlfriend announced to me over breakfast that she was against getting married. It wasn't that she didn't love me, or that she didn't want to be with me forever. It's just that she had already been through the humiliations of getting divorced once and she never wanted to go through it again. We could be together in a cool, Susan-Sarandon-Tim-Robbins kind of way. No marriage. No divorce.

Cool, I said. I pointed out that most people only get married for benefits anyway, like my brother and his girlfriend, who own a house together and are only getting married to share her cheaper health care. I tried to sound accomodating, agreeable. I think I wanted to BE accomodating, or in perfect agreement. Besides, we have already been lovers a year-and-half, and there is no reason to believe things won't go on pretty much as they are. But the conversation made me feel sad nevertheless.

See, my girlfriend WAS married before, for four years in her early twenties to a Mormon man. They were both virgins, married in the Temple. Accounts of their sexual life vary in her telling, which is fond but always dispassionate. Their secrets, the deep intimacies between sexual partners, are theirs alone, as they are with most lovers. She started graduate school at BYU while he finished up the degree that had been interrupted--as is customary--when he took two years off for his mission. They had a reception, a honeymoon, a house together. They had friends and took people in. When she had to go across the country for a PhD, he went with her. They loved each other. But it was time to have children. She wanted a career, and was beginning to question the church, her faith, the inevitability of her life as a Mormon wife and mother. One night, she slept with a friend from BYU, a woman. She left him. Members of the church showed up to help him move. She moved alone, on her own out into the unprincipled world.

When I held her in my arms in those first passionate days of ours together she was still with that woman, leaving her in her heart, leaving Mormonism finally and for good, but still with her. I was with someone, too. We were both tired, though. We turned to each other one night, and with substantial surprise, kissed and promptly fell out of our five-year friendship into a steamy, urgent love. I remember holding her in my car, the way lovers do who are social outsiders for some reason or another--they are too young, their parents don't approve, they are gay, they are married to other people. She wanted to promise me things in the furtive darkness then--marriage, children. Things she had wanted for so long, or thought she had wanted, but had renounced, or thought she had to renounce, because she was a lesbian. I was surprised, but thrilled. Women still can't get married most places, but I liked the compliment of being thought worthy. I hadn't imagined ever being with someone who wanted children, either. The idea was attractive. I felt suddenly serious, grown up, masculine. Her femininity filled me with the desire to be strong, to be worthy.

Fantasies are good for relationships. In those early days of the trauma of mutual breakups, of different residences, separate finances, hostile friends, guilt, sexual bonding, my shaky job situation, her shaky job situation, we comforted each other with dreams of belonging and foreverness. She enjoyed the game of what she would be wearing when we danced together at our wedding. I started planning dance lessons, outdoor venues, musical options. She came home with me to New Hampshire and decided we would be married there. I went home to meet her family in California and knew them immediately as members of my family I hadn't met until then. We spun our dreams between us and when I lost my job, we introduced a new element in the romantic narrative: a house of our own. Losing my job meant the possibility of finding a new career that would pay better, demand more from me, make possible things I couldn't have imagined us having. I could go to law school. We could build a bigger life together than i had ever imagined for myself alone.

I don't know when the narrative started to change, but it did, gradually. I think it was when same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, and we stood together for the first time in a church in Boston singing hymns as part of the celebration. For me the celebration was matter-of-fact, neither stirring nor alienating, mirroring my lifelong indifference to the mainstream Protestantism within which I was raised, and which always felt more civic than spiritual to me growing up. But I could feel her discomfort. I heard the duty in her voice when she tried to sing the hymns, a duty that I felt turning into resentment, and then, in the quavery edges of her muted verses, the faintest stirrings of horror and despair.

We have talked a lot about gay marriage since then. Sometimes we talk about her marriage, the disappointing wedding night, the attempt to build a relationship between strangers, the kindness that can be between even two people who have nothing in common. She used to speak of these things often; now she is slowly burying them again. This is probably inevitable. She still looks for gay and lesbian couples in the Times Sunday Styles section of the paper, hoping to find that the paper has finally picked one for its "featured couple." They never do. Sometimes when we talk about these things I remember my friends Jim and Lisa from graduate school, their beautiful wedding where the rabbi exhorted us all to support them, support their love together, help them be strong and loving in the face of the world's temptations and disappointments. I remember he said a marriage should be like a tent that shelters but is open on all sides, as the huppa is open, to all who seek their love and friendship. I wondered then what it would be like to stand up with my lover and be supported, but we were not supported, and she is gone now these many years. I wonder now what it would be like to stand up with my lover and be supported, have those words said for us, look into the faces of friends and family who wish us well.

I think you can be together in a Susan-Sarandon-Tim-Robbins kind of way for a long time, forever even. Haven't gay people always done this anyway? I like that they choose each other every day. I like that so many people wish them well even though they have never been legally married. I like that they hold out for love, for outsiderness, for freedom and flexibility. I like that they eschew a certain kind of heterosexual privilege, even though they mostly get it anyway. I like that there are models out there of lovers who make something strong together without the state's blessing, models that help all of us who want to be in a couple imagine something strong and healthy that can be made with another person. I imagine them holding up their own tent without the blessing of a rabbi, or a JP. Their hair is always tousled and they look casual and fabulous together.

But I also imagine a wedding that is ours, a honeymoon we go on together, bringing our disparate friends and family together at a big party for us, for love, for believing in dreams and living in dreams that nourish us whether or not they come true. I imagine the celebration of happiness, of daring to hope in a public way that love can last. I imagine my father and aunt and my parents' friends who live nearby and who I grew up with shyly, awkwardly wishing me well, understanding that while I have made my life mean something on my terms, my meaning also resonates in ways they can recognize with the responsibilities and choices they have shouldered and made. I imagine a reception in the horse field at my childhood home, and I picture myself tripping across the gravel road a few short yards to my mother's grave nearby to bring her a glass of champagne. I imagine shedding a few tears that my mother and my lover never met. I imagine in this moment remembering the loves I have had, the life I have lived until now. I imagine feeling suddenly happy for even the heartbreaks and setbacks that have brought me to this place in my life, this milestone, this happiness. I can see the blue twilight, the white tent with light and music spilling out into the August night, the flushed faces of partygoers enjoying the open bar. I look around at my family and feel supremely old, and as young as someone still in high school. I look down at my lover, and she is laughing in my arms, and we are dancing to a song that suddenly seems perfect, both wishing that this night could last forever.

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