Gold rings (ba-dum-bum-bum)
About a week after we eloped a friend said, “I’m going to ask you a question that may seem weird, but I’m asking because so many people asked me the same question after I got married: do you feel different?”
My answer was, “Actually, yes, I do. It’s a little weird. Great, but weird.”
There are several reasons I didn’t expect to feel different. Michael and I have been together for nearly fifteen years, living together for 14½ of them. We already know each other’s quirks, bad habits, good habits, who is most likely to misplace his keys/wallet/watch/phone (me), or who is most likely to not check to see if his keys are in his pocket until he’s out of the house but know exactly where they are inside the house (Michael). We’ve registered as domestic partners, first with the city, and then when the state offered it, the state. We even had a small party with friends the first time. We’ve been through medical emergencies together. We’ve bought two cars together. We’ve been calling each other (and thinking of each other as) “husband” for many years.
When voters in our state approved the referendum three years ago affirming the legislature’s vote that extended all the state-given rights and responsibilities of marriage to domestic partnerships (but not to call it marriage), one of the changes was that the process of dissolving a partnership became the same as getting a divorce. When we received the official notice from the state that we had a certain number of days to dissolve the partnership under the old (much quicker and simpler) process before the new law went into effect, I remember we had a few moments of joking that if either of us wanted out, this was our last chance. It was a sobering thought, and one which I don’t think most couples entering into marriage think about as much as they ought.
So while I think the latest vote that got rid of domestic partnerships and extended marriage to same-sex couples was important, I didn’t expect to feel different. Having been through so much with Michael already—having covered all that emotional ground together—I figured the actual being married part would feel like the same old same old. I knew I would get emotional during the actual ceremony. I cry at tearful scenes in movies that I’ve seen millions of times, for goodness sake. Of course I was going to tear up a bit.
Okay, so I didn’t just cry a little bit. I cried while reading news stories of couples who had been together for many decades getting their licenses. I cried seeing the pictures and watching the videos of crowds of people congratulating strangers. I cried when they took our picture after we picked up our license. I cried when relatives and friends sent their congratulations. And I cried at our elopement. I cried a lot.
And I still get teary-eyed. While I was tidying the house on the afternoon of Christmas Eve it struck me that this is our first Christmas as a married couple. And I teared up and had to go give Michael a hug.
I know part of that is because it is new. I know another part of it is because I’ve had to fight for legal equality my whole life, and it’s still just a bit of a shock that a majority of voters in my state agreed this institution should be open to gay people, too. Related, over the last few decades I have become painfully familiar with just how many legal rights and responsibilities are utterly unavailable to couples who don’t have the flimsy piece of paper from the state saying you’re married.
A few years ago I read an editorial about how important marriage is to society. In building her argument, the author pointed to several gay rights web sites that had lists of legal rights available only through marriage and heart-wrenching stories of long-term partners being kept out of hospitals or funerals by bigoted relatives as the best source of information about how deeply entrenched the concept of marriage is in many of our customs and laws. “No one understands the value of a social or legal institution more than the people who are not allowed in,” she said.
Which brings me to the people who feel such a burning desire to keep the institution an exclusive club that only allows people of whom they approve. People don’t raise millions of dollars, compose disingenuous television commercials, and pass laws to exclude people from a mere piece of paper. They don’t amend state constitutions, try to oust judges, or fire teachers to prevent the mere public acknowledgement of the “true commitment that happened in private.” To do that sort of thing you must believe that this institution is something more important than a simple piece of paper or public declaration.
So one shouldn’t be surprised if one does feel something once you’ve managed to join that very institution.
I’ve been failing to complete this posting for several days because I can’t quite put into words the difference that I’m feeling. Searching the web, I see that in other blogs and articles it’s split about 50-50 between people who insist that nothing feels different, and those who admit that it does feel different, but they can’t quite explain what it is.
One thing I know it isn’t: the ceremony was not the culmination of our relationship. It isn’t a pinnacle. It was a high point, but it isn’t the highest we will ever reach together.
It was a wonderful and very moving day. It was and is fabulous to feel the genuine excitement from our friends. The love and support and well wishes that we’ve received have been palpable and have made me grateful to have so many wonderful people in our life. It’s the beginning of a new phase in our journey through life together. Not radically different on a day-to-day basis, but very subtly different.
I can’t fully describe all the ways I feel different. And I certainly don’t claim that the way I feel is the same way any other married person ought to feel. But I do know that I feel very, very, very lucky to have this wonderful man as my husband.
And maybe that’s all that matters.