I’m getting married again.
You cannot think of one marriage without the other, or at least I can’t. I squint at other second-time brides, wondering if they’re experiencing the same duality, as if they’ve walked all the way around the world only to arrive in familiar territory as completely different people.
It’s hard for me to believe they can put on a white dress and stand up there and make those promises while thinking, Nope, none of this reminds me of anything in particular, but if they’re thinking anything else, they’re too polite to say so.
Me, I pause when making the music playlist for my wedding, awash with the weirdness of debating whether to add any of the songs that played last time. I only know of so many love songs, of so many ways to carry any of this out.
I let the cake lady explain the entire ordering process to me, because I didn’t have the heart to tell her she had made my last one eleven years ago. “But it was delicious!” I’m sure I would add hastily. “I mean, clearly it was, because you earned my repeat business! Ha ha ha ha ha!” (Seriously, she makes the best cake in town. What was I supposed to do?)
Lucky for the cake lady, I save those jokes for my mother, who indulges me by laughing in her special “I am so glad you just said that in front of me and not the neighbors or anyone else we know” way.
In other situations, my first wedding is an unseen force that bends the second one away from itself. My dress, the venue, the decorations … I chose them both because I love them and because they are nothing like the first ones, or maybe sometimes I even love them simply because they are nothing like the first ones, because they help me believe other things are different, too.
And things are different, of course. That’s starkly obvious, especially in this whole split-screen format my brain seems to insist upon.
Eleven years has turned out to be a very long time. I don’t want to share the particular comparisons, because I think describing my priorities and philosophies as a 22-year-old bride would unfairly trivialize my first marriage. That would be convenient, wouldn’t it, to point out all of the ways I’m older and wiser now. But it would also be a disservice to 22-year-old me, who I can only assume was doing her best. There has to be a statute of limitations on such scrutiny, I think. Casting a spotlight onto some naive girl who has never left the country and is barely old enough to drink doesn’t strike me as a very sporting way to prove I’m doing much of anything right today.
If “it’s better than what a 22-year-old would do” is the best argument I’ve got going for my life, you really shouldn’t be impressed.
Divorced people will often tell you they knew all along that their relationship was headed for disaster. Married and engaged people take comfort in this idea; it’s reassuring to think that, instead of enjoying the same sort of optimistic wedding as everyone else, their divorced friends chose to enter a failing marriage through paralysis or cowardice or whatever helpless feeling would prompt a bride to walk down the aisle anyway. But I cannot bring myself to really believe that so many otherwise conscientious and loving people knowingly entered into a failing marriage.
I think what most divorced people mean to say is that their problems, the ones that ultimately split them up, were there all along in a way that can make their divorce seem inevitable in hindsight — they just considered those problems surmountable when they started, the same way we all do when we’re walking toward someone wearing a really pretty outfit with our hands full of flowers. The same way I do, right now.
I refuse to make my case in the the usual ways, is what I’m telling you. I don’t want to tell you that I know better this time, that this time is different, because I believed in my marriage the first time and I believe in this one too, which is your logical indication that my word is not worth much.
I haven’t decided whether I even really trust people who keep such promises to keep them for the right reasons. If Andy keeps that promise to me, I hope it’s because he actually wants to. I can’t think of any other reason to bother.
I’m not getting married because of some ironclad confidence that I know what I’m doing. “But I know you of all people must have thought carefully about it,” people press, and I have to laugh. Of course I have, and I’m flattered that they’re so eager to believe I’ve come up with a logical explanation. I take it as a compliment that they assume I have charts and graphs stowed under my bed and a pros and cons list in my Google docs. They’re not entirely wrong.
So here is what I do know. Here is why.
REASON 1: EQUALITY
Every time someone implied that my first marriage had been a mistake just because it ended in divorce, I felt really annoyed — we had a lot of fun! We traveled the world! Stop trying to shove six years of my life into a little Mistake Box just so you can put a bow on it!
But it took me years to realize the most important reason my marriage could reasonably be called a mistake: it saved my financial ass. I can honestly say that if I had not been married, my future would have been much darker.
It’s very easy to lament divorce without considering how much worse a plain old breakup would have been. I reaped the benefits of marriage all over the place — I just took those benefits for granted to such an extent that years had passed before I acknowledged them.
Had Jeff, my ex-husband, been an ex-boyfriend instead, I would have been up shit creek thanks to years of mopping the floor and picking up groceries while he flew airplanes around. Jeff would have supported me in any career I wanted to pursue, but the truth is he preferred for me not to work full time, and I agreed with him. Commercial pilots don’t get standard days off; we wouldn’t have had much of a relationship without our Tuesdays and Thursdays and Mondays.
If Jeff and I hadn’t gotten married, I would not have had the financial resources to start my life over again when we split up. All of the work I put into the household, all of that traditionally undervalued feminine work, would have gone unpaid. Instead, I walked away with enough assets to allow me to get my life back together. I was still poorer than I had been when we were together, but I can only imagine how bleak the financial landscape would have been without half of our bank accounts, most of which had been funded by Jeff’s career.
I don’t think it’s antifeminist to stay home and do the laundry if that’s what works best for your household. Someone has to do those tasks. But I do think it’s antifeminist to do it for nothing, because those tasks have value. Yet, in a plain old breakup, no one, including me, would have seen any of that money as mine.
Divorcing can be vastly preferable in the legal sense to breaking up, but we all forget that because we see breaking up as less embarrassing, less of a failure.
We also see the idea of everyone getting half, no matter what each of you make, as unfair and antiquated. I think a lot of women consider it feminist for each person to keep/spend their paycheck, splitting all the expenses. I used to believe that, but now it seems simplistic to me. Paychecks aren’t earned in a utopian vacuum free of sexist influences like the wage gap or male privilege. They’re earned in a world where the majority of women still do more than their fair share of housework, if research is to be believed.
But maybe we’re talking about a gay couple, where feminist logic doesn’t quite apply the same way, or maybe she’s a renowned brain surgeon and he is a part-time painter who stays home with the kids and does the dishes. Still, in any relationship, either side can make sacrifices that aren’t necessarily going to show up on a spreadsheet.
If each person’s respective paycheck accurately reflects their share, well. That seems like one hell of a coincidence to me.
When I decided to switch careers, Andy supported me financially while I studied. My wages have greatly improved, and he reaps the benefits of that, because I share with him, thanks to our years-old habit of pooling resources, originally established to keep me from starving to death when I agreed to move to a very expensive part of the country for the sake of Andy’s career.
I can no longer wrap my brain around an arrangement in which anyone is holding anything back in the name of modernity. It’s not really a romantic thing. I just have no idea how one would even begin to keep score, unless we’re all willing to work under the ridiculous assumption that earning money is the only way to contribute to a household.
Having contemplated the impact that marriage will have, and already has had, on my personal financial situation, it shocks me that most of us still see marriage as a primarily romantic decision, this fluffy thing you choose to do when you’ve lost your senses enough to believe in everlasting love. We would all be smart to consider marriage to be a lot more than that. I find it really dangerous that a lot of legal benefits are overlooked because of marriage’s conceptualization as an emotional endeavor.
And, in choosing your spouse, if you want one at all, it might be a good idea to consider why you’re with someone if you don’t think they’re contributing their 50% to the partnership. And if they ARE contributing their half in one way or another, you have no business becoming that bitter person who acts as if you were robbed by your own spouse because he or she didn’t let you keep all of “your” money when she left.
REASON 2: MARRIAGE IS WHAT WE DO
I’m probably going to take some heat for this one, and Younger Me would be horrified at the argument I’m about to make, but here’s the thing: in our society, if you love each other a whole lot, you get married. You don’t have to. No one is going to make you. But that’s the norm, and it’s what people will start to assume has already happened. People already call Andy my husband all the time.
If you are youthful or if you just happen to be more energetic or more willing to constantly explain yourself to other people than I am, you can fight that. Good for you! Or, if you’re me, you can realize you are weary of fighting every last cultural assumption just because it’s a cultural assumption.
Some assumptions round the corners off of things. They make life less work for all of us. They exist so we don’t have to think so hard all the time, or so we can think hard about even more complicated situations staring us in the face every day. I can understand why you might distrust marriage, an institution our society has accepted from its predecessors without too much examination, but cultural protocol is not necessarily inherently evil.
(Your coworker pressuring you to get married, on the other hand, IS inherently evil, but she isn’t doing that solely because marriage is standard practice. She’s also doing it because she’s rude and nosy and possibly tragically unimaginative, and marriage itself can’t be blamed for that nonsense.)
Here is what I have learned in my thirties: Sometimes it is okay to do something solely because it is easier. It is okay to do something simply because you want to. It’s not something any of the intellectuals in your life need to forgive you for, no matter how graciously indulgent they might act about it. You have lost nothing. We don’t all get points at the end for our relentless intellectual integrity, for our dedication to making perfect sense at all times.
Maybe that’s not a revolutionary idea to you, but I would never have accepted it even a few short years ago, and let me tell you, it’s a brutal way to live. I’m not sorry that phase of my life is over, even if I’ve lost points with whatever faction of humanity is still worshipping philosophical unimpeachability.
You can just be lazy and get married because you’re sick to death of the word “boyfriend.” You aren’t a thoughtless sheep just because you looked at this particular fight and decided it wasn’t a battle you were willing to choose. You can find plenty of other cultural norms to fight against, many of which are a lot nastier than I’d allow any marriage of mine to become.
REASON 3: I WANT TO
Not getting married would make me a coward, and I abhor cowardice, because it’s unhealthy and depressing and anxiety-inducing and full of shame. Not getting married might not make YOU a coward, of course. It really depends on whether you want to get married in the first place.
And I do want to, heaven help me.
Most other people have always made me feel lonely. I used to joke that in my love life, I had “graft versus host” syndrome; the personality differences between me and another person, at first so small and manageable, always seemed to spread and infect everything until they proved fatal.
Several of my exes could tell you, with the appropriate measure of exasperation, that I am a woman who often simply cannot go on any longer once some sort of obscure tipping point has been reached, a point at which I would rather die alone than continue to allow some repetitive and small-yet-somehow-ominously-broadly-representative behavior to slice through everything, neatly separating us into two people over and over again.
If some selfish little habit of theirs didn’t do it, my reclusive tendencies usually would.
I’m a strange one, I can tell you that. Even if I adore you I won’t talk to you on the phone, and your arm slung over me in your sleep will begin to make me want to scream after just a few minutes. Even if I love you, you are not allowed to watch me dance, or hula hoop, or back the car out of the garage. Ever. I could probably list a hundred other occasions in my life to which even those dearest to me are not invited. I don’t like anyone to hear my footfalls on the treadmill, or listen to a podcast I intended to listen to by myself. It sounds shy, and I guess technically that’s the case, but to me it feels more like annoyance that you won’t just go away and let me experience something all by myself, the way I like to, where my ears are the only ears, where I get to own everything that’s happening without your five senses sitting around and mucking it up.
Many of the beloved things in my life are not anything I’m interested in sharing. I carry around a heap of mundane and gleeful secrets, the ones that make me sing while driving alone down the highway, and no one can have them.
But anyone I get close to always wants them, and my refusal is so often taken personally.
“You can trust me,” they say, because they don’t understand the difference between trust and territory. They see my refusal to let them in as a weakness, which is funny, because to me it’s mostly been a stronghold.
At any rate, the inevitable resentfulness of it all gives me a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach the moment I like someone who likes me back.
Andy was different from the start.
Oh, I am so cynical about these stories, so suspicious that revisionist history is afoot the moment someone says something like this, but he was, and everyone could see it even if I didn’t want them to. It’s not that I loved him more than I’ve loved other people, if such comparisons could even be made between wildly different relationships. It’s that being in love with him did not fill me with that odd sort of dread. He has always been so plainly disinterested in crossing any of my boundaries that I can love him without feeling the urge to chew through anything or wrench everything away from itself.
The first time I stayed the night at his house, loath to drag myself into the car for the 45-minute trip home at 2 a.m., he said, “I have a guest room,” and it’s still a little sad to me that I was so surprised at the sincerity of the offer. I didn’t take him up on it, and he was happy to let me decline.
But still, he had meant it. The man has no guile. If nothing else, I should probably stick around to make sure he doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Andy makes me feel safe and loved and he supports the shit out of me. He takes me seriously, which is a sad thing to praise someone for, but a woman can tell you that it’s actually kind of rare for a man to look at her and listen to her intently, with no hint of dismissal or condescension. He makes me laugh and he thinks my dreams are important, AND he picks me up from the airport. The subtle boost of his presence has done a startling amount of good in my life, with more impact on my career and my overall well-being than I would have thought a relationship could have. I think that’s because I had gotten used to thinking of relationships as enjoyable inconveniences, not empowering foundations that prompt friends and family to comment on how happy I’ve seemed for such a long time now.
There are all kinds of love out there, but moon-boots love is the best, man, because life is already challenging enough.
The only other exception to all of this has been Jeff, which is exactly why I married him and why I’m not at all sorry that I did. And if Andy got hit by a bus tomorrow I would be angry at myself for not becoming his wife when I had the chance. I would feel as if I had failed to offer him something he had fairly earned. Plus, I wouldn’t get to keep any of his stuff, and I’ve gotten somewhat attached to the ice maker.
I know the old saying about how those who refuse to learn are doomed to repeat history. But this time, I can’t beat the past by refusing to repeat it. I can beat it by refusing to let it stop me.
My original urge to elope, to not make a fuss, to indulge in a second marriage behind closed doors like a properly chagrined woman, has more or less vanished like the specter of guilt that it was. I’m going to get all dolled up and have my picture taken a bunch of times like some kind of marriage-hungry floozy. I got a beautiful dress that goes to the floor, and I let a woman make me paper flowers by hand, and I’m getting a two-tier cake even though my tiny 15-guest farmhouse wedding in no way requires it.
I did all of this because the past is not Andy’s fault, and I am tired of honoring it over the present. I did it because the present is worth celebrating.
I am lucky it was willing to wait for me to get here, and I’m ready to enjoy it for as long as it will have me.