Today brings a VERY special addition to MWO – the first guest post from someone other than the Wife! I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the Dispatches from the Wife series, and I’m so thrilled to expand the voices in this space. And the topics – from strictly parenting to the broader ways we define our communities, build our families and experience our tribes. Today K from LA brings us a wonderful essay about the experience of being engaged. For me, the engagement process was transformative despite my best intentions to be above it all. K’s story illustrates not just this conundrum but does against the backdrop of sweeping legal changes across CA and the U.S. proving in the most acute way that the political is personal.
I’ve been engaged for 4 months and, in that time, certain small talk themes have emerged. People who know I’m engaged ask if I have a date (yes), if I have a venue (yes), and where we’re going on the honeymoon (Palm Springs). If the person I’m talking to is married, I ask them if being married feels different.
I’ve been with my partner for nearly 8 years and we’ve lived together for about 6. We spend hours a day talking and emailing about everything from grandiose existential issues to the latest great cat video. We’ve shared so many experiences, from international travel to shopping for renters insurance. Our plans for the future intersect even when we haven’t planned them that way, and we’ve navigated multiple apartment moves without purposely crushing the other under our endless boxes of books. So I’m curious: will being married really feel different?
My cousin got married in October after being with her husband for a decade. At first, she said the relationship felt no different after it became a marriage. A few months later, she changed her mind. It did feel different, she told me. It feels more… she interlocked her fingers and closed her fists tight.
Another friend said being married didn’t feel different, but getting married had really brought her and her husband together. She called it a “trauma-based bonding experience”, and defined “trauma” as a not-altogether-bad thing, but something more complicated, involving more decisions to make together than they’d ever had before, and a more urgent need to “be nice to each other’s weird relatives.”
Hours after my partner proposed (complete with surprise flower delivery at a local botanical garden, nicely done), we changed our Facebook statuses to “engaged.” As congrats from far-flung friends and family members popped up, it felt to me like the title change from girlfriend to fiancee meant more to them than it did to me. I wasn’t floating through the clouds because there was now a ring on my finger. My partner and I started planning our wedding long before we were officially fiancees.
In fact, our desire to be married pre-dated (by many years) our ability to get legally married. And our floating-in-the-clouds moment came on June 26, 2013, when the Supreme Court issued a 5–4 decision effectively overturning Prop 8. Then, just as we had when Prop 8 passed, my partner and I took in the news and headed to a nearby bar to cry into our beers.
The night I knew Prop 8 would pass was as surreal an experience as I’ve had. I lived in West Hollywood and my partner brought over burritos (surefire way to my heart), and we sat in my tiny studio watching election returns, falling into elated disbelief as evidence mounted that Barack Obama was going to be our President. Incredible. Flying high on pride and relief, we walked down the block to the Formosa Cafe and opened the door to find an excited melee of happy neighbors raising glasses high above their “I voted” stickers. The bartender started to mix two gin and tonics, and I used my phone to look up vote tallies for the propositions. Next to “Prop 8 – Yes” was a big percentage in green. I told my partner “Prop 8 is passing,” and the bartender dropped a glass. The three of us got quiet while the noise around us continued, but as the news spread, many of the smiles around us started to fade.
The next morning on my way to work, I shared an elevator with a man who was beaming about President Obama’s election, saying in an accent I couldn’t place, “I can’t believe my kids get to see this moment in history.” I shared his feelings, but I couldn’t quite meet his enthusiasm. I kept thinking about how my state had voted against me. It felt very personal and very distressing.
Then five years later I was overcome with the same weight of emotions, this time good ones. After the paper-thin arguments for upholding Prop 8 melted away and the Supreme Court decision made California’s marriage ban an alienating footnote in recent history, I met my partner at a beer garden in Downtown Los Angeles. We clinked our steins and wrote out a wedding invite list.
So at first, being officially engaged wasn’t a distinction that really meant anything to me, because having our right to legal marriage restored had felt much more significant. Four months into this thing and–just like many politicians on the subject of gay marriage–my thinking has started to “evolve”. Tasks that would have been mine or hers, now seem more like ours.
I feel like we’re relating to the world in a slightly different way, and the world is relating to us differently as well. We’ve noticed small changes in how some of our, how shall I put this … less easily accepting relatives treat us. Possibly because living with another woman can be minimized more quickly than can a legal marriage, which also boasts more cultural legitimacy.
Plus, we’re signing up for our Crate and Barrel registry alongside people we may have nothing in common with aside from our desire for minimalist flatware.
Getting legally married is making us relatable to others in a way I didn’t foresee, and planning a wedding puts us in a club that often feels affirming, warm and welcoming. And sometimes it just feels weird for us, two people who grew comfortable with our allies at the fringes, to dip our toes in a current headed toward the mainstream.
Maybe this isn’t our first “trauma-based bonding experience”, but I must admit, things are starting to feel a little different.