Respect for our choices about how we want to live and acceptance for who we are or who we want to become are things I think about a lot these days. When I reflect back on some of the life choices I’ve made I realize that it is a recurring theme in my life. I just haven’t always been true to myself.
The other day I found myself engaged in a very personal conversation with an open minded and very kind hearted woman at work. As we were exchanging personal stories, we both verbalized how cultural norms have played into some very important decisions we have both made in our lives. Specifically, our decisions to marry. I have been very aware over the years how the pressure to conform to societal expectations, both spoken and unspoken, have played into my decisions to marry. I have learned some really hard lessons. I hope I’ve learned enough to model courage to live my life on my own terms so that my children will be better able to face pressure as they become who they want to be in this world.🙏🏼
The truth is that from a fairly young age, I was resistant to the idea of marriage. I was never resistant to committed partnership with another person, but to marriage. It just never made sense to me. I certainly never dreamed of walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown with bridesmaids and flowers and the whole nine yards. Never. Not once do I recall having that vision of myself. It’s still incredible to me that I have ever been married at all. But what I’ve realized is that my sensitivity, combined with my need for acceptance and belonging, led me to make important decisions about my relationships that were just not right for me. It has also caused myself and others in my life a lot of heartache and grief. I regret that most.
I married my first husband in 1994 when I only 24 because I could sense that my commitment to living with him and even buying a place together was never going to sit well with people in my family. They just didn’t think it looked right. I remember overhearing people say that we were living in sin more than once. I was constantly asked when we were going to get married. Not if, but when. As if there was no choice in the matter. We might as well since we were living together, right? We loved each other and I quickly tired of the pressure, so we got married. I was only 24 years old. I recall having little enthusiasm for our wedding plans. It just wasn’t what I really wanted. Our marriage lasted less than two years. I left Colorado to attend law school in New York as if I was fleeing the scene of a crime. I swore I would never get married again. I was so sorry for hurting him and everyone else. It was awful.
And then I jumped straight into a relationship with another man, but I didn’t marry again for five years. I was 31 and very pregnant the second time around. We had been dating for five years and had been living together for two. We moved in together after I graduated from law school. It made sense. He wanted me to stay in New York and could afford the apartment on his Wall Street salary while I was a young lawyer in debt up to my eyeballs and a committed public servant. I couldn’t afford to live alone any longer. Not in New York City. I knew I wanted to have kids at some point in my life, but I still didn’t feel right about marriage when I unexpectedly became pregnant a month after 9/11. Because my pregnancy was unplanned and we were were both in shock from 9/11, I did not even realize I was pregnant until I was already through my first trimester. He was opposed to the idea of having children without being married. I was just stunned to be pregnant. What I remember was that one of the first questions I heard from my father was how quickly could we tie the knot. I felt his shame. I didn’t want to cause anyone to feel ashamed and I wasn’t strong enough at that moment in time to pay attention to what I needed. I agree to get married. It felt like a shotgun. Again, I had no interest in the wedding. My groom was excited. He planned the whole thing himself. And our marriage produced three beautiful human beings and for that I am grateful, but our marriage was a mistake. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Least of all our children. But that’s exactly what happened when we split up.
In the last several years, I found myself wrestling with marriage again. My feelings about it have not changed. I see no need to marry in order to prove my commitment to our relationship or our blended family. But it has affected my life again. It was brought to my attention recently that my third husband (yes, he is charming) and I need to make an announcement to let people know that we are married so that people will understand that we are a family. I don’t understand this. We are clearly committed to one another. Around six years ago we decided that we could live without each other, but we didn’t want to. Why would we want to live apart when we are so much happier and stronger together? We adore one another. We accept everything about each other. We committed fully. Come hell or high water. And people who know us know that our family has had our fair share of these things.
Jason and I decided to live our lives together and to try to blend our families. I felt like we have always been pretty clear about this fact. We announced it the best ways we knew how to present ourselves as a family to the world. We said it outright. We sent out holiday cards from our family to everyone we knew. We have consistently presented ourselves as a family. Yet, we have recently been told that people don’t understand what we are. There has been no wedding celebration. No adoption proceedings. And no other commonly recognizable formality to seal the deal in other people’s minds. It pains us that we are not accepted for the way we have chosen to live. It has thrown big hard chunks in our blender. The truth is it alienates us. Others us. We do not feel respected. We do not feel we all belong. We are separate and not equal.
We have also been told by people in our family who have now found out that we are married that they are hurt because we have not specifically told them we are married. I can accept that people feel hurt, but they can keep their blame. I don’t understand that. Our marriage has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s our personal business. It’s our personal relationship. Why is it for the world to know? In fact, we would not be married right now if it were not out of a need for security for our family. I didn’t think twice about it when I was working for the State of Colorado and it would not recognize us as domestic partners because we are not a same sex couple. We were required to be married to be insured together. We are a family. It is painful for us that we would even need to announce this to anyone and we never planned on doing so until our children found out because they saw the date written on my calendar. Fortunately, I believe knowing this gave some of them (5 kids) some sense of security and peace of mind. I’m glad for that, but it also saddens me that they needed that. How is it still this way in a world filled with different kinds of families? Why have we not evolved more?
I think it all comes back to the need for acceptance and belonging. The truth is that for the last six years even some people in our own family have excluded us. So I am taking the advice we have been given. Please consider this a formal announcement. We are a family. All of us. Established in 2013. Dysfunctional and strange as we may appear to be. Our marriage is a legal fact scribbled on a word document and we do now refer to one another as husband and wife. It’s been easier for people to understand. Saying partner left people wondering if I was a lesbian. Lover cracked us both up, but made some people feel uncomfortable. I hope that no one is hurt by only now learning that we are married. It is a legal fact that we did not feel was necessary to share. We assumed that we would belong simply because we are, in fact, a family.
Peace and love.
Lisa Ann Weiss Rudofsky (she)