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 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 similar challenges as they become who they want to be in this world.
From a fairly young age, I was resistant to the idea of marriage. Not the idea of spending the rest of my life committed to a partnership with another person, but to marriage. It has just never felt right for 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 relationships that were just not right for me. It has also caused me and others in my life a lot of heartache. I’m sorry about that.
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 condo 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. We might as well since we were living together, right? We loved each other and I quickly tired of the pressure, so we decided to get married. That was almost 25 years ago. I remember having very little enthusiasm while making wedding plans. It just wasn’t what I really wanted. Our marriage lasted less than two years. I left Colorado for law school in New York as if I was fleeing a crime scene. I swore I would never get married again. I was so sorry for hurting him and everyone else.
I got married again in 2002. My boyfriend and I 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 while I was a young lawyer in debt working in public service. 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. Then I unexpectedly became pregnant a month after September 11. Because it was unplanned and we were were both in shock from the events of September 11, I did not even realize I was pregnant until I was already through my first trimester. My boyfriend was opposed to the idea of having children without being married. One of the first questions I heard from my family was whether we could go get married immediately. I sensed their shame. I didn’t want to cause anyone to feel shame and I wasn’t strong enough at that moment in time to pay attention to what I needed. We decided to get married. Again, I had no interest in the wedding. He planned the whole thing himself. Our relationship produced three beautiful human beings and for that I am grateful, but our marriage was a disaster. I didn’t mean to hurt him or anyone else.
In the last several years, I have found myself wrestling with the marriage choice again. My feelings about it have not changed. I see no need to marry in order to prove my commitment. But it has affected my life again. It has been brought to my attention recently that my husband (yes, my husband) and I need to make an announcement to let people know that we are committed to one another so that people will understand that we are a family. Why? We are clearly committed to one another. Around six years ago we decided that we could live without each other, but we didn’t really 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 those things. My roller coaster has always been a wild ride.
We 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 way we knew how. We have presented ourselves as a family to the world. We said it outright. We sent out holiday cards from our family to everyone we knew. Yet, we have recently been told that people don’t understand that we are all a family. There has been no wedding ceremony, there are no adoption papers, no commonly recognizable formality to seal the deal in everyone else’s minds. It pains us that we are not accepted for the way we have chosen to live. It has thrown some rocks in our blender. It separates us. We do not feel respected. We do not feel we all belong.
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 this fact ourselves. I can accept that they are hurt, but I cannot say that I really understand it. Our marriage has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s our personal business. In fact, we would not be married if it were not out of a need for security for our family. Jason and my stepchildren needed health insurance that I could provide. I didn’t think twice about it when the state of Colorado would not recognize us as domestic partners and required us to be married. We are a family. Honestly, it is hurtful to 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. Luckily, I believe knowing this gave them some sense of security, as well. 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?
It all comes back to the need for acceptance and belonging. Our truth is that for the last six years some people in our own family have not recognized us as one. 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 as we may appear to be. Our marriage is a legal fact and we do 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 most 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.