Sarah always offers an interesting perspective on weddings and marriage- having two small kiddos and just recently beginning her second marriage on October 22nd. (congratulations, Sarah!) With her recent wedding still fresh on her mind, and some experiences under her belt that not all of us share, here’s Sarah on Why She Wed (again).
When Tony and I first started talking about marriage, I was still slogging through the mire of my divorce; he still had sour memories from his own prior marriage, which had also ended in divorce several years earlier. Our conversations went along these lines:
“We don’t need to be married to love one another.”
“Let’s just live together and be happy.”
“We know we’re committed to one another!” (Mwah. Kiss, kiss.)
And we did know it. There wasn’t a doubt in either of our minds about our relationship. There were doubts about nearly everything else in our lives, but not about this, not about us. This was the real thing, the thing that had been missing from each of our lives, and we never looked back. After a while, the conversation changed, subtly at first.
“If we get married, can we have a barbeque?”
“I would love that!” (Kiss.)
“What I really want, if we get married, is just us and the kids on the beach, and a nice trip.”
“That sounds great. And when we get back, we’ll invite some people over for a barbeque.”
“But we don’t need the license. We can just have the ceremony. A commitment ceremony, but we don’t need to get the state involved.”
“Okay. We would still have the barbeque, right?”
Then one day, we reached a point where we set a date when Tony would move to my house. It was silly, really, for us to be constantly driving back and forth between houses. We planned to be together forever, and we already spent every day together. Having two houses was superfluous. Tony gave notice of his plan to vacate his rental house; we held a garage sale and slowly but surely moved his belongings into my house. Things were great. Things were fantastic. We were in love. Our little family was taking shape; the kids were falling in love with him, and he with them.
Then one day, my daughter and I were talking about family. “Tony’s not part of my family, is he?”
“Well, sure he is. He lives with us, and we love him.”
“But he’s not my real stepdad, right?”
And suddenly the image of the four of us standing on a beach, having a little ceremony, became more important. Here I was, asking Tony to be a part of my family, to love my kids like they were his own, but he wasn’t part of their family, not really, not the way their dad defined family and not the way the state defined family. He had no legal rights when it came to the kids he was helping raise. He had no legal rights when it came to the woman whose life he was sharing. That piece of paper became more important. There were thoughts — and many fears — of legal rights and obligations, of jointly filed taxes and family medical and dental plans. Of alimony and ex spouses. Debts and encumbrances. We kept talking about the elephant in the room.
Marriage and all of the legal and financial entanglements.
It was scary. It was unwanted and yet simultaneously deeply wanted. There were titles associated with it.
Husband. Wife. Stepdad. Stepchild.
Did we want those titles?
I found myself looking at pretty pictures of young women in big white dresses. I knew from my visceral reaction to the mainstream wedding blogs that I did not want that. I thought it was the wedding that I didn’t want. Oh, I did want him, and I wanted this family we were creating. So very much. I just didn’t want that — that big, overwrought production that symbolized in my mind everything I hated about marriage. I didn’t want a wedding. I had one of those, and look how that had turned out, I thought. And Tony, well. He had the same feeling about weddings. In his mind, a wedding meant donning an ill-fitting rented tuxedo for a big church affair (with a stepfather cursing in a foreign language from the front row because the wedding was in the wrong church) followed by a large, formal dinner reception at a country club with a DJ playing music Tony hated.
We both shivered at the thought. Weddings don’t lead to happily ever after. Weddings lead to unhappy years spent trying to extricate yourself from a relationship gone too far. Weddings meant to us spending money we didn’t have on a party for people we didn’t really know only to end up divorced and unhappy.
That was not us. We had little interest in the production of a traditional wedding; we just wanted to be together, to raise our children and live a quiet, happy life together.
I watched our family springing to life, one glittering moment at a time. At night, after the children were bathed, Tony would play puppets with my son while I read with our daughter in her room. I heard them giggle — so much giggling and silliness. Tony did his best impression of Animal singing “Mahna Mahna,” and Bug laughed until he gives himself hiccups. At other times, I watched Tony teach my daughter how to paint with watercolors and share his love of Star Trek with her. My favorite moments are the quiet moments we spent together. We puttered through antique stores. We played and read together. At night, I sat snuggled tightly next to Tony on the sofa, touching — always touching — his arm around my chest pressing my back to his belly, our feet entwined. We would turn on the television and talk quietly, me with my laptop, him with his Kindle. We did our own things, but we did them together. And, oh, how dearly I wanted this everyday. I thought about the years of insomnia I had suffered in my prior marriage; I thought about how I can sleep when Tony is home. I thought about the sex, how it was different, better, more intense, than anything else either of us had ever experienced. I thought about how present we both are during sex, and after. I thought about how I wanted the whole package, all the time. I wanted the public partnership, and the private relationship.
One day we were kanoodling through an antique mall when we stumbled upon a little shop that sold antique jewelry. We paused to look. Tony pointed to a delicate little art deco ring with an unusual octagonal center basket. “Why don’t you try that one?”
The saleswoman brought the ring out of the glass display case and handed it to me. I slipped it onto my ring finger, and the antique ring fit. No sizing was needed. It felt light, comfortable, natural. It was 18K gold, which meant that I would not have an allergic reaction.
“What do you think?” the saleswoman asked me.
“I think I never want to take it off,” I said. I looked directly into Tony’s eyes. He smiled nervously out of one side of his mouth, but his eyes — they crinkled in the corners, letting me know that the smile was real. A decision had been made before we were ready, really. We were just puttering through the antique mall, looking for cheap furniture to repair for fun, but when we left the store, I had a photo of the ring — my ring — and a layaway receipt tucked in my purse. We weren’t ready to tell the world what we had decided; we were in no hurry to pay for the ring. For now, it was enough to know that we had in fact decided.
We wanted to be married to each other, and we had a deposit on a ring to prove it.
I have always said that if he had been anyone else, we would never have even gone out on a date. We bumped into each other on the internet too early, and I was not ready to date again. But he wasn’t anyone else. He was Tony. When I was fourteen, he had been Tonymyboyfriendthesenior before there was anyone else, and here I had been lucky enough to find him again 20-some years later. I was doubly lucky that he felt the same way about me, and luckier still that he also adored my (imperfect) children.
In those early months, we didn’t consider ourselves engaged. It wasn’t official. He needed to be ready to ask me, and we both needed to be at a point when we were ready to be engaged. I perused wedding blogs on my laptop, looked longingly at photos of idyllic elopements in Paris, on the craggy shores of Scotland, on somehow barren beaches of coastal California. Then one day, he picked up the ring from the jeweler. He tucked it away in our safe for a week, possibly two. His birthday was coming soon. I had asked him what he would like for his birthday. I had given him a Kindle for Christmas, and since he has precisely five loves in his life (me, the kids, his Kindle, his PS3), I was out of ideas. Then one day after work, he sat me down on our bed, kneeled, pressed his forehead against mine and whispered, “I’ve been thinking about what I would like for my birthday, and what I really want is for you to wear my ring. Will you marry me?”
Later that week, when the kids were home, we told them that we would be getting married. My son was too young to understand. His world would not be changed (he has a mama, a daddy, a Tony, a sister and a dog), but my daughter’s face lit with excitement. Tony would become her real stepdad, and of course there would be a party with pretty dresses and cake.
She peppered me with a thousand questions for hours and days. She described visions of a wedding with fancy dresses, preparations, flower girls and all of the trimmings. My dream of the four of us standing barefoot on the beach before heading to the airport quickly dissipated. My initial reasons for wanting to marry Tony were rendered mute. Yes, I love him dearly. Yes, I am more comfortable with him than I have ever been with anyone else. Yes, I love him carnally, too. None of that mattered as much as my daughter’s need for him to be a real, true part of her family. My children needed to know that he was permanent and that nobody could take him away from them with unkind words like “he’s not part of your real family.”
Our wedding took shape in a way that did not simply give her a role, but made our children — and our family — the central purpose for our marriage and the focal point of our wedding.
Sprinkled throughout our long engagement were sweet conversations with my daughter.
“When will Tony be my stepdad?”
“But that’s so far away!”
“Our wedding has lots of crafts,” my little Bean told me once as she happily painted egg cartons cut into the shapes of flowers. That’s how she referred to the wedding. It was always “our wedding.” At the rehearsal dinner, she snuggled up against me and asked, “Are you glad our wedding is tomorrow?” In the middle of the night, she ran into our bedroom and whispered hoarsely, “Is it our wedding day now?” When it was finally time to get up, she wanted to put on her flower girl dress, first thing, so that she could flounce around in it all day. She insisted on holding my hand all the way down the aisle, and she stood up at the altar with us, sometimes slipping her hand in mine, sometimes playing with my skirt, sometimes inserting herself between me and Tony. She listened intently, she glared out at our guests over her flower girl bouquet — daring them to not pay attention. When Tony read his vow to her and my son, she listened to every single word. She took it to heart. She wanted to hold the paper that had the vows so she could reread it again and again. At the end of the ceremony, she walked back down the aisle with us.
She signed our guest book-thing four times, and then she wrote us notes on four different cards.
This past week, as I was driving the children home after school, she asked to change her last name. I was surprised. “What name do you want?” I asked, because she knew that I had kept my name. “I want all three last names. One for each of you.”
“That would be a very long last name,” I said. “What do you think you will want to do if you get married when you grow up?”
Her answer was simple, heartfelt: “I will add his name, too, because he’ll be my family too.”
Tony is away during the workweek these days. He had to take a job that requires travel. It helps to know that he’s ours, really and permanently ours. My kids take comfort in knowing that he hasn’t left us; he will always be their stepdad, and he will always return to us. As for me, I find myself staring down at my left hand. There were several months during our engagement when I thought that perhaps I would not want to wear the wedding band we had picked out. Perhaps I really only wanted my engagement ring, perhaps two rings would feel heavy, overdone, a little too confining. But I find that, like this second marriage, my rings are not confining; in fact, like my marriage, the two rings together are more comfortable than my engagement ring was alone. At random moments throughout my day, I find myself stopping to look at my rings together. There is the one Tony picked out when we knew we were in love, and weren’t really certain about anything else, and the one that carries the inscription from our wedding.
“I carry your heart.”
I see Tony playing with his ring, too. He checks it for new scratches, watching for patina. He takes it off and reads his inscription: “I carry it in my heart.” Tonight he tells me that he discovered something new about his ring.
“If you put an ice cube against the ring, it makes my whole finger cold,” he says. I can hear the smile in his voice.
“Does it bother you? The ring?” I ask, just to make certain.
“No!” he says. “It has tiny words inside it that I can barely read, and I’m already getting a ring indent around my finger.” This, he assures me, is a good thing. It means he belongs to us, and we to him. Even when he is away, even when he slips his ring off, we are still there. Imprinted.