A week ago our younger son married his lovely fiancé, in a private ceremony witnessed by a very few special friends, at a park that while extraordinarily beautiful could not compare to the beauty of the bride or the beaming adoration of the groom. They are perfect together, they complement each other, they complete each other and fill each other’s lives with everyday joy and simple love. We’ve watched our son do small, romantic, thoughtful things for his beautiful partner, like picking out a Christmas wreath that may have inspired the gorgeous colors they chose to paint their bedroom. His beautiful bride indulges his eccentric whims without flinching, like his love for right-hand drive Japanese cars or taking up space in their house to grow Ghost Peppers from seed.
Witnessing their love take root, blossom, and grow strong over the past couple of years has made me think long and hard about what it means to be “married.” Carli and I met in June 1986, married in November 1987, having spent not nearly as much time getting to know each other as we might recommend to our children considering marriage. But our marriage has not only survived, it’s thrived. We’ve grown so much closer over the years, we’ve weathered innumerable storms, many that would have totally sunk other relationships but for some reason unknown at the time we determined to ride it out……..stay together and work it out. Whatever IT was we were determined to work IT out.
And we did. To top it off, we genuinely love being married.
So what does that mean? Being married? For a long time I’ve felt that people may be more enamored of the institution of marriage, and not so much of the long-term commitment required to actually BE married. We’ve heard for a long time that same-sex marriage threatens the “institution” of marriage. What in the world does that mean?
I am sort of accidentally in a same-sex marriage. In 1987 Carli and I had no idea we were entering a same sex marriage. I wore the requisite frilly wedding dress, Carli wore a dashing Air Force uniform, we recited the standard vows, celebrated in the typical Huron County and Airman fashion with a DJ, an open bar, paper flowers for decorations, and a big dinner. We were completely unprepared for the standard stuff that was in store, not to mention the transgender stuff that came along later.
So when I contemplate what it means in this country to get married, I think we fell into the same trap 30 years ago that many people fall into still today. They confuse the act of getting married with the act of being married. They value the institution of marriage more than the unconditional commitment to another human being marriage requires. Over the years there were many times we could have just hung it up and called it a day. Left each other, never looking back at what we left behind, only thinking about ourselves and our own personal desires. But for reasons again unknown at the time we stayed together and worked it out.
Today we know why we stayed together. We needed to be together, we were meant to help each other, even if we questioned it or didn’t understand along the way. Our commitment to each other as human beings was stronger than any preconceived notion of what “marriage” meant. We had absolutely no idea 30 years ago that we would live in Utah for 10 years, or Carli would have to travel 200 days out of every year, or that I would earn a Ph.D, or that Carli was transgender. We knew none of this.
We didn’t know we would spend countless hours tearing out and replacing drywall, or planting, harvesting and preserving vegetables. We didn’t know we would learn how to fix cars or replace plumbing or electrical outlets, ceiling fans, or swamp coolers. We didn’t know we would refinish cabinets and antique furniture, lay hardwood flooring, install tile and carpet, and map the fastest way to the nearest emergency room.
We didn’t know we would lay awake at night worrying about our sons, waiting for phone calls from California or Japan. We didn’t know we would move furniture and belongings dozens of times.
I definitely didn’t know I would help Carli learn how to apply mascara or hairspray. Not that I was able to help much in that regard, but I did what I could. Because that, my friends, is what it means to be married.
Being married, in my estimation, means being there for your partner, for the family and life you have created together. That’s it. Please take special notice I am not saying I have to be there for Carli as if it’s a one-sided deal. No, not at all. Be there for your partner. Carli had to be there for me as much and as often as I had to be there for her. Sure, there were plenty of times when one or the other of us seemed to be investing a little more in the deal than the other but that investment has always been returned.
To me, marriage is synonymous with us. It’s not something that anyone else imparts on us or expectations laid at our feet that we must live up to or we fail. It’s what we have built and continue to build together. It’s not words strung together in anticipated fashion. It’s the dailies. Making coffee for each other every morning, adding a tablespoon of fiber for good health. It’s taking the puppy outside in the morning so she can sleep a few minutes longer. It’s asking if the plant lights on the peppers need to be shut off before bed. It’s finding a wreath with the perfect color to paint your bedroom. It’s helping her with her mascara.