We pick up the rings next week. We drop off the cheque for the florist tomorrow. My custom suit is hanging in my closet, and her dress is nearly finished. It is really happening. We are getting married.
I have learned a lot about what other people think about marriage over the last few months. Next to birth and death, I think it is one of the most ritualized things we do as humans, and people have strong feelings about it. They have ideas. I quickly learned that whenever one of my friends confessed that they were surprised I was getting married, it was because they thought my marriage would mirror what their idea of marriage looks like. Which it often does not. My sweetheart and I have worked really hard to build the kind of relationship that we could live happily in, and this rarely involved tracing the blueprints of others.
This does not mean I am not open to hearing advice about the topic. In fact, last week I called around the family, as I do, and asked them for any words of marriage wisdom. My grandmother is 92, and she had a miserable marriage, followed by a passionate love affair, so I was interested in what she had to say, having lived through the extremes.
She told me to “foster the ability to really talk to each other. You don’t want to know all of his secrets, but honour the ones that he does tell you. And respect each other. Respect is almost a bigger word for love.”
Respect turned out to factor big in my family. My Uncle Rob told me to “make sure to marry your best friend. Respect her. You can love all kinds of stuff: you can love ice cream, you can love your new shoes. Love is the most misused word in the world. When you respect something, you take care of it. Respect her, and take care of her. Be her best friend. And remember, everybody fucks up. Especially you. You come from a bloodline that is prone to selfishness and narcissism, so keep that in mind. Everybody fucks up, but it is probably mostly going to be you.”
My Aunt Cathy took the phone away from him to add: “Learn to nod your head when they talk about the boat or the motorhome or whatever. Be kind to each other; don’t fight over stupid things. When Rob and I first got married, he told me he would make all the big decisions and I would make all the little ones. So far we haven’t had any big decisions.”
Then she passed him back the phone. I asked Rob how long they had been married. “Fucking near 40 years if you count the time we were living in sin, and the time we’ve been married.”
That would make them both experts, in my book.
My parents were married for 26 years, and my mom has been with her beau now for eight. She told me to “be honest with your feelings but always kind delivering the message. And you have to have fun. Laugh together a lot. And let him win once in a while.”
Her partner, Chuck, chimed in from the living room, in the background: “Always make sure to have the last word. They should be ‘yes, dear.’”
They were both still laughing about this when they hung up the phone.
My cousin Dan and his wife, Sarah, have been married for 13 years. I was interested in their opinions, being from the same generation, with a similar radical lefty feministy artistic bent. Their words echoed those of the previous generations, almost exactly. Communication, always talking about problems before they really become an issue.
“Actively pursuing interests together,” Dan says. “Show an interest in her interests. If I hadn’t started learning about roller derby, we’d be fucked right now. I get her to chase me on my bike on her skates. It’s a good time for everyone. Even bystanders.”
I called my dad’s wife, Pat, on the phone. She was my dad’s childhood sweetheart, and then her family moved and they lost touch for 30 years. She stayed in love with him that whole time, and they reconnected on his 50th birthday, when she tracked him down and called him. They have been married now for 14 years.
Pat had a one-word answer for me. “Trust,” she said, without hesitation.
I asked her how she stayed in love with my dad for three decades, without even talking to him or seeing him. “I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I do know that the first time I saw him after all those years, it all just came rushing back into me. Where I kept it all that time, I cannot say.”
My father’s advice was very practical. He told me to “stay busy. She will get tired of vacuuming around you eventually.”
When pressed, not a single member of my family thought that queer marriage would need a different set of values than their straight ones. “A relationship is a relationship is a relationship,” my grandmother informed me. “Whether you’ve got a piece of paper from the government or not. It is your marriage. You get to make the rules.”
I found it interesting that none of my family even brought up things like cohabitation, or enforced monogamy, or rigid gender roles, or “settling down,” which were all assumptions made by the predominantly queer friends who expressed their shock over our upcoming wedding.
I do lament that I don’t have three generations of queer married couples on hand to look to for marriage advice, as it hasn’t been legal for long enough to afford us that. Maybe 30 years from now we’ll have a lot more to say to each other about queer marriage than “I never thought it would happen to you.”