Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Marriage

I have been pondering marriage a great deal lately, mostly because I fear mine has fractured like a bone china cup, still intact but crazed by fault lines, any of which could cause the whole to collapse into pieces. We have been married ten years, together for nearly thirteen. We have moved across country, bought and sold houses, invested, had two children, acquired a new car, adopted a dog. We have, in short, lived the american reality, if not the dream. We are married. But what does that mean? I have a dear friend whose support of “traditional marriage” makes me unspeakably sad, especially since right now I don't even know what marriage means, except that my gay friends and acquaintances long for it as a near unattainable dream.

Thinking across the various stories of marriage that have built the idea in my head, marriage was never about sex, or children, or even love, but about alliances. Us versus them. United we stand. Think about it – Disney princes rescue their unknown ladies (Snow White had never even met her prince) from poverty, evil, enchantment, all by offering a shield against these things. In return, they get a kiss. Isn't that what wedding vows promise? Not “I will love you” but “I will take care of you even if you're sick or poor”. A couple might as well write a legal contract specifying individual obligations. That is traditional marriage. It doesn't sound so romantic when you realize it's a negotiated bargain, sealed with a ring.

Historically, traditionally, marriages were bulwarks against warfare, destitution, the neighbors. The kings and queens of Europe didn't fall in love, they negotiated for the most advantageous match. And that bargaining wasn't limited to nobility. Even peasants had dowries, and girls with more goods were more desireable. If they could breed well, all the better. Many healthy children meant more swords in a fight. Lots of workers meant a better retirement for the elders.

The mythology of marriage is that it begins with love. I don't agree. Love is what happens quietly after years of marriage. After fighting and making up, after traveling and staying in, grieving and celebrating. Love is not just wanting to share the good with your partner. It is cleaning up bedpans and vomit; dealing with annoying habits that you never can embrace; seeing the beauty inside the ugly. Only when you know the whole of a person – beginning to end – can you truly love. I say marriage begins with sympathetic resonance, a sense that this one person will stand with you against all foes, and will help you achieve the highest heights.

My college roommate was married last spring. In attendance was a gay man I know and his partner of fifteen or so years. They are comfortable with each other in the way that long-married people are; I was warmed by their affectionate smiles and eye-rolling at each other's foibles. At the very beginning of their relationship they weathered the storm of a life-threatening illness that still must be managed on a daily basis, and they told me a little about how that affects their long-term plans together. For them, that future is an unquestionable fact. The strength of their union is awe-inspiring. I think often about my morning spent with them and what a marvelous example they are of what a marriage should be. It's ironic that at a “traditional” ceremony, the two people united hope to have a relationship as strong, loving, and long as that of our gay friends – two men who still had to be careful not to touch or say anything publicly that might indicate their relationship to an outsider.

My husband and I are stuck in silence right now. Looking back, I see the flaws in our earliest alliance, and wonder why we ever walked down the aisle together. I have leaned heavily on my friends for consolation, and they, in turn, have given me absolution for whatever decisions I might make. For now, I am searching for solutions. I owe that to myself and my family. And by doing so I hope I honor my many gay friends who have shown me what marriage truly means.


  1. I'm sorry that you're having a difficult time. A great book you might enjoy is I Do/I Don't: Queers on Marriage:

    I have a lot of thoughts on this topic that I won't get into here. But I will say that I am way more "married" to my partner of six years than I ever was to my husband.

    You're a lovely writer, btw.

  2. Good luck.
    Every marriage has the ups and downs but thinking deeply about where you are and what you want for your self, is always important.
    I love your writing by the way- not that it helps but I needed to say it....

    take care!
    Tal Cohen

  3. Amanda Udis-KesslerFebruary 17, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Yanna, what a powerful, thoughtful, well-written and heartbreaking post. Wishing you clarity, strength, discernment, humor, and whatever else you need during this period. Heart, Amanda.

  4. I am here... and I will listen. I will not offer anything that you do not want.

  5. Very well written post, very insightful. However, you shouldn't compare your relationship to what others have, because you don't see what goes on behind closed doors. Every relationship has its problems, and 13 years together says that you guys have something good going! Of course I'm on the outside looking in, and I could be wrong of course. Just that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. It just looks that way.

    I'm in an 11 year relationship, and it isn't alway great, and I have had thoughts that I would be happier alone. So, then I just pretend that I am alone, do things for myself and my kids, and find that things aren't all that bad.

    Just something to think about. :) Hope everything works out for you!

    (This is myi second attempt to comment on this, I hope it works!)

  6. Y -
    You know I have always liked your writing. This post in particular shines with honesty and awareness.
    I have been fortunate enough to observe first hand your strength, creativity, and resourcefulness. I am confident that these attributes will continue to stand you in good stead, as you traverse the current stretch of the road. May it bring you and your family to a good place.
    All my best,