“Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.”
— Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, June 26, 2015
Getting married is not as easy as living alone. When you live alone, no one cares if you leave the dishes in the sink for days or forget to put your shoes away or neglect to maintenance the car. When you live alone, you can come home from teaching and only eat a tortilla with peanut butter for dinner, and then write semi-bad fiction for hours before you binge-watch several episodes of “Orange is the New Black” and then come to bed in a clatter of noise and light. When you live alone, you can let all the negative emotions simmer for days in your body until you develop pneumonia, exhausted.
When you live alone, you can tell yourself, “This is better. This is easier. I don’t have to negotiate with anyone. I’m just fine by myself. This is evidence that I am a strong woman.”
And in the middle of the night, when you wake from a nightmare, and the dark room looms over you, and you turn on all the lights, a lump in your throat, you can comfort yourself, because that is the only other person in the room.
When you live alone, you tell yourself, Don’t accountants say getting married doesn’t make good financial sense? And anyway, haven’t you tried marriage already? You failed, remember? Yes, he was a man, and you realized you were gay, but still, you failed.
And when you finally meet a woman, and your body and your soul pulls you toward making a life with her, you shrink, afraid. Why do it? Why get married? Why stand in front of your family and friends and look this woman in her brown-ringed-with-gold eyes and say, “I promise,” and “I do”, and “I will love you the best I can for my life”?
It doesn’t make logical sense, right? Sometimes, it will be very hard. Sometimes, it will be unpredictable. Sometimes, you’ll stand in your kitchen and look at her and feel infuriated by something she’s said or not done. Sometimes, she’ll look at you with disappointment or with irritation. Your life together will be unpredictable. You might lose her. Actually, you will lose her. Someday in the future, one of you will have to look at the other one fading away, her white hair spread like rays on a pillow.
Why leap into such pain?
This morning, I woke to Meredith’s soft cheek against mine, her arms around me. I still floated in my dream, but when I murmured something incomprehensible, she pulled me closer and said she loved me. In one week, we get to marry each other, she murmured into my hair, and smiling, I opened my eyes and kissed her.
I used to insist I preferred living alone. Even for months after I met Meredith, after we began to spend hours together, and never ran out of words to say, and found that no amount of time was enough, I insisted — to her — that I didn’t want marriage. Better to have good friends. It’s so much less of a risk. Anyway, why were LGBT people fighting to get into the institutions of marriage and the military? Isn’t it better to create our own ways of being, to live happily alone and then sometimes come together to kiss and spend some hours?
Meredith was patient. She held me carefully then as she does now. She never articulated arguments for marriage (though she thought them), but instead cooked beside me, camped with me and Mitike, watched movies with me, talked with me into the small hours. And then all of a sudden, I understood that I wanted to share all my days with her. I don’t know when this happened, but I think it was probably an ordinary moment (Emerson: “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common”). I think maybe Meredith was slicing red cabbage for coleslaw or she was scratching our dog behind his ears or she was laughing about something I had just said or she was listening carefully to Mitike or she was gazing off into space with her fingertips resting on her eyebrow as she does when she’s thinking. It wasn’t a moment of angel trumpets and bright neon lights. It was just a moment in what had already become our shared lives together, though we still lived at different addresses. And it hurt because I understood, in a flash: even when it’s hard, I want to live beside this woman. Even when she’s sick. Even when we’re irritated with each other. Even when I’m exhausted and I can’t be soft and kind. Even when we don’t know what the next day will hold. Because this hard work of companionship is richer and more what life intends for us than being alone.
If I’d read those words when I was single, I would have felt angry resentment. How dare anyone talk about how the universe intends us to live and learn in relationship, when it’s not an option for some of us, or when some of us tried and then lost it? And I would have been right, just as I am right to say: here in my current life is you, and I choose you to be my wife, to be no other than yourself, to love what I know of you and to trust what I do not yet know, to support you in becoming the person you want to be, to nurture my faith in your abiding love through all our years, and in all that life may bring us.
Last June, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” Marriage is serious, and though it doesn’t make people’s lives easier, it does make them richer. This June, Meredith and I will choose to become more than two individual women, but a couple, committed to struggle with and rejoice in this life together. Because it’s harder. Because it’s ultimately lovelier to walk through this life hand in hand with someone you cherish and who cherishes you.
When I started my column this month, I intended to write about the one-year anniversary of that Supreme Court decision. I wrote several drafts in which I discussed the dissenters’ opinions, and then lauded Kennedy’s statements. In one draft, I wrote my own experience against the backdrop of those conflicting opinions, explaining that it’s still difficult to be a lesbian even in a nation that allows me to legally marry my wife. But none of those drafts felt right, and I didn’t understand why, until Meredith — my best editor — said quietly, “Why don’t you write about how we’re just like any other couple, gay or straight? We’re a regular couple getting married. Write about that.”
And that is what last year’s Supreme Court decision was all about, anyway. Legally, Meredith and I are now like every other couple who walks into a county office in the United States and says, “We’d like to apply for a marriage license.” We are like every other couple who takes a deep breath and — though it will be difficult, and though it’s a crazy risk — dives into marriage together.
Last year, Justice Kennedy had to argue to the nation that Meredith and I deserve “equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” that we deserve to be included in “one of civilization’s oldest institutions”.
This year, we just get to hold hands with each other and, while our nine-year-old daughter and our family and friends look on, we get to say “yes” to each other, to a life greater than any we would have led alone.