Anthony asked me to marry him on New Year’s Eve, over a 750 ml bottle of Jack Daniels. NYE is amateur night, and we’ve never gone out to celebrate it. There are a lot of people drinking and driving who rarely drink and drive, and who therefore don’t have as good an idea when not to drive because they don’t have as much experience endangering their own and others’ lives. Also there are inexperienced drunks around, more likely to lean toward bellicose and vomitous. Anthony and I are happy to get drunk at home on NYE.
So there we sat in out tiny apartment on Swann Street, near Dupont Circle in DC, at the little table we bought with a year’s worth of change we collected, slurping happily at our Jack. Life was simple, complicated, broke, and good. Anthony had a funny look on his face. He was obviously thinking about something heavy.
What is it? I asked. What’re you thinking about?
“So I’ve been thinking,” he started, and then hesitated. What? Go on then. “I’ve been thinking we should get married.”
From 18 to 26, I was never going to get married. I came of age as the planet Reagan ascended, followed by the hypocrisies of Newt Gingrich and Ralph Reed and the “family values” crowd. I used to rant at the TV and newspapers as we drank up all that inside-the-beltway political chatter. We’ve been together and “living in sin” longer than most couples last from first date to divorce! I don’t need a piece of paper to know that I’ve made a lifetime commitment to Anthony! Marriage is a social construct and false institution that adds no value to a relationship! I know gay couples who will never marry but they have plenty of family values! Couples use marriage to cover up unresolved flaws in their life together! No wonder divorce rates are so high! I would never abandon my mate while he was dealing with cancer! Hypocrites who’ve been married 3 times and had extramarital affairs shouldn’t lecture me about family values! I’m never getting married! EVER! F#@* MARRIAGE!!
So Anthony proposed anyway. Later he told me he assumed I would leave him, given my point of view.
I handled it well. I chewed him out for even considering dragging me into such a broken, biased, sexist institution. I ranted at him about failing to pay attention to me, ever, because how else could he ask me to do something I PLAINLY had such a strong moral opposition to?
Okay not really. I don’t remember that emotional moment clearly except for this: I cried and said YES YES YES right away and was overwhelmed by an unexpected feeling of happiness that came out of NOWHERE, all the while deriding myself inside for being such a complete hypocrite. So really, when I’m being straight with myself, I have to admit that agreeing to get married was sort of a humiliating moment.
Not satisfied with my own emotional dissonance over being so happy about this marriage thing, I called my mom the next day to tell her. She used to have a special knack for putting beautiful moments in a negative light. She had three specific things to say when she heard about the looming nuptials.
“Mom, Anthony and I are getting married!”
There was an inappropriately long silence.
“Are you pregnant?”
Gah! This was a cheap shot. Mom never could accept that I Lived In Sin with Anthony. It horrified her. I was exasperated that pregnancy was the first place her mind went. She knew me better than that.
“No, mom! I use birth control! Jeez!”
There was another inappropriate silence.
“You’ll get married in Stockton.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah, I know. Anthony and I already talked about that.”
“You’ll wear a white dress.” Now she was grim.
At the time, I thought this was about her knowing what a slob I am. But maybe it was just another cheap shot about my Living In Sin. It doesn’t matter anymore. By the time Mom issued the dress edict, I was rolling my eyes so thoroughly I was giving myself a headache. I was ready to hang up, and I was a little pissed off.
I used to think of this conversation with dismay, a perfect example of my mom’s disfunction — a general opposition to letting others’ happiness just be, without criticizing or putting down. But I also recognize that, wittingly or not, Mom gave me exactly the cynical, comic relief I needed as I struggled to understand how I had been flipped off my anti-marriage stance so easily. And now as I write this, it occurs to me that my mom — sharp-witted and insightful about people — probably was also just plain mocking me. I deserved it.
I don’t think I’ve ever come to grips with what happened in my heart when Anthony proposed. My conversation with Mom filled the slot where I should have fitted in a conversation with myself about the why’s of marriage. Why was I so moved by Anthony’s proposal, when I already knew he was committed to me for life? I still don’t know the answer.