After over a year of dating, we decided to shack up. I’d been on my own at college for a year, which was an important step I needed to take before I’d consider living with anyone. Ben was moving to the East Coast for business school. I’d planned to spend the summer toiling at whatever temp jobs I could get, and save money for the coming school year. But we agreed going into it that Living Together was a step towards marriage. We’d live together for a year, and, if after that, one or both of us was still unsure about marriage, we’d reevaluate our relationship. But now, to my deep trepidation, we were going to attempt all of the Big, Scary Stuff: decorating together, picking out furniture together, budgeting, opening a joint checking account for household expenses, combining CDs and books, sharing Mouse, hosting holidays.
I, naturally, worried about EVERYTHING. We were never going to be able to agree on what kind of bedspread we wanted. We would spend every evening just sitting on the couch watching TV, eating our dinners off the coffee table. I would start to prune myself to fit into his views of what life/a home should be. We would start fighting all the time. We would get sick of each other. We would discover that we were incompatible, despite everything.
But THTM, naturally, had faith that things would be fine. We tend to balance each other out that way.
So yes, it was work, hard work, to combine our lives into that sort of a partnership... but it was a helluva lot easier “hard work” than what I’d thought/feared. The respect, love and trust we had for each other made it easy to work together, to find solutions. It was never a battle of wills, of His v. Hers.
One of the things we’d had to establish early on, even before moving in together, was that I was never going to be able to compete with his paychecks, career wise. I was looking at two more years of college, and then graduate school, and careers in academia are not known for their big payouts. He, on the other hand, was making strides as a computer programmer, already at a job that paid well. It was hard because I, for one, hated falling into that “being taken care of by a man” pigeonhole. We tackled it by doing something that’s become characteristic for how we approach life and problems together: we change perspectives and approach the issue from different angles. Another couple might’ve argued indefinitely about dropping school and getting a “real” job or so-and-so gets to make all the decisions because so-and-so brings in the most money or who REALLY owns the house/apartment/car, or even just resorted to some biting, passive-aggressive comments in times of stress. What we did instead was shifted things around and arranged our budget so each of us was contributing equal percentages of our incomes to our household. Despite my fears, I actually brought a lot financially to our household as a student: lower interest loans than any credit card, scholarships that paid for the cost of all my classes, payment deferrals and tax breaks, opportunities to live in different parts of the country for a semester or a year. Regardless of the numbers on a paycheck, we were equal partners in our relationship, including financially. Both of our names are on everything, together. Period.
Decorating and sharing space, too, turned out way easier than I feared. If one of us had different ideas that were important – the cereal MUST go on that shelf, the couch should go against THIS wall, I only drink 2% milk! – it was easy to say, “Would you be willing to try it this way for a couple of weeks? If you still hate it, we’ll change it back.” And typically, what I thought would be all stressful turned out to be a fun adventure. We found out fun quirks and idiosyncrasies. We established what space was important to each of us personally, which areas we didn’t care about, and listed stuff we absolutely hated, and worked around that. Just because THTM liked glass-topped dining tables and I hated them didn’t mean we still wouldn’t have a lot of options for finding something both of us liked when we did our first big IKEA trip together. I love firm mattresses, THTM loves squishier ones, so we found that a firm mattress with a padded top works for both of us. I love super-ticky-tacky 50s Gramma stuff, like glass grapes and Formica, and THTM hates it, so I’ll decorate a lounge/TV room/guest room with that instead of someplace in the main living part of our home. There’s never been a need to scream, fight, pressure or sulk over any of it. Over the years, we’ve gotten so good at picking out stuff together (what with all of the antiquing, plus all of the moving and unpacking) that we can now decorate fearlessly without the other’s constant supervision, and know things’ll turn out comfy and cozy for both of us.
Shacking Up ended up being way, way more fun than I dared hope. We didn’t change who we were as individuals. We loved being together. We loved sharing the rhythms of life with each other. And it didn’t take long at all to figure out that marriage was where we were heading.
We’d been living together less than a month when we went down to visit my Mom and Gram overnight. And, no matter that we were living together, in Gram’s house, we had separate beds. So that night, I took the front room sofa, and THTM took the back den sofa. He kissed me goodnight, and I sacked out pretty quickly. I was already dreaming when he gently shook me awake. He looked so serious, and held my hand tightly.
“When I kissed you goodnight, I knew for sure that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
I blinked at him sleepily. “Are you serious?”
Indeed he was. This wasn’t any sort of stagey set-up or something he thought he “had” to do or say. This was as real and genuine and honest as everything else in our relationship. We sat awake that night until the wee, wee hours, cuddling on Gram’s couch, whispering, talking, giggling, kissing. The next night, still keeping things between the two of us, we went out to dinner at one of our first-date restaurants, and, with a giddy, ear-ringing, is-this-really-happening? surrealism to the whole night, set a date and started making plans.
Wedding planning, too, was not something stressful or a struggle, but a bunch of opportunities. We carefully picked apart the traditional wedding ceremony, read tons of books and magazines about Teh Mostest Perfectest Wedding EVAH!, laughed a lot, but also really thought about the promises we wanted to make to each other. And ourselves.
A bit of an aside: Although I’m nontraditional in a lot of ways, marriage is an important step for me, and I didn’t want to go on and on in a relationship without it. I didn’t want to get involved with someone who didn’t have similar values. Some people argue that “the piece of paper” isn’t important, and maybe for some, it isn’t. But there are some important features to that “piece of paper” that we both wanted, for ourselves and for each other. We wanted to be legally joined as a family unit. We wanted to be legally responsible for one another. (This is a huge part of the reason why I, personally, lobby so hard for gay marriage. I’ve seen what happens when one partner falls ill and is hospitalized and dies, and the person they are with – their partner! – has absolutely no legal say in their care at all, and can have everything taken from him, no matter what his partner wanted, because emotionally, that may be his “husband” or her “wife,” but legally, they are nothing to each other. Which is sadistic, amoral, and reprehensible. But I digress....) We wanted, irrevocably, to have an existing, legally-bound commitment with each other, in the same way that someone in any other kind of venture would document it, have it certified, and make sure that it was legal and protected and indisputable. We wanted to, ceremonially as well as legally, declare certain promises, not just assume them or take them for granted or, worse, pretend like it wasn’t necessary or important to both of us to do so.
To make those vows in front of the people we love most was a necessary expression.
We wanted our wedding, then, to be a very personal expression of those commitments. We wrote and rewrote our vows. We made our own unity candle, filled with trinkets and stones, and light it together every year on our anniversary. We chose poems for friends to read. We picked out all of the flowers and herbs specifically for their symbolic meanings. We came up with detailed playlists for the ceremony and reception. We dried herbs, including orange blossoms from Gram’s trees, for the sachet-favors. We planned a candle-lighting service, a communion for two, and a vow for our parents. We worked together to communicate our promises and to illustrate our commitments with every aspect of our ceremony and celebration.
But there were dorky Durannie touches at our wedding, too. There had to be! Our friend who’s friends with several of the band members sent the guys emails, telling him how we met and asking if she could send them our invites, which she did, and which all of the then-band members (well, okay, John had just left, but still!) signed with messages and well wishes. Someone got us a bootleg copy of the new album, and we jokingly “world premiered” Electric Barbarella during the reception. The Chixes who couldn’t be there sent well wishes, a toast to read aloud, and a bunch of rubber duckies for the Chix in attendance to scatter around the venue. One of the pre-processional pieces was a spoken-word thingie by Simon, “This is how a Road Gets Made,” particularly fitting in light of our “adventure of marriage” promises. And of course we danced to a Duran song, a bootleg of Simon and Warren performing “Thank You” at the House of Blues, a show we attended together back when we was first a-courtin’.