Recently, I went to an event to celebrate Marriage Equality in Massachusetts. We are the only state in the nation that allows everyone equal marriage rights. It was a proud, and powerful event. I am married, legally three years, emotionally, seventeen. I often joked, prior to our legal nuptials, that we’d been married long enough to almost be divorced.
Thanks to the efforts and courage of a group of plaintiffs, GLAD, Mass Equality and hundreds of others, the laws in this state were changed in 2004. In June 2007, another effort to remove the law was defeated. It was a moment of celebration.
In November of 2004, everyone was still riding high on the new law. As Jeanine and I prepared to get legally married, we didn’t think about our struggles, the arguments, the near misses we faced in our relationship. Everyone does at some point in his or her marriage, we were no different.
In the last two years, it has not been a joke. We’ve both walked out and said that was it.
Two years ago, I reached the end of a long series of miscommunication and lack of emotional connection. I snapped. I was done. I loved my family, our three kids, our home, our life, but I could not stand being alone one more minute while she finished yet one more piece of work.
Last year, she came downstairs one morning, and demanded a divorce. That was it. She was tired of being bossed around, being denied equal say in our financial life, and done with my complaining about her not being connected enough.
We’ve managed to stay together but it hasn’t been easy. New laws didn’t mean much except that a divorce would cost more money. There was even a moment when I cursed having gone through what felt like a symbolic gesture of getting married. It wasn’t the legal constructs that ended up saving our marriage. It was a friend’s observation.
Our friend is a family therapist and has worked with individuals, kids, couples over the years. When Jeanine was out the door this summer- and I mean house hunting, buying new furniture kind of out the door- she sat each of us down, separately.
Do you agree about parenting? She asked.
We both answered yes, because we do. We work well as a team in our parenting. I respect her, she respects me, we have somewhat different approaches but the same overall goals. Our common ground is firm and we never let the kids divide us in any way when it comes to decisions.
If you can do that, she said, you can work this relationship out. As a therapist, I’m looking for one place it works to build on. You guys have more than one place but your parenting is one of the most important.
We both paused long enough to try and build on that place. The place of agreement, the place of common ground. The place that is also filled with the love we have for not only our children, but also our family. We separated out, for a while, our disappointment with each other as lovers, wives, and focused on what we could do.
At the event the other night, I saw a couple I know is divorced sitting together with their daughter, in a genuine moment of celebration. They are no longer married but still care deeply about the cause. I started to cry. I know they have more than one place of common ground. They are amazing parents, powerful activists and in much of their lives, worked together seamlessly.
Well, as seamlessly as any couple married almost 20 years can work together.
It broke my heart.
I came home and hugged my wife, even though she was working, even though her working drives me nuts. Still.
I’m not sure my wife and I will stay together till death do us part. I’m pretty sure we took that part out of our vows, promising to remain committed not only to each other, but also to our family. It’s not easy and like wine, some years are great, some years are horrible, and every year brings out something different even in years past.
There are some realities of who we are, drifting well into middle age that will never change. My wife will always work too much. It is who she is. She loves me as much and as well as she possibly can. She has a good heart and is kind. She struggles with emotional connection but has pledged to try.
I will always need a sense of control. It is not easy for me to trust, and even after 17 years, I can eye a charge on the credit card statement and have a shiver run through me- a hotel charge? (It was for a parking space rental.) I will also always create chaos. I spent so much of my life dead inside, calm is terrifying.
I wanted to grab the couple as they sat there, and tell them they do work together well. They are individually two of the most amazing, funny, kind women you will ever meet. I know their relationship reflected the same kind of struggle so many others face- and ended up like so many others do.
Marriage equality is wonderful. It does not take away from the marriage reality. I know better. I know there were obstacles they could not get past after years of trying and trying and trying.
Maybe, though, it wasn’t about them. Maybe it was about recognizing the reality of my own future. I have made compromises I never imagined I would make. I am faced with making even more, just as my wife is faced with the same. I wanted to see all the love, the connection and good they had together because I want to see it in my own family mirror.
I want to believe making those compromises are worth it. Somehow, there will be a jackpot at the end of the rainbow. One filled with emotional rewards for staying together, being able to show the scars and still smile.
Marriage is no longer a special privilege but a right shared by everyone. It is a flawed institution, unlike the perfectly carved and poured foundations of so many of the elegant churches they take place in. We struggle and fight and love and hate whether we’re two women, two men or a man and a woman. Nothing about this choice is easy.
May 17th, 2004 was a historic day not only for Massachusetts but for the whole country. On June 17th, 2007, the Massachusetts Legislature reconfirmed its commitment to equality in the Commonwealth. The other night, we celebrated, clapped and danced.
I wanted so much for a happy ending for everyone.
Because I want a happy ending for me.