That Part

“Is this the marriage part?” Buddy-roo asked. We were congregated on the beach, greenish hills in front of us, the Pacific ocean at our backs. A few white folding chairs created a half moon, upon these chairs sat the elder family and friends while the rest of us stood behind them, making a tight circle in the sand before the couple. The vows were completely customized, except for an occasional dearly beloved and by the power vested in me, inserted for charm and humor rather than tradition. The barefoot bride, my sister-in-love, wore a dark pumpkin orange dress, her groom sported a similarly orange tie with a black suit, the trousers of which would later be folded up as he trampled around the surf with their two little boys, tow-headed like their uncles had been, tow-headed like my daughters once were, still young enough to have no clear idea about the meaning of the ceremony their parents had just constructed, more interested in the piles of sand than the people assembled.

The weekend was filled with wedding party and extended wedding party activities, dinners and picnic lunches, family football challenges on the beach, informal gatherings of cousins and friends of the bride and groom. Each occasion prompted the question from Buddy-roo, who was eager to witness the marriage part and didn’t quite understand all of the other moments of revelry leading up to it.

These are always a bit sticky, these wedding moments, as the nature of our non-wedded status becomes a topic of conversation that has its tender touch points. I brace myself for the inevitable and impertinent question, “so when will the two of you tie the knot?” It’s posed by loving and curious family or friends who aren’t privy to the quiet discussions that De-facto and I have had about the subject. We have morphed in and out of agreement and disagreement on our status, a negotiation which is moot given the inextricable intertwining that results naturally from having children while engaged in pre-marital coitus.

There’s an argument in favor of maintaining this unmarried position, railing against the conspiracy of marriage. Allegedly we are not lulled into the convenient malaise that comes with the “security” of a legal union. When there is no official agreement to rely upon to hold you together, there is no relaxing of the vigilance to the relationship. No lazy couples survive; we’re here facing each other every day, on purpose.

Still, some days I ache because we have not crossed a threshold of ritualizing our feelings for each other. It’s not the big wedding or the formal doo-dah, I know the headaches that accompany the planning and production of such an affair. It’s about stating deliberately to each other: I am here, on purpose, and I mean it, and doing so with a few family and friends not only to witness such proclamations, but to celebrate them, too.

Standing in the sand with the sun upon my back I recalled my failed marriage and the mild embarrassment I carry for having entered into such a public contract only to break it four years later. I take some pride in the amicability of that parting, not that there weren’t arguments and angry words launched between us during the height of its unraveling, but that ultimately, once the threads of our couple were untangled, my ex-husband and I were civil and caring toward each other. Elegant is how I’ve often described my divorce but I’m probably framing it with an aura of revisionist history. But okay, if that makes it easier, so be it: elegant.

There are a number of reasons De-facto and I aren’t married, most of them a defense against some fear that each of us harbors. Me, perhaps, that I will fail again and be twice divorced. Him, that such a traditional label of wife will push me away rather than draw me to him, that the formalization of our commitment would serve only to eat way at the commitment which has organically taken shape as our initial attraction and affection led to a couple in residence, which created one child and then another. Not by accident, the children part: we deliberately pulled the goalie for Short-pants and though Buddy-roo was a surprise, it was only the timing of her arrival and not the fact of it. We knew we wanted to parent together, although I can not for the life of me imagine why he would want me to mother his children as I surely exhibited no maternal finesse whatsoever while we were courting.

What cycles we have been through: one of us resisting, both of us inclined, then more resistance, or apathy. It should not be taken as a sign of rejection that we are not united in holy matrimony, but more an ambivalence about the institution itself and by whom we are given permission to be official. Having said that, the disappointment of having not chosen that path seems to rise out of its invisible resting place from time to time, usually when there is somebody else’s wedding to attend, and it falls upon me like an soft, worn blanket, that old throw that ought to be given away to the good will but for some reason it stays draped on the armchair. Why do we keep that old ratty thing around? Familiarity, perhaps. It wraps around me as I stand there in the sand, with all the others who celebrate the beautiful union of these two awesomely lovely, in-love-with-each-other people face to face before us, poignantly itemizing their life promises to each other. The tears that tip-toe down my cheeks are tears of joy for their happiness, and also tears of disappointment at my own, that I have everything they have – indeed – except the marriage part.

(The last image in this post is artwork by RubySpam.)

16 Responses to “That Part”

  • Amanda Says:

    Wow. Lovely.

    To finding peace and love, friend.

  • Caroline Wampole Says:

    Wonderful post, honest without sounding bitchy or whiny. These are big questions and I wish more people would ask them…There are a lot of unconscious couplings out there. Your relationship sounds very conscious and loving, keep up the good work!

  • Delphine Says:

    Je dirais simplement que je comprends chaque mot que tu as écris.
    Ce sont les mêmes qui sont dans ma tête. Exactement les mêmes.
    Je crois bien qu’il faut laisser la vague monter jusqu’à nous, recouvrir le sable, puis repartir… Jusqu’à ce qu’elle revienne une autre fois…

  • Franca Says:

    So what DID Buddy-roo think of the getting married part? I mean, it’s not as if this blog is about YOU…

  • Andy Parker Says:

    Oh M!

    Did you see what you wrote? I know you did. You had to, yes?

    In the fifth paragraph you offer one reason why you sometimes long to be married: “Still, some days I ache because we have not crossed a threshold of ritualizing our feelings for each other….It’s about stating deliberately to each other: I am here, on purpose, and I mean it…”

    I read that and laughed. Not in a mocking way. Never that. But you were restating what you’d offered in the fourth paragraph as a reason for not getting married: “When there is no official agreement to rely upon to hold you together, there is no relaxing of the vigilance to the relationship. No lazy couples survive; we’re here facing each other every day, on purpose.”

    Isn’t that something? I read those sentences and thought, yep, she’s married.

    You furthered this understanding when you wrote this a little while later:
    “What cycles we have been through: one of us resisting, both of us inclined, then more resistance, or apathy.” I read that and smiled. That’s married life, right there. I think it’s a sign of a good marriage, when you can see the way it ebbs and flows, like the best of any long-term friendships.

    You have your doubts about the institution of marriage? Of course you do. Half of all marriages end in divorce. You’d better have your doubts. That’s why you built your relationship inside out. When marriages fail, it’s often because–I think–the couple has gotten, as you put it “lazy.” They rely on the title, instead of each other. That’s living outside-in.

    The most obvious of truths–to me–is this: You. Are. Married.


    But Andy, we haven’t had a ceremony.

    Are you sure about that? Your friends. If I asked them, would they tell me you two loved each other? Do you think they’d tell me that they’d be willing to support you, if you were going through a challenging time in your relationship? If I asked ex-facto (love that!), would he say that? [By the way, if there’s any way he can get me two tickets to a Pats game, I’ll be indebted to him for life. Or a very long time, anyway.]

    Did I just hear a yes? Umm…Married.

    But Andy, what about the concern about “by whom we are given permission to be official?”

    Well. That’s an interesting one. Do you belong to any particular religious tradition? I’m Catholic. It’s the oldest Christian tradition. The Unitarian Universalists are one of the newest Christian traditions (some Unitarians might consider themselves more humanists than traditionally Christian). Regarding marriage, both traditions agree on one thing, two people in love, marry each other.

    I’ll say it again. The Church doesn’t do it. The people do. You two, are as married as it gets.

    So. About that nagging feeling about a ceremony. Here’s a suggestion. Have an un-marriage party. Heck. If you want, have an un-marriage moment of appreciation in the middle of the party where you tell everyone there that the other really is your “dearly beloved.” Thank your friends for supporting you to date, and say that you hope they will continue to do so in the future. Most folks don’t let their friends know how much they’re appreciated. It’ll be a real gift to them. And the party? That’ll be a real gift to you, and to de-facto. The best part? It won’t change a thing between you because, wait for it, you’re already married.

    Much love,


    • MDBlogs Says:

      Andy, I am aware of the paradox of this. (It’s one of the tags for the post.) Thanks for your long and thoughtful response, which resonates fully with me.

  • Elizabeth Says:

    When I was legally married, I had the amazing fortune of having my French host-parents there. They had been together for about 30 years or something and had two daughters. He also had a daughter from a previous marriage. The joke that my French mom made was something like, “Et alors, tu est sure qu’il est le vrai? Moi? 27 ans j’ai reflechi!”

    They finally got married because he retired and she couldn’t share his benefits if they weren’t legally wed, but they were together, very much on purpose. A few years later, I got a phone call from my mom while I was in Mexico. My French father had passed away. My French mother has moved on with her life as much as possible, but her love for my French father spills out everywhere, even into her new relationship. It’s the undertone of her being. She only had the marriage part for three years, but she had his love for 30+.

    I hope that moments like this don’t distract you from what’s important, because the “on purpose” part is certainly stronger than the marriage part. Ask my grandparents, who have been married for more than 50 years, but sadly, not on purpose.

  • hpretty Says:

    I hadn’t thought about how much you could be pulled in two directions over this one. It is difficult to resist the pull of something that is still the dominant structure in our society, even if it is, intellectually, not what we would choose for ourselves. I think as long as you and your partner still have open and honest discussions about what you want and expect from your relationship (and whether marriage is still of no consequence to you both), than that is all that matters. To be on the same path, whatever path that might be.


  • marinera Says:

    Ay Dios…! this resonates fully with me.

    So many of these questions AND paradoxes go through my own head. My De-facto wants to get married. I want him, without the “marrying” part. My version is, what I had (ex husband + not a bit elegant closure) was something I don’t want to have again, not even the name/tag/label. My new relationship wont’ have any name that comes close the previous one. Since there is not another name/institution for it in Italy (some countries have “legal agreements” for people living together) I don’t won’t our relationship to fall into that category; as long as I can, I’ll try not to give the state or the holy church any voice in it. It’ll be a relationship I can name with any invented names of my own 🙂 (naive or not)

  • Emma Says:

    I had the same fears as you, right down to not wanting to be divorced twice (which in itself is a paradox: I feel no shame in being divorced once (apart from breaking a public commitment), I absolutely do not believe that marriage is necessary or different from a de facto relationship, but yet twice divorced seems such a failure, more so than two ended long-term relationships). In the end I agreed to be married because of Swiss property laws… and you know, even though I know this was originally the intent of marriage and not love, I was still kind of sad that I refused to admit love into any discussion of marriage, to the point that the actual decision was 100% pragmatism and 0% romance.

    And for what it’s worth: the second time around I didn’t see the marriage as being forced to meet a convention I didn’t agree with or even a showy public commitment, but rather a celebration of love… not just between me and my mate, but between all of our friends and family who were there. I’ve since been to a couple of other “late” marriages, and the feeling has been the same.

  • Elizabeth Marie Says:

    I so love this post, MD. I have no “elegant” words of praise, just that it feels so true, honest, open and real. I will never marry again (well, it helps that I am still legally married to my child’s father), but that doesn’t mean I won’t commit again. Your choice somehow gives me hope that I’ll let myself love again. I wonder if that even makes sense.

  • magpie Says:

    you articulate so well the many reasons i felt no interest in being married. eventually, i caved it, and while i’m not sorry about it, i am wistful in ways. in large part, i feel that marriage – as sanctioned by the state – is an unnecessary and inappropriate device. we are individuals, each of us.

    my contrary act in the whole she-bang was that i insisted that if/when we had children, girls would get my last name and boys would get his. i am delighted that i only have the one daughter – because i love explaining her last name.

    excellent post.

  • Bon Says:

    our paths and choices are remarkably similar. they feel almost eerily so, as i read…but only because i know so few others who have made the same ones. and yes, that old blanket…a few years ago, i felt its shabbiness, its datedness. recently i seem to have woven a whole new garment out of it, something that feels like it fits just right.

    i loved what Andy said, though. and Magpie. it is the “unnecessary and inappropriate device” of marriage that i resist, the belief in it, the perpetuation without examination. i knew the first summer i was at Dave’s parents’ place and looked around and felt…embedded, a matriarchal sense of belonging, of being folded in to that land and inheritance, whatever it is…that he and i were more married than i had ever been before.

    a beautiful post, and thank you just for making me feel a little less lonely.

  • Heidela Says:

    As long as your kitchen is fully equipped, I say carry on! 🙂

  • Lee Says:

    I think Andy has a sixth sense! I love you so much – just live in your ambivalence – that’s the most honest thing about marriage – if you can bear that you can do anything together.

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