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To wed or not to wed

Getting married after years of indifference



Wedding season is upon us, and I'm doing something I never specifically pined for — I am getting married.

As a feminist, I never felt the need for a proposal, a ring, a white gown and veil, or Daddy "giving me away" at a fairy-tale to-do where I would toss a bouquet and my tipsy relatives would groove provocatively to "Brick House."

As I stand outside a formal religion, I never needed the church's approval.

As a liberal, I never desired the state's sanction.

But I have been in a deeply loving and faithfully committed relationship for more than 11 years; were common law marriage on the books in Tennessee, our knot would have already been tied. My disinclination toward marriage had nothing to do with wanting freedom to play the field — my field had been well-played — and I knew long ago that I had found "The One."

I simply found the effort and expense of a wedding unappealing and the resulting piece of paper needless. The tradition seemed not only antiquated, but downright empty — an unnecessary ritual.

The lives of my boyfriend and myself had been like parallel rows of dominoes beautifully cascading in sync, but as I saw them approaching a merge point, I actually felt myself begin to desire it. We were at breakfast before last Labor Day weekend. The phone rang; it was his mom calling to say his father had died. His parents had long been divorced, and Dad never remarried, making my boyfriend the defaulting next of kin.

In order to handle his father's interment, clean out his apartment, donate his car and close his accounts, my boyfriend hastily planned a trip to his hometown. Tears blurred my eyes as I fished my boyfriend's birth certificate, Social Security card and passport out of our files, then saw him off to handle matters alone. It pained us both, but we know my unauthorizable presence would be a hindrance in the midst of the many legal tasks to be done.

After a full week of 18-hour days spent organizing physical stuff, coordinating legal stuff and facing intense emotional stuff, my boyfriend returned shaken and overwhelmed. More paperwork and phone calls lay ahead for him to handle alone.

I wished I could help, but how could I explain my relation? There's no proof of our union, I thought. Our chosen, precious union.

On a social level, I'd been aware of this for some time. My family often gazed upon us with what can most kindly be labeled as curiosity. Meddlesome questions ("Don't you want to get married?") and criticisms framed as compliments ("We would just love to see you get married!") had finally stopped pinging my way, but I still received the clear communication that my relationship was not viewed with the respect it deserved.

I stubbornly refused to give in to what anyone thought, but I have always cared about getting my fair shake in society at large. Managing his dad's estate forced us to circle The Machine and really study how it works; it became glaringly obvious that we, as a couple, were holding ourselves at a disadvantage for the sake of being contrary to convention.

My love called my father to ask for my hand, making him happy as a clam. An email followed a day later with an offer of a budget for an event, and we officially became a bride- and groom-to-be.

My instincts were correct — planning a wedding is difficult and expensive. There are so many considerations, and with my bullshit-intolerant personality, it has been especially challenging finding the right venue, a caterer of food I would actually eat, an invitation design that doesn't evoke maxi-pad packaging, a choice of simple but elegant flowers and so on. My dress came easy — a champagne-colored, goddess-worthy floor-length number for $39.98 at Forever 21. Hey, I know what I like when I see it.

I've thought about skipping the whole thing and just eloping. But I come from a big, genuinely loving extended family. And honestly, I would miss experiencing their joy.

So I put down the deposit at a bed and breakfast, securing the venue and making our September date official. I'll chip away at the details throughout the coming months, and it's bound to come together beautifully by W-day. It may rain. The cake may collapse. The wine may be subpar. But we will officially cross a threshold.

I can't guarantee that I'll ever get used to being called a wife, but I know my precious, chosen union will finally and forever garner the universal stamp of respect it deserves.

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