My Marriage: Commitment without Monogamy
On Saturday, October 8th, 2016, amongst a small group of friends and family, I married my partner, Alexis. It’s taken me awhile to figure out how to share this experience. It was powerful in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and that have been hard to articulate for myself let alone in ways that are at all intelligible to a wider audience. I’m sure that the processing is not yet finished, and it might never be. But wow, it was great.
I’ve had trouble writing this partially because it was an incredibly personal (um, duh) and overwhelmingly positive experience which sometimes feels so embarrassing. For one, due to size restraints we couldn’t invite a lot of really cool people who are important to us. So, there is some weird, shy (and admittedly narcissistic) part of me that wants to be like “oh yeah it was cool, but you didn’t miss much.” For another, there’s the privilege thing, and the not wanting to be that social media bragger person that everyone hates. Because, basically, I feel like it was the most perfect event ever, is the greatest marriage ever, that every other wedding pales in comparison, and I kind of want to rub it in everyone’s face. But in reality I got lucky in a lot of different ways, recognize that relativity is a thing while perfection definitely isn’t, and I don’t actually want anyone to feel bad. Don’t worry - I realize these are absurd feelings. No one else is giving this a second thought. I’m allowed to be happy, to have liked my own wedding. Furthermore, the support showered on us from people who are close to us, but whom we weren’t able to invite to the event itself, was an incredibly potent aspect of this whole experience. The least I can do is share my memories, my thoughts, and my gratitude.
Then there’s the worry that people will think I am endorsing all sorts of things I definitely do not mean to. While writing this I kept feeling like I should be writing about the problems inherent in the institution of marriage. Especially on a blog all about queer non-monogamy, it seems a little strange not to at least address it. The roots in patriarchal ownership, the huge spiritual and social baggage of heterosexuality, the implied and legal monogamy, the list just goes on. Trust me, I get it. But I’ve realized I don’t want to write an argument for or against marriage, or even some kind of pro and con list. This is just my experience: what went into our decision, how I felt about this particular ceremony, and how I am experiencing life as a newly married person.
Why get married? The reasons are different for everyone. I can’t tell you why anyone else chooses to get married, but I can start to explain why my partner and I decided to. We weren’t going to get married - we waffled back and forth on the idea for approximately 5 years. When we finally decided that, yes, we wanted to do this specific legal and social thing, it was for a variety of personal, social, and legal reasons. We both came out, and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. We wanted to celebrate with our newfound community, and affirm for ourselves and for society at large that we are family. We wanted to make serious promises to each other, and create a ritual that was meaningful to us. We wanted practical benefits, and the security that comes from knowing that if one of us is hurt or compromised, our relationship will be taken seriously and legally in all details. We felt that by getting married we could more effectively be each other’s advocates.
Nothing gets in my grill quite like people using ‘committed’ to mean ‘monogamous’. We are all committed to different people, in different ways, for different periods of time. Exclusivity is not a part of our commitments, but Alexis and I have made specific long-term commitments to each other that are exceptionally important to us, and that in fact inform our brand of non-monogamy. We are committed to being with each other and working through the hard shit; we are committed to supporting each other’s growth and happiness even when it is difficult. We are committed to valuing each other’s joy, and building a life that we both love.
Our wedding, our commitment ceremony, was about making these promises and declaring the truth that we are family. We didn’t need the ceremony to make it true, but declaring and celebrating it publicly was an incredibly powerful experience.
It was a small event, with around 25 guests. Both Alexis and I are shy people, and we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t get pulled off track. There is a lot of weird pressure around getting married - to conform, to do things traditionally. It’s easy to get wrapped up in various ideas that, when you pause for a moment, you realize are totally not what you want. I also have a huge extended family (approximately 36 first cousins), so our options were either real small or real big. Last, but certainly not least, keeping things small meant we could spring for lots of extremely delicious food & drink. I spent a good half of the reception next to a seafood platter, downing oysters. Priorities.
We got married in the Arnold Arboretum, in a little pavilion on a hill. There was a (presumably) straight couple getting married right next to us. To our amusement, as soon as our officiant began talking, we had to pause for an enthusiastic rendition of some kind of religious song on their parts. They had a bagpiper, which I loved. It was actually a beautiful juxtaposition - they were formal, solemn, lovely, and practiced; we were visibly queer, colorful, and kind of a mess. It was a great reminder that this ritual could mean so many different things, and that we had succeeded in creating an event that was absolutely perfect for us, and no one else.
Our officiant, Kristin Porter, was a dream to work with. She pulled together a beautifully written ceremony that exactly reflected our values, our relationship up to that point, and our dreams for the future. It was about community, mindfulness, and supporting each other through changes. We wrote our vows, and frankly I think they were pretty dang good:
I promise to always cherish your wellbeing. I promise also to show myself kindness and care, so that together we may have the best life possible. I promise to stand up for you loudly, and to sit with you in silence. I promise to support you, laugh with you, and to work with you in partnership all the days of my life.
After the ceremony we went to a restaurant in Boston’s South End, where we ate a ton of food, drank fancy cocktails, and generally rejoiced in each other’s company.
One or two people have asked me if it feels different, to be married. Honestly? I don’t know. It does feel different, I feel changed, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t think it transported us to somewhere different in our relationship, but it perhaps turned us in a slightly different direction. We took time to focus on our relationship with one another, re-orient ourselves, and plan a course. We have only started going forward on that path, and it’s pretty close to the one we were on before. It’s a navigation tool, not the motor.
Also? It was just so fun. Never underestimate the power of good food and a highly curated, planned party. I happen to know that a handful of people walked away from our wedding with new queer crushes and that, my friends, is what it’s all about.
...I am only partially joking.
Weddings don’t just cement existing community - they are actively creating a new community dynamic. I have noticed this at other weddings, and heard it discussed, but I was struck at how relevant it seemed at my own. There is a small, potentially transient, community created not just between the spouses, or their families, but between all the attendees. Maybe I am being overly optimistic, but not only did people leave with new crushes, they also left with new friends.
It was important to both of us that our other partners were there as active participants. Not only are they incredibly important to us as individuals, but our polyamory has become an integral part of how we relate to each other. Practicing non-monogamy has deepened our trust in each other, and it shapes how we build our family. My relationships with my metamours are so special, and it was incredible beyond words to have everyone around us. And, of course, on a day full of celebrating love, we wanted all the people we loved around us! It was such a gift to see everyone so happy.
To me, it felt like a celebration of queer and chosen family at large - a celebration not just of the relationship between the two of us (although there was plenty of that), but an affirmation of all the relationships brought to the event. At the beginning of the ceremony, our officiant talked about the concept of sangha - a community of practice. I looked out at everyone gathered, and the love was so tangible - directed at us, but also amongst everyone there. It brought me to tears then, and looking back over the photos now it’s that happiness between loved ones that has me crying yet again. I am so happy (and proud!) that we created a space where partners, friends, metamours, and chosen family embraced each other, feeling comfortable and joyful.
Speaking of the social, of course there are differences in the ways we are treated, particularly by my conservative family. We didn’t get married because of my parents (quite the opposite), but I do think it helped accelerate their acceptance of Lexi and me. It re-introduced them to the relationship - the real, queer relationship - in a joyous and positive light. And, it was in terms that they understood. It doesn’t conform to their ideals of holy matrimony, but still: Lexi is my spouse, legally my family. There is no denying the importance of this person in my life. A marriage certificate shouldn’t be necessary, but it helped, and I’ll take what I can get.
I think, also, it gave my family (especially my parents) a role they know how to play. I got the sense that they didn’t really know what to do with a daughter who is suddenly queer, in love and living with a long term queer partner - they struggled to process it, and I think it was hard for them to voice support even when they felt it. For my part, I had no idea what to do with conservative parents who suddenly knew about my queerness. My family operates in two modes: sarcasm verging on passive aggression, and the occasional very serious, but bounded, discussion of emotion. There are not very many semi-casual, overt chats about feelings. But they know how to do a wedding, how to support a marriage, how to be in-laws. They even know how to do those things when they aren’t 100% on board yet, and I know how to receive that support. And you know what? That acceptance, as qualified as it may or may not be in their hearts, and as much as I would sometimes really love to not care, means the fucking world to me.
In some impossible turn of events, I get to have loving relationships with members of all my different families, all at the same time. I get to be queer, and in love, and to define who and what is important to me however I damn well please. In a world that is increasingly dark and conflicted, this all feels like an absurd stroke of luck, and worthy of every celebration possible.