Two years ago, I convinced my girlfriend at the time to read Dan Savage’s The Commitment.
I figured what was basically a treatise about passionately fighting for one’s right to wed, by a guy who was so formerly blasé about the idea of marrying his boyfriend of a decade, could convince her that gay marriage was the way of the future. A choice many queers were making, in just about every conceivable fashion (much like our straight counterparts). Besides, we lived in the most exciting city in the world, New York. We shared a love of all things artistic and we knew how to entertain ourselves (and each other) on a shoestring budget. How could our marriage be boring? It would be an adventure, just by the very nature of who we were and where we lived.
Or so I thought.
After she read the book, a switch was flipped. I don’t know if it was the book itself, per se, or if it was our relationship changing to the point where she could envision us sharing a life together. We were already sharing the same apartment, families, vacations, and money.
A short time later, on my birthday, she proposed. And in true egalitarian fashion, I returned the proposal on our anniversary a month later. We exchanged rings. We playfully called each other “wife” and told my family that our rings were not so much “engagement rings” as they were “rings of intention.” (To wit, my cousin’s husband affectionately declared that that is what “straight men should get from their fiancés.”)
But as our euphemisms vaguely suggested, we had no concrete plans, only “intentions.” We had made a deal: We decided we wouldn’t get married until I was finished with my master’s degree or New York state legalized same-sex marriage. Three months after we broke up, our beloved state did in fact do just that. For obvious reasons, it was a bittersweet victory.
On the one hand, I was thrilled for couples who could take that next step—or rather, leap—not only for themselves but for queer people everywhere. I knew this wasn’t the end of the battle, but clearly we had made some kind of progress. And then came the resentment. And the anger. And the pain. And the shock of having my life turned upside down, ushering in a new—and what I perceived as cold—world order.
Suddenly, 28 felt old. It felt left behind. I found myself keeping score, comparing the accomplishments of my 20-something counterparts to my own like never before. Suddenly, nothing I was doing or had done was good enough. With gay marriage, it seems, comes the immediate pressure every straight woman feels: Get married, or die alone.
The hilarious irony in all this is that when I was a teenager, I assumed I would settle down later in life (even before I realized I was gay), in my early to mid-30s perhaps. When I was 15 I guess I thought this sounded like the trajectory of a worldly person, someone who goes on crazy adventures before meeting the love of her life and buying that house in the country, maybe even contacting a sperm bank and preparing second-parent adoption papers. But in the reality of my situation, that trajectory no longer felt like something to desire.
I had had my adventures, I thought. And dammit, I was still having them—I took the plunge (finally!) to get my MFA, I changed jobs after several years’ worth of misery, I traveled, I had a lease on my own apartment in Manhattan. I had made amazing stuff happen—and the bulk of it with a loving, supportive partner by my side.
See, the problem was that I thought I had found someone who would be there through all the new and exciting pursuits as well as the day-in, day-out sometimes-drudgery of routine. I didn’t feel tied down, I felt wide open and released. I believed it was to the credit of our rock solid relationship—meanwhile, giving myself no credit whatsoever.
When our relationship ended, I even found myself using the term “divorce.” I mean, after all, that’s kind of what it was. There was the dividing of possessions and money owed and repaid. And of course, there was the emotional dividing as well.
It was the closest thing to marriage I have ever experienced. And with gay marriage, alas, comes gay divorce.
Even after all the heartache and struggle and therapy sessions, I would still do it all again. I still want to take that leap of faith. Keeping two people together, whether it’s two women or a man and woman or two men, is a monumental feat not to be taken lightly. And what I gained in those three years is invaluable, but I also gained something from our ending.
I realized I do take care of myself—and not just in typical adult manner (bill paying, food buying, appointment scheduling , etc.). I’m learning about my limits; when to reach out for help and when to take my own advice; how to bestow generosity but not to a fault; how to assuage my fears and doubts without any added reassurance. I may have even figured out how to forgive myself.
Because I’m a poet myself and because I think poetry can represent the truest form of expression, I’d like to share this excerpt from “This Deepening Takes Place Again” by Emily Kendal Frey. She writes: “If losing me / is the worst thing to happen, / your life is still a good life.”
Yes, it is.