Saturday, February 9, 2013

...this couple they got married, so why not you and me?

It's my fifth wedding anniversary. Our fifth wedding anniversary.

I never thought I would get married. Never fantasized about a wedding, pictured my dream dress, never imagined what kind of ring I might like. Definitely didn't wait with bated breath for boyfriends to propose. Marriage was not really part of my plan. It didn't feature in my hopes and dreams.


Unlike the current early marrying, early family starting generation, who appear to seek stability in a more traditional family structure, perhaps because their own were so fragmented growing up,  my generation was deeply scarred and disillusioned by the wave of divorces that hit around the mid- and late nineteen eighties. We were around five to ten years old when families all around us began falling apart. I remember vividly being nine and thinking that the one nice thing about not having a dad was that my parents could never get divorced.

The Minister does hair too!

At the same time, the last stigma left in just living together without even the promise of an engagement ring disappeared, so much so that even after our parents found new partners post-divorce they themselves didn't necessarily bother with the whole "'till death do us apart"-bit.
Mon's down the isle.

The two people who raised me had little praise for marriage as an institution, my mother was never married during my growing up, my grandmother frequently spoke of how her marriage basically made her a house-serf, completely enslaved by her husband and kids, with little room for self-expression, hopes and dreams. Much of my mother's adult-life was spent on rebelling against that whole structure. Work, self-expression, activism, not marriage, or family was her focus, even after she had me. (Which is not to say that my mom wasn't the best mother ever, because she was. She worked very hard to have both me and a life.)


By the time I was old enough to be in a serious relationship co-habitation was the norm. People lived together for years before even considering marriage an option. My friends didn't actually start getting married, or having kids until we were in our late twenties. Even then, I never thought that would be me.

 Then, about seven years ago, on a trip to visit friends living out here on the Island, I met C. It was pretty apparent from early on that if we wanted to be together, we'd have to jump through some legal hoops. It just didn't really seem feasible to maintain a long-distance relationship across continents and ten time-zones. We were both nearing the end of our twenties and knew that it either had to be a serious relationship or nothing. We were in love, but unsure of whether we were ready to make the commitment, uncertain of everything, and very torn.

We knew only that we wanted the same things in life, that we loved this place, that we wanted to live closer to the land, that somehow it had to work out, in spite of all the obstacles.

Still, getting married just for visa purposes, seemed a little incongruous to me. Even if I had never considered marriage an institution worthy of my time, it seemed weird to start a relationship with such a serious commitment. 
Maids are merry!

When C. showed up at the airport in Finland, we still weren't sure whether we were actually going to go through with it. It was only when he pulled out two matching artisan copper and silver wedding rings at the back of the bus, that I even believed we were serious about this.

In the end, I had about two weeks to put together a celebration that didn't cost a ton, felt like it was ours and satisfied the necessary legalities. If we'd had our pick, we would have had an outdoor party, but in February in Finland we settled for an old Grange Hall, potluck instead of presents,  friends singing and reciting poems and a very short ceremony. No toasts, no big white dress, no registry, no frills. My vintage Oaxacan wedding dress cost thirty dollars, C.'s vintage shirt and vest the same, the whole party less than a thousand bucks. It was perfect.

He left five days after the wedding and we didn't see each other again for 363 days. If there has ever been a trying period in our relationship, it was definitely that government imposed separation that in a way almost makes the first year of our marriage not count. Yet at the same time, it was a very important  year. If we got through that and stayed together, we can get through anything.

It was always our plan to have another celebration once I got to America, but little did we know that instead of that summer, it would have to wait all the way 'till the last day of September, the following year.
Mali's Pa toasting us. 

If possible, our second wedding party was even more joyous than the first. And even less work. I basically decided that having already thrown one party, this one would have to throw itself. I have no idea why I thought it would all work out, but it worked out even better than I would have ever dreamt.

We reserved the park we live at and prayed for good weather. We got a couple of kegs of beer and asked a friend to brew us some home brew, we asked for potluck food instead of presents again and told folks to bring instruments. That was it. The night before we had a "rehearsal dinner" in our tiny house, to basically decided what would happen the next day. We agreed on prayer flags for folks to write blessings on, that they would read and pass around in a circle.

The Minister Wore Navy

The next day, I went to get my hair done, rather than organize anything. When I returned, the wedding was making itself happen. Or rather our community was making us a wedding. My friend Irene brought me what seemed every flower left in her garden. Table clothes and candles appeared, beer and food flowed. Gifts, which we had expressly said we did not need appeared in troves and were glorious, generous. C.'s family showed up and helped decorate. Alma, stuck home with a sick kid sent her husband to bring me a flower crown she had made.  Most everyone we know and love here were there.
Our Universal Church of Life Minister, the honorable Callie Blue Heron (age 20), held in her hands Life Magazines Love Issue. More than two hundred of our closest friends, acquaintances and strangers partied with us into the wee hours. Our awesome photographer friend Gregg took these photos, Eric got us a deer, Dennis fired up his barbecue, Ashley showed up with a huge fish he'd just caught. Kids played in the sand, instruments came out. My dear friend Talula had teamed up with the multi-talented biologist/baker Madrona and made us a surprise wedding cake. Charlie's aunt and uncle brought champaigne and glasses. The concertina and flute and drums played, the sun set, candles were lit.
The party stopped being about us and became a celebration of our community of people. They made this wedding happen. We knew we'd made the right choice.

And we felt that our community would be there to see us through our relationship, to hold us and listen to us and believe in us when we'd lost our faith. We felt that marriage, more than just a legality, or declaration of love, is one unit in the vast network of human connections; that a promise made in front of community is a promise that's harder to disregard.
As much as it never figured in my plans, our marriage has been the single best thing that's ever happened to me, my steadfast, something that has allowed me to grow and be adventurous and take risks and learn, all the while feeling loved and supported.

Without even knowing it, it was something I needed; a commitment. It could have been to anything really, a master's degree, a career, an art project. In the endless sea of choices that is the modern world, I  needed something to commit myself to. I guess I chose this relationship.  That is not to say that one cannot be committed to a partner without such formalities; building houses, having children, running companies, activism, making art all these things can bind us to each and ourselves, the way marriage did to me.

To me the advantage of saying "we're in it together" with another person is just that. When you're married, there's two of you building something, there's someone to keep you honest, true to yourself, to call you on your bullshit. Every fight is not the beginning of the end, but the one argument in a long conversation, that'll keep changing and hopefully, mellowing out. There's another person to help carry the weight when you're tired, a partner in crime, a conspiracy of two.
Do I then, believe in marriage now? As an institution that defines people's relationships and legal rights, as wedding ceremony where one swears their love on the thousand dollar diamond rings with blood stones from Sierra Leone, parties that cost the down payment on a house? The happily ever after, till death do us part?  No. But I believe in this marriage. It's the only one I can speak for.
White wedding? Polyamory? Where do you stand on marriage?

Ps. Alisha, I was thinking of you when writing about how our weddings came together. May your own preparations be as easy as mine, dear.

Our Wedding invite photo ;)


  1. What sweetness and light! I've never been big on the institution of marriage. But my lovely parents have beens married almost 30 years and they have showed me what strength and joy can come from that kind of commitment. I personally think that unless there are visas or children involved, the actual act of getting married is a little irrelevant. If you are committed to someone, no piece of paper should make it any more valid. It always makes me think of that Joni Mitchell lyric "We don't need no piece of paper, From the city hall, Keeping us tied and true."

    That being said, I find a lot of joy in the celebration of love and commitment. It is a very personal choice to have or to not have a wedding, one hopefully not dictated by our cultural trends or our families' desires. Proclaiming to be committed to another person is a terrifying and sacred moment. But most important, it should be a daily mantra, not just a show.

    And you and C are lucky to have both that beautiful moment to celebrate your marriage and the love and clarity to continue celebrating it every day since.

  2. I absolutely loved reading this post - I have been married almost a year - we had a small wedding, in a tiny church where I grew up, we melted my (divorced) mothers wedding ring down to make the two for us and we walked down the aisle together. We were married in a flash and simply had tea and cakes in the church hall after. We decided to get married, both as children of divorce, because we wanted to be together - it was simple and right and has been the best choice for us. But I believe it has to be about each individual couple - and I think the big white extravagant wedding can be such a distraction from the marriage that is being entered into...the marriage is what should be celebrated - and each defined by those who are in it - which seems to be what you have done - and I love it! Happy Anniversary to you both!!

  3. Boo! I just poured out this really long comment about how much your thoughts on marriage, and your actual wedding itself, remind me so very much of my own...but then I accidentally hit the back button on the computer and lost it all, darn it.
    Ah well. Some other time maybe.

    Instead I guess I'll just say that your post here, and the pictures, are heartwarming. It brought me to tears.
    And, in place of all that jabbering on that I was going to do here, I guess I'll just post a link to a picture from our wedding day over 16 years ago now:

  4. My parents have been married 45 years. They stay together because they're married, even though they can't stand each other, because marriage for them is something that is necessarily 'til death they do part. So witnessing this I'm terrified of the concept of marriage- the kind of commitment where if you make a mistake, it's a fatal one. I guess I got the opposite experience from those from different kinds of families who enjoy the stability of early marriage and nuclear family!

    1. Sweetheart! I'm so sorry to hear that. My husband has sort of the opposite experience growing up: he never wanted to get married, because his parents split when he just 5 and he was just so traumatized by that. I was traumatized by not having a father. We all have our stuff and I think it is our mission in this life to remake those experiences in a way that works for us. Whatever works for you love, but remember it is what YOU MAKE IT, not what they made it. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Happy anniversary! THANK YOU for sharing this story of yours. It was so perfectly timed for me because I am currently in the midst of planning my own wedding and its such a strange, strange role to be in. Marriage, weddings, cakes, flowers... None of this was a big part of my life's dream either. My husband-to-be and I will have been together 9 years by the time we have our wedding. I am thrilled to marry this person because I love him dearly and what you said above about making a life commitment rings so true to me. However, it is a struggle to plan a wedding as a life-long "non-wedding girl". (if that makes any sense) Its both exciting at times, exhausting, and frustrating... The hardest part has been trying to stay true to our values and ideals without getting pulled into the insane vortex that is the modern wedding industry. We are about to take a little trip this afternoon to explore a possible wedding location. (fall wedding (party!) in the forests of Mt Rainier- fingers crossed!) Thank you for this very grounding post.

  6. This is a beautiful post.
    I think you make the point beautifully that it is all about "marriage" and not "a wedding". The party and the ceremony are not the focus, the focus should be the relationship, and so often that point is lost in the crazy consumption of diamonds and expensive dresses.

  7. I can't believe its been 4 years since your island wedding? I remember reading that post! I had not however heard the gory details about your first wedding and year long separation. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to not see each other for an entire year.

    Also, Milla, I got a little misty eyed in your current musing on marriage. D. and I have been together (dating) for 14 long years (we just celebrated year 14) this passed week. And, for me, your words ring so true. In ways I could not express it. I believe whole-heartedly that marriage isn't something that you desire or achieve, but something that fits. And it only works when its with the right person. I truly believe that. It's 5pm and I'm sitting in my office working on group project instructions, so I have no other deep thoughts at the moment.

    Just love your writing! Keep it coming :) Such a great post!

  8. Love the potluck instead of presents idea and LOVE your wedding invite picture!

  9. I so enjoyed reading this post (and seeing the pictures-- thank you for sharing them!). You look so happy, so beautiful. What an amazing community of people! I can feel the love from across the internet and years!

    My husband and I were in a similar situation. We were together for 8 years before we even considered marriage. In fact, marriage was kind of an afterthought only after we decided we wanted to start a family. We got started on that family, THEN got married when I was 5 months along. I wore an untraditional dress I had picked up at Anthropologie, and we had a friend snap some pictures of the ceremony. It was outside in Philadelphia in April and we lucked out with blooming trees and warm weather. I am glad we got married, but know that it was more for our kids than for us. We were committed to each other either way!

    By the way, BEST wedding invitation picture ever!!!

  10. I missed this one, and it's really late now, so i have to come back later ok?! xo

  11. That is really wonderful story of how you got together and stuck together :) And being apart for the first year of your marriage, that must have been very hard! Congratulations to both of you!