Gay marriage, romance, and village life

Wild Thing and I got married a couple of weeks ago. It was a Wednesday morning and we wore jeans and running shoes (and, yes, other stuff), which is probably enough to tell you we didn’t make a big production out of it. We’ve lived together for thirty-nine years now. We’ve had a civil partnership for—um. I’m not sure how long. Eight years? Let’s pretend it’s eight years. I’m probably wrong. Something larger than five but still in the single digits. Neither of us knows when the anniversary is. Sometime in the fall.

I was the one who suggested converting our civil partnership to a marriage, even though I’m not a fan of marriage. As far as I’m concerned, if you want romance, go live together. Skip the confetti. Don’t ask for  blessings from either church or state. Skip the ceremony, save the money, don’t even want the presents. For me, marriage is tainted by its long history as a property arrangement and as a way to control people’s sexuality. I won’t argue that you should agree with me, I’m just reporting on how I see it.

A surprisingly relevant photo: This is a flower.

A surprisingly relevant photo: This is a flower.

But as we get older, the realities of state recognition have started to matter. If one of us is hospitalized, we want the other one to be automatically recognized as the person in charge. Sure, we can draw up legal documents and we have, but how many of us have them in our back pockets when we need them?

Civil partnership gave us all that within the borders of the U.K., but recognition is iffier when we travel.

What really decided it, though, is that we probably won’t die in tandem. Since we’re spread across two countries and the U.S. doesn’t recognize civil partnerships formed abroad, converting our civil partnership to a marriage seemed like a practical decision. It will leave the survivor less of a mess at a time when she’ll have more than enough to deal with.

Cheerful, aren’t I? But y’know, we’re getting older. We think about these things.

I was reluctant—I was married a hundred or so years ago and didn’t like the woman-as-appendage feeling it gave me—but practicality won out.

An old romantic, that’s me.

I might as well admit at this point that when gay marriage first became a viable political possibility my brother asked me what I thought of it.

I want it to pass, I said, so I can take a principled stance against it.

It was a good joke and it leaves me with the itchy feeling that I need to explain myself.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone—and I mean anyone—but blabbermouth told J. Then I told J. not to tell anyone. But telling people is one of the things J. loves in life, so this was unkind. Then we told someone else and I went back and lifted the ban on telling people and—well, it went from there.

J. wanted to have a party.

No party.

J. wanted to be a witness.

We didn’t need witnesses. All we had to do was sign some papers.

J. wanted to throw confetti and see me to wear a white dress.

I haven’t worn a dress since I went into court for my divorce—wait, let me count—forty-four years ago. Or a skirt, thanks. And I only wore whichever it was then because I was intimidated. And because it was a long time ago, when slacks weren’t as widely accepted.

J. back to wanting a party.

No party.

Two days later, I saw J. again and seized my chance.

“What makes you think it’d be me wearing the dress?” I asked.

I didn’t get an answer, but that was okay. It took me two days to come up with the question. I didn’t really need an answer.

That’s the thing about gay marriage, though. You don’t know what to count on. You just have to stand back and see how the couple’s going to play it.

Somewhere along the line, one of us told G., who I sing with sometimes, and I’d blame blabbermouth but it was probably me. So G. and some other people from singers night gave us a card and a dwarf magnolia to plant in the back yard, and for all that I wanted to keep the whole thing to ourselves, I was touched and, irrationally, began to feel less reluctant.

What can I tell you? We’re social animals and we’re not entirely rational. If we even get that close.

When Wild Thing made the appointment with the registrar, we were told that we’d have to prove that we are who we think we are (are you still with me here?), so we’d need to bring two forms of identification. A passport and a driver’s license would do, but because Wild Thing has macular degeneration and no longer drives, she’d need something official with our address—a recent utility bill or bank statement, for example.

Both of which have gone paperless. And no, she couldn’t just print them off. It had to be on letterhead.

No problem, she figured. She’d go to our local bank branch and ask them to print it. But the branch can’t do that anymore. The central office no longer trusts them with paper. Who knows what they’d do with it? The only way to get a printed statement is to call some central office somewhere and wait a week to ten working days while a scribe in the back office writes it out by hand with a quill. By this time, of course, we didn’t have a week, never mind ten days.

Wild Thing begged. She explained. She was her most charming and desperate.

The woman at the central office said she’d talk to someone. Then she called back. She’d put a rush on it.

How much of a rush? We couldn’t be sure. Wild Thing gathered alternative papers. A letter from the NHS. A—oh, never mind the list. Everything she could find. It made quite a stack. We had no reason to think any of them would be good enough.

I started thinking about my parents’ tales about their own wedding. They were already living together, which—well, this would have been early in the early 1940s, I think. You didn’t do stuff like that openly then. They were working for the same union, in the same building, and took different subway trains to work so they’d show up at different times.

They fooled no one. Their co-workers would look at their watches and nod knowingly.

They’d have gone ahead and gotten married but my mother’s divorce wasn’t final. When it was, they went to City Hall on their lunch hour and discovered that the office they needed was on its own lunch hour.

They went back the next day and got married, borrowing a ring from someone and giving it back as they left the office. Their honeymoon was on the subway on their way back to work. They stayed together more than 50 years and were very close. So I grew up thinking that ceremony isn’t everything. In fact, I sort of assumed it was an annoying nuisance.

If Wild Thing and I couldn’t get married on the date we’d planned, at least we’d be part of a tradition. And we’d have a good story.

J. stepped in.

Bring a council tax statement, she said.

Onto the stack the council tax statement went, and on Wednesday off we went with all of it, wearing our best denims. Or at least our clean ones.

We saw a deputy registrar who chatted as she worked her way through the form: identification, names, dates of birth, all that stuff. Any previous names. Would I spell that?

I would. I’d meant to keep my own name when I got married that first time but didn’t take whatever steps would have made that possible in those dark days when a woman had to fight to keep her own name, so it was changed for me, which didn’t help with that woman-as-appendage feeling I mentioned.

The deputy registrar, Wild Thing, and I chatted about people who don’t like their names and people whose names end up being popular names for dogs.

We do it with such good intentions, she said.

You couldn’t help liking the woman, although I’ll admit we didn’t try.

Would you confirm your gender? she asked.

You do have to ask these days, I said.

She said she did have to, and some people got angry about it. A few offered to prove their gender, which was more than she actually needed.

The world’s gotten complicated, if it ever was simple. Some people do get pissed off about it.

She asked if either of us was changing her name.

Not a chance.

Eventually we got around to my father’s middle name.

Kropotkin.

Would I spell that?

Well, yes, I would. Slowly.

We’d already discussed Wild Thing’s middle name and why she hates it. I don’t have a middle name, which could be a discussion all on its own but wasn’t. My father’s, though, seemed to call for some explanation. We were having such a nice visit. And she was such an easy person to talk to.

My father’s parents were Russian revolutionaries, I said. Which is an exaggeration but it’s what I found myself saying. What they really were was Russian Jewish radicals. They didn’t actively foment revolution. For one thing, they were busy raising four (at the time they emigrated) kids, and trying to feed and clothe and educate them, which is enough to keep most people, radical or otherwise, occupied. For another, I’m not sure revolution was on the agenda when they were still Russia, and I don’t think they’d have felt at home in the parties that wanted a revolution.

When they got to the U.S., I went on, they felt free to name their kids anything they damn well wanted to, and my father was their first American-born child so they named him after a Russian anarchist prince, Peter Kropotkin.

Talk about middle names that aren’t easy to carry through life. I learned to use his middle initial only when I filled out school forms. Using his full middle name gives me an odd, can-I-really-do-this? feeling.

She printed out the form, all of us signed it, and that was it. We were married.

By way of a honeymoon, we went to the supermarket and picked up some fruit. We were getting low. It’s summer. We like fruit.

When we got home, J. and A. had broken into our house, with M.’s help, and left a banner, a balloon, flowers, fruit, vegetables, cards. The kitchen table was practically overflowing. Our brave dogs—our watch-shih tzus—had done nothing to guard the house. And when J. and A. had trouble with the key, the neighbor gave them a hand.

So much for security.

We now had enough fruit to start a fruit stand. Every time I looked at the kitchen table, I started laughing all over again.

We put some of it away and took ourselves to lunch at the local café, which sent us home with a massive piece of carrot cake as a wedding present. They were afraid, I think, that the marriage wouldn’t be valid if we didn’t have cake.

So here we are, and I’m happy to report that nothing’s changed except that we’ve been eating more fruit than usual. Friends have snuck a bit more celebrating in on us, including F. showing up with a one-week anniversary present and friends throwing flower petals.

Not long ago, M. asked Wild Thing—teasing her, I think—which of us is the wife.

The answer is, neither of us. Or in a pinch, both of us. Or the same one who was before we got married, which goes back to the first answer: no one. It’s not about our legal status,  it’s not about who plays what role. It’s about the relationship.

154 thoughts on “Gay marriage, romance, and village life

  1. CONGRATULATIONS!!! I mean that, truly.

    I just don’t mean it for the “getting married” part.

    Congratulations on the relationship you found and made and built with Wild Thing. Congratulations on 39+ years. Congratulations on getting yourself out of something where you felt like an appendage and into something where you didn’t. On forging a relationship without the guidance or constraints of socially dictated roles. On eating so much fruit. On making friends with the deputy registrar, despite the annoyance of the process, and on lifting the ban on J, even if not the ban on confetti.

    Srsly, congratulations! I hear fruit is really good for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve read this whole post through. I get that you expect friends (and that includes random blog followers like me) to respect your reasons for getting married and for not making a bid production of it. So…have you actually got any friends like that? Cause I’m going to jump up and down and say WOOHOO and congrats.

    [Can’t help myself. Sorry about that… Except not so much.]

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Although I gather you aren’t looking for it, Congratulations! This was fun to read, just enough serious to be considered almost educational, just enough personal to feel honored to be here and funny, because you have such a with.

    I did notice one huge benefit, to you, as a writer, from your legal status. you don’t have to worry about the stupid ways people have to accommodate both pronouns. No ‘he/she’, ‘their’. ‘(s)he’ (yes, I’ve seen a lot of that lately) or ‘his’ followed by an apology that is more words than just listing their names in alphabetical order. Nope, for you it’s – “It will leave the survivor less of a mess at a time when she’ll have more than enough to deal with” – So easy. I’m a little jealous :)

    Oddly enough, your point about the identification is getting to be a real problem. Technology and social patterns have both pulled far ahead of government process. Not that that’s a surprise.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Congratulations, Ellen! Great post, good reasons for getting married and just the right kind of celebration. I love it that you’ve been together for so long. The only other couple I know who managed a goodly time — an astonishing sixty years — were my dear godmother and her lovely lady, who both died within two or three years of each other recently. Secular blessings to you and Wild Thing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Congratulations – or not, if you prefer! This made me smile the whole way through. Seems to me that those who wed for purely romantic reasons are usually the ones who don’t last. I think your reasons for doing so show more love and respect for each other. Your friends and community sound like a good bunch of folk and obviously didn’t believe a word of your ‘no fuss’ protestations – good for them!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. isn’t it wonderful to know they will readily tax you without requiring you to have two forms of ID yet you have to jump thru multiple hoops for a civil service? Government is a wonderful thing.

    congrats and long life and happiness for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Congratulations to you both!

    It’s interesting that you decided to get married after all these years because of the legal recognition it affords you both. When people ask why we married so young, that’s also our answer. It made various processes much easier if we were a legally recognized couple rather than just continuing to live together. It’s not romantic but neither my husband or I are romantics. We would still be happily together now had we not signed that document but it’s removed a fair few obstacles and complexities along the way that we may still have overcome but with additional stress. And I’m happy to report that as husband and wife we are still equal partners and whole people made fuller by being together rather than each other’s “half”.

    I think it’s rather lovely and touching that your friends all wanted to make a bigger deal out of your marriage than you and Wild Thing wanted. Of course I’m a control freak so people not doing as I want would annoy me but at the same time it shows how loved you are by your friends and community that they wanted to contribute to your happiness and joy.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Well congratulations to both of you!

    The middle name thing is often surprisingly controversial for some people. I had a friend at secondary school who wouldn’t tell us what his middle name was, because it was embarrassing, he said. We eventually got it out of him – Thomas. What’s so embarrassing about “Thomas” we asked; it’s a perfectly reasonable name. It turned out that his embarrassment was entirely due to the circumstances in which this name was given to him. When he was born, his parents asked his older brother (who was just a toddler of course) if he’d like to give his new baby brother a middle name. The child happily did so, choosing Thomas because that was the leading character in his favourite story book – Thomas the Tank Engine. My friend was permanently embarrassed at being named after a fictional railway engine!

    As for me, just like you, I don’t have a middle name. Only in my case, my forename and family name are both so ordinary (in the UK at least) that I’m almost anonymous in official eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And the moral of that story is, never ask a toddler to name a baby.

      Some years ago, a friend gave me a middle name as a Christmas present: Helen. Making me Ellen Helen Hawley. Which does have a certain ring about it. How many presents does a person get that they’ll always remember? That was one of them.

      Like

  9. Living together in the 1940s–that really was a big thing! So was being divorced, for that matter (huge scandal in my family)–your parents must’ve been really cool. (And: let me wish you joy!)

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Well I’m straight but I decided to forego marriage for almost all the same reasons you did and now as I’m only a month or two away from 65, I too am seeing legal reasons for it. I have a will and have willed my home to “HE who will not obey~” and at his request, I signed a medical power of attorney naming him my spokesperson, he me?? Hell no. We don’t commingle funds either or do our taxes together and for the most part it has worked out well. Just about the only real problem is over the medical issues and his son would consult me so it isn’t that big of a deal.

    After 45 years single, I just couldn’t hack the idea of a wedding but we may actually get legally married soon as my social security is larger than his and it would help him maintain the house if I go first. However, he is leaving me nothing as he has noting and he will probably go first not because his health is bad but because I’ll probably kill him before he does me. WWhhhhheeeee~ ~~dru~~

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Congratulations Ellen…I’m very glad for you & Wild Thing (can you tell I’m saying this all in an undertone so that you can’t see I’m really happy for you!)…here’s to many more happy years together… :) :)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Congratulations – I do agree with the whole woman as appendage issue, but here I am happily appendaging my way through life for very practical reasons, which have nothing to do with how much I love JT and everything to do with where we need to be and keeping what we have emotionally and physically, protected legally. Marriage is a godawful institution but can be a rather wonderful individual arrangement, to make of what you will. I am struck by the horrifying urge to wish you a fruitful marriage – so sorry about that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You notice how neatly you managed to make that joke while talking about resisting the urge? Fantastic job of covering all bases.

      People do manage to make of marriage what they will. And yes, the legal protection is more important in some cases than in others, and not to be argued about.

      Like

  13. I was around, lo those many years ago, and knew nothing of appendages – neither what they were in a marital context, nor that you felt like one. Because, as I’ve said previously, I was quite fond of YOU, Ellen Hawley. So a heartfelt congratulations to you and Wild Thing!

    (I love hearing of your family’s revolutionary roots! Perhaps more on that topic in future?)

    Liked by 2 people

    • And–as I hope I’ve said before–I of you.

      The stories are tempting, although pouring them into the blog will depend on finding a link of some sort to living in the U.K.

      (I’ve never met a dog named Lucy.)

      Like

  14. Well, Congratualtions anyway! :)
    I would like to exchange some of our wedding gifts for fruit…
    *achem*
    I was not a fan of marriage. Well, really, I’m still not, in theory. If we’d lived somewhere else, where people can just shack up and go on with life, we would have. But we do not. As you know, here, it’s a royal pain in the butt to do the simplest things with a significant other without the piece of paper — let alone kids and military.
    We went the judge in the backyard route. I wore beaded Keds. It was a terrible day, what with the absence of fruit. We should have eloped. The very first thing we agreed on after our vows was how we should have eloped.
    I hope you enjoy the not-too-different difference of your piece of paper. It sure has been handy for us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The best thing I can say about it is that I’m not, basically, aware of any change. And I’m grateful for that. Beaded Keds, though? Inspired. I was once part of someone’s backyard wedding, back in the days when I was too intimidated not to wear (low) heels. As I followed her down the aisle, my heels punched through the grass and I caught myself just short of pitching forward and knocking down the whole parade.

      Which would at least have added a great story to the wedding.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I recall a guest scraping earth from her heels at our wedding. I felt contempt at her contempt.
        I wish I had a great story about our wedding.
        I loved that bit in Father of the Bride, where he crafts bridal sneakers for his daughter. I am a lifelong Keds-wearer, it was fitting :)
        I’m glad you don’t notice any changes. After this long, it’d be weird if you did.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Well, the woman scraping mud from her heels isn’t bad for a story. And the Keds are perfect. I always did like them, but when I was a kid girls didn’t dare wear the high-topped basketball sneakers. We had to wear the low ones. Now that I’m free to wear either (I do like the look), I’ve discovered that running shoes are actually more comfortable, and these days that trumps everything else.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. Love your ending: “It’s about the relationship”. And that’s the way it should be. I won’t do the usual ‘congrats’, but wish you both well… always.

    I’m wanting to have the legal protections as well, but given our still abysmal medical situation here in the states, I’m waiting the 4 years until my dear turns 65 and qualifies for Medicare. That is, unless Trump becomes our king and wipes out all the social programs altogether.

    Things don’t seem to be going well here. It’s feeling more and more like the summer of ’68 with riots and Nixon taking over. Sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. You’ve outdone yourself. I’d like an anarchist middle name but the obvious choice would have been Goldman and then I’d be Goldman-Golod and that sounds like a hyphenated new-age I’m-married-but-I’m-Still-Me deal. I’m going to spend some time on this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Goldman at least doesn’t demand an explanation. I’m willing to be that Kropotkin did. He had an I’m-not-going-to-talk-about-this-anymore-ever way of carrying it.

      And to make it all more interesting, he wasn’t an anarchist.

      Like

  17. Congratulations Ellen & Ida. Things haven’t changed–but they have, sort of. Now the world has to officially take note of and recognize your commitment to one another. And this is a good thing. All the best to you both from Minnesota.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Congratulations on 39 years of managing to still like each other. (I always felt ‘love’ was easy…but ‘liking’ your partner? Sometimes that took work.) That you have made the civil union legaler (more legal? Not sure how a civil union differs…oh wait…between different countries, right!) is just the frosting on the carrot cake! Which, by the way, was the cake I had at my wedding. May it cement an already firm foundation!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now, you know how to congratulate a person on the right things. It wasn’t actually as difficult as our civil partnership, because we weren’t yet citizens then and every stage of the way involved sending off our passports to yet another office.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I have only one question–well, maybe two. They’re hooked together. Did one of you take on the last name of the other one? If so, how was that decided?

    The reason I ask is that a man I’ve known since he was three weeks old (you read that right–I used to babysit him) took on his wife’s name. It was a typical thing for him to do. He’s always been a shaker.

    Anyway, welcome to married life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We left our names alone. There’s really no reason, except cultural history, that marriage should involve anyone changing their names. It’s not something all cultures do, even. But hats off to the man who was willing to change his. I knew one couple who both changed theirs.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Oh, I love that neighbor who helped break in, and got a little wet-eyed about the sweet ways your friends celebrated without celebrating.
    Neither you nor Wild Thing are anyone’s appendage (or skin tag, or hairy mole). Youse guys be beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I love your writing. I read it, then reread it to my husband (in our case he is the man and is only willing to be called my wife when he is vacuuming, which he doesn’t think I can do well enough. I’m fine with that. He loved it. Your rambling stream of consciousness storytelling is such a delight. Best wishes to you and your Wild Thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Well, like me and mine, sounds like you and Wild Thing were already ‘married’ in heart and spirit anyway, so there won’t be any changes, but it’s still quite step. I was terribly anti-marriage most of my life because of the crappy example set my my parents, but it’s worked out well – as did our period of not being married and living together for years beforehand.

    And the good thing about all this is, ‘cos you both know each other so well, any adverse results of too much fruit won’t automatically end in divorce!!

    Good for you and her. (That’s an alternative to the congrats word). :)

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Congratulations! And I really enjoyed reading this item.
    Later this year I will be a support photographer at a same sex wedding (to women). I have taken photos at weddings before but this is my first same sex wedding. It will be interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It will. And, I’m guessing, unpredictable. The pattern for same-sex weddings hasn’t been set yet–and as far as I’m concerned, may it never be. That gives people a kind of permission to suit themselves a bit. I’ve met any number of (straight) people who talk regretfully about their weddings as if they weren’t really theirs. They let themselves be poured into a mold.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Wonderful post! I just discovered your blog through a friend, and this piece is personally relevant. My partner and I have been together for 14 years and are planning to get married soon, and have our own questions and slow process figuring out how we want to do it…

    I love the ways your friends couldn’t resist celebrating you and your love! Such sweetness.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. “But y’know, we’re getting older. We think about these things.” … I finally read your full post, in my PC … much easier on these old eyes. I find this post very endearing because it rings somewhat true to my personal situation ….. I’m in my mid 60’s and was married In Jan 2015 … after knowing each other for almost 40 years. Got back together in 1996 and have been together since.
    Congrats to both … <3 <3 …

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I enjoyed the humour in your writing. Can’t get over:
    “But the branch can’t do that anymore. The central office no longer trusts them with paper. Who knows what they’d do with it?”

    Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

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