I’ve been a “wife” for coming up on half my life. I got married the first time when I was 20, divorced at 28 and partnered with Mark within the year and I’ve been with him since. I don’t remember ever not expecting to be a wife at some point. During teenage years, in addition to scribbling initials captive in cupid’s hearts, I would write my name as “Mrs. Joni (fill in the blank with boy du jour).”
Getting married at a young age didn’t phase me; there was never a question of whether I would be wife and mother, it was only a question of when – and the sooner the better. My views on marriage were traditional: I wanted a white dress wedding, I wanted to cast off my last name and take on the name of my beloved. I wanted to have half a dozen children (at the very least) while maintaining an amazing part-time career which I didn’t actually NEED (for the money) but which fulfilled me.
Things don’t always go as planned.
Married for 7 years, my husband and I divorced and I was single again. The more contentious our relationship, the more I wanted to reclaim my last name. (We actually argued about whether he would “let” me have my maiden name back in the divorce!) When Mark and I met less than a year later, it was love immediately. While we talked of marriage occasionally, it wasn’t with any sense of urgency on his part. For me, I wanted security and commitment… but I most definitely was not giving up my name again. It had been hard won back to me.
Traditional marriage was sullied for me from my first experience and I knew I didn’t want another big wedding – there are so many things, given a second chance, you choose to do differently. In the meanwhile, Mark and I moved in together and my nagging sense of traditionalism tugged me toward more meaningful a commitment than moving boxes and a shared bed.
Going to church, people assumed I was married and asked about my husband. He in his work and life away from me was asked about his wife. We recognized one another as mates for life, but “husband” and “wife” seemed a bit deceptive.
My metamorphosis from Conservative Christian to Liberal Ex-Fundamentalist was in full swing when I told him I didn’t want to get married. Not now. Not ever. Several of my close gay friends didn’t have the right to marry. My sense of justice was affronted: if they couldn’t get married, I wouldn’t marry: in protest. The government shouldn’t be a moral compass for our society, I said. He agreed.
Our finances combined for the most part, living together for years, sharing chores, love, loss, grief, joy, and, well, life… a wedding at this point was redundant, but still… it was hard for me to escape my desire for tradition and ritual (I love religion so of COURSE I love ritual!). I loved the idea of committing myself “officially” to someone for the rest of my life.
So last summer with a couple of close friends, we tied the knot in New Orleans under Live Oak trees in a park. Now, I’m Miss Joni Martin, “wife” (I actually use the term “partner”) to Mark. I will never be a Mrs., as far as I’m concerned. I won’t change my name, and I will forever be explaining to confused people our choice to forgo legal marriage in favor of commitment within our supportive community. But our commitment has been beautiful to me.
It has grown with me and changed with me.
The fact that I am committed (instead of married) to Mark makes a statement about our individual freedom to choose each other each morning and each night; and it makes a statement for me about letting my conscience be my guide, and taking a stand against injustice.
People sometimes ask me about why I “hate marriage.” I don’t.
I LOVE marriage. I love being a wife. I love having a companion in my life. And I don’t imagine that many people have the same conviction about a silly piece of courthouse paper that I do. That’s ok. I’m not against marriage, I’m just for free and equal marriage. And I don’t have to be a Mrs. to spend my life committed to the man I love.
PS – I must plug Katelyn Demidow here for the amazing and heartfelt pictures she took of us capturing both our ceremony and our personalities so well! She is also a regular contributor here at hatch*!