Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Meaning of Marriage: Part 1

Preparing to eat Thanksgiving dinner with Mr. NM's parents gave me an opportunity to reflect on relationships and family - more specifically, how relationships shape how we define family.  I've casually referred to Mr. NM's family as "my in-laws" for a while now, probably since the time everyone started taking for granted that I would be included in his family functions.  This year as I was about to tell someone, "We're having Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws," I stopped myself from using that term, instead changing it to "dinner with Mr. NM's parents."  In that split second I recall thinking that they would be my legitimate in-laws in less than a year, so I should reserve that term for the time after we're officially married. 

The phrase ricocheted around in my mind for a second longer than it should have before I realized why it felt so uncomfortable.  We spent the majority of our relationship knowing that "officially married" is something we couldn't have.  So for us, and I imagine for many other queer and/or non-traditional couples, not being able to (or not wanting to) get "officially married" means that there's no hard-and-fast moment when a relationship moves from dating to committed.  So when do you call your partner's parents your in-laws, when does your partner become an assumed member of family photos, when do people get to feel okay asking you about whether you'll have kids, etc. etc.?    Basically, when do people see you and your partner as a family rather than just a relationship?  And how does that timing relate to when you and your partner see yourselves as a family?  Like it or not, in this society the act of entering into a marriage adds legitimacy to your relationship - in your eyes, in the eyes of your families, and in the eyes of the law (at least for heterosexual couples, and for some gay couples in terms of state law only).  And weddings are the way we mark the moment we enter into a marriage.  So marriages/weddings answer all those questions and so many more.

Mr. NM and I have known for at least the past three years that we were in it for the long haul.  Our relationship was entirely legitimate to us and we saw ourselves as a little family (or a pack, as we call ourselves and our dogs).  But I know I wasn't prepared for how much other people's views of our relationship would impact how I felt about it.  Even though my immediate family has gotten better about acknowledging the long-term nature of my relationship with Mr. NM, I can already feel the way our wedding will change a lot of little things.  For instance, after we got engaged it felt like my relationship seemed more "normal" to people - they knew how to relate to it and they had a social framework for understanding it.  I was engaged, which meant I'd then have a wedding.  Everyone knows what those things are and what they mean.  So after we get married, that means Mr. NM can have a stocking at my mom's house for Christmas, he will be included in the holiday name draw at my grandma's house, and he can be in family pictures.  All these little things add up, and they make me feel like people are actually beginning to see Mr. NM and I as we've seen ourselves - as a family.  Before I had these little privileges and assumptions, I didn't realize I was missing them.  But now that I have them, I'm aware of how much more serious our relationship feels... to me.  Not that it wasn't serious before, just that it's even more serious now. 

I'm not sure if that resonates with anyone else, but for me I know that being engaged and planning a wedding have shown me meanings of marriage that I hadn't before known and/or considered. 

Can you relate to this at all?

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to the fact that weddings/marriage legitimize relationships as well as "grown up" life experiences. I would argue this is true for our non-legal wedding/marriage too though, and am wary of waiting to use words (in my case wife, or in-laws) until it is legal. I know some folks within the lgbtq community feel we shouldn't use these words, because to use them conveys the false idea that we have access to all their historical/political/societal privilege. However I think words are an extremely powerful way to claim/legitimize/normalize experience, and so I am a big fan of these "forbidden" words!


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