On his anniversary, a husband retells the story of his wedding in an expression of love.
Editor’s note: This essay is an answer to In Paris, A Bohemian Love at First Sight composed by Haley B. Elkins, the author’s wife. The pieces are a lot more fun when read together.
When I parked outside my house, I had no idea I was going to propose. I’d only known Haley for three months. I didn’t have a ring; I certainly hadn’t planned a scene. Most importantly, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of marriage.
I got home from a 14-hour day at the theatre where Haley and I had met. By that point, Haley had left the company and I knew my days there were numbered. I was filled by the dreadful knowledge that my boulder would soon roll down the hill again.
From the street, I could see that only the bedroom light was on. I had yet to rewire my house and install switches, and I was still using the broken furniture the former owner had left. Haley had yet to move in, but she had slept there every night for a few weeks. I stumbled up the dim stairway into the unpainted hall.
Haley was sitting in bed, reading in the warm lamplight. She was in her nightgown, a dog to each side. She smiled up at me.
The moment that I saw her, I knew that this was now our house, our dogs, our life. Because I knew it, I said:
“Seeing you here is enough to make me happy. I never want you to not be here. Let’s get married.”
Haley cried. I lay on top of her and kissed her, because she knew it too.
By that point, I had reached the age where most of my friends were already married and divorced. From my standpoint, people seemed happier in cohabitation than in marriage. Traditional marriage was a square hole from the postwar era; the well-rounded peg of equal partnership could never fit. It was a patriarchal invention to lubricate the removal of women from the workforce, but by the 90s the machine had seized up. Why should it fall to my generation to repair this vestigial convention of marriage?
Since our marriage wouldn’t be the traditional “two become one, and the ‘one’ is the man”, it seemed inappropriate for our wedding to follow the pattern established for that relationship. We officiated our own wedding, introducing one another to the extended families. Being theatre folk, we wrote a script in dialogue.
Act 2 of the wedding was an exploration of what our marriage would mean, and how that meaning suffused my proposal. From our wedding:
Haley: Society no longer demands that we marry.
Luke: There’s no religious or ethical compulsion to do so.
Haley: Not among our friends, anyway.
Luke: The quotidian, the ordinary in our daily lives won’t be changed.
Haley: Because we’re already a unit, we already share everything except toothbrushes.
Luke: I’m not supposed to be using your toothbrush?
Up to the point of my proposal—indeed, while I was walking up the stairs—I wasn’t opposed to the idea of marrying Haley. It just seemed superfluous.
I proposed to Haley because, in that moment, I knew that we could be married without needing to redeem the entire institution.
Haley: Point being, we’re getting married out of volition, not necessity.
Luke: Existential revolt—
Haley: We’re going there? I thought we said we wouldn’t go there.
Luke: It doesn’t mean saying no, it just means questioning why. Not having to marry doesn’t mean having to not marry.
Haley: Essentially—we just feel like it.
That was sufficient cause to propose. For the first time, I felt like being married.
At the time I didn’t know, logically, what it meant to be married, but I had faith that Haley and I could negotiate that logic over the course of our nine-month engagement.
Luke: It means that we’re fully interconnected. Not only that what I do has a repercussion for you, but what affects me also affects you.
Haley: When I’m happy, it will make you happy. When I’m sad, you can’t be happy.
Luke: Is that a threat or a promise? We’re a family now, and our existence as a unit is superimposed upon our existences as individuals.
Haley: We’re still free, and still separate.
Luke: But our responsibility one to the other is layered on top of our personal freedom, not in a way that limits but in a way that enriches.
Haley: This marriage is an act of liberation: it creates the social and personal space in which we can bring our family into the world. It allows us to become the family that we want to be.
I proposed to Haley at the precise moment that those aspirations seemed attainable.
My vow to her was an articulation of the feelings that made me propose:
From here on, I’m acting as though we’ll be together forever. I can’t promise that we will be together forever, but I’m letting you know that I’m not making any plans for a time that we won’t be together. Faith is a willful ignoring of probability, and I vow to always live in the faith that we will be a family forever. I take shelter in my faith that you love me completely, and I will continue to do that forever. I’m throwing myself head over heels into my love for you.
I will make sure that our marriage is never a negative force. It will not forbid actions, because any betrayals will always already have been precluded by our love for one another. Marrying me will serve to help you do the things you want to do, and be the things you want to be.
All of this was contained in the moment that I walked into the bedroom. Our marriage is, for me, a reification of that moment. In marriage, I have objectified that feeling of unity in such a way that it lets me sustain the feeling.
It’s been six years, and I’m still awestruck by the love and comfort that I get from having a family. Being married isn’t what makes us a family, but the marriage is the reason that the moment hasn’t passed.