Monday, August 3, 2009

Do You take This Man? - published May/ June 2009, Angels on Earth

I'm getting married tomorrow.


This is a mistake. This guy was never supposed to be more than just a fling. Yeah, we’ve been together for year and a half, so what? Maybe it’s just a really long fling! I never expected it to amount to anything serious, certainly not “rest-of-my-life” serious, not “till-death-do-you-part” serious, not “I do”, “I do too”, “I-now-pronounce-you-husband-and-wife” serious!! This man is all wrong for me!

Yet here I am, lying awake, full of rehearsal dinner. No one knows I’m also full of jitters. I said all the right things tonight, played well the part of the blushing bride to be…

I am an actress and a freelance writer. My life is ordered and compartmentalized and I take comfort in the refuge of routine. I enjoy going to bed early with a book about connecting to your divine nature or turning your fears into allies. I have a totally white Chihuahua with pink ears and a pink nose. I carry her in a bag designed just for the purpose of transporting small animals in style. I drink tea and listen to NPR. I practice meditation. I post self-affirming notes on the walls of the charming Manhattan studio apartment where I have lived, happily alone, for the past 10 years. Some people might say I have a controlling or a perfectionist nature, but I like to think of it more as being master of my own destiny and/or domain.

I do not feel like master of my own destiny or domain tonight. I am lying awake in a lovely room, in a lovely bed and breakfast in the Catskills of New York. In the closet, there is hanging a lovely wedding dress in which I am planning to vow to spend the rest of my life with a man who can not possibly make me happy.

The man I am on the brink of marrying is in all ways the polar opposite of everything I would look for in a potential partner. I started dating him because he was fun to be around, (and, really tall and good looking. I’m only human!) A go-with-the-flow, devil-may-care, cavalier man-child, I thought him, in fact, far too fun to be considered ‘serious-relationship material’. After all, he was a freewheeling, beer-swilling, football- loving dude who listened to Bryan Adams with little discernable irony. He walked with a swagger and was prone at times to grow and wear (again, with little to no irony) a handle-bar moustache. He worked as a video editor for a television channel dedicated to producing material for 13 year old boys. He wore tight tee- shirts, large sunglasses and belts with studs. He had two earrings in each ear and said things like, “hey mamma.” His favorite pastimes included grilling large quantities of meat, singing heavy metal karaoke, and spinning classic rock albums in the highly collegiate bachelor pad he shared with his kid brother. He had a Big Lebowski poster on his bedroom wall and played guitar in a rock band. Not the qualities of a man meant to be anything more than a fling.

So how did I get here, one might wonder. Why would I be on the cusp of eternal togetherness with someone I felt was so obviously not suited to such an arrangement with me?

Well, the answer to that question is so humiliating for someone at the level of mindfulness and self-possession which I like to think I have achieved, that I almost want to lie and claim female mid-thirties marriage panic. But that is not the case. (I never cared about getting married, was never one of those girls who fantasized about the ‘big day’, and was rather, quite proud of the fact that I had resisted settling for such convention.) No, the sad and pathetic truth was that, despite all of my better intentions, in spite of knowing better and resisting it with all of my might, I just, stupidly, fell head-over-heels, old-fashioned, kiss-my-heart goodbye in love with this dude.

Over the course of our eighteen month courtship, against all odds and my own inner- protestations, he began to prove my initial assessment of him, as a terrifically un-serious person, not entirely accurate.

Underneath the slick swagger, a quiet conscientiousness slowly revealed itself. Despite his cool-guy veneer, he was beloved by his big, tight-knit group of friends, many of whom he’d known since grade- school. Among these friends, to the last, he was regarded as someone to be relied upon, trusted and true.

I began to see that the fun-loving nature, which I had initially viewed as cavalier, was really just genuine joyfulness, a love of life. He didn’t take himself too seriously; he was goofy and not afraid to look stupid (the moustache was only the beginning). I began to enjoy laughing with him.

He had an extremely committed work ethic and a great job which he loved. He was dependable and cared about the things I cared about: family, friends, good food, music, film, travel, animals, nature, exercise…

In addition to all of these winning qualities, (and perhaps most winningly), he was head over heels in love with me. He told me I was pretty all the time. He spoiled me with presents and flowers and fancy dinners. He seemed to immediately see, understand and cherish the ‘real me’. He intuitively knew how to handle me, when to nurture and when to be tough. He was a rare mixture of very affectionate and also self-possessed, independent and vulnerable. He wanted to be with me and didn’t try to hide it or play games.

After about six months of dating, I heard him whispering about getting married.

When he pulled the ring out of his pocket and held it out before him, I continued to try to act like I had no idea it existed. It was a surreal moment. He didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. We both just stared at the offering, the symbol of promise, as time hung still and fluid like the held breath in which all moments of consequence are suspended…

I broke the silence.

“I thought you didn’t believe in diamonds…”

(This was true, he had proclaimed as much months ago.)

He became galvanized into speech:

 “This ring”, he said, “is a symbol of my commitment to make things that are important to you, important to me.”

I took the ring. We kissed. We were really happy.

After the glow of engagement wore off, we fell into the task of planning the wedding and the first cold fingers of panic began to wind themselves around my heart.

Jesse was very involved. He had a lot of opinions. At first I thought that his involvement was cute. Soon, it became not so cute.

His vision was that we feed the guests pizza! He wanted to get married outdoors, but thought tents were ‘too fancy’. He insisted that the event be hugely casual and saw no need either for professional flowers or tablecloths for the tables. He became really excited by and eventually obsessed with idea of organizing a big wiffle-ball tournament to be played between the guests. He wanted to hire a country band from his hometown called The Drunk Stuntmen. He joked (I hoped he was joking) about possibly wearing all denim to the ceremony and reception.

I truly wanted this wedding to be a reflection of both of our personalities and tastes, but not at the risk of poor taste.

This is when panic became my ever present companion. As we began to make decisions about the details of the event, I came to realize that our widely differing opinions were delivering apt revelations about who we were, both as individuals and as a couple. My fear began to rise regarding the likelihood of ours being a union that was ultimately not meant to be.

I decided to let him take over. This was the man I was marrying and it didn’t matter if we were different. I had to learn to compromise, isn’t that what marriage is about? It was time to bury my controlling self and let a new, freer self emerge in her place.

I left town for a job for 2 ½ months, mercifully leaving all wedding- planning tensions behind. When I returned, our wedding was about 3 months away. He had taken care of everything, I was not looking back. I lovingly called him my ‘groom-zilla’.

He was really excited to make me his wife. Over the last months, he had come up with yet more…interesting ideas for our impending nuptials.

For instance, he thought it would be cool if we had the ceremony performed by our entire guest list. We would make cue cards with the words of the vows, prompting the congregation to ask us, en masse, the famed questions: “Do you take this man, etc”.

I thought that it was a crazy idea. We went to a vows couch, (i.e.: couples counselor) to help us through these important decisions. She thought that the group vows were an inspired idea. I didn’t have any better ideas. I capitulated.

He also thought that we should sing a duet with the band. We both sing, but not usually together. I was afraid I would be too nervous. But we went ahead and practiced a song with the stipulation that I could back out at the last minute if I was too freaked out, (ah the symbolism).

As the big day our wedding steadily approached, things started to go wrong.

First, our photographer fell through. The doubt I thought I had buried with my old controlling self re-surfaced and became my constant companion. I start to freak out. Jesse, on the other hand, remained cucumber cool. He called all of his photographically-gifted friends, (of which there were many), and recruited them for duty on the big day. I was wary about the lack of formality of such an ad hoc assemblage; could we trust a guerilla photo squad to capture the big moments of our big, big day? Still, I could not come up with a better option. I try to let it go, to go with the flow.

Jesse starts modeling ‘deep breath-taking’ for me. It kind of works, actually, when I take deep breaths with him, I feel better.

Then, the person who was supposed to drive our 12 cases of wine to the site was no longer available. My jitters became immobilizing. Jesse calmly upgraded our wedding rental to an SUV and picked up and delivered the wine himself.

It’s was the day before the wedding. We were setting up to rehearse the ceremony and we run into trouble with our amplification set up! There was no extension cord long enough to reach from the nearest outlet to the scenic spot by the pond where we had chosen to hold the ceremony. I went into a catastrophe coma.  Why did we not work out this detail before? How had we overlooked such an important element? What are we going to do??

Jesse walked away from me towards the bed and breakfast.

“Where are you going?!?!” I said, “we have to solve this problem!”

“That’s what I’m doing”, he answered. “Follow me.”

I didn't want to follow him. I wanted to walk into the pond, sink to the bottom, and stay there until the weekend was over. Instead, I followed him.

“What about right here for the ceremony?” he said, pointing to a narrow red brick walkway which lead from the main house of the B&B, over the front lawn, to a wooden gazebo by a small stream.

“We could walk down this path, and get married in the gazebo”, he said.

“But we decided we didn’t want to walk down anything!” I protested. “I thought we said we didn’t want any processions of any kind!” (I was against the tradition of the father of the bride walking her down the isle and ‘giving her away’. I found the idea inherently sexist.)

 “What if we walked down together?" he offered.

“You mean like, arm in arm or something?”

“Something like that, yeah. Holding hands maybe.”

My heart started beating irregularly. This was NOT what we’d planned; it was a huge departure from our original idea. I didn't feel good about changing things at the last moment. I like to stick to plans; I’m a ‘stick-to-the-plan’ kind of person.

He, on the other hand, seemed perfectly fine to throw caution to the wind and just…change everything at the last minute.

This was never going to work, I realized…not the wedding...not the marriage.

I felt dizzy.

He came over and put his arms around me.

“It’s going to be fine, babe. Trust me.”

I try not to throw up.

It's the night before the wedding. I am wide awake in bed. The moonlight bathes our room indifferently. Next to me, he sleeps peacefully, oblivious to my sleeplessness; the swirling of my fears.

How can we survive a marriage together? We are too different. Yes, I love him. Yes, we’re in love. But is love enough? What made me think I could be happy with a man who, in his mid-thirties, decorates his apartment with movie posters? I mean, they’re not even framed!

It is morning. Getting dressed for my wedding is like putting on a costume backstage before performing in a play. I just get ready and get into character and before I know it, its time for the curtain to rise.

He’s waiting for me at top of the stairs. When he sees me he smiles and tells me I look beautiful. There are tears in his eyes.

He looks gorgeous in his suit. (He isn’t wearing denim.)

I take his hand and as I do I feel tears in my eyes as well; happy tears. I am surprised.

We walk hand-in-hand down the isle he discovered yesterday. As the faces of our friends and family turn to watch us, I cannot help smiling at their joy for us.

The friends we had asked to take pictures are doing a great job. I can feel the happiness they are experiencing from being involved in a way that calls upon their talents, from being able to help.

We exchange rings. We hold up the cue cards we had made for the vows and are married to each other by 150 of our friends and family. It is awesome in the true sense of the word. I am laughing.

After the ceremony, we stand for more pictures, collect hugs and kisses, drink wine, and eat a really good meal. More than one person tells us that the food is the best they had ever had at a wedding; I have to agree.

People dance to the happy, easy music of the band. As I look around at all the people I love and my brand new husband, I feel a happiness I had not dreamed possible. I am relieved to be proven wrong about how the day would go and happily realize that I was wrong about a lot of things; the least of which being his rightness for me and our chance of happiness together.

I now also know that I don’t have to bury who I am and become someone new in order to be happy. I am grateful to realize that, despite myself, I have found an ally in my partner who, in being so different from me, compliments who I already am. I don’t have to become freer; he is free enough for both of us! I need only trust him enough to take his hand and let him lead me where he will, once in a while.

The time comes to sing the duet we had practiced. I am nervous and don’t really want to do it.

I do it anyway.

I am so glad that I did.

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