The summer before I got married, I was hot, thin, and panicked.
I met my husband, seven and a half years ago, in much the same state. Baltimore at the beginning of September is sticky and sweet, summer clinging to the night like Mosquitos on salt-slicked skin; my lithe body was bound in tight jeans and a midriff-baring top, braless, edged with black eyeliner and daring; I was shy, awkward, masking my social anxiety with bitter-mouthed curses and chilled citron Absolut. Full up with the smell of dusk and vanilla perfume and that first week of college, I attended a rehearsal for the Rocky Horror Picture Show at JHU, and I was terrified and giddy with sexual innuendos and senior boys with spiced rum and slanting eyes. My husband stormed in, muscled and damp, grabbed a drink, and enthusiastically started spouting the filthy, seductive callbacks of Rocky. He was delicious, and my eyes delighted in him.
One week and seven years later, we were married. We danced The Time Warp at our reception. It was a beautiful day, the anniversary of our first performance of Rocky together – but, a few months before, I couldn’t see anything but my panic.
That summer, I dealt with my fear, my sweat, my body, in a number of ways. I tried out vegan powders and deodorants, I bought new clothes which flattered my flat belly, and I drank a lot of beer. And one night, smelling of patchouli, wrapped in a white lace skirt and barely there tank top, drinking an imperial IPA with a shamelessly high alcohol content, I called my father and said what I had been desperately trying to hide –
“Is it possible to love two people at the same time?”
I needed to say that. And honestly, I wasn’t in love with anyone other than my future husband, but I had a fear – and I don’t think I was the only bride to ever trip over this issue – of losing something, the freedom to kiss a stranger in a nightclub, the possibility of flirting with a beautiful woman with soft, scented skin, the hair and body and smell of someone new. I did not want to give up the feeling I had when I first met my husband – excitement, exotic intrigue, newness. Parts of me grasped at the straws of other relationships; I sought out the glances of artists and writers and musicians, so different from my partner, and played tricks on myself of longing and desire. I invented worlds of polyamory, open marriages, assignations of poetry and palms touching like prayer and bodily benediction.
I loved – love – my husband. But there was a part of me which didn’t want to let my single life end.
Which, for me, was ridiculous. As I have written, my husband and I had been dating for seven years – seven! – before we signed a few papers and had a gigantic party and sat in church for an hour and a half. The moment I met him, I knew I loved him – some primal part of me recognized him, maybe, and I was dedicated to him within a few weeks of watching movies and playing poker and holding hands. I loved everything about him: his dark, curly hair; his strong, athletic arms; his lopsided smile, a smirk and a hint of guilty pleasure.
All of this is to say that I didn’t really love anyone else, and my husband was permanently etched on my heart like engravings in a wedding ring. So my father’s answer wasn’t particularly illuminating, but I believe my need to talk about this (possibly) common issue, was.
Marriage can be scary. I think, though, that women are not expected to be frightened of it – there’s this expectation, instead, that women are driven to achieve the goal of monogamy and possession as the culmination of our ambitions and dreams. Again, ridiculous. And it’s ridiculous to assume that men are the only people who might mourn a single life, as if men have a monopoly on sexual agency and enjoyment.
News flash: women like to have sex, too. And not just in the hopes of trapping some unwilling soul into permanent matrimonial bliss.
And as women’s acceptable roles have changed (and are changing) the decision to marry is a lot more complicated – or rather, nuanced. We waited so long to get married because I wanted to finish college and begin a career, and I can also understand that other people don’t date exclusively for as long as we did – playing the field, so to speak, is increasingly normal for both men and women.
But I think there is still this false concept that women only want one thing – a ring, a vow, monogamy. So when I began to fret and fizzle with the terror of never being with anyone else, I’ll admit, I felt somewhat ashamed. I drank a beer, called my dad, and let all of that worry spill out in a long stream of panic.
And I felt better.
I owned my feelings, and they weren’t really that bad.
I got through it, with the acceptance of my father and the love of my husband and my final ownership of my identity, body and soul. I got married, and the moment the ceremony was finished everything seemed to click – I had no regrets, I had a best friend and lover for life, and I had champagne and a few bites of cake which tasted like happiness. We went on a gorgeous honeymoon and I wore my slimming clothes and I had eyes for no one else. I was just as in love with him as I was the day we met. That passion and excitement I had been so afraid to lose was still there. It was a huge relief.
But I think I never would have gotten there without accepting myself, first. I needed to voice my worries; I needed to nod in approval at my fear of monogamy, and let it go. And every once in a while, I still worry – I wonder how I’m going to manage being tied to one person, and I can’t imagine never kissing anyone else. Marriage is work, after all, and even after the vows are exchanged, it can be a little scary.
So yeah, I had that click of contentment – and it was and is amazing – but I’m still a woman, a person, who now, at least, isn’t afraid to talk about her sexuality and fears.
Marriage is what you make it – and any way you make it. I choose to make mine honest, even when I have twinges of panic or longing and desire. We choose to be monogamous, even though that’s not the only way to love. And, in the end, I choose not to be ashamed of myself – not because I’m a woman, not because I like sex, and not because, for a few moments, I wonder what it would be like to put the rules aside and love someone else, too.
We got married, and it isn’t perfect. But my honesty, my integrity, my self-respect? They make my marriage a contract of love, rather than possession. And my advice to any reader who might be feeling the way I did, that summer of heat and slimness and panic – call somebody, talk it out, and make a commitment not just to your partner, but to yourself.
Accept who you are, what you feel, and how you love. Your relationships will thank you for it.
Images courtesy of Alice Marks.