(photo from offbeatbride.com)
This project interview is with Karen G. Johnston. (Full name used with permission.)
Why did you decide to get married?
After a decade of dating and being a peace while being on my own, I met someone who felt so right, even when he confounded me. There is a deep groove into which we both fit, one that surpasses all my intellectual and psychological arguments. Plus, we had been together for a year and a half, had asked each other to marry on two occasions before, had decided yes, and then quickly changed our minds. This time, it stuck. A year and a half seems like a short amount of time were I younger, but given our ages (me in my mid-40s, he in his late 50s) it seemed right.
What did you think marriage would be like?
Not much different than it is. We were living together for a year before we actually got married. So we felt we were already spiritually married, had made the commitment to each other and to my children. There’s a quiet joy in each others’ company, there’s a deep reliance on each other that grows as time goes on. This is a bit unsettling for me, because I spent a decade on my own, raising my kids on my own (with help, but still on my own) so I am unlearning some of my habits of independence in favor of interdependence.
Where do you think you got your ideas/concept/narrative about marriage?
Well, certainly I got my ideas about marriage from my parents and family of origin. Of course, there are stories in the media, in Hollywood movies, but I think we find ourselves in the same meme that our family of origin creates — either the same one or in reaction to it. Against my intention, I fell in love with a man significantly older than I (17 years) and married him. My mother’s 2nd husband — the one who raised me — was 19 years older than she and my aunt’s only husband is 17 years older than she. Hard to deny there’s a pattern there.
How do you feel about the word “wife”?
Whereas I use the word, “husband” and find myself using it, as a sign of affection and with an ironic tone, I am careful about where I use it. I feel less okay with “wife” — I do not use it to refer to myself. I know my husband does and that’s okay, though I wince sometimes when he does. In communities where there is less visibility for queer couples/life, I would not use “husband” or “wife” easily, because it seems to flaunt heterosexual privilege and invoke a distinct and bifurcated sense of gender that I do not believe.
Why did you make the decision you made about your name?
In my community, it is uneventful that women keep their name. I kept my name because of my feminist beliefs, because of my religious beliefs about the individual worth and dignity of each person, because I am in middle age and have created a life for myself that I do not want erased or confused, because I continue to share my children’s last name.
Do you think your relationship with your partner has changed since you got married?
The first time I was married, it was a commitment ceremony and I felt a significant change as a result of the ceremony/ritual. The witness of our community – both friends and family — deepened our commitment to each other. There was no legality involved, since it was a lesbian relationship before marriage equality.
This second time of marriage was both legal and heterosexual, so a change on both parts. The ritual/ceremony itself was deeply spiritual for both of us and there was a long moral/political/intellectual conversation about whether our union should take on the legal vagaries or not. We decided to do so — for my husband, it spoke deeply to him of commitment and approaching permanence, as much as that can happen in this human life. For me, it was a mixture of honoring his need/desire for it, while unfair, heterosexist practicality played its influence: access to health insurance, social security survivor benefits.
The morning after the wedding, I awoke in our hotel room, before my husband did. I was frantic. The legal aspects of the marriage felt like a horrible weight, I felt trapped in a way I never had experienced before. It took a barefoot walk in the early morning hotel parking lot, some texting with dear friends, and eventual mindful breathing to move me out of that state of mind/heart. I have not felt it since, though I do not rule out the possibility.
There are times I feel guilty and hypocritical for having chosen legal marriage. There are so many people in this country and world who are barred from legal marriage because of homophobia and the power of hate integrated into our nation’s laws. That is not a force with which I want to be allied. Getting legally married to a man has reconfirmed my commitment to marriage equality, as well as made it a common conversation in our household.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been married?
I’m kinder and more laid back than during my first marriage. Though my values may be consistent, how I interpret and express them changes as I age. That love is a persuasive energy.