Earlier in the week my neighbor said she had a wedding to go Thursday night. I wondered, who would plan a wedding on a Thursday night? Fast forward to Thursday night when my husband and I are having a late dinner at a very nice restaurant in town, surrounded by young couples and one older couple with their 9 year old son. Doh! It’s Valentine’s Day, that’s why someone would have a wedding on a Thursday night, same reason we would have dinner at 8:30 on a Thursday (okay, wait, that’s not so unusual).
So I pictured the young couple getting married on Valentine’s Day, people I’ve never met and may never meet. Knowing this neighbor as I do, I was able to spin out a fictional representation of that wedding that was startlingly uninteresting. I pictured a pink face surrounded by white lace. I knew she must be a virgin (as this IS what the church dictates for this group) which actually could be an interesting twist to weddings today. I pictured the groom in a black tux and the pink face, white lace and ruddy red and eager-face of the groom show off strikingly against a giant red heart in the background.
So that’s the image that floated to my head as I had my Homer Simpson moment of realization that some couples do get married or engaged on Valentine’s Day. This unknown bride’s presumed virginity caused me to remember something someone once said to me about why she married a man she had known only a few months. “I wanted to have sex with him,” she said, “and back then, you got married if you wanted to do that.”
It was a naive notion, even back in the 50s, but she was a good girl and so she got married. More than 50 years later, this woman is still married to that man and they continue to have a relationship founded not on their desire to have sex (the thought of which causes me to stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘la la la la la’), but to be in love with each other enough to wait for commitment in the first place, and to stay in love through all the trials that that commitment has laid at their collective door.
That was the same woman who told me that the good thing about being married is that you have an ally in all things (okay, most things). I think this is a truth lost on young and old lovers today. It is this image that urges me to be an advocate for marriage equality, and wonder who are we to deny sanctification of relationships based on this truth–that we all need someone who has our back at all times, a someone we can retreat to, a someone we can care for and be cared by, and in that caring and holding, feel the love of the universe course through us, allowing us to turn love back out into the universe in whatever form it finds.
I am remotely watching two different women nurture their partners toward death. One is straight, and looks like anyone’s grandmother. Her struggle is sanctified by state and would be by church, if church were such an institution in her life. Whatever she must do outside the relationship with her husband, she can do with as much ease as one can muster, because her relationship to him is not questioned, needs no explanation, is not looked upon as odd. It is, as they say, “normative.”
The other woman helps her dying partner who is another woman. Like the Virginal Bride, I make up what must be happening in that relationship based on what I think must be true, not what I know to be true, but I think I can conjecture that in addition to the strain of losing her ally, her burden includes all that stuff that other people bring to her relationship, all that baggage of defining a relationship that should not need it.
Love, so fragile and tentative at first, grows strong and resiliant. I know these women will rebound when their allies are gone. Not easily, but with a strength of knowing their love and commitment to love meant something, continues to mean something even now, as they stand as both the sentries for life and the gentle ushers of death, holding off, as long as possible the physical separation from the object of the love that truly has no bounds.
We may not all get to live long lives with our allies, and my hope for the Valentine’s Day Brides is that they do. I hope they have chosen well, chosen someone they want that physical connection to, as well as that other connection, the one that holds one to the other, in health and in sickness and beyond. And I hope the culture continues to evolve so that regardless of whom they marry, when it is their turn to stand sentry and usher at the very same moment, they are allowed to do so without being burdened even more by having to explain “this is my ally, my spouse.”