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I have five children. I gave birth to two of them and acquired three by marriage.
In the last nine months, one of my children has gotten married and two have gotten engaged. (One got married five years ago and one is single.)
While engagements and weddings symbolize hope and optimism, things we so desperately need in this epoch of uncertainty, I find myself confronting a host of disparate feelings about these events.
I can’t help but smile when I see the dewy faces and glistening eyes of these young couples. At the same time, it’s bittersweet to let them go, to watch my kids take these big steps. Although I love their spouses and spouses-to-be, I know there is risk involved.
I also feel something akin to sadness in recognizing that the future is more theirs than mine. I feel old.
Moreover, and this is hard to admit in a society that embraces the nuptial industrial complex, I’m ambivalent about weddings themselves.
Even when I got married the first time, in 1986, I didn’t care about the wedding.
I was only 23, so I just did what my mother told me to do. I dutifully registered for fine china. I gamely sat through bridal showers. I went dress shopping, although I only brought my friend, Gayle, and her sister, Carrie.
I remember trying on a veil, looking into the multiple mirrors in the dressing room, and saying, “I just feel weird, like this is so over-the-top.”
“Look at it like you’re queen for a day,” said Carrie.
I didn’t want to be queen for a day. I just wanted to get married, but I bought the veil anyway.
My first marriage ended in 1996. It was dramatic and sad.
Suddenly I was single with two young children in tow. It was depressing to be on my own, but I never doubted that I could create a new life for the three of us.
I didn’t envision getting married again. I didn’t even see myself dating, unless it was to have a platonic “companion” like some older people I knew. I thought I was beyond heart thumping, starry-eyed romance.
Even in 1998, when I started dating Bob, a widower with three young children, I wasn’t focused on marriage. I was more enthralled with the fact that I had been dead wrong: Our relationship was heart thumping and starry-eyed. It took me completely by surprise.
While I sometimes wondered if we should define things more concretely, I spent more time daydreaming about Bob’s five o’clock shadow and how he would hug me and gently say, “I know you.”
We dated for four years, but then we broke up at my request. I wondered if we had met each other too soon. I wondered if I knew what I was doing. Maybe our pasts were just too messy and our families too complicated for us to be together. The stakes felt high.
Then, after a few months apart, something changed. We reunited and, despite lackluster statistics about second marriages, we decided to tie the knot.
“I don’t know how to do this,” I said on the night we got engaged.
We got married in 2002, with our five children as attendants. I was worried it was excessive to have an actual wedding the second time around, but I fought against that feeling because it seemed important to have a ritual to bind all of us together. I wore a knee-length dress, and I didn’t wear a veil.
It’s been almost 20 years since that day and I still can’t ascertain all of my feelings about matrimony. But I am certain about my feelings for Bob and the family we built together. It, too, has been a serendipitous surprise.
Sturdiness? A sense of humor? A willingness to clean up vomit (from children or pets) in the middle of the night? I wish I could tell my kids what makes a marriage work. All I know is that saying “I do” is a leap of faith. Actually, it’s more like a long jump of faith. But, with luck and perseverance, you might just stick the landing.