On Marriage, Commitment and Riding the Rails

I got in a little fight about gay marriage at the party in Brooklyn. (I don’t think my opponent noticed we were in a fight – but S, one of the girls I was there with, sure did, and joked about it for the rest of the evening. Oops, guess I got a little political!) Anyway, I don’t know how gay marriage came up – but it was suggested that it is free and clear for us in DC. It is not, as state-by-state same-sex marriage is different from regular straight-people marriage. I believe my words were, "Federal tax law. It’s kind of a big deal." Then this dear, somewhat vague, well-meaning liberal girl repeated a few times, "What is marriage, anyway?" And finally I couldn’t help but say something like, "Well, if nothing else, it’s a pretty long list of a specific legal, financial and health benefits that are denied to a lot of people." (The phrasing may have been less mild and more intoxicated than that, I am not entirely sure. Ahem.)

Okay, maybe that is not much of a fight. S thought it was pretty funny, though. She said that the discussion surprised her, since she’s used to hanging out with a more radical queer circle that rejects the notion of marriage altogether. I’ve been there. I still think it should be easier for single adults to legally establish their true "next-of-kin," and that everyone could be cared for more completely by social supports instead of family foundations or life-partnerships, that many marriage benefits could and should be separated from marriage.

But as I get older, more established, as I become an unrecognizable person who thinks about her retirement accounts and who has friends with in-laws, I can see that there are practical benefits to codifying two intertwined lives with a marriage contract. To grow together, to separate fairly if necessary. I’m not sure I’m reconciled to the romantic forever bits of it yet, to all the emotional schmoopy "celebrating our love" noise, but y’all, it took me long enough to realize "taxes actually matter!" so maybe I just have to go at my own pace.

Meanwhile – while I doubt I’ll be getting married anytime soon – cohabitation might be on the table. My girlfriend and I have talked about it, and have a plan for considering living together that does not involve considering living together for a little while. We seem to have crossed some invisible line, though (I think it was after we’d been together six or seven months) where the question "How long have you been dating?" is immediately succeeded by "Do you live together?"

So far, it’s been an awkward moment every time.

I’ve moved through this relationship faster than anything else I’ve ever done, and it hasn’t felt too fast – just right. And while we have said the big words and had the big talks, I’m trying to do myself the favor of not over-analyzing it. I have always been a sullen and introverted thing, and real commitment, showing up maturely and kindly in each conversation and conflict, is wicked hard. Frankly it lacks the doomed punk-rock glamor I always figured would be my due, since riding the crazy train right off the rails has generally been my reaction to struggle. Striving for happiness instead of being cynical about it requires bravery I’m not sure I actually have, so each time it’s necessary I just dig deep and focus on the present. The rewards – all of which, so far, have been of the emotional schmoopy variety rather than legal or financial, I suppose – are profound, in kindnesses returned and of course in growing up.

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