I got married in September, and it was awesome.
But it wasn’t the greatest day of my life.
Admittedly, it feels a little weird to be writing “I got married in September.” You know those little girls who’ve been planning their dream weddings—to Justin Timberlake at the Brown Palace in Vera Wang—no, wait, that’s Clue—since the age of five? Yeah, that’s not me. I spent most of my adolescence playing with plastic model horses and being told to please take a bath. I begged my mom to take me to the zoo to watch the orangutans. I was a weird kid. No time for wedding planning.
I continued to not plan my wedding throughout my early adulthood. I was never anti-marriage, or even specifically disinterested. I just wasn’t sure it was for me.
“When it’s legal for everyone,” I’d exasperatedly tell the conservative few who dared to ask whether I’d legitimize the latest in my series of live-in partners. (Side note: I am SO GLAD no one can use this as a far-off, unlikely dream scenario to put off intentions of marriage anymore!)
Pretty quickly after I met the person to whom I am now blissfully wedded, my pragmatic side—the little voice that, until now, hadn’t really seen the point of marriage—started to make some good points: We do a lot of risky stuff together. What if something happened to one of us? I wanted to make sure that, should I somehow be incapacitated, Bix would a) not be destitute, at least not more so than we already were, and b) insist that I not be kept alive as a vegetable. And, of course, vice versa.
It’s not exactly the stuff Nicholas Sparks novels are made of, but true love is found in many forms.
Despite my matter-of-fact matrimonial approach, it was not with power of attorney in mind that I accepted Bix’s proposal. We’d driven up to the very spot where we’d first camped together, and he insisted on setting up the tent, which is usually my job because I am the actual worst cook.
Bix started dinner preparations and asked me to check the tent for his knife, which he’d misplaced for the one hundred billionth time. I’m not sure what it was—I was pretty hangry—but somehow I managed, for once in my life, not to be a complete asshole about combing through piles of gear to find a tiny object Bix had lost.
Which is good, because there, in the middle of my sleeping bag, was a carefully crayoned note (a throwback to our days as camp instructors) asking if maybe I’d want to get married.
We celebrated with steaks cooked over the Coleman two-burner, served atop a hastily wiped-down Frisbee because we’re still dirtbags, after all. There was champagne. A moose wandered through our campsite, causing the dog to knock over said champagne in his alarm. It was perfect.
In the onslaught of congratulations that followed our engagement, lots of friends asked when and where the “big day” would take place. I hadn’t spent much time picturing what my nuptials would look like, but when I mentioned something about a quiet courthouse ceremony followed by a reception with an open bar, Bix pointed out that approximately half those invited would be from Milwaukee, and we couldn’t afford to invite them to drink All of the Booze.
Back to the drawing board, or, in my case, The Knot Ultimate Wedding Planner & Organizer: Worksheets, Checklists, Etiquette, Calendars and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions: Binder Edition. This extremely stressful resource was given to me days after Bix and I got engaged by my childhood best friend. The terms “checklist” and “calendar” are appealing to my anal-retentive nature, but I’m a little iffy on “etiquette,” and if I had questions about planning a wedding, I didn’t know it. I would open the notebook every now and again, flip around a little, and slam it shut, feeling grateful to genuinely not care about seating arrangements or color schemes. I didn’t need much help from TheKnot.com, which, for several weeks, I had Bix convinced was a climbing website.
With just a few short weeks before we were set to head back to Alaska, we had to get a wedding sketched out in pretty short order, which was fine with me because I’m all about instant gratification. As we volleyed our hard-line requirements back and forth—nothing too formal, must take place outside, BBQ served at the reception—it became clear that in order to plan our wedding, we needed to parse out why we wanted to get married in the first place.
By most standards, our relationship thus far had been pretty non-traditional: we’d known each other a mere ten weeks when Bix moved to Alaska, where we happily lived together out of wedlock for two years. Bix, the son of hippie poets who’d each kept their names when they got married, had no objection to my intention to remain a Walker. Neither of us has any religious inclination, nor do we adhere to those pesky customary household gender roles (this is a nice way of saying Bix does all the cooking).
Most of the wedding conventions we knew of didn’t really apply to us; we could list plenty of things that weren’t the reason we were getting married. Which begged the question: Why are we?
Aforementioned pragmatism aside, I discovered, there was one big reason I wanted to make it official. It wasn’t legitimacy or accountability; it wasn’t to prove anything to anyone or even, in the end, for the tax benefits.
I wanted to explain, in front of all our family and friends, why I think Bix is the best thing since sliced bread. I wanted to make our commitment known, public, accessible to everyone we knew. In short, I think what we have going on is pretty great, and I wanted everyone I love to get to experience it.
And then I wanted to go on a kick-ass honeymoon.
I didn’t need a beautiful three-tiered wedding cake or a dress that cost $5,000 or a bridal party of ten for any of that. I just needed Bix, an assemblage of our dearly beloved, and—let’s get real—some financial help from my parents. We work seasonally, remember?
Don’t get me wrong: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think my wedding was perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. It rained all morning, then cleared in time to greet our guests with a rainbow at the reception. Shut up, right?
Best of all, despite my longstanding history of excitement-induced vomiting, I didn’t feel stressed or nervous, because my marriage wasn’t about the wedding. It was about ending up married to Bix.
In the weeks leading up to our wedding, I kept hearing this sentiment: The first year of marriage is really hard. Or even just: Marriage is really hard.
I’m sure that’s true, because I heard it from all kinds of people: people who’d lived together before being married and those who hadn’t, couples who had been together as long as five years pre-marriage and as little as six months, you name it.
I figured the first year—our third together, still early in the game for Bix to get fed up with my disinterest in folding laundry—would be a piece of cake.
It makes sense: the wedding itself is the easy part. It’s the part where you’re surrounded by those you’re closest to, where everyone wants to remind you how much they love you, where those insidious feelings of jealousy, of insecurity, of why-don’t-you-ever-do-the-dishes—those feelings are shoved aside in the excitement.
And then, when you’re back from the honeymoon and all your friends have gone home, when you no longer have the common goal of planning/surviving The Best Day Ever, when all the buffers are gone and it’s just you and this person you just told everyone you’d stay committed to in sickness and in health but they’re driving you up the wall because [insert argument about money/household chores/annoying personal habits], what’s left?
Our dear friend Zach, who officiated the ceremony, wrapped up just as the storm clouds began to gather behind him. “Marriage is work,” he finished the homily, “Love is not.”
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that last line in the months since we filed our marriage license with the county. Marriage is work. Love is not. Because I’m terribly selfish, this doesn’t mean sacrifices and compromises don’t feel like sacrifices and compromises. They do. But it sure softens the blow to have Bix on my side.
I’m the same person I was the day before I got married, right down to my name. It didn’t change anything; it just solidified what I already knew.
Our wedding was so excellent, but it wasn’t the greatest day of my life. Maybe it was the day I met Bix, or maybe it was any number of experiences I’ve had since. Either way, I’m glad we have a lifetime of Greatest Days of My Life to look forward to.
I guess we’re still in the honeymoon phase.