Erlend and I are engaged!
To careful readers, this news will not come as a surprise—I’ve already made mentions of it in previous posts and occasional tweets. If anything, many of you will tilt your head to the side and go, “Wait… I thought you guys were already married?!” That too, is a perfectly reasonable reaction. After all, Erlend has been a steady fixture on Hummingbird High since its beginning; in fact, our relationship pre-dates this blog by a couple of years. When I celebrated my blog’s eight anniversary last November, Erlend and I had just celebrated our unofficial ten year anniversary the month before.
When I say that Erlend and I have been together for as long as we have, many folks often double take and/or outright judge. “I’m sorry,” someone once told me in response, patting me consolingly on the back. “Wow,” another one replied, her eyes darting back at Erlend with a mixture of alarm and suspicion in her eyes. The assumption was always that I was the pitiful one, forever left waiting and willing for Erlend to finally make the move.
But this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, it’s this: up until last year, I hardly thought about marriage at all. Maybe it was because I’d graduated in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression; in the early years of our relationship, I was too busy trying to establish a career, always moving from city to city in pursuit of “The Perfect Job”. Later, after a few years into what I had finally deemed was The Perfect Job, I struggled with my decision to leave it to pursue the riskier path of this blog and my book.
And yet throughout those early, turbulent years, I had many friends and acquaintances tie the knot, with a big rush of folks getting married right after school. Although I was generally happy to celebrate the couples, I remained mystified by their decision to get married right out of the gate. I had so many questions, ranging from the practical (“Why throw such a lavish celebration when many of us were scraping by on entry level salaries?”), the self-reflective (“Why get married when we are both just starting to figure out who we are?”) and finally, the existential (“Why settle so early when life was just beginning?”). It was only many years later that I finally understood the appeal: a friend of a friend was especially left aghast by our unmarried status. She impatiently explained that she and her husband had gotten married in their last year of college; after seeing the challenges that lay ahead, they decided that it would be better to face them together as partners.
Even then, her explanation made me realize how vastly different I approached things. Aside from all the historical and feminist arguments explaining why marriage was less of an advantageous partnership for women, I wanted to come to the table with my problems already sorted out. More importantly, I expected my significant other to feel and do the same, too. I basically believed in the exact opposite of what she was preaching: that marriage was something that would happen when we BOTH had our lives already in order. And that’s what Erlend and I spent the better part of the decade focusing on. I bought a house independently and cycled through several jobs in finance and tech to find one that was both financially lucrative and emotionally satisfying, all the while Erlend prepped for and completed a graduate program in one of the country’s most prestigious universities.
During those years, Erlend and I made active choices to be a part of each other’s lives, maintaining long-distance relationships when necessary, moving from city to city to be with one another, and supporting each other throughout the new jobs and grad school. To me, these decisions were all the proof of the commitment to each other that I needed or had envisioned for myself. Getting married didn’t seem necessary; in fact, a wedding seemed like a frivolous luxury. When I was younger, I never fantasized about big weddings and elaborate proposals. I daydreamed instead about riding my bike to my prestigious banking job and yelling numbers at the stock market with high-powered business men in expensive suits (yes—with the exception of riding my bike to work, my life turned out completely different from what I thought it would be).
So when people ask me how Erlend proposed, the truth is, he didn’t. Not really. There was no official popping of the question, no grand gesture down on bended knee. And had there been one, I likely might have yelled “You don’t know me at all!” before running out of the room. Instead, around six or seven years into our relationship, he’d bring it up—always him—usually after we would run into issues going through immigration lines together as a couple, or when figuring out if we qualified as domestic partners when applying for health insurance plans. “We should get married,” he’d sigh, after suffering through another one of my long-winded explanations to an annoyed customs agent or health insurance representative about our single-but-not-really status. “Maybe someday,” I’d wave him off. But of course, life had other plans.
Last year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she’s healthy today, her diagnosis prompted frank discussions about life, death, family, and our future. And from those conversations, Erlend and mine’s decision to get married was born. To me, it would have felt weird and unnatural to arrive there in any other way. I’ve always disliked how a traditional proposal lays so much responsibility in one person, and how unfair and anti-feminist it was that Erlend would be the one in charge of “taking the relationship to the next level”. But we’d approached every major decision together in the last ten years. Why would our decision to get married be anything otherwise? I know that many people will find the pragmatism of it all very unromantic. And in the past, some folks—including myself—have mistaken this pragmatism for indifference towards the institution of marriage.
It was only recently that I understood it was something else. Specifically: in the summer of 2015, the United States Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in the landmark case, Obergefell v. Hodges. When the news broke, I was abroad in the Netherlands (where I had spent a part of my childhood, where gay marriage had long been made legal, and something I’d taken for granted), in the middle of attending my own sister’s wedding no less. A friend of mine had texted me the entire legal brief in celebration; I’d opened it at the dinner table, giddy from the wedding and slightly drunk from champagne. Although the majority of it flew over my head (I don’t have a law degree, after all), Justice Anthony Kennedy’s final paragraph shook me to my very core:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were… it would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrepect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.
As I read this paragraph, while friends and family basked nearby in the glow of my sister and her new husband, I realized something new. I wasn’t as indifferent to marriage as I had initially thought—I too, believed that marriage was a right afforded to all as it embodied the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. I also realized I wasn’t postponing my own marriage because I didn’t respect what marriage meant as an institution, or didn’t care about getting married. Instead, it was because I cared so much about what it meant for us to finally do so. To me, our marriage would be the final capstone to the life we had slowly, carefully built over the last ten years.
It’s a strange process coming to terms with the fact that it’s finally the right time for us to get married. Although I am fully committed to Erlend and “making our relationship official” (a phrase that I’ve heard repeatedly since announcing our engagement, and one that makes me actively bristle—like, did the last ten years not count or something?!), I am significantly LESS enthused about the idea of a wedding itself. Had my mom not specifically requested a chance to walk me down the aisle, we likely would have just called a few friends and gone to the courthouse on a random weekday.
And the more I venture into the belly of the wedding industrial complex, the more resistance I feel towards getting married once more. The elaborate showmanship of a wedding—things like doing stuff for the ‘gram, the amount of money that it’s suddenly okay to spend for this one day—feels like it’s in direct opposition to what it means for us to get married in the first place! It’s like all this outward pressure is having the absolute opposite effect on me: instead of going all out, I want to hold it all in. I want to just focus on the folks that truly matter—each other, our parents, and the friends who have been there from the beginning, weathering our ups and downs with us.
As a result, we’re having a very small wedding with just our parents at City Hall, followed by a dinner together at one of our favorite restaurants in town. Then maybe drinks at a dive bar with those said friends? And of course, I’ll be making my own wedding cake, which I’ll share the recipe for on this blog (between you and me, this is the thing I am most excited about—I can’t wait to start testing cake recipes!). The rest seems immaterial.
Because our approach is so untraditional, I feel like I need to say this last piece: despite my reservations about weddings, my fiercely independent and ardently feminist beliefs, I am thankful and happy to be marrying Erlend. In the last ten years (and more, if you count the years we were friends before we started dating), Erlend has been one of the few folks to support and love me unconditionally. He is my best friend, the person who knows me best in this crazy world, the forever constant in my surprisingly unpredictable and historically nomadic life. We grew up together; it’s only fitting that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together, too.