GABRIELLE: Today two of my cousins came to visit for brunch. Sally (mid-40’s, pretty, smart, forever-single, neurotic and completely self-involved) and Jennifer (dowdy, yellow teeth – why doesn’t she whiten them – graying hair, pasty skin from lack of sun/make-up, but married and content nonetheless). Jennifer’s two boys play in my backyard while the ladies and I sip tea around an outdoor teak table braving the summer chill.
Jonathan, Jennifer’s oldest son, breathlessly plops down next to us. “How do you know when you want to marry someone?” he asks me, then buries a head of brown hair into his mommy’s lap. Jennifer strokes his back and nods at me to give a good, positive role model answer.
“Well,” I say, “you get knocked up.”
Jennifer gives me a look and cuts in, “What cousin Gabby means is that when you love someone then you want to marry them.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“OK,” Jonathan says, and runs off to kick the soccer ball away from his brother.
The answer feels hollow and it brings to the forefront the nagging question that’s been in the back of my brain. How do I know if I really love Todd? Do I really love him or is it just that he puts up with me and loves me, seemingly unconditionally? Am I getting married to fulfill society’s idea of what I should be doing at 34? Ever since I got engaged, I’ve been on automatic pilot fulfilling lists created by my mother, my sister, my best friend. Choose the flowers, the cake, the caterer, fire the caterer, choose the band, not that band, etc… I just wanted to be engaged for a while, gaze at my ring and just be. I can’t remember the last time Todd and I had an adventure together that was exciting and soulful all at once. I can’t remember the last time I lay in a hammock listening to the birds chirp.
After my cousins leave I call my father. “Dad, it’s me.”
“Hello deah!” he greets me cheerfully. “What a beautiful day. I am glad you called. The rabbi cannot marry you on the day you want. It’s T’ish Vu Aut or some holiday and you cannot get married for three weeks before or after.”
“Dad, listen. I’m really stressed out being pregnant and planning the wedding,” I say to him. “I think that maybe Todd and I should postpone everything until after the baby is born.”
“I do not want my grandson (keep in mind we don’t know the sex yet–my father’s simply willing the baby to be a boy) to be born knowing his mother and father were not married when he was born.”
“Dad!! I am 34 years old and this is not the same era you grew up in. Marriage is no guarantee of anything. Who cares if we are married?!”
“I do and until then I cannot take pride in you having this child.” He hangs up the phone in a dramatic gesture.
Wow. I try to rationalize that he is traditional but that last blow stings and I’m left where I started, wondering if I’m being pushed into marrying for the wrong reasons. I think of my parents fighting over the years, the fights that seemed to stem from possible extramarital activity on my father’s part. Peppered with name calling and outrageous screaming, crying and slamming doors, the fights would last for hours and my older sister and I would crawl into our bunk-bed, pull the covers over our heads and cry. Or the cold wars when my mother was just icy for days, silent to my father, my sisters and me.
Marriage. Commitment. Forever.