Twelve years ago today, I met Drew, and life as I now know it began. A little over a year ago, after much deliberation, we did something else which some people consider kind of a big deal. Life didn’t change much after that. It was already pretty much perfect. So when we had to decide which day we wanted to celebrate, it was no contest. Happy anniversary, Drew.
Here’s the story…
The only type of marriage I ever imagined myself having was a sham one. Two kids, a station wagon and a clueless, frustrated wife in denial about her husband’s sexuality. That’s the best image my teenage self could conjure up, so it’s no wonder I never had a romantic view of this staid legal institution. Once I came out of the closet, I never had to think about marriage again. This was the late 20th Century, when gay people were more miffed over Eminem’s lyrics than the fact that we couldn’t file taxes jointly.
Sure, there were gay people who got “married,” but always in quotation marks. It was easy enough to opt out of. When someone would ask a gay couple, “When are you going to get married?”, they could respond with nothing more than a chuckle and an eyeroll.
My straight friends were jealous. The lucky ones got to go through the endless Hell of wedding planning – picking out China, battling with in-laws and swimming in bills. The rest only dreamed of such a fate. Finally, a societal benefit to being gay.
When I fell in love, it was simple. We bought a condo, picked our sides of the bed and opened a joint checking account. I was a freelance writer, and Drew had a steady corporate job, so he put me on his health insurance. Without the grim specter of matrimony looming, we were free to define our relationship exactly as we wished – and to make our own choices about how we wanted things to progress.
When the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that same-sex couples had the right to marry, we didn’t rush to City Hall like so many of our neighbors. Nor did we sweat when Proposition 8 undid that ruling a few months later. Let the homophobes play the role of Grinch, thinking they can steal Christmas by absconding with some presents and roast beast. That was our attitude. Drew and I knew we’d still be singing just as happily, because they could never take from us the actual source of our joy.
We had other priorities anyway, like becoming dads. With the help of a surrogate, we became the parents of twins. I quit my job to be a stay-home father. We moved to New York to be closer to our siblings and their kids. We adjusted to every life change together, like committed couples do, only without the official commitment. It’s not that we never talked about marriage. It’s just that when the topic did come up, we always agreed that it wasn’t for us.
I cringed when I saw a viral video of a guy proposing to his boyfriend at Home Depot. Dozens of their friends and family members popped up from behind piles of lumber to perform a choreographed dance routine to the couple’s favorite song. Meanwhile, regular shoppers looked on, bemused or perhaps annoyed at the flash mob blocking access to the 2x4s. It seemed like everyone we knew shared the video and commented on how sweet it was. I responded with a blog post titled, “Why That Home Depot Marriage Proposal Video Makes Me Want to Hurl.”
Some of my friends called me a sourpuss, but Drew agreed with every word. Couldn’t those guys have found some way to celebrate their love without requiring all their friends to buy solid-color tank tops and strut around like morons in a Paula Abdul dance phalanx? Drew and I knew our love was every bit as strong as theirs. We just didn’t think our romance should require a location scout.
Never was our relationship more in the spotlight than at Drew’s brother’s wedding. It was a wonderful day, full of love and jubilation, and as relatives like to do, people speculated who might be next to walk down the aisle. We attempted to deflect attention with the usual chuckle and eyeroll, but laughing off the notion was no longer quite so easy.
“You live in New York! It’s legal there!” people prodded. As we looked around the reception, though, Drew and I knew nothing had changed. This was beautiful, but it wasn’t for us.
That was it. Case closed. Or so I thought.
Months went by, then one day, the phone rang. “Hey, yeah, so…,” Drew stammered. This was the smoothest-talking man I’d ever known. I had no idea what could have him so flustered, but surely it was something huge. Aliens making contact with Earth? He got a girl pregnant? Turns out he had an even bigger shock in store. “You wanna get married?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, suspicious. “Do I?”
It may not have mattered to Drew and me that we lived in a marriage equality state, but as it turned out, it mattered to Drew’s company. They had just informed him that they would no longer accept our joint checking account as sufficient evidence of a lifelong commitment. Unless we got hitched, I’d be kicked off Drew’s health plan.
We agreed to tie the knot, but with no more fanfare than we felt the occasion deserved. We made an appointment at City Hall at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, because Drew’s company had given us a deadline of 5pm that day to fax them the signed marriage certificate. We hardly told anyone it was happening. In the ultimate modern day non-acknowledgment, we even declined to Facebook it.
Our only guests would be our kids, who were now four years old. Our daughter was ecstatic about being a flower girl. We had to explain that there wouldn’t be any actual flower petals for her to spread delicately across the aisle. There probably wouldn’t even be an aisle. Our son wanted to know if there would be a party where he could dance to One Direction songs. No and no.
It was the first time I’d really thought about how this looked through our kids’ eyes. Drew and I had been perfectly satisfied, even pleased, with the relaxed nature of the proceedings, but what message was it sending to our son and daughter? That two men can get married… but they don’t get to make a big deal out of it?
Getting married would solve our problems. I’d be back on the insurance plan. Our friends would stop pestering us. But for the first time, it felt like maybe we deserved more.
During our brief engagement period, Drew had to take a trip to Los Angeles for work. I decided to tag along so I could see some friends. It was the first time we’d gone back together to the city where we’d met since we moved East two years earlier. We drove past our old condo building and stopped outside the restaurant where we had our first date.
“Come on,” Drew said. “Let’s go in.” He wanted to take a picture at the table where we met, something to show the kids. Unfortunately, someone was sitting there, and they didn’t look friendly.
He told me instead to take a seat on the bench in the waiting area.
“That isn’t a good spot for a picture,” I protested. “You can’t even tell where we are.”
“Just do it,” he insisted.
As I sat down, Drew reached into his coat pocket and got down on one knee. “I thought I should do this right,” he said. He flipped open a jewelry box and showed me a ring, then said the most romantic thing I’d never wanted to hear from him. “Will you marry me?”
It was so traditional, so not what the two of us were all about. And yet… so sweet. We were just a few feet from where we’d first laid eyes on each other, and in that moment, it felt like we were back at the beginning… of something.
Drew slipped the ring on my finger and walked me to the restaurant’s private room. As he peeled back a curtain, I saw the faces of twenty of our closest friends, champagne in their hands, ready to toast. There was a cake that said, “Congratulations Jerry & Drew!” A dozen iPhone cameras flashed at once.
There were people from every stage of our relationship, friends from before we’d met up through fellow parents from our kids’ gym class. I was overwhelmed to see them all together, and so grateful that they weren’t dancing in unison.
“Well,” one of them asked, nervously. “Did you say yes?”
“I don’t think I did,” I answered. “But yes!” It was all I could do not to chuckle and roll my eyes.
“I mean, duh.”