On May 5, Adrian and I celebrated two years since the day we were married in Vegas. My brother, AJ, performed the ceremony on a wooden deck overlooking Lake Las Vegas--an unexpectedly lovely spot in the back of a strip mall. The wind kept whipping my hair into my mouth, where it stuck to my makeup counter-applied Chanel lipgloss. An unmanned tripod was our "videographer" (what ever happened to that video? I have no idea where we put it.), and only our immediate family was present. Before my dad walked me down the aisle, I was consumed by a fit of giggles, and--after Adrian and I kissed--his brother, Justin, realized we'd neglected to exchange rings. We laughed and did that whole part over again.
It was, both that day and in my memory, perfect.
The next morning, I took Adrian's hand, staring at the ring on his finger. I felt happily dazed. "How did this happen?" I kept asking.
He laughed. "We planned this. Remember?"
We'd been engaged for six weeks. He proposed to me a week after arriving for one of his visits, after two years of a cross-continental relationship. We married a year earlier than we'd originally future-dreamed, but we were tired of goodbyes. All told, in two years, we'd probably only spent six months physically together. Those visits were all heightened emotion, every swell of love, every new understanding, every hurt feeling amplified by the compressed time we had to process them. Airports held a power over me--the unlikely memory of how we met, the aching anticipation of being together again, the place where I became, again and again, bereft. Our two years together, by then, felt like a plane running out of fuel--decisions needed to be made.
I was afraid, though. Five months before that May date, Adrian and I talked about our options over Skype. "What do you think?" he asked, with that rakish grin. "Should we get married?"
"Of course you'd propose over Skype," I quipped back. "It's only appropriate."
My palms pricked with sweat, and a hollow space opened up in my sternum. It was hard to breathe.
"No, really," he said. "I know we talked about doing it next year, but . . ."
I couldn't explain, to him or to myself, why I suddenly felt . . . panicked. But Adrian read me well from afar; he always had. With no hint of hurt or anger, he told me to take some time to think about it.
That weekend, I wrote. This is some of it:
What are the things I want right now?
I want to be with Adrian. I want us to create a life together. I want us to live in a home that’s ours. I want that to be in this country. Eventually, I want us to have kids together. I want our families to be there when those kids are born. I want Sunday lunches. I want to continue doing what I love, with people I love. I want to push myself to a new realm of writing, of learning and thinking. I want to grow something with Adrian. I want him to find fulfillment. I want to know what it feels like to be partners in that way, supporting each other in the discovery and then actualization of our dreams.
These are the things I want. These are exactly the things he’s offering. I’m more in love with him now than I was in the heat of my fantasy of us, more in love than the first weekend we spent together, more in love than the first time he came to see my world, more in love than the first or any subsequent time I spent in his. I don’t want to be with anyone else. The thought of a future with him and him alone is exciting to me.
Why, then, am I scared? Why do I resist the idea of our signing papers in some nondescript office telling the U.S. government that we’re married? What is my hesitation in doing it now when the thought of doing it one year from now curls my lips in a smile? I suppose because now is real. Next year is still a dream.
So, then--is it the vehicle? The thought of marrying on paper in order for the privilege of living together and marrying in ceremony later? The fear of marriage itself, after the painful deterioration and extrication from my first? Or is it more basic than that? Is it possible that it is, quite simply, the same fear of commitment I wrote about in the very first entry of my previous journal? The fear of constraint, of giving up the very freedom I have right now? And yet, what am I doing in this freedom? The fact is, I’m probably the safest and tamest I’ve ever been: faithfully in love, disciplined in work, guided now more than ever by a sense of integrity, of honesty and kindness. The reality is that, without realizing it, I stopped half-assing my life. I am more committed now than I’ve ever been.
So perhaps, then, it was never commitment that I feared, but choicelessness. The inability to construct my life as I desired it if that desire changed from its original version. The giving up of self, or a potential confluence of selves. But isn’t it true that committing to something we want is a pleasurable choice in itself? When I order a burger for lunch, I’ve made an implicit commitment to eat it. While I do, I’m not mourning my lack of access to the rest of the menu; I’m enjoying the meal I freely chose (and that, if it came right down to it and my mind changed, I could un-choose just as easily). Now, if I were on a diet, and I ordered a salad that I, in fact, didn’t want, then yes, I may be fantasizing about the burger as I crunched romaine leaves.
A silly example, yes, and one that probably diverged from the point--the point being that commitment doesn’t equate to choicelessness. In fact, every choice is, to an extent, a commitment, and every commitment is a choice. Additionally, commitment to one thing doesn’t have to mean giving up every alternative. In the context of marriage, yes, commitment to one man presumably means giving up the possibility of every other. However, if the man you’ve chosen to commit to is the man you want to commit to, there is no loss in that. And there remains every possibility to create the life you want within the embrace of that commitment.
I emailed this to Adrian with the subject line: "Change of heart :P". It felt big to me, this realization. It was big. With a few hours of writing, of doing the solitary work of self-examination, my fear had disappeared.
At least, I thought it had.
Those who know me (or who read this post) know that I never legally changed my last name to Collins. There was a lot wrapped up in this decision, namely the feminist rejection of a patriarchal tradition, and the desire to maintain my identity as Mexican-American. My last name as both rebellion and link to my culture, my history. My last name so deeply wound up in self that the idea of changing it felt tantamount to self-betrayal. But there was something else, something I didn't realize until very recently.
I'll be honest: our marriage has challenged both of us in ways we didn't expect. We have disappointed each other and disappointed ourselves. The love we have for each other hasn't always been enough to bring out our best selves; in fact, it's sometimes brought out the worst. Marriage is hard. Our marriage has been hard. Not always, of course, and not constantly, but enough. Enough to, at times, make me feel powerless. Choiceless. Except for the choice every married person has: to leave. It's a card I've played in desperation, instead of saying what I really mean: hear me. See me. Love me.
A friend and former client, Mark, told a story about a time he and his wife, Mel, argued while overseas together. The fight started in a train station in Barcelona and continued through their overnight train ride to Germany. At one point, Mel slipped the wedding ring from her finger and handed it to Mark, saying, "I don't want it anymore." When the train reached its destination, Mark got off, but when he looked behind him, Mel wasn't on the platform. The train was about to depart, and he jumped back onboard to see Mel in the back of the car, trying to fight her way through people to the platform, where she thought he was still standing. Mel didn't see Mark, and as the train started moving, she pulled the emergency stop cord. It was actually a crime to pull the cord without a genuine emergency, and they were escorted off the train by armed police officers. After they paid a fine and were released, Mark remembers looking at each other sheepishly. They'd both acted childishly, out of fear, not love, but when it came down to it, neither wanted to leave the other's side--literally or figuratively. They vowed to void the word "divorce" from their vocabulary. From then on, instead of threatening to leave when times got bad, they would ask each other what needed to happen in order for them to stay together.
That story resonated deeply with me, and I realized recently how much of my own behavior, in difficult times, has been based out of fear, rather than love. I began to wonder whether my refusal to change my name wasn't a kind of withholding. A way of maintaining a sense (if not the reality) of control, of separation. A way of saying, I am committed, but only to an extent. If things don't work out, I am no less whole than when we began.
What can I say? Emotional logic plays by a different, more esoteric, set of rules than intellectual logic, but its pull is just as powerful--for me, often more so.
On our anniversary last week, Adrian and I argued before I had the chance to give him my card with the (100% cotton--#nailedit) paper stating I was changing my name. The next day, I found myself thinking, He doesn't know. I don't have to do it. But I gave it to him anyway. In the card, I wrote that my identity as his wife is just as important to me as every other aspect of my identity. I explained to him what I'd realized about my fear, about how keeping my last name was a form of self-protection and also a form of power. I told him that in shitty times, I didn't want him to feel I had one foot out the door. I told him I was committed.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked quietly.
I nodded. I was. I am.
So, while the feminist in me still rejects the expectation that women change their name to their husband's, and while I'm maintaining Gutierrez in the middle name slot as an homage to my culture (yes, now I have four names), I've made a choice that's right for me--a choice based in love, not fear. We're a family, Adrian and I. Not because we share a last name, but because every day, we choose to be.