projects and writings of Tracy Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’ve never done before then writing about it. This is week 26.
I swear I’m not feigning indifference or forgetfulness when I say I don’t remember when we got married. It was nice out so we biked down to the county office in the late afternoon to pick up our license. There was no line and the whole thing only took a couple of minutes, which was good because we were both uncomfortable and cracking a lot of jokes. Afterwards we biked right back home. Or maybe we went our separate ways. I think we both had dates that night.
My initial guess was that everything became official in early October. But in fact, when I scramble around in my files and finally find the actual document, it says we picked up the license in early August and had everyone sign the thing August 20th. So I guess that’s our marriage anniversary. Marriage, yes. Wedding, no.
We didn’t get married to celebrate our love for each other or to solidify our connection. After twenty-three years together (half our lives) there was no need to mark our commitment in any other way than we did on a daily basis. We got married so I could get his good health insurance and so that, someday, one of us could have the official say on whether to pull the plug on the other. It was a transaction, not a transition. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
Today marks our 6-month anniversary of being married. It is also the date that, for the first time, I’m filing my taxes as “married, filing jointly.” Because I’m self-employed I always figured it would be better for us to file separately and I was comfortable with that. This joint business, on the other hand, has me feeling a little twitchy.
I know it’s not true of all marriages, but one of the things I never liked about the traditional institution was the way it often melded two people together. Supposedly, that was a good thing, a means of support and love and safety. But I never bought it. To me, it looked like two vibrant social lives stuck together so that one person was rarely free from the other and if they were it was only with permission. It looked like interests that got narrowed into a weirdly shaped realm called “shared” or an overwhelming path called children. It looked like finances that all flowed from the same pot despite what might be wildly different incomes. It looked like two people relying so heavily on each other for their happiness that the pressure would be immense and the failure all but inevitable.
My parents have been happily married for over 50 years, but they are also fairly independent, so it’s not clear whether my outlook has much to do with them or not. Was it the divorced parents of my young friends? The messages of my culture? Maybe it was/is my own reluctance to be responsible for anyone or anything but myself. I just always wanted my own, separate and unique life running alongside and weaving its way among the lives of my family, friends and partners. Everything done willingly. Nothing done out of obligation. Gratitude at every turn.
But now, I sit here holding a thin stack of papers that says there is little difference between my money and Sean’s. The cover page shows a summary of our income. Not mine plus his, just ours. This fact comes with some perks which I find weird. I’ll take the perks, of course, but not without a bit of discomfort.
I don’t know why it should bother me, really. It’s not like I’m suddenly going to give up my independence. And neither is Sean. We’re not going to be opening a joint bank account any time soon. Or even celebrating our anniversary. We will continue our lives the way we always have, enjoying the advantages of this institution where we’re lucky enough to get them. The rest, I will have to keep reminding myself, is not my business.