When I’m browsing Pinterest or designing save-the-date cards, I don’t feel any different from any other person planning a wedding. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most people won't even view my marriage as valid -- I’m polyamorous, and have already been legally married for 11 years. The wedding I’m planning now is with my boyfriend, and our union will probably never be legally recognized. But the significance of our wedding is absolutely real to us.
A few years ago, I never would have imagined I’d get married again. Since shifting to a non-monogamous relationship, I’d become cynical about marriage and the normative values I felt it represented. I still deeply loved my husband and was no less certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, but often thought if I had it to do over again, I’d have skipped the legal marriage part. But then a funny thing happened: I fell in love again.
As long as we’d been living polyamorously, I had been open to the possibility of someday having another long-term, committed relationship, and when my boyfriend and I began dating, I realized pretty quickly that I could imagine a future with him. By the time he brought up the possibility of having a wedding, we had been together for close to two years and were already planning on spending our lives together.
I never had any doubts about making a lifelong commitment to him. But I did have doubts about what it would mean to actually have a wedding, and whether we would just be replicating something normative and traditional even with our radically non-traditional relationship.
There was never a proposal or a single defining moment when we became “engaged.” There were just conversations, me wrestling with my own uncertainties and realizing ultimately that yes, I did want very badly to stand up and declare my love for this man in front of all the people who matter to us. And then go have a great party afterword.
One frustrating misconception about my relationships I’ve encountered many times is that my relationship with my husband is more serious and meaningful, and that my relationship with my boyfriend is something fun and casual on the side. Even now that we all share a home, I still sense that people assume my relationship with my boyfriend to be something lesser than my relationship with my husband.
I know that having a wedding is probably unlikely to change the opinions of most people who feel that way, but still, it matters to me to make this formal declaration that this relationship is every bit as meaningful and real as the legally recognized one. We aren’t having a wedding to prove anything to anyone; we’re getting married because we’re in love and we want to celebrate that love with our friends and families.
But still, it does feel wonderfully defiant to say we don’t need legal recognition in order to do this, a sentiment I can only imagine that many same-sex couples who have married without state recognition have shared.
My husband is entirely supportive of the wedding; we would never have made such a decision in the first place if we were not already functioning harmoniously as a family. He doesn’t want any special involvement in our ceremony, but he did enthusiastically volunteer to cook the food for our backyard reception.
Our friends are fantastically accepting of our relationship, but family has been, unsurprisingly, a bit more complicated. My mom loves my boyfriend and supports our relationship, but also doesn’t fully understand our desire to have a large celebration. My boyfriend’s family has always treated me with warmth and kindness, and I appreciate their acceptance of me. But, with a few exceptions, most of them do not approve of our relationship, let alone our wedding. When we’re at family gatherings, no one mentions our wedding at all, a sharp contrast to the spirit of enthusiastic congratulations that typically accompanies engagements in the family.
At times, I can’t help but feel aware that rather than simply being a happy occasion for celebration, our upcoming marriage feels like a touchy and taboo subject. We have yet to face direct condemnation, but we’re not naïve to the strong possibility that there will be plenty by the time June rolls around. We would not be surprised if as many as half of our hundred guests refuse to attend.
While we try not to be too hung up on the way society views us, I’d be lying if I said it never makes me feel hurt and sad when I think about how many people view our family as morally depraved. Just now while writing, I received an email from my “polyamory” Google news alert with a link to an article titled “Forget Gay Marriage and Polygamy —- It’s Open Marriages that Destroy Families,” which refers to polyamory as “a strange perversion of what love in marriage looks like.”
Anytime gay marriage makes a stride forward, I’m reminded by conservatives in the media that we polyamorous folks are the threatened evil lurking further down the “slippery slope” (along with bestiality; a reader of my blog once jokingly commented that we are “the bridge between the gays and the goats”).
We sometimes crack jokes at our house -- while doing something mundane, like playing Wii together -- about how scandalous we are. But no matter how much we try to laugh it off, it’s still painful. All around me, I see unhappy, dysfunctional relationships that are legitimized by society because they fit the usual model, while our happy, healthy relationships are automatically written off as wrong and invalid because they look different from what people are used to.
I often think, perhaps naively, that if people could spend a few days in our house, they’d realize that our love is genuine, that we’re a caring, stable family. We laugh together, we support one another, and even the pointless little fights we sometimes get into are really no different than the ones monogamous couples have.
When my boyfriend and I stand up before our loved ones and declare our commitment, I hope we can offer some little glimpse into the reality of our lives, and that maybe a few people in attendance will recognize what they see as real love. But if not, that’s okay, too. We’ll still be married, whether anyone else sees us that way or not.