You are engaged. You called and told me the incredible news and my eyes started leaking and it felt like I’d swallowed cement and I realized I was crying.
Since this letter will appear on the Internet, I should provide some backstory that you already obviously know:
You are my sister. We don’t share any parents, but your dad and my mom became best friends in 1990, and so did we. They raised us two otherwise only children together, and you even lived with us part-time for a good solid chunk of our childhoods. We shared a bunk bed. You kept half your dolls in not my room, but “our” room, and several stuffed animals and outfits and pairs of shoes and schoolbooks, and since your dad got you on Wednesday nights and weekends, I did, too.
I was a year older, and bossy. You were easy-going and low-key, and -- bless your heart -- you let me put you in the most ridiculous dress-up costumes, and willingly participated in a whole slew of cockamamie, overly produced, “indie” movies directed terribly by me. (Your character was always on the run. I’m so sorry for making you do all that running.)
We never shared the same group of friends, and we only briefly went to school together, but we never grew apart or experienced “a phase” so common among friendships between girls. Your dad came up with the label “honorary sisters” when we were four and five years old, and it stuck. Later, I did your hair and makeup for your prom.
And now you’re getting married.
YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED!!!!!!!
Ecstatic hardly begins to describe how I feel. Overjoyed? Over the moon? Maybe if we’re talking Jupiter, which has 63 confirmed moons, then yes: I’m over Jupiter’s 63 moons. I feel like the people at Bed Bath & Beyond should package up this sweeping euphoria that permeates my heart every time I imagine you walking down the aisle (barefoot? on sand?) and sell it alongside the lawn furniture and other Beyond stuff because I am beyond any sane human reaction. I’m crying right now.
I didn’t react like this when I got engaged. To start, I was completely shocked. Chris and I lived together, and though neither of us believed in fate per se, we conceptualized our shared future along manifest destiny-like terms. You are mine! I am yours! Together forever! But we were only 24 then, and I assumed marriage wouldn’t be on the table for years. Once the surprise of his proposal settled, I felt appropriately amazed and thrilled. Figuring out that “forever” and giving it a date and a time and a place to actually begin felt awesome, and proactive. And how much could our relationship possibly change, considering that we’d been together for five years at that point and cohabitated for two? Knowing what I know now, nearly four years later, I’d like to tell my pragmatic, pre-wedding self, “Girl, get PUMPED.”
Maybe that’s why I lose it every time the mental missive “SADIE’S GETTING MARRIED!” flashes through my hippocampus. It’s like I’m showing you my new favorite movie and saying, “Brace yourself, it’s about to get good.”
Now, you and Brock are pretty committed already. You’ve lived together for some time, you share two beautiful dogs, and you are in the initial stages of starting your own business as a joint venture. You make a fantastic team. While it might seem in some ways that the wedding is both a practical means of making it official, and a symbol for affirming that pact, putting a ring on it means you are in for so much NEW joy that I know is crazy to even fathom possible. Things are going to change.
First of all, the stakes are lower.
Wait, really? But isn’t marriage a super-sacred, not-to-be-trifled-with privilege? I’m not saying that if it doesn’t work out you can always snag a hot Hollywood annulment. No, no. I mean that you are both about to up your fighting A-game.
Before Chris and I got married, our fights were filled with trepidation. I often felt wary of saying exactly what needed to be said during an argument because I worried if I crossed the wrong invisible line, that’d be it for us.
Marriage instills a sense of security. We publicly pledged ourselves to each other. I know and he knows that we’re both in it to win it. And we know that it’d be a BIG catastrophe to pull the plug now. There’s too much invested.
Our fights now are quicker, to-the-point. Maybe a little louder, but that’s okay. We feel free to speak our truths, no matter what gunk those truths might stir up. And because we are wholly honest, sans pretenses, sans labored overthinking, we can avoid the free-form side-stepping that so often befalls couples in conflict, and get to the root of the issue quicker, which means we can kiss and make up and resume our cartoon-watching in record time, too. (We actually usually fist-bump our conflict resolution out. Is that weird?)
Also, the stakes are higher.
I’m guessing that most everyone will tell you gravely, “Yes, marriage means serious business.” And then they’ll probably bring up the Future Children question, and ask where you’ll settle and will you combine the money you both earn or maintain separate finances, and then one of your girlfriends will refer to your bachelorette party as your “last night of freedom” -- and these questions and truisms, while rote, are not wrong to ask or say.
I waved off all that talk in the months leading up to my wedding. “Guys, I get it,” is a thing I wanted tattooed on my hand so that I could shield my face with my fist when advice from well-meaning friends, family and acquaintances grew too irritating. I knew that marriage was for real. What kind of nincompoop did those folks take me for?
My silly tattoo idea makes more sense these days than it did then -- but for real for real. Chris and I talk about kids, and where we’ll live, and money matters far more now than we did before we were married, and we responsibly talked stuff out then, too. But every option now is tangible, rather than in some hazy, hypothetical realm of “if” and “maybe” and “we’ll see.” And because of that tangibility, we are better equipped to keep moving our lives forward. I do get it! I really do. This IS serious.
Deciding to marry an individual is, in some ways, the last (big) decision you’ll make as an individual. Now all major resolutions will be reached by a committee of two, which is something that always made sense in theory to me, but that I didn’t fully understand until very recently. This doesn’t mean you’re losing your voice or your say. But it does mean an adjustment in identity. For those who prioritize independence over partnership, the lower-stakes fighting can recalibrate into something more intense: a rift capable of long-term damage.
You are legally bound to have each other’s back, and this is such a profoundly stabilizing feeling that I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Spouses who violate their vows are basically breaking the law. How often do singles navigating the dating world lament that breaking hearts is criminal? Guess what: Marriage makes it so.
How terrifyingly cool is that!
A marriage license is like a driver’s license: it puts you in the driver’s seat.
Correction: it puts you BOTH in the driver’s seat. (It’s a tight squeeze, but who cares?) The weight of the world is no longer all on you. Equal weight! Equal responsibility! Equal everything! Two heads really are better than one because two heads means two problem-solving brains, four on-alert ears, four focused eyes (eight if y’all ever need glasses), and two noses so that you can both ask each other, “Hey, is this tuna expired?”
You are in control of the other’s care, to a large extent -- no longer just a burden to yourself, you’re a burden to that guy who loves you deeply, too! Maybe that’s an anxiety-inducing notion for some, but it was a huge relief for me. You know when Jerry Maguire asks Cuba Gooding, Jr., “Help me, help you?” And then we learn in the end that they helped each other help themselves help each other? I think it’s sort of like that.
Plenty of people wait to marry until much later in life, after they’ve accomplished numerous professional and personal goals. And others opt not to marry at all. All choices are valid. But in my experience, the sense of being connected to another person tethered me to earth, grounded me, and obliterated any lingering, uneasy feelings of aimlessness. It gave me a new dimension of purpose, and drive.
At 16, my driver’s license opened up worlds and opportunities and gave me freedom. At 24, our marriage license imparted a different sort of freedom -- the freedom to relax already -- and bound us to navigate a life together.
None of this is to say that a committed relationship between two people that does not include marriage is an inferior one. Oh HELL no. But there’s an amorphous benefit (even beyond the legal perks), a gut-punch that hits you hard on your wedding day and settles in slowly as the months and years trickle on. Changing your name at the social security office (if you choose to do so), triple-checking that your wedding ring is physically incapable of sliding off your finger, asking the stranger on a plane if you can switch seats so you can sit next to your husband? It’s solidifying. (And it is, at least partly, why I think it’s imperative that anyone who wants to be married should be free to get married, dammit, but that’s discussion for a different letter.)
I wish I had some groundbreaking marriage advice to impart, but I don’t. You already provided me with the greatest aspirational example without even realizing it.
Sadie, you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. I admire your openness, your optimism, and your ability to keep things in perspective. When it’s raining, you see rainbows. On days that I find myself spiralling down a negative tailspin, I ask myself: What Would Sadie Say?
When we were kids, I never dreamed I’d get married. I felt like I’d witnessed too many marriages in my family suffer from dysfunction to yearn for one myself. Not so for you. Your parents divorced when you were very young, but that didn’t discourage you. You never turned cynical.
You live life with hope. You face adversities and you surmount them; you refuse to dwell on frustrations -- you laugh.
I love how you smile through challenges, and how you share the goodness in your heart with all those around you. You inspire me to be a brave and loving person, and that includes (among other things) being a brave and loving partner to Chris. Four years ago when I called to share my engagement news, I could hear you grin as you exclaimed, “I knew it!” How? No one else saw it coming. I’ll never forget what you said: “It’s all about love, Steph! Duh!”
Mazel tov, Sadie. I know you will rock at married life.
Your Honorary Sister