When I decided to get married for the third time in 2001, according to statistics, it was not a popular option. More and more couples in America were opting just to live together. People advised me not to do it. Our tax refunds would take a beating. There was no real financial benefit to it. That there’s actually a penalty made me very reluctant.
But I had seen this episode of “E.R.” about two lesbians in the emergency room. One had a stroke and her partner said she didn't want extraordinary medical intervention. But her partner didn’t have a legal right to make any decisions for her. The doctors had to contact an estranged brother and get his permission, and he said to try to resuscitate her, so the poor lesbian partner had to watch while they entubated her lover until she died.
Yikes. I had an estranged brother, and I didn't want him making any decisions about me. I also had an adult son who lived in New York and I really hadn't had much contact with in a decade. I had a father living in North Carolina who I hadn't seen in 20 years. The idea that my boyfriend of four years wouldn’t be able to say, “Don’t tube her until she dies…”
Isn’t this romantic? Is this how you plan a wedding?
Why don’t you just give him power of attorney, someone suggested. Because a marriage license was $33 in Hanover County, and a legal document drawn up by a lawyer was more, that's why.
Besides, we had been together five years, and I felt like a silly Cougar woman still introducing him as my boyfriend. Women my age, with heavy Miss Clairol habits, shouldn’t have boyfriends. It sounded addled. It would be even stupider introducing him as my legal guardian.
“It’s time we thought about getting married,” I told him. “What’s the least we can do and still satisfy your family?”
He had never been married, and his family likes the weddings. The last cousin wedding we attended was at a mansion you could rent out for weddings and receptions. There was an oil painting of the bride in a room with bowls of shrimp on ice all around it. All the napkins had the couple’s names on them and the wedding date. Everyone got a miniature plastic wedding cake. When you pulled the tiny bride-and-groom top off, it was a bubble blower. You blow bubbles after the departing couple instead of throwing messy rice, which kills birds or something like that.
There was a free bar, guys in tuxes cooking made-to-order omelets on hot plates, and a deejay playing records. People got loaded and did the Macarena and the Electric Slide around a pool full of floating floral arrangements.
My 80-year-old dad, who sent me $500 when I eloped at age 20, and $500 again when I eloped again at age 22, wasn't going to pony up for a big wedding now. I’d rather have a car anyway, if he wanted to pay for something, which he did not. No one in my family has ever seen me get married, and I’d like to keep it that way. They never approve and they’re always right, so let’s not get started.
My boyfriend said his family would like to see him get married, even if I didn't want anyone to see me get married. We could go to a magistrate at the courthouse, but the immediate family and a grandmother had to be invited. The immediate family also included his father and his new wife.
Damn it. That meant I needed a dress and a ring now because people have to see something. License, magistrate’s fee, dress and a ring. Would that be enough of a show to justify their attending, but not big enough to make my family think I shafted them on the invitations? This was getting complicated, and expensive. I picked a Tuesday night in July at the historic Hanover Courthouse, which also happened to be the fifth anniversary of our first date.
Soon after the decision was made, at a bar where my boyfriend's band was playing, he stood up and said, “We have an announcement…” So now I had to invite the band and their dates. And all his friends.
Looking back, from the perspective of 11 years later, I have a lot of regrets. I regret not actually doing a better job of the wedding and inviting all my estranged family, what few friends I had, and yes, the people at work, even though most of them would not have attended. It's the thought that counts. My wedding video doesn't show anyone at all from my side, and consequently, seems all about the groom. Not that that's a bad thing. It was his first marriage, after all.
I regret the dress I picked. Finding a dress was next to impossible for my size and a late afternoon wedding in the middle of summer when you are really too old to go strapless or have bare arms, and you no longer have a waist. I didn't want to spend a lot of money. I ended up with an off-white sheath with a full-length vest over it and a white Jackie Kennedy-like hat that I decorated with plastic flowers and ribbons. My bangs were too short. You really need to spend more time than I did on the dress and the hair because you will never be photographed so much in your life unless you become a movie star. I didn't hire a photographer, but everyone there brought their camera and sent me pictures.
And then to my horror...I saw the dress again on the mother-of-the-bride in a slideshow of a redneck wedding held at a Waffle House west of Roanoke. The slideshow won some kind of journalism photography award and was in an exhibit. Every woman in the wedding party was obese.