We’re Married, But She’s Still My Girlfriend

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My honey of six years and I got married this last summer, which meant that for the better part of a year, we were in the maelstrom of both wedding planning and finding out How People Are About Weddings. You may already know this: People take weddings really personally. 

This meant a lot of things: We have friends who find the institution of marriage to be so particularly odious that they took this information as very bad news. We had family members who threw themselves into helping, some of my very Catholic extended family bought us Fiestaware but declined to attend, and we had a lot of sweet people offering to help with the crafting. My mom threw a pig roast and invited everyone from her church that we didn’t have room to invite to the wedding. A woman I babysat for in high school, who is a professional pattern-maker,  made significant alterations to our dresses. This was arranged because we all wound up at the same water aerobics class together and my girlfriend wound up discussing this in the locker room with her. (This was slightly weird for my girlfriend, but I’ve lived in the same city for most of my life, and am fairly used to it by now.)

We had a fairly wedding-y wedding compared to most of our friends, though some more traditional folks were somewhat flabbergasted as to what was happening. But trust me, we had a wedding! There was a ring-warming, we both wore white dresses (because this wound up being the easiest thing to do), and my girlfriend sewed a million miles of bunting, and we wrote our own vows and girlfriend’s best friend of 10+ years officiated.

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We said some words in a community garden, and there was a brass band that did covers of Cat Stevens songs and a short parade and a pie buffet. The photographer took a bunch of pictures of us kissing in the rain, I danced around to “Uptown Funk” with my mom, my friend made a toast 80% made up of status updates I had made the last six years specifically about my girlfriend and my dad sang “The Rose” because that’s what he does at weddings.

Our brothers were by turns helpful and awkward and drunk and endearing. There were a million family dynamics, and we went on a road trip to the Redwoods afterward, and now it is six months down the road. We sent so, so many thank you notes, but I still don’t know who gave us these nice silk pillowcases. (If you’re out there, please let me know that you did that.)

But getting married is an interesting relationship transition, both within our families, who have higher expectations of the other person’s presence, as well as in our queer communities. A lot of queer folks we know are by turns charmed that we got married, and then putting forth a lot of expectations about what that means.

It’s also true that lesbians throughout time are touchy about what you call them (“Don’t call me futch, that’s so annoying.”) and what you call their relationships (“She’s my WIFE. You have to say WIFE.”)

What we have gotten heat about lately, mostly from strangers and random acquaintances, is that I persist in calling her my girlfriend, although we are legally married. Some people merely find this confusing, because I will refer to having had a wedding, and then refer to my girlfriend, and legitimately this can be confusing. Also, I know that “partner” is an option, but where I live, most of the people who talk about their partners are straight people that work in non-profits and give me eight different qualifiers to contextualize their privileges in the world before we can have a conversation about what they did over the weekend.

It also depends on who you’re talking to. I am not going to call her my girlfriend to airport security, or to the realtor who insists we must be sisters. No ma’am, we are married, and you are annoying.

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I do not like the word “wife,” and neither does she, but I know lots of sweet queer folks and lesbians who love the word wife. That is great. You can use it! By all means! But, I don’t want to.

The people that seem to feel the most strongly about this are lesbians who are a bit older than we are, who felt the grind of building toward marriage equality for longer than I ever did. The SCOTUS decision on national marriage equality took place three months before we got married, thus neutralizing the necessity for any conversations of “Will it be legal?” Our marriage has always been legal, and that’s a privilege I know not everyone carries.

But in a time of greater freedoms, do we not continue to have the option to have greater freedom of choice based on personal preferences?

I call her my girlfriend both out of aesthetic preference, but also because she’s always been my girlfriend, and while now we’re legally married and certain things are changed, and many things remain the same. (Getting our taxes done together—that’s new! Outing myself to my dentist, since I’m on her health insurance—also different, but fine!)  Things that remain the same include: I always make dinner, but she makes breakfast on the weekends, we disagree about whether or not almond milk can be called a health food, the celebrity couple we most resemble is Bob and Linda Belcher.

I also liken it to old married couples that still call each other “Babe.” I will not be calling her “Mother” in my 70s—I always found it hilarious and weird that some older couples did that. 

Ultimately, the real upside of being queer is that we get to make these decisions for ourselves, and even while we’re doing things like having kids, getting married, or opening a joint checking account. Even if you make relatively conventional choices, you still get to make choices in every step forward about what is and isn’t a good fit for you. That’s how you build a life and a relationship that you have ownership of, by orienting yourself to the brief moments of choice you have in every moment.  Choosing to move toward vulnerability and connection, which is the birthplace of joy, creativity, and innovation.

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