You Have to Be Married in Order to Get Married

My girlfriend Alison has been obsessed with weddings since she was a little girl. For me, it was notsomuch marriages, I think, but the ceremony and all that surrounds the jumping-off point of a union. Alison recently opened her business as a wedding photographer, and it’s clear that she still holds tremendous passion for her work. She’s made the fairy tale into something else more real and meaningful to her.

On New Year’s Eve, after a raucous party at my house that involved fun neighbors, riverdancing and rum balls, Stevie and I decided aloud as we drifted off to sleep, that we want to be together. For a very very long time. No proposal, mind you. Just lots of conversations about logistics, proposals, rings, money, adoption, families — none of which are simple in our situation. With each of those difficult reality checks the fairy tale in my head disappears a little bit more. See, here’s what I was thinking:

1. Somehow, telepathically, Steve receives the picture of the $30,000 pink diamond ring I would want on my finger and goes out to find one like it, or have one made, with some money that magically appears.
2. I have completely put the idea of marriage or a proposal out of my mind, and instead concentrate on my new blog, and sewing, and learning to use my new camera.
3. I am so completely absorbed in my creative work and so happy with the way things are, that I am BLOWN AWAY by his surprise proposal which is in a sublimely beautiful spot, probably Seal Beach, where we had our first date. Some strangers happen to witness the proposal. They also happen to be Greek and run a restaurant. They are so overcome with joy for us that they usher us in and we dance and break plates together until it is late and we are all tired and a little drunk off all the Ouzo and Retsina (which, miraculously, does not make me throw up), and we are in such a perfect state of happiness that I think that if I were to die in 10 minutes, it would be OK because I have reached the apex of happy.
4. Steve, my big sparkly pink diamond ring, Lubelle the Dog and I find a GREAT house on the beach for $800. It’s tight but cozy, and we have room for the child we’re adopting.
5. As soon as we’re settled and the colors have been chosen, we get a call from the Agency. A birth mother wants to meet us! We go and it’s great, and look, there’s a baby who, miraculously, looks EXACTLY like us.
6. Me, Steve, the baby who looks EXACTLY like us, Lubelle the Dog and my big sparkly pink diamond ring live happily ever after. And his other kids come around and we all hang out and do crafts and cook dinner together. And I am so peaceful and happy that I create a succession of projects that make us rich, rich, rich. And Apple licenses a song from Steve’s band from 20 years ago that’s featured in a commercial, and it goes viral, and they go on a reunion tour and become huge hit, and he’s doing music instead of putting time in where we work.

But I know that won’t happen. Because that’s why they are called fairy tales. I think we aim as close as we can get, and then must set ourselves up to be surprised and delighted by what we get. Which, more often than not, is your own unique version of truth that far surpasses anything anyone else could have written for you.

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Vanessa McGradyYou Have to Be Married in Order to Get Married

Comments 6

  1. Gray

    I love this and the part of it you sent me in an email first. It’s amazing to me how much thinking we are all doing—and have been doing—around this subject. I think fairy tales are a topic of their own—don’t know if you knew I collected them from all over the world? It fascinates me how different cultural realities play out in native fairy tales.

    But I am disappointed that you missed the whole point of my essay. I most definitely have been more obsessed with marriage than weddings. That’s the whole point behind the obsession with them: they celebrate the beginning of marriage. The rest of it we don’t get to share, but the beginning, we do. My favorite romantic movies are not the formulaic ones I love to hate—the ones that end with a wedding—but the ones that start with the wedding and show the nuances of love and how hard “forever” is. For two people to decide they will walk together into such uncertainty is so incredible to me. That is why I love weddings. I think the “fairy tales” we all conjure in our head before we walk down the aisle are just our way of making sense of the great unknown. There is no way to know what marriage will be like, even if you read all the books about it or go to John Gottman’s engagement weekends. But if you know that you are willing to take such a huge risk with someone, that’s pretty powerful. Bravo to that!

  2. 40licious

    From Kathlyn: The beauty of the fairytale when you live it into reality (like Rilke and his living life’s questions into the answers) is that it will surprise you completely; the ring, when it comes, won’t be 30k and it won’t be pink and it might not even be a diamond, but you will love it with all your heart and it will make you smile every time you look at it. You will never find the perfect place to live, it will be too small, but it will seem bigger when all of you are there together and it will be your favorite place on earth, even if it’s located in the middle of Los Angeles. The baby won’t look a thing like you and might not even be a baby, but when you look in her eyes, you’ll just see yourself and all the rest of the world reflected back at you. And when you wake up the day after your wedding, which may or may not include all your loved ones, a five-tiered cake with all different flavors, a 16-piece Mariachi band, or even a marriage license, you’ll know you’ve done the right thing because the first thought that will cross your mind is “oh fuck! What if this changes everything? It was all so good before!” And when you realize that nothing has changed, at all, you will be ecstatically happy to move into the next part of your life, one day at a time, after a huge leap of faith.

    Or maybe everything you wrote in your fairytale will come true. It’s life so who can say? We don’t get to know it, we just get to live it.

    But my main point, after all, is – I am so happy for you and Steve. Welcome home love.

    Big hugs and kisses to you both,


  3. 40licious

    To Gray: I was a little sloppy in interpreting the essay that you wrote … I was overlaying some of MY wedding vs. marriage thinking on it. I’ve changed it, hope that’s more accurate.

  4. amandakoster

    thing is, fairy tales hafta come from somewhere. and along with imagining a pink diamond ring, we are also imagining a bowl of cereal for breakfast. then, shazam!!! the cereal happens nearly every morning, so why not a pink ring once in a lifetime? in other words.. i’m not convinced fairy tails are impossible. it’s the telling ourselves that makes it that way…

  5. Don Cummings

    I love this fairy tale. So MUCH! I have great fairy tales, then I get upset that my life isn’t even close to my fairy tale. Then, I am just thankful that I don’t have Cystic Fibrosis—and I am not trying to make fun of CF people—I actually think that would be so hard. Because there is so much that you have to do, daily, to take care of that. And so, I guess I am thankful that I don’t have a chronic, ontological illness that I have to take care of every day.

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