Processing hetero-normative, non-offbeat relationship diagram

June 23 | Guest post by Lacandona
EAJ23
Photo by Wild About You Photography.

This week I finally figured out that I have been experiencing some unexpected emotions as my beau and I have been going through wedding preparation. It's baffling — I'm building a life with a brilliant, compassionate, and beautiful man, my business is going well, and I'm healthier than ever. So why am I so bummed most the time?

I've finally figured out that these feelings are not-so-uncommon as folks deal with expectations of what engaged/married life "should be like" (i.e. the normative, non-offbeat relationship diagram). I'm not going to go into the details of my past relationships (or talk about fluid sexuality, gender dichotomy, or identity politics) except to say that I am just as queer as I always have been, but my current partnership appears totally hetero to an innocent bystander while past relationships have not. This has subtly affected my expectations of what a relationship looks like.

After so many years of (outwardly) queer relationships I felt like I'd taken that "what a relationship should look like" diagram that had been ingrained in me since the minute I first opened my eyes, crumbled it up, and threw it out the window during a really fun roadtrip when I drove far far away from cultural standards, expectations, and parental control.

Well, that diagram is ubiquitous. When you've cut out these essential parts of the diagram by smudging the idea of gender dichotomy or what role a parent should play in your relationship (dad takes male partner shooting vs. male partner is a femme-ish transperson who just doesn't want to do that even if he had the chance), it is much easier not to follow that diagram. My partner and I have already talked through some of the less normative ways we want to live our lives together, but a little part of me still expects jewelry and roses from him even though I couldn't care less about impractical gifts. My dad has always given my mom jewelry and roses and that's the model I know.

Expectations based on that irrelevant relationship diagram are just one aspect of the feelings that are leaving me feeling less than totally stoked all the time. Maybe the most important thing I hadn't thought about before last week was the fact that while you are engaged, you are grieving for a life you're leaving behind.

Since my partner and I began talking about committing to each other for the long haul (very early in our relationship!), I started to look back on my single life. I am a do-er… If I had a few days off of work I threw some blankets and my dog into my waste oil powered diesel and drove from Ohio to Texas to visit a friend on the spur of the moment. I bought my first house at twenty-two and would decide to paint or take out a closet one weekend and just do it. I imagine a lot of offbeat brides led lives of willful independence before their partner and the associated necessary tandem decisionmaking came on the scene.

While my partner brings a lot of sensibility and stability to my life, I felt totally hobbled, boring and domesticated when I thought back to the times when I only had myself to answer to. A lot of my sad feelings have to do with missing the life I led before. We got a home together last fall, and when we moved in together I imagined it would be all romance and wonderfulness and tons of smooching! However, the first few months were rocky, with blowouts, high drama, and less smooching than before. It certainly wasn't 100% bad, but it was stressful.

However! After taking care of a house for myself and a handful of roommates for six years, it feels awesome to hear the lawn being mowed by someone who is not me! And I'm not the only one emptying the dehumidifier in the basement and putting more insulation in the attic. And someone is there to cook dinner for me when I'm not feeling well and walk the dogs when I don't have time. Oh, and I get to spend my nights having brilliant conversations with my best friend and wake up next to him in the morning.

It's been helpful to keep an eye on the tradeoffs and think about the wonderful things that are happening in this life we're building together. I'm also glad to be experiencing the full spectrum of emotions, and okay with not feeling total bliss at all times because I get to build a beautiful life with a fantastic person. I have to leave space to grieve for my old way of life and independence before I can enjoy all of the benefits that interdependence brings.

  1. This is a GREAT post. You totally just made sense of so many things going on in my head. I've been married for two weeks and couldn't figure out why I feel so melancholy, but I see now that it is me feeling the veil of mainstream relationship expectations on me. I like doing things alone and I have realized I'm not especially romantic.

    I feel alot better having read this. And diagrams ROCK!

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  2. I think the grieving process for one's former life is something a LOT of spouses-to-be go through, and is something that's not allowed to be spoken of (by straight women) or that gets spoken of badly (the stereotypical strippers-and-beer straight male bachelor party).

    I realized a couple of months before my wedding that it was REALLY IMPORTANT to acknowledge that I was feeling that way, that I was indeed making a set of trade-offs in my life, and that it was okay to feel that and move on. I did give away a large measure of my independence when I chose to be partnered with my husband, but I consider that what I got in return was worthwhile. And it was a big change to my own view of my identity. I wish we could all talk about those things more widely and openly without getting scandalized faces.

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  3. "While my partner brings a lot of sensibility and stability to my life, I felt totally hobbled, boring and domesticated when I thought back to the times when I only had myself to answer to."

    And this is why I want to scream at my fiance every time he tries to give me input on something. I CAN TOO PAINT THE HALLWAY PINK YOU CAN'T STOP ME.

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  4. I understand what she means completely. My fears are a bit different though. I know that I can take care of myself through thick and thin, and always come out on top—I see myself as a Phoenix. I do not know what the future will hold for us together. What if we begin to have children and are still stuck in our very, very small cottage because we can’t sell it. What if we become homeless? What if I am making the wrong decision? What if I am choosing the wrong life? What if?

    It is very uncomfortable because my partner does not have the same fears as me. He is excited. When I bring up my cold-feet it always gets weird. But I do not understand how he CANT have cold feet. Getting married is such a big decision. I love Josh and he and I are partners. What I have always wanted— a real live life partner. But that doesn’t comfort my fear of what I do not know. It is the closed door that I am about to walk through that scares me: the door that I have been waiting for my whole life. Now I must wonder, what in the hell is on the other side?

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  5. Thank you thank you thank you.

    Before moving in with my husband-to-be, I lived with my sister, and we are super close and had marvelous adventures together. Before that, I lived alone and did whatever I goddamned pleased. I cooked hashbrowns at 2 a.m., had friends over to celebrate equinox, stayed up all night trying on outfits for the coming week…

    I also seriously entertained ideas of moving out of the city, state and country.

    I love my fiance. I love how we're becoming grownups together. But I would definitely be lying if I said the loss of the freedom to do all those things without consulting someone else wasn't something I'm mourning right now.

    I'm gonna be alright, better than alright. I'm going to have a great life and now I've got someone to take care of me. This is all part of being an adult… but I think it's important to say a real goodbye to those times, that life, and just know that at least I'll always have the memories.

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  6. It needs to be said again… THANK YOU. I've been having "cold feet". Not questioning my decision to get married (..in three months..) but missing my old ways. Just up and leaving town, driving three towns away in the middle of the night just to drive back before dawn. Pool at random bars with random strangers. Having my friends over to dye our hair.

    My partner is everything I've ever wanted, even merging into that "perfect" word I never use. He understands me, supports me, and loves me, FOR ME. I've never had that before. I couldn't understand why I was having these mourning feelings about my past in relation to an unknown future. Making matter worse was the fact that my past, while exciting and adventurous wasn't always the healthiest. So why morn the rough waters behind while sailing into clear skies?

    Every time I brought it up to anyone I was either told "Well.. maybe you should just put the wedding off then", Which I don't want to do, or "Maybe you're just not the marrying kind…" which would be fine, if I was! Or the lovely bitter reply "Good! Never get married, it ruined my life!". I felt none of those things so I ended up feeling guilty.

    Thank you for making me feel like I'm not alone :)

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  7. i wanted to acknowledge my feelings too, is hard for others to understand as we have been living together for 8 years and have a 3 year old son together, so why am i having anxieties? i think it's giving up my last link to singledom, my last name i'm 37 and had a fantastic time being single so why is it so hard to change from Miss B to Mrs H in 3 months? OH just doesn't understand because this is his first real relationship so he has no single life to mourn.
    But thanks for the opportunity to vent, feeling better already

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  8. Maybe I'm missing something but why can't you do all those things when you're married?

    The month after moving in with my boyfriend I flew 6,000 miles to go to a gig without him. In a month he's going to a music festival without me because his friends randomly bought him a ticket. We're also talking about going to a festival together next year but with him in a hotel and me camping because he hates camping and I hate missing out on all the stuff that happens in the campsite.

    I wouldn't say my life now is exactly the same as when I was single, but I don't feel like I can't do any of the things I did before. I'm more likely to do them with him, but if that doesn't work for whatever reason it's not a problem.

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    • It's definitely not that you CAN'T. I guess, at least for me, it's being accountable to someone else. This could also be said for my dogs! I can't just up and leave town without making reservations for them at a boarding facility.

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    • I LOVE this video. The first time I came across it, I watched it five times in a row. Oh, Dan Savage. You are a hilarious bearer of great truths.

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  9. I am so glad this was a good read– I guess sharing one's own navel-gazing can be a good thing!

    Also, I've heard good things about the book "Conscious Bride" by Sheryl Paul and Emotionally Engaged by Allison Moir-Smith (I haven't read the former; the latter is a great book but does assume you're marrying a man, etc).

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    • I found "The Conscious Bride" to be kind of massively gender-normative and kind of weird about handling feminist issues, but it does go into this stuff. (The section on names had an air of "those wacky feminists think they can avoid the grieving for past identity by not changing their names, LOL". Which without the laughing tone would have been a fine observation, and in my experience, true, but I was so tired of gender assumptions I almost threw it across the subway car. And a lot of it assumes "becoming a wife to a husband" rather than "becoming a spouse to a spouse".)

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  10. This. This fear of losing my independence is something that I'm having a really difficult time with. My fiance is not controlling in any way shape or form. But I lived a really full life before I met him. House, established career, the whole she-bang. So what happens to all that after I get married? I'm selling the house, which is totally scary to me, but I want to build something with him together. Neither one of us has ever lived with a significant other before either. My friends do not understand this because they were all married pretty young, most while still in college so they "grew up" with their spouse, whereas he and I built our careers and lives separately before we met.

    I've never been married before, so I have no idea what it's like to be married. Will it change me? Will it change him? Will it change us? No one ever really talks about it, so I have no idea.

    We're kind of learning together actually. Both of us have relied on ourselves for a long time and it's hard to remember that we're a team now, we can pass the ball to each other to get the job done. But it's hard to learn that. It's hard to give up that part of me that must do everything for myself and to allow someone to help me.

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    • Oh goodness. I haven't sold my first house yet, but I was a HOT MESS when I moved out. It's going to be a big deal when I do sell it (but at this moment it makes a lot more sense to rent than try to sell).

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  11. YES. This encapsulates a lot of what I've been feeling, as the date gets closer and closer. It's not that I feel hobbled or constrained by FH, it's just that I can't be as selfish as I was when I was single. That's not a bad thing, but I miss not having to care how someone else might be affected by my decisions or impulsivity. It's also, as you pointed out, the weirdness of being in an outwardly hetero-normative relationship. It's like some people think I've "finally settled down/come to my senses" after years of "experimentation". I've tried to explain that it's the person FH is that I'm in love with, not the fact that FH has a penis. I would love FH and want be married to this person regardless – woman, transgendered, hermaphrodite, it wouldn't matter. FH is the only person in all of the years that has awoken the desire to see all of the future sunrises/sunsets together.

    So why am I mourning? Because as great as it is to have a person who loves me for me, even when I'm not exactly 100% likeable, it still means making room in my (former) wild-child life for someone else's hopes, goals, dreams and fears. It means giving up the right to just worry about myself and do whatever I want. I suppose what I'm really mourning is the remnant of my childish, ego-centric existence. I look forward to the many adventures that we're going to have together, but that doesn't mean that I can't wistfully look back every so often and think of how things used to be. I don't mean to say that every single woman's life is an exercise in ego-driven self-indulgence; just that it's a luxury to be able to be responsible, completely and 100%, to only yourself. And it's OK to miss being there. I still plan on having a blow-out/wake to say goodbye, though. ;-)

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    • It's like some people think I've "finally settled down/come to my senses" after years of "experimentation".

      Yes! That is exactly the impression I'm getting from many family members.

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  12. Thank you so much for that post. I've been feeling the same issues as well, and I've been trying to blog about it in a way that honors my commitment to a man, but also looks at the hetero-normative issues of marriage. It's nice to know we're not alone in these feelings.

    "Conscious Bride" and "Emotionally Engaged," while gender-normative, have been helping me with the process. Also, check out the book list on indiebride.com. There are several good books on it that look at what it means to become a wife– culturally, socially, etc. I think you'll be really interested in Chrys Ingraham's "White Weddings," which examines how hetero-norms are romanced in the wedding industry.

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  13. I totally understand the normative relationship thing. The love of my life is also the first non-queer, complete hetero I've been really involved with. When all of our last very straight roommates got engaged with big fancy diamond rings I totally forgot myself and how I hate the diamond industry and those cliche rings. I wanted so bad to be normal for a few months I forgot who I was. I'm so glad that I've got my honey to remind me. I'm much happier with my moonstone ring than I ever would have been with a diamond.

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  14. Thank you for this post – on so many levels. I've been dealing with a lot of feelings around being a queer girl in a seemingly straight relationship, and with mourning my "single" life. And I know my partner has been dealing with this too. It feels good to acknowledge these feelings and speak about them openly.

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  15. This was such an amazing post and I really needed it right now!! I just got married last month and I LOVE my husband but have definitely been struggling with the changes that have come with the marriage.

    Thank you (and all the commenters as well) for reassuring me I am not mental and this is normal and part of the evolution of me as a person.

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  16. I also used "Emotionally Engaged" (too gender-normative, but still helpful in the sense of reaffirming that I was not the only one 'mourning' while I should be 'celebrating!'), and a wonderful book called "Wedding Goddess" by Rev Laurie Sue Brockway. I highly highly recommend it! It really helped me find the space to reflect and to honor the pre-wedding time as a process, with all its different emotional components – excitement, fear, resentment, sadness, loss, grieving, growth. I had become highly volatile and was crying or throwing fits with no prompting (usually there's at least a prompt!) – this book helped me put my behavior in the context of grieving over the end of one life and acting out against fear/anxiety/anticipation at the beginning of a new one. I am now a much calmer, happier, more excited almost-bride :)

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  17. I am really appreciating these posts about the SHOULD feeling. When I first got married it was going to be this over the top and fun thing done my way. But on the day of, it was traditional with hints of me. I felt lost. It was beautiful and whatnot but I really do think we get caught up in the word SHOULD. I have tried to cut it out of my life and my perspective. My manors and etiquette still carry the SHOULD tag but I blame that on breeding!

    I would also like to say how much I appreciate the posts about gender, identification and what that can mean to couples. I had really never thought about it since my life is generally hetero…but it has really opened my eyes to challenges of people …I really wish it wasnt so difficult. I wish we just all understood …and were just happy to find love….no matter what form it comes in.

    Good luck to everyone on these boards.

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  18. Incredibly insightful, and so true for so many. It was nice to hear someone voice all the little things I have had a very hard time voicing for myself and for my fiance.

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  19. Thank you for this post! After my divorce I relished in my newly regained independence. I'm in a relationship now that will probably lead to marriage, and while I'm happy about that, I'm having an even harder time adjusting to living with someone than I had the first time. It's reassuring to see that I'm not the only one with these feelings.

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  20. I'm slightly confused here. You say that you are a queer girl in a hetero relationship, and it seems to bother you at least on some level that this relationship "looks" straight to the outside observer. What confuses me and niggled at me as I read this is why it matters what your relationship looks like to anyone, and more specifically why it seems to matter more that it's hetero? Would you feel better about the situation in general if you were entering into a homosexual marriage, or is it just that people know that you are entering into a lifelong commitment period that is the bother?

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  21. MUCH appreciated.

    As to why it is disturbing–I'm not the OP, but based on my own feelings, I'd say that after a lifetime of feeling different from other people, it feels weird to see that part of yourself rendered invisible, and to be treated as "a normal straight person" for the first time, after years of being treated "as a queer person", would feel very strange indeed.

    I'm femme enough that I've only occasionally had people give me sideways glances [eg, when wearing all my hair up in a rainbow cap, such that I could've been sporting a shaved head underneath], but as someone who has felt that my queerness was invisible for a long time, I've felt uncomfortable about that–and I'm used to it. For someone who has never been treated as straight before, I'd think it is very un-nerving!

    Hope this helps a bit with perspective.

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    • This, a thousand times this! When I got engaged, I actually had a few relatives comment that I'd "grown out of That Phase, just like we said she would!" I'm still just as attracted to other women as I ever was. It was just coincidence that the person I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was a guy.

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      • I also agree with this. Families act very relieved when you get engaged into a hetero relationship, and sometimes voice opinions that they 'knew it was just a phase'. It's very hurtful. Thankfully, though, my fiance is very accepting and helps me work through it. Marrying the opposite gender does not make either party straight. <3

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  22. Thank you for writing this. Ever since I created my Tribe account, I've been freaking out. I was going to look for articles like this, but here it was on the front page! Awesome. This is why I love OBB!

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  23. Wow this is so spot-on. I refused to acknowledge these feelings in myself before my wedding, which led to some awful depression and bad choices in the months following it. Thankfully the choices weren't bad enough to seriously damage my fledgeling marriage, but I do feel that if society acknowledged these feelings, that I and others like myself may not have to go through all the rockiness and ugliness that ensued.

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  24. Love this post Thank you! I reassure many of my anxieties I thought maybe I shouldn't be getting married, when it was actually grief of leaving singlehood behind. As you write "while you are engaged, you are grieving for a life you're leaving behind." I actually love the companionship and company, but am scared I will become a "boring old housewife".

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