Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
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Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

prep
As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

ceremony

So That Happened

As many of you know, I spent the last three weeks getting married to Liz, celebrating with friends and family, and running off to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I can think of few other periods in my life as dense with experience, emotion, and meaning as these. Typically, when life feels full like this, I depend upon writing. Through writing, I process emotions, document events, and envision the future. However, uncharacteristically, I feel blocked from writing about the past few weeks. I’ve opened and closed my journal a dozen times. I’ve beat myself up about not writing. I’ve avoided it entirely. And yet, when it’s hard to begin processing, I suppose you have to start somewhere:

ceremony

Wedding week kicked off with dinner at French Laundry, the obligatory City Hall visit, beers and tacos on the waterfront, wine tasting in Sonoma, sitting around the Inn fire pit, open mic toasts at the rehearsal, and thirty people who rarely ride bikes pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the ceremony we wrote ourselves, Reese’s best behavior as he came up the aisle, the reflections of our officiants, the surprise first dance starring our fathers, and the encouragement to “Live Long and Prosper.” There was the mist in the Presidio, the clear view of the Golden Gate, the sanctity of the space, the smell of eucalyptus, and the mountains of petits fours. There were bottles of champagne sabered by knives (more or less successfully), family-style platters passed around the table, a chance to wear my mother’s veil, a second wedding dress, and abounding grilled cheese. There was biking the approach to Sausalito with my uncle, calculating last-minute vendor tips with my bridesmaid Eleanore, the dance with my dad, and the last picture of the night with my mom. There was the note Liz sent me our wedding morning, my gasp at first seeing her, and walking Reese together under the full moon after the whole reception finished. And all this was before the honeymoon. It was before bottles of champagne on arrival, tropical flowers from my wife surprising me in our room, and fresh coconuts opened by the gardener. It was before Liz tackled the trails on our ATV, we choreographed team jumps off our overwater bungalow, and I fell face-first off a stand-up paddleboard. In each of these experiences, there were dense emotions as well: the joy of seeing friends and family, the pressure of coordination, the annoyance of detail-orientation, the hope that all would go well, the confidence that this was so right, the overwhelming love of everyone in attendance, and the gratitude for everyone and for each other. Coming out of these few weeks, there’s a distinct happy/sad feeling, just like the happy/sad tears I cried at the toasts, on the dance floor, and when the wedding was all thankfully, impossibly, heart-breakingly over.

Why is it so hard to write about the wedding? First, it’s too big, too dense, and too meaningful. I find it impossible to select a vignette that’s representative of the whole or condense the entirety down into something comprehensive. Thus, instead of presenting a thoughtful deconstruction of a focused experience (as is often my approach on The Intentional), I can only come up with the incomplete litany of impressions above.

Second, it’s hard to reflect upon the wedding/honeymoon period because it’s not yet over; we’re still in the ‘liminal’ period. Liminality is a concept in anthropology and ritual studies; it describes the disorienting in-between-ness that happens after you leave one role (e.g., engaged person) and before you take on your new role (e.g., married person). You’re no longer this, but not yet that. Because we start back to work tomorrow, Liz and I have not yet re-emerged into the world as married folk. Life is still filled with wedding logistics, honeymoon-worthy candlelit dinners, and a distinct separation from everyday life. Perhaps, in addition to the sheer volume of experiences, I’m also struggling with reflecting upon this experience as I’m still in the midst of it.

Looking forward, I suspect it will take time to integrate the events of the last few weeks; as days and weeks pass, I’ll be better able to digest the great volume of experiences and benefit from the perspective of being back in the flow of life. Self-growth often takes conscious processing, and there are certainly more wedding posts to come. What form my continued reflection takes, there’s also a refreshing finality in closing this in-between period. It means that, on the most important level, the change is complete. I re-enter the world tomorrow fundamentally and delightfully different from who I’ve been: I’m now married to Liz.

With love to all those who read this, all those who celebrated with us, and, above all, my lovely wife,
Meredith Whipple Callahan

(More to come!)

first dance

Empathy for Bridezillas

Liz and I continue to beaver away at wedding planning, tackling some new aspect of the event nearly every night. Our loft is filled with reply cards, flower vases, and various sizes of ribbon. Our inboxes alternate between guest questions about plus-ones and responses from a fantastic collection of vendors. Our calendars are filled with events like trial hairdos, venue walkthroughs, and just one more trip to Michael’s.

More than once I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the details. Which forks should we use? Will the cake be cut at 8:20PM or 8:35PM? Do I want blush or bronzer? While I value (and perhaps overvalue) the importance of nailing the details, it is certainly not my strength. Instead, I’m constantly surprised about the volume and specificity of the choices that need to be made. Wedding decisions are like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls); you think you are seeing the entirety of the question, but then you open it up to find that there are infinite layers of decisions nestled within the high-level decision you just made.
wed_linensWhile all this planning stresses me out, Liz, on the other hand, brings an operational fluency to the whole process, grounded in her military background and healthcare expertise. I may be emotional about the fifteenth decision about flatware, but she has the capacity to see the overall vision and also manage the component decisions to achieve the plan. She is unsurprised by the level of planning needed and unfussed about making it happen.

In some way, I’m surprised that these decisions stress me out in the first place. True, I’m not naturally good at dealing with the details, so I may feel incapable. But I also would not be stressed if I didn’t think these decisions were important. Why does this endless parade of decisions matter to me?
wed_napkinOn some level, I believe the efforts we put into orchestrating a gorgeous event – from finding the right forks to arranging the tables – serve as a proxy for the love we’re giving to our guests. If we can control the event and get it all right, then people will enjoy themselves and know how much we love them. If I’m honest with myself, it’s like every other dinner party I’ve thrown in the past; if I make it perfect, all will go well. It’s a lot of pressure to put on picking flowers and candles and desserts; if they’re not exactly right, then people won’t feel loved and we won’t be okay.

Reflecting on my own control issues around our wedding has helped me empathize with the bridezilla trope in a new way. In addition to endless questions around event details, weddings confront us with questions around many of our core values: family, religion, community, beauty, self-worth, tradition, love, gender roles, commitment, and meaning. As the bride (or one of two brides), it’s easy to pretend to control over all those questions by controlling the details of the day. Society tells us that it is ‘our day’ and we can do whatever we like, so why not dictate all the details, avoid the most difficult questions, and ensure the logistics perfectly conform to our vision?

I’m trying to unplug my controlling tendencies here. I’m trying to dissociate the precise linen selection with the love that we have for our guests. I’m trying to I’m trying to channel a bit more of Liz’s capacity for making these decisions without becoming stressed. And I’m trying to not control the world in order to increase my own sense of comfort. It’s not easy to do this, particularly as each vendor comes with question after question about decisions that apparently matter. But my hope is that by letting go of a bit of my wedding, an even better, co-created celebration can grow up in its place.

With love,
Meredith
wed_vase

How I Felt When Love Won

I left the States earlier this month for a combined business trip/vacation to Frankfurt, London, Windsor, and Sussex. In addition to the highly useful work parts, Liz and I took a week in the middle to put wedding planning on hold and travel the UK. In the course of eight days, we hit the Royal Ascot, the Harry Potter Studio Tour, Abbey Road, and over two dozen pubs. After pint upon happy pint, Liz returned stateside, and I hung around for work.
big ben harry p ascot
I arrived back home on Friday, leaving Heathrow mid-morning and landing in San Francisco mid-afternoon. As wheels touched down, I casually fired up my iPhone. Before texts or emails had a chance to load, I opened Safari and searched for “Supreme Court.” I knew in the back of my mind that the ruling might come out, but I honestly didn’t expect it. (I was secretly planning to have some sort of SCOTUS breakfast next week: get up early when the courts announce, invite over some sympathetic friends, and provide lots of coffee and bacon.)

The first headline I saw was CNN’s simple and factual truth: “Supreme Court rules for same-sex marriage nationwide.” The announcement was so fresh that my newsfeed was not yet subsumed by opinion articles and teary pictures of couples kissing. It was just a simple fact.

I showed my seatmate. I took a breath. And then I started bawling on the airplane.

Even now I’m surprised and self-judgmental about my reaction. I haven’t been fighting this fight my whole life. While I lived for years with questions and uncertainties, they didn’t subsume my ability to live as myself. Today I’m more likely to feel the oversight of someone’s assumption (“Your fiancé, what does he do for a living?”) rather than the bone-pain of overt discrimination. And though I was hurt by not being able to marry in Michigan, preparing for our California marriage looks and feels a lot like our opposite-sex couple friends.

In my head, my emotions were not qualified by the discrimination I experienced. I didn’t deserve to react the way I did. Crying like that? Who did I think I was?

Beyond external pains, reflection tells me that there was more subtly meaningful happening when I read that decision. This is well-illustrated by what happened on the rest of my trip after Liz left. So let me tell you a little story:

One of my major failings in life is a complete inability to put myself to bed. I loiter on Facebook, linger over work, and dally over emails. But more than anything, I troll the web – from HuffPo articles to Buzzfeed links. Happily, when I’m home with Liz, I follow her nightly routine and, blessedly, go to bed by 10PM. However, when I’m on the road by myself, like the last week, I end up plummeting into a late-night clickhole. It’s such a problem that one of my colleagues once gave me a book that she used to read to her child: The Going To Bed Book. I needed it far more than her toddler.

I bring this up because it’s during those wandering, lonely nighttime hours that I’ve been circling this issue – at 1:28AM at the Piccadilly Meridien, with piles of white hotel pillows around me and a computer screen illuminating my face. It’s then that I’m knee-deep in the National Organization for Marriage, Savage Love, Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, Focus on the Family, Marriage News Watch, and even the SCOTUS site. I read the smart arguments about equality, but reflect even more over the voices – both explicitly hateful and lovingly dissenting – who question my rights.

When life is private and secret and lonely, I step into my quiet, underlying question of “Am I really okay?”

We all have reasons why we might not be okay, why people might not love us, and, most scary of all, why we might not be deserving of love. While my waking life abounds with love from family and friends, I find plenty of lurking evidence to feed my fears during these nights. Here are all the reasons I’m unlovable, writ large in a national political debate.

Maybe that’s why I was so casual about searching out the SCOTUS answer in the daylight. My daytime self is strong; I know my worth. My daytime self smiled and shared the SCOTUS decision with my seatmate. But after a moment, when the truth filtered through to my fragile, nighttime self, I cried with relief. There’s something at the vulnerable core of me that’s validated by this decision – not because it makes my marriage legal, but because it makes me okay.

What is Friday about to me? It is primarily about the love within same-sex marriages and, specifically, the love that I share with Liz. But, beyond that, it is also one more step towards better loving myself.

With all sorts of love,
Meredith
us at pride

The Intentional Bride

As we’ve started to move from the broad decision of a venue to the specifics of bridal parties, videographers, caterers and such, I’ve realized anew how stepping into the role of bride-to-be brings with it all sorts of expectations.

Happily, at the same time, I’ve also realized how elegantly your average bride navigates all these expectations.  Weddings are just such extraordinary events that they jostle all of us out of our automatic, everyday routines and into a more intentional place.

While the ‘shoulds’ that we feel in the wedding planning process are amplified over those of daily life, so is the intentionality with which your average bride faces these expectations.

In one corner:  The ‘Shoulds’
Sure, there is generally accepted flexibility within the guidelines, but everyone comes to the table with some longer or shorter set of expectations around weddings.  For a bride planning an Americanized wedding in the US, the short version of this reads something like:

  • You should have some sort of ceremony – religious or civil – that will proclaim you legally married
  • You should tell everyone where to come and what to wear
  • You should wear a dress
  • You should wear white
  • You should ask your best friends and family (particularly those of your gender) to show up in some sort of matching outfit
  • You should decorate the location with more flowers than you’ve ever bought before
  • You should feed everyone a meal (preferably with lots of accompanying alcohol)
  • You should have a cake. In fact, you should make a big deal out of cutting it and then shove it in your spouse’s face
  • You should have dancing. And good music.  Really good music.
  • Some combination of your save the dates, wedding invitations, programs, and signage should be in coordinating designs
  • You should pick colors to synchronize the color scheme of the event
  • You should document everything in extreme detail
  • You should pick a convenient weekend day for all of this to happen

 

Why all the ‘shoulds’?  To some extent, this is all incredibly useful.  Expectations and norms like these help write the cultural scripts that signal our change in marital status to the world.  They help everyone understand that “Yes, this event is in fact a wedding” and give basic guidance on how everyone should act.  They give us all parts to play without having to think a lot about it.

And beyond the cultural cues, many ‘shoulds’ are our collective cultural wisdom around how to marry.  They – and the hundreds of other ‘shoulds’ listed in bridal blogs, magazines, and books – serve as a helpful mix of best practices of party-planning, smart aesthetic choices, and guidance from tradition.  In so many ways, it’s nice not to have to start from a blank slate.

But, it’s also freeing to realize that none of the ‘shoulds’ are necessary.  And so:

In the other corner:  Intentionality
Liz and I are not revolutionaries looking to defy every wedding tradition; in fact, I think we’re both inclined to be more traditional rather than less.  But we – like every other couple planning their wedding – have a choice.  We can walk into the wedding planning process and let ourselves be pummeled by all these ‘shoulds.’  Or, we can be intentional about the event we create.

We can begin by identifying the ‘shoulds’ and sorting them out from our true wants and needs.  As we identify each ‘should,’ we can also figure out from where it comes.  Are they the voices of brides of eras past?  The comments of our friends while debriefing wedding season?  Our perception of what it takes to keep up with the Joneses?  We can consider which of these expectations fit our aspirations and which don’t serve us at all.

Being intentional means that we’re not going to accept the template of a wedding.  We’re going to start from the beginning – with the purpose of this whole ritual and the values that we want it to express.  And we’re going to build our wedding from there – adopting many of the ‘shoulds’ that match with our own desires and throwing away the others.

It’s not an easy process.  It takes far more mental exertion to plan the wedding that we want rather than accept each expectation.  But so many weddings I’ve been to lately (including the wedding just this last weekend) have shown exactly this intentionality – this willingness to make choices that are aligned with what the couple wants to create rather than thoughtlessly proceeding according to plan.  Just this summer, I’ve watched the bride and groom rip up the dance floor with an amazing ballroom number, and I’ve been to multiple weddings with no dancing at all.   I’ve been to by-the-book Christian and Jewish weddings, and listened to multiple (yep, multiple) Hindu/Christian fusion liturgies.  I’ve taken a boat to a restaurant reception and wandered up a hill to eat in a barn.  I’ve seen a wedding cake in the form of a tree stump and another surrounded by cardboard cutouts of sheep.  I’ve traveled to hill stations, grooms’ hometowns and Hawaii.  I’ve danced and hooted while the groom rapped about his love and clapped politely after the father-of-the-bride’s speech.  In so many ways, people are choosing the approach that fits their collective personality, where they want to invest, where they want to disinvest, and how they want people to feel.

However we act in our daily lives, the exceptionality of a wedding forces us to be intentional about how we design it.  And now the challenge is ours to sort through the ‘shoulds’ and align on our ambition.  I only hope we can do as well as our friends have done.

With love (and lots of planning to do),
Meredith

(See future posts on this topic under the category heading:  The Intentional Bride)

 

The New News (Encore: Part Three of Two!)

(For background, check out Part One and Part Two.)

In a same-sex relationship, there’s not an option of falling back on traditional gender roles.  Who cooks and who does the dishes?  Who does the laundry and who mows the lawn?  And more to the point (you see where I’m going with this), who proposes?

As you know, in mid-June, Liz surprised me by proposing (and I said yes).  Then, a few weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday in Napa, I proposed back to her.  (Spoiler alert:  She said yes too.)

The idea to propose crystallized in the midst of my post-engagement glow.  As I chatted with a friend over lunch, she shared how she and her wife always knew they would both propose, one-to-the-other.  Their choice was not who would propose, but instead who would go first.

I loved the mutuality of this.  When Liz proposed, I was already noodling on the idea of proposing to her in the fall; in fact, I felt a little scooped when she asked me.  (I felt 99% excitement and 1% mild annoyance at being beat to the punch by my clever, clever fiancée.)  Happily, this mutual proposal idea meant that I could ask right back.  We could both be the one summoning the courage to extend the question and the one thoughtfully answering.  (Though perhaps with a higher degree confidence this second time around.)

My planning began with the object of the proposal.  While Liz nailed my preferences by guessing I would want a traditional ring, I hadn’t seen Liz be too enthusiastic about one.  Every time I pushed or prodded on the ring idea, there wasn’t a clear answer.  Separate from the ring, however, I had heard Liz talk about wanting a pocket watch for a very long time.  So I took off to a fine San Franciscan haberdashery (yes, Virginia, there is a haberdashery) and secured a beautiful 1902 Waltham pocket watch with an engraving of a trolley car on the back.

Next stop was the engraver.  Like Liz before me, I suffered upturned noses, exorbitant prices, and long lead times at every Union Square jeweler before returning to the sweet little shop where Liz had my engagement ring designed.  They engraved a lovely message on the inside of the watch and tuned it right up.  When returning the finished product, the engraver even volunteered that this watch was very lucky indeed, citing the fact that the serial number (238) was the number of years from the country’s founding to today (2014 minus 1776).  Now I wouldn’t have thought of or celebrated that myself, but given Liz’s patriotic history, it seemed like a good omen.

After getting the go-ahead from every member of Liz’s family, I pulled together the detailed plan:  Liz’s best friend from graduate school generously gave us wine tastings and engagement photos in wine country as our engagement gift; I would now enlist her as my accomplice.  She agreed to arrange us for pictures such that I would sit near Liz’s feet and she would stand behind so it would be easy to switch into the traditional proposal posture.  We schemed that we would start our day at a champagne house where we could toast the proposal after Liz accepted <fingers crossed>.  I even assigned key words to coordinate in the moment; “That looks like a place for pretty pictures” was code for “We should probably do the proposal over there” while “I need to reapply my lipstick” was code for “This is happening.  I’m going to get my purse with the pocket watch inside.”

When I finally turned to ask, I don’t much remember what came out of my mouth.  You think I would have been a bit more stable considering my odds on the answer, but, in Liz’s words, I “shook like a little leaf.”  By the time I popped open the pocket watch and hazily got through my lines, however, Liz said yes.  Then champagne.  And crying.  And more crying.

Liz and Meredith_2014Jul19_8342
There was something really special about asking Liz to marry me.  I got to engineer a memorable, romantic moment for Liz, the Champion of the World at engineering of memorable, romantic moments.  She got to be surprised, a rarity for that observant lady.  And together we reaffirmed the mutuality of our relationship, wherein both of us can take the lead and both of can be wooed.

Interestingly, in the wake of both of our proposals, I heard all sorts of stories of other couples – both same-sex and heterosexual – being similarly intentional about their proposals.  A female colleague proposed to her long-time boyfriend, citing that he had always been more ready to get hitched and she wanted to give a clear sign that she was ready too.  A male friend initially rejected the idea of proposing (with its associated plotting and secret-keeping), but got on board when his girlfriend valued the traditional approach.

In our relationship, the answer to “who does what” has had to be intentional – and will continue to be so.  I am grateful every day that we consciously choose the path that works best for us, beginning with our two unexpected proposals.

Meredith

The New News (Part Two of Two)

Making sense of it all
[Continued from The New News (Part One of Two) here.  Here’s where we re-start the very personal discussion with a particularly nerdy spin.]

Putting my story together and applying my consultant lens yields one way of looking at the world:  a framework of sexual orientation and degree of influence.  This is not the end-all, be-all way of understanding sexual orientation and the question of determinism versus choice (every lens highlights something and obscures other things), but it makes sense to my analytical brain and rings true with my experience:

Enter:  Nerdy framework

The x-axis maps to the second question I tackle here:  the question of sexual orientation.  This spectrum of sexual orientation is visualized in the well-known Kinsey scale, which dates back to the 1940s.  Near the origin is ‘Exclusively heterosexual’ (denoted by 0).  Towards the end of the axis is ‘Exclusively homosexual’ (denoted by 6).** Between these extremes, Kinsey proposed a spectrum of attraction.


As you would know from the above, my feelings are neither entirely homosexual nor entirely heterosexual.  I fall somewhere in the middle.

For the y-axis, let’s track back to my first question – of choice versus determinism.  Note that this is not a biological choice of who you’re attracted to (the nature part), but instead a choice of whether you decide to open yourself to those feelings, to give them space, and to see where they go (conceivably, the nurture part).  Our biological impulses – not only in the realm of sexuality but in all areas of our lives – are tempered, colored and interpreted through the lens of our experiences.  Some people, like me, feel they have a large degree of choice in how they live their sexual orientation.  Others – homosexual, heterosexual, and everything in between – see themselves as having no choice at all; this was the way it was.  But just like sexual orientation is on a continuum, so is it important to accommodate this continuum of ‘degree of influence’ from ‘Completely determined’ (near the origin) to ‘Completely chosen’ (towards the end).


To upend the rhetoric of 2003, you can have full choice in how you live out your sexual orientation – and still be legitimate.

You can, in short, fall anywhere on the framework and be worthy of acceptance and (indeed) celebration.

And what of the labels?
This whole framework is one way of thinking about how people experience the world internally.  It addresses neither how people describe themselves to others nor how others classify them.  So, beyond this, there is a third question of identification.  And just as labels don’t fit neatly on people, neither do they fit neatly on a framework.  Instead, people at any point in the framework could identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, straight, pansexual, bi-curious, hetero, questioning, same gender loving, multiple of the above, all-of-the-above, or none-of-the-above (you know, just ‘human’).  (Note that I have left out transgender here as it’s actually quite a different discussion; see this fantastic resource on discussing gender identify separate from sexual orientation).

framework
For me, none of the labels fit very comfortably.  I don’t have formative experiences of frustration or judgment that are more normative for some who feel their queer identity is pre-determined.  Similarly, I don’t have the shared experience of complete homosexual feeling that would let me fully identify as a lesbian.  Sitting in the nebulous spots means that I don’t resonate with any labels.  Not lesbian.  Not bi-sexual.  Not queer.  Not really, umm, anything.

Except Meredith Whipple.

And maybe, in about a year, if she can convince me, Meredith Whipple Callahan.

With love and celebration,
Meredith

Read the unexpected sequel (Part Three of Two) here.

**Note:  Since the Kinsey scale was invented, it has been updated to include X, meaning “No socio-sexual contacts or relations” to include asexuality.

The New News (Part One of Two)

There’s been a lot happening lately, as you might surmise from my recent silence.  Foremost among these is the happy news that, on Saturday, June 14th (Flag Day, for those of you who follow those things), Liz and I got engaged.

 

Liz and I drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

Liz and me drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

While there’s plenty of story-telling to go with the engagement (blanket fort, 5:30AM, videos of ring-making, flowers hidden in the water heater closet), the engagement also serves as a timely prompt for thoughts that have been circling in my head for a while.  While Facebook followers are likely unsurprised, there are many for whom my engagement is the first news that I have dated women at all.  So I’m going to rewind the tapes, share more of the journey, and give more context on everything.  (Note that this will be a two-part installment given the length.)

Choice or determinism?
Though I had inklings prior, I first time I seriously considered women was when I was a senior in college.  I wasn’t displeased with men, but I knew I was attracted to women as well.  I met my first out-and-proud lesbian and spent time quietly observing how she carried herself.  More importantly, under the guises of a project for my graphic design class (which asked us to create a poster for a cause we cared about), I started to think critically about LGBTQ* issues for the first time.  I went to my first march for LGBTQ rights outside of New Haven’s City Hall.  I was nervous and tentative, knowing neither what I wanted as an individual nor how to participate in the broader community.  But I designed my poster for class, walked in the crowd, and took a side on the first political issue I had real clarity on.

Researching that project exposed me to the rhetoric of the LGBTQ dialogue for the first time.  At that point, in 2003, the discussion of sexual orientation – and all the associated civil rights issues – hinged on the question of whether you had a choice about who you were attracted to.  The debate was framed as:  “We don’t have a choice about our sexual orientation, therefore you must accept us as we are.”  The political rhetoric was binary:  you were heterosexual or homosexual – and, either way, you didn’t have a say in it.

While there was still a lot I didn’t know about my feelings, this framing never sat well with me.  I could feel the choice in myself.  I knew that I was attracted to men and to women.  And I had a choice as to what to do with that.  There wasn’t any tension in it.  It was just true.

[Now pause for an interlude of almost a decade of very happily dating a phenomenal handful of men.  And park this thought of the question of determinism versus choice in sexuality.  We’ll come back to it.]

Homosexual or heterosexual?
Jumping forward to 2012, I started dating Liz.  Our first date was on a second obscure holiday (which, like Flag Day, would become personally meaningful):  Cinco de Mayo.  As my relationship with Liz grew, I quickly came out to those I interacted with on a daily basis.  This was easy in certain ways because my relationship with Liz was so happy and I had no reason to be ashamed of it.  My feelings weren’t ‘odd’ or ‘other’ to me.  I didn’t hold a lot of judgment as to whether this was better or worse than dating men.  And as I had been quite happy in my situations before, I hadn’t been hiding or avoiding anything.

When I started telling people, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.  There was still curiosity, however, about how I had arrived here:  “Wait, are you a lesbian?”  “Have you known this all along?”  “But didn’t you date men?”  “Have you been hiding this for years?”  Everyone wanted to support and some people understandably struggled to fit this into their past experiences and previously-held beliefs.

We had an outpouring of love and support.  Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

When we announced our engagement, we had an outpouring of love and support. Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

It’s easiest for a society of many millions of people to define things – and people – very clearly.  Thus, as a way of simplifying, we migrate to binary definitions.  You can be homosexual or heterosexual.  You are attracted to men or to women.  The wide swath of middle ground (the many flavors of ‘bisexual’), the answer that negates the question (‘asexual’), and all other nuances are harder to put our heads around, even while they’re more accurate to our complex world of feelings.

Emotionally, I’m attracted to men and women.  What a wonderful thing.  And how lucky am I that this sincere openness to love made my relationship with Liz possible.

To be continued (in some combination of personal story and nerding out on frameworks) on Thursday.

With love and celebration!
Meredith

Read the next installment (Part Two of Two) here.

Yep, that happened.

Yep, that happened.

*Note:  I use LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) as shorthand throughout this post to refer to the entire ‘non-straight’ community.  That said, I know this label is not as fully inclusive as it could be and there are a million other letters we could append on the end.  With apologies to those who feel their appropriate letter is not included.