What’s the Story #59

"These days, we’re free—for better or for worse, as the traditional ceremony puts it—to pick and choose rather than relying on tradition"

As you might know, it takes a long time to make an issue of Creative Nonfiction—a little more than eighteen months, starting with putting out the call for submissions and progressing through reading the stories, editing, fact-checking, and so on. I believe we first came up with the idea of a “marriage” issue late in 2014, not long after the weddings of two of our longtime staff members: Stephen Knezovich, our marketing director, and Anjali Sachdeva, our director of educational programming.

As is the fashion these days—and maybe also related to their experiences working for our small nonprofit—both Stephen and Anjali put together fairly DIY, individualized weddings. Anjali made the stunning gown she wore, and her officiant doubled as a bartender; in the hours leading up to his ceremony, Stephen built a dance floor. They and their loved ones all stacked a lot of chairs.

In the end, both had beautiful, joyous ceremonies. But I think they also both learned, along the way, that when you step outside of a certain narrow tradition—and outside of the wedding industry—getting married involves a lot of work and a lot of decisions. (Having been married twice myself, I can attest that being married also involves these things.)

In fact, recent court decisions have given us all a new perspective on marriage and, perhaps, an appreciation of all there is to decide. But this issue is also a reminder that even the most traditional marriage is an invention of a new world. And no matter what, marriage involves a lot of suspense and drama. In “That Day: Fifty Years Later,” Melissa Shepherd recalls her boyfriend’s surprise proposal, asking her to marry him before midnight. Heather Osterman-Davis, in “Stealth,” heads down to the city clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license with her fiancé, Mitch. This was in May 2009, six years before the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that all states had to allow same-sex marriage. “Had we been two women, we would have been unequivocally turned away,” she writes. “But the laws about marriage when one partner was transgender and the other was of the ‘opposite’ sex were murky.” In “What We Cannot See,” we join Maribeth Fischer at her third wedding, the one she promised she would never have. Walking down the aisle, she knows in her heart that she is heading toward another mistake. Will she follow through?

Oddly enough, another theme that connects these stories—though when you think about it, it makes sense—is paperwork. Shahnaz Habib, in “Economy Class,” is waiting for papers from the state department so she and her husband can go on a trip. And in “The Marrying Kind,” Jane Bernstein navigates the legality of online ministry for purposes of marrying two close friends. Perhaps this focus on technicalities provides a new way of looking at tying the knot in our era of active cultural conversations about marriage—what it is and who should be able to do it and how.

For some, these changes are very scary; for many others, they present a great opportunity to live and love openly. (Or, not to love.) The point is, we’re free to choose who and how to be.

These days, we’re free—for better or for worse, as the traditional ceremony puts it—to pick and choose, to figure out what’s truly important, rather than relying on tradition to tell us. This issue showcases many types of marriages, but whether in their first marriage or fifth, and whether gay, straight, or trans, happily married or happily divorced, all these writers are grappling with what it means for two people to become one couple.

About the Author

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Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather, and the award-winning, Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.

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