By: Abby Berns
For a while, my relationship followed a fairly standard trajectory: we met in college, did long distance for a few years after I graduated, lived together in an overpriced apartment in a major metropolitan city, went to grad school in different cities, and staged a marriage proposal in a falafel shop where all of our friends suddenly appeared and I screamed in a scared-not-happy way (maybe that last one is just me). Sarah proposed in August 2012, and we set a wedding date in August 2014, which allowed enough time for us to finish grad school and live together while planning a Jewish wedding in my hometown.
Our plans detoured about a month after we had moved to Providence. I had not yet found a job, and my health insurance from grad school was about to run out. Sarah had insurance through her PhD program at Brown, but because we had only recently moved back in together, it would not cover me as a domestic partner. We debated various solutions, but we kept coming back to the most logistically efficient option: getting legally married. If we did this, it would have to be within the next two weeks as we were up against the deadlines of the High Holidays, Sarah’s first days of school, and the cutoff date for her insurance’s open enrollment.
At first, the idea made complete rational sense. I needed health insurance, so we would get married. But as it sunk in, the thought of getting married a year before our wedding date made us panic. We stared wide-eyed at each other across the space between our desks as our minds raced. Were we ready to be married? We thought we had another year to do the hard work to prepare emotionally! We had only just moved in together after two years in different cities—shouldn’t we wait until we were adjusted to this new life to do something so binding? If we got married in 2013, would our 2014 wedding still count? Which would be the “real” wedding? Would we call each other “my wife” in 2013 or 2014?
As is often the case, Jewish tradition had an answer for this. Our rabbi cited the traditional Jewish practice of a bethrothal (kiddushin or erusin) about a year before the chuppah. She suggested that this legal wedding could be about becoming financially and civilly entwined with a remaining year to “cultivate that deeper and more transcendent experience of attachment and commitment.” In a way, this was an opportunity for Sarah to take care of me, to provide me with health care obtained through exercising our newly available civil rights. We decided that each wedding was the “real” one and started thinking of the 2013 wedding as our civil wedding and the 2014 wedding as our Jewish wedding. The distinction sat well with us.
Surrounded by our 4 friends who could make it on a Tuesday at 1 pm with one day’s notice we stood in front of the probate court judge in Providence City Hall three days later. We repeated the vows that make up a civil marriage ceremony, and felt so lucky that we could obtain a legal marriage in our new state. Sarah and I stared at each other with excitement and love and a little thrill of stepping together into the unknown, and it certainly felt real.