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Courage under love – and a little fire

May 10, 2010

One of  my closest friends – a former college roommate – and I both got engaged in the same year, at the same age, and planned weddings in the same spring for the same summer.

A few months ago, after there had already been counseling, a trial period and a decision, she had to work up the courage to tell her very traditional parents about her impending divorce.

More than a few years ago, I had to work up the courage to tell my very nontraditional parents that I’d be getting married.

My sister, the first person I called after I’d said yes, said “Good luck.” She was talking not about the engagement but the announcement.

As she knew, the next stop would be my mother, who when surprised tends toward the reactive. I was 20, and she was alarmed. Heck, even I was surprised and a little embarrassed; I had always felt a call to stability, to nesting and settling down. But I had not planned on being underaged and engaged (thankfully, it would be a few years before MTV aired a reality show under that title). With apologies and props to those who married young with confidence, I just knew that people would hear the news and wonder, “Is she pregnant or born again?” And given that neither were true, I was not thrilled about it. I felt alone – with the one exception, my friends weren’t getting married, they were studying abroad or applying for internships. I would have loved to be more like Don, my fiancé (now husband), who has often been baffled by my hangups about what other people think. We aren’t young and stupid, he probably said. We’re young and ready. If you aren’t afraid to get married, why are you afraid to tell people?

A phone call wouldn’t do, so I packed a bag and went home, terrified and with news. I revealed it quickly, band-aid style. After two days and nights of shouting and tears, with a couple of long-distance interventions from her sister, I heard my mother’s voice of approval (I think it was more like resignation, but eventually it became approval and, later, something more like happiness.). This was a relief, as she and I were about to travel together for a couple of weeks. It was fine; we had fun. But if memory serves, I hid my ring finger and steered conversations away from my betrothed.

But first I had to tell my father, who said, “What are you telling me for?” And then, more seriously, “Why would you want to do that?” This was exactly what I expected and needed from Dad, who in terms of emotional outbursts and spontaneity is very rocklike.

This was the summer that his mother died, and the whole family met in New Jersey to share grief and celebration for her life. My news spread, too, among those who hadn’t already heard. My aunt and uncle were kind, excited and congratulatory.  An encouraging older cousin gave me some relief by asking the fun questions about love and lust.  Most were kind and offered congratulations; a couple were confused and critical. It was par for the course.

For several years afterward, I’d still have to work up courage to reveal myself as a Mrs. In grad school and when meeting new people, I avoided what I called “we”speak so that I could make my own first impression – marital status notwithstanding.

But I didn’t need courage to walk down the aisle. There was stress, of course – the day before the wedding, I cried in a Hobby Lobby; just hours before the wedding, my sisters stood on tables as four of the women in my family leaned over the dresses my mother had made and hemmed like crazy. As I remember it, my friend A, another one of my best and lasting friends, let herself into my apartment and made fruit salad for 150 people. It was a big day. And I was not a black sheep walking down the aisle in white clothing.

Read more about courage at Momalom‘s Five for Ten, where for the next ten days we’ll be writing and reading about variations on five themes (each of which got a mention in this post).

26 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2010 2:51 pm

    I love that photo, and your story! I give you so much credit for going against the grain and having the courage to be you 🙂 its not easy…

  2. May 10, 2010 3:01 pm

    I wasn’t quite as young as you but I was rather surprised how hard and fast I fell for my husband. (I didn’t think that I was the “marrying type.”) Seven months of dating and seven months engaged. We weren’t close friends beforehand. We had met a few times about two years earlier. That was it.
    And I wondered what people thought. But I knew. So what could I do but marry the man of my dreams?
    Congrats on finding your person and the courage to hold on to him tightly.

  3. May 10, 2010 3:35 pm

    I am SO thankful to you for posting this…I got married at 22 (the summer that I turned 23, I’m always quick to add!) and also went through the first couple of years of shyly owning up to my married status until I turned 25. At 25 I was sure that I was old enough to be be married. But you know what? We Knew. We knew that we were ready, and even though I still think of myself as a wandering soul that wants to dance until dawn and do all of the crazy things that come with say, not getting married at 22, the truth is, I was as ready as I ever could have been. It’s so funny that in this day and age, we were the radical ones in our domestic-seeking ways. Every time that I meet someone that also got married young, I feel like a hug and a quick nod for being members of the same club are in order. So here’s your wink and nod, and a happy belated mother’s day to you!!

  4. May 10, 2010 4:13 pm

    Leslie, would you believe this is yet another thing we have very much in common? I wasn’t 20, but I was 22, and I was announcing my impending marriage to my high school sweetheart, who I’d been with since I was 15. My mother’s reaction was less than stellar, she said “I know this is what you wanted.” Gee thanks mom for your enthusiasm. They felt I hadn’t “lived” enough, that he was “tying me down.” We were married a year after our engagement, and then waited five years before children. I always knew he was the man for me, it was only a matter of time. I love how your husband put it “We’re young and we’re ready.” Ten years later we are going strong and I suspect we put a lot of wagging tongues to rest…those who were certain it wouldn’t last.

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I really enjoyed reading it and learning this about you.

  5. May 10, 2010 4:32 pm

    it can be so hard to tell others that you are following your heart. i can relate. i was the first to have child in my family and my circle of friends. we didn’t marry “because” i was pregnant and that was hard for some people to take. we wanted to make sure we still loved each other post-kid. (which we did and married when i was 24)
    i have to say–our oldest turns 8 in a couple of days and we have a fourth coming in the fall–things couldn’t have worked out better for us!
    congrats for taking that deep breath and following your heart!

  6. May 10, 2010 4:55 pm

    I’ve had those same feelings of anxiety, only it was to tell people that I was pregnant. I found out just days before my 20th birthday. My then-boyfriend (now hubby) and I had only been together for less than a year. We were scared of course, but also very happy about it. There were skeptics. People who thought I should give the baby up. That was never even a consideration for me. That was almost 13 years ago. We have a 12-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter and I couldn’t be happier.

    I love that you were “young and ready” and had the courage to follow your heart.

  7. May 10, 2010 5:14 pm

    I was 23 and doing what I never thought I’d do, but it still felt right. Sometimes we just have to jump.

  8. May 10, 2010 5:39 pm

    Woop woop to Leslie! And you and Don are still thriving! And going to Hooters no less!

  9. May 10, 2010 5:45 pm

    Good for you, going with your gut, going against the grain. I, too, married at 21. I felt all of the emotions you mentioned here and more. Especially the part about “not fitting in” somehow because none of my friends were at the place I was. Great post!

  10. May 10, 2010 6:33 pm

    I can understand. I met my husband when I was 18, just a few months out of high school. We moved in together almost immediately after. I think when you know, you just know.

  11. May 10, 2010 6:39 pm

    Great picture! It’s hard to tell the truth when sometimes you’re a little afraid of it yourself. Would a marriage at that age work? Would others talk?

    I face this every day, in telling people that I have a family but I’m not married. I want to someday but it’s not a priority for either of us. Call it progressive or what have you, but my family does not understand, and will never. Since they’re continents away, it was easier just to lie to them. My mom, who knows the truth, told them I was married. And so when we went home this year, we pretended we were. It was just easier for everyone. But us. I am proud of our relationship and happier than most married people I know, but it hurts that what we have is a dirty little secret in my family. However, I don’t live back home anymore – it is my mom who does and have to live with the gossip and the stares, and so I acquiesce and let her say what she wants to our family. And I put on a brave front and walk away. Even when it hurts.

  12. May 10, 2010 7:43 pm

    This is a really well-written post, Leslie. In it you do a wonderful job of conveying the subtle shifts in feeling among all of the players, allowing your reader to see the situation not only from your perspective, but from your parents as well.

    I am glad that your courageous engaged and under-aged endeavor has had such a happy ending!

  13. May 10, 2010 8:43 pm

    Wow. I had the same feelings of anxiety. I got married at 21 and was scared out of my mind..I almost backed about several times that day, lol. But I’m glad that both you and I had the courage to do what we felt was right in our heart.

  14. May 10, 2010 10:41 pm

    Hi Leslie, oh, the stress you must’ve gone through!

    I can relate to the incredible nerves you must have felt in those few moments before you told your parents of your plans to get married. It’s tough when we have to face a confrontational-type interaction with those who are typically the ones we look to for comfort.

    I think it’s only appropriate to share a related feel-good story. My mother in law got married at age 20. She’s an only child and having to deliver the news that she had gotten pregnant, fallen in love and dropping out of college to her strict parents was unpleasant for everyone, to say the least. Then, soon after giving birth to her first child, she got pregnant again, this time with twins. Within less than 12 months, she had 3 babies! Seve years later, my husband was born. Fast forward to today, my in-laws will celebrate their 50th anniversary next month! They are the happiest couple!

  15. May 10, 2010 11:10 pm

    Wow, engaged at 20! It’s funny, when I was 20, my husband and I talked about what we thought would be a good age to marry. We both agreed that it was late 20’s. But we were married when I had just turned 24. I thought it was young, but we were ready. I think that’s the thing to remember–if you’re ready, what’s the point of waiting? There’s no magic age.

  16. May 10, 2010 11:39 pm

    I was 20 as well. And it is one of those things where there is a stigma about marrying so young. I get it. I was always an independent woman, and here I was, rushing to get married, to be a “we.” It didn’t seem to fit. But it did. I married an equal and we were ready. But the stigma stuck for a few years….. and it was rough. Thanks for sharing.

  17. May 11, 2010 12:34 am

    I noticed when I first met Don that his was all “we” speak. I knew you were young and he talked like you’d been together and I thought . . . cool! 🙂

  18. May 11, 2010 12:38 am

    oops, together *FOREVER that is 🙂

  19. May 11, 2010 2:37 am

    We married young too. Not young and stupid, young and ready at 21 and 22. Thirteen years and four kids later and we still REALLY like eachother. It took me a long time to adjust to “we” speak too and not for lack of courage but for lack of not presuming to speak for my husband. My husband on the other hand was so excited, so happy and so proud to be married to me that he sought out situations in which to tell people.

    It takes courage to make a life together. It takes courage to co-parent. And it takes courage not to run when things are tough. Some of us are full of courage….thanks for reminding me 🙂

  20. May 11, 2010 3:20 pm

    Lovely post…hats off to the courageous! And we are the only one who knows what’s in our hearts, but so easy for others (esp. those who love us) to judge. I got married at nineteen, and it will 28 years in Sept.

  21. May 11, 2010 4:42 pm

    What a wonderful story and picture! I can’t imagine telling my parents that I was engaged at 20…their reaction was weird enough when I told them at 29! How wonderful that you never questioned your choice.

    Dropping by from Momalom!

  22. May 11, 2010 6:23 pm

    You Don sounds a bit like my Dan. He often shrugs off the things I fuss about, the silly concerns, the things that I cannot control. I have learned so much from watching him sit back and wait it out when things go awry, when he’s helpless to people’s reactions. Of course, I will not glaze over the fact that this hang-backedness is not always the most brilliant thing in my marriage…I mean, you may not care what others think of you but you might want to start caring what I think of you if you don’t pick up those socks off the bathroom floor tomorrow…

    oh wait, got distracted there.

    Anyway, this is beautiful, Leslie. I adore your picture and I find myself wanting to know more about your unconventional parents. I love that you came from a family that sounds a bit different from the one you were drawn to starting at a such a young age. Married at 24 myself, I can tell you that I still adore it. Am happy about my decision every day. And think that finding that one true person that early in life is really a blessing.

  23. May 11, 2010 10:12 pm

    I love this story. My husband and I faced opposition to our marriage, for different reasons, mainly cultural, but now 9 years later, the naysayers have retreated and I don’t regret for one minute marrying my best friend. Kudos to you for having the clarity and courage to know what to do at such a young age. Nice to meet you.

  24. May 12, 2010 12:31 am

    I’m so glad you went with your heart and found the courage to do what you knew was right for you! You found love and love in and of itself takes courage. This was a beautiful story – thank you for sharing.

  25. May 12, 2010 12:37 am

    As always Leslie you have such a way with words. Beautifully written, definitely courageous! The hardest thing I had to do was tell my family I was pregnant. I literally got pregnant on my honeymoon and was so concerned that my family and other would think I had already been.

  26. May 12, 2010 7:55 pm

    So sorry to have missed this yesterday! Love this story. “I didn’t need courage to walk down the aisle.” The beginnings of a long and satisfying union, no doubt.

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