First comes love

Choosing marriage and choosing joy

I’ve been absolutely delinquent with The Handbasket, and whether or not it was for a good reason is a matter of conjecture: I got married and then went on a honeymoon. 

It feels as though some progressive women think they owe people an explanation of their decision to get engaged, to wear a diamond ring, to wed, to feed stupid amounts of money to the wedding-industrial complex, to invite loved ones to various events focused on you, to change (or not change) your last name. 

I won’t be doing that, but I will say this: Our wedding was fun as hell, and I’d do it all again. You don’t realize how special it is to be in a room filled entirely with people you like and love until you’re actually there. To use a very overused word, it’s epic. 

After having one, I’ve realized that a wedding means whatever you intend it to mean. For us, it meant the official blending of our families and communities, and an occasion to experience pure joy when the world can feel so bleak. Many readers may not know that before I became an MSNBC columnist, before I became a foremost expert on George Santos, I spent four years dealing with four surgeries and various illnesses. 

Here’s the extremely abridged version: Thanks to a condition called pulsatile tinnitus, I heard an incessant pounding in my ear, and had a stent placed in a vein in my head to clear it. In the process of that diagnosis, I also learned I had a tumor on my pituitary gland due to Acromegaly, which required two brain surgeries—the second of which was originally deemed impossible and took place across the country in California at the height of covid—to remove. Months later, I had an unrelated, mango-sized fibroid removed from my lower abdomen. (If you’re interested, you can read more about my medical misadventures here.)

Needless to say, it all sucked very much, but it certainly put life in perspective. There was a point where I thought my entire life would be defined by illness, that celebrations and joy were for other people, and that I would be consumed by my depression and anxiety. I still struggle with both of those things, but thanks to Prozac and therapy, and a series of brilliant doctors, I was able to reach the other side of my gulf of pain and hopelessness. In early 2022, for perhaps the first time ever, I understood not only could I be happy, but that I was allowed. 

For so long—far too long—it was so hard for me to process others’ good fortune. There was a time where I didn’t think I would ever be healthy, that I was a strain on all the people who loved me, that my needs were too profound, and that I would never have the bandwidth to support anyone else when I was physically and emotionally such a fucking mess. Despite assurances that someday the shoe would be on the other foot, I couldn’t believe it. And now it is.

I’m not saying that people who haven’t experienced rigorous struggles can’t experience pure joy and happiness, but when you’ve been at the bottom of a well without a ladder, I suspect it hits a little different. 

At one point during our rehearsal dinner, I looked around the room just to allow the gratitude to wash over me. To acknowledge that I was sitting there, in my white cocktail dress, sitting with my almost-husband and my new sister and my new cousins, next table to our parents, and my best friends who’ve become his, and his best friends who’ve become mine, and I couldn’t believe this reality was mine. That I slogged through years of indescribable struggle, and then the admittedly miserable experience of planning a wedding, so that this one moment could exist. 

The most paralyzing part of experiencing extreme distress at a young age is knowing that even when things are good, they can change faster than you can say “I do.” Investing time and money in love, joy and yes, frivolity, can feel futile because at any moment, some unforeseen tragedy could say I Told You So. There could be a different gulf of pain or a river of hurt or a stream of despair across this shiny, grassy plain. 

But what I think finally made me able to surrender myself to the joy of getting married was the other side of the same coin: Just because nothing gold can stay doesn’t mean you don’t deserve gold. 

As I look through wedding photos, open gifts and write Thank You cards, I still have the lingering awareness that this could all go away, that it’s maybe a little bit silly, and it’s time to resume some baseline misery. That in my post-marriage glow, I’m glossing over all the fights with various loved ones throughout planning, and the fact that I sometimes neglected my work, and that for varying levels of painful reasons, I didn’t have any extended family at the wedding. 

My depression will undoubtedly rear its ugly head again at some point, the precarious harmony of my close relationships will inevitably fall out of whack, and my relatively good health could suffer yet another blow. But even then, I won’t regret making the decision to celebrate joy. Because it’s something worth celebrating.

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