catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 12 :: 2010.06.11 — 2010.06.24


Fuchsia, plum, navy or none

I don’t live in an area with a lot of places to shop for a special occasion dress. So I turn to my good friend the Internet to see what I can find in the way of a cocktail dress, or perhaps a “mother of the bride” outfit in which to get married. As it’s a second marriage I’m contemplating, I don’t want a wedding gown per se, just something dressy, colorful and comfortable.

I strike gold on — and spend several sessions squinting into my laptop screen, determining what might work in terms of fit, fabric, color and price. At this ripe age, I’m fairly certain of what styles work with my shape (somewhat ripe itself these days) and I narrow down a selection of maybe eight dresses in a range of colors — navy, plum, fuchsia — suitable for the fall festivities. I e-mail links to a friend for her opinion, and save them to my “wish list” on the web site, to return another day.

At the same time, I’m immersed in e-mails and calls to find a location for the celebration, trying to find a venue that would allow for a ceremony, meal and party in a scenic setting at a reasonable fee. This isn’t as much fun as dress shopping, and it’s stress-inducing trying to envision what would serve all needs, including out-of-towners.  Would they have to rent a car? Pay for two nights’ lodging?

Returning to the more satisfying diversion at, there are many new dresses to check out, since spring had sprung. I click back to my wish list to find that two of my dresses are no longer available! I blink in despair, and dig for the debit card. An hour or so later, six dresses are selected for the cost of a couple of plane tickets to Florida. My daughter grumbles, “It must be nice to buy all the dresses you want.”  I point out that all but one will be sent back, and together, they add up to a fraction of the price of a traditional wedding dress.

The boxes start arriving a few days later, until there are four piled up by the coat tree and shoe pile. I want to have them all in hand before I start trying them on. Unfortunately, in the interim between purchase and arrival, an onslaught of economic pragmatism has come knocking at the door. Getting married is going to hurt us financially, because the social security administration will stop my “widow’s benefit” if I remarry. 

On the plus side, my children and I would be added to my partner’s health insurance policy, saving me thousands and thousands of dollars annually in insurance premiums and health care expenses. But there remains a tilt in the equation that has forced us to resist the “let’s put on a wedding” enthusiasm that overtook us a few months ago.  My fiance’s job security as a teacher is in question; he might be working part-time next year, or have to start over at a new district at a much lower pay grade. As a freelance writer, I have only recently made a real living at my “job,” but any complacency would be misplaced in my trade, and the gravy train that is my major client could move on at any time.  So we bow to economic pressures, and shelve our wedding plans for a few years. (My monthly stipend will end when my youngest turns 16, in four years.)

Which is too bad. We feel married already, my partner and I. We laugh every day, share the same low bar for the level of housekeeping we require, help each other think things through, take turns as the calming presence when life becomes maddening or overwhelming for the other. He helps me strengthen my parenting backbone, worn down by eight years of single parenting. I help him restore his sanity after days teaching at a school that doesn’t value his integrity or talents, where the students’ inertia is exceeded only by the administration’s corner-cutting.

He’s tickled to be a stepparent to my son and daughter, and finds them nearly as smart and charming as I do. The kids, outside of minor grumbles about his booming voice, corny sense of humor and occasional zeal as a chore or homework taskmaster, have thoroughly warmed to him and we have weathered surprisingly few bumps in creating a new family unit.

So that’s what we’ll focus on — a compassionate and romantic partnership — as we realize that marriage throughout the ages, around the world, has nearly always been transactional, based on larger questions of power and economics, where partnerships are designed for political gain or to protect family power. In the 21st century, for many in the second half of their life, protecting our gains means cohabiting without the sanction of legal marriage.

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