By Tom Waters
Nov 1, 2009
The morning of the wedding, Joe came to our apartment to find me watching a movie in my tuxedo and drinking a tumbler of whiskey at nine in the morning. My nerves were shot. I was low on sleep, high on excitement, and for someone who’s had previous panic attacks in high pressure situations, I was concerned about having an incident on one of the biggest days of my life.
Some six months later, the entire event feels like a dream.
Everyone we talked to who’d gotten married before us told us that the day itself would fly by and they were absolutely right. In retrospect, the six months leading up to one of the best days in our lives as well as the six months afterwards flew by in a blinding flash like the drop on a rollercoaster ride. It’s exciting, it’s scary, and if you blink, you’ll miss it. The wedding day itself felt like the flash of a camera snap, a mere nanosecond in the chronology of our lives. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t one of the most important things I (or we) have ever done; it’s just that, as the main attraction, our attention and our absolute imperative need to be five places at once throughout the event made the day disappear before we had a moment to take stock of the magnitude of our union. Until afterwards. Six months later, there’s no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing. Surviving the spectacle was a whole different animal entirely.
Lindsay and I have been together for going on five years. With few exceptions, she’s been the first person I saw when I woke up and the last person I said goodnight to when I went to sleep every day since we moved in together a few months after we met in the spring of 2005. She is my better half in every sense of the word and I’m truly lucky to have met her, won her heart and married her. She’s the only girl who fell in love with me when I was clinically depressed and she’s taught me how to cook, how to look after her horses, and how to be a better person. Every single one of my friends is crazy about her and if they were given a choice, my own family would disown me before they looked upon my wife with ill will. There’s no mistaking it because out of the two of us, Lindsay is everyone’s favorite, and I don’t blame anyone for that.
A therapist told me once that, in any relationship, one person is always more grounded in their responsibilities and the reality of day-to-day living while the other one is the more concerned with loving their partner. I’m not sure if I agree with that, but it seems to me that one person (in any healthy relationship) is a little crazy and their partner is stable and centered. I’d be the crazy one and Lindsay is the sensible one out of the two of us. When we’re running at peak efficiency as a couple, we compliment each other perfectly. The end zone for the wedding (and the aftermath) truly put all of this to the test. My friend Chris (who got married to his wife Amanda two years prior to us) told me that the first year of marriage is equivalent to ten regular years of marriage. He’s absolutely right.
There were plenty of external stressors, family flare-ups and aggravations (self-wrought) leading up to the wedding. Many men are completely resolved in their decision to walk down the aisle without a second thought. There’s no hesitation, no concern, not even a slight tremor during the vows. As someone who’s had their way for 32 years, the end of our protracted engagement shook my psyche to the very foundations. I flipped out. I have a tendency to over think everything in my life, so I took a long, hard look at the arc of my love life as a single man and the fact that the door was closing on it forever. My life as a me, myself or I was ending and the history of the two of us was beginning. I looked at it as the death of a single man. I didn’t take into consideration that we were together for four years, but it was hitting me hard that (thanks in large part to all the scare tactics that married and single men alike were spooking me with) the freedom to say and do whatever I wanted with little regard for anyone else’s feelings or decisions was over for all intents and purposes.
The summer of 2008 was a train wreck for me. I had a nervous breakdown in slow motion as the date approached and I practically drove Lindsay to the breaking point and beyond. I wasn’t having second thoughts about my decision, but I felt the need to a) examine my entire life leading up to our wedding and b) cleanse my single personal completely by partying in excess as a means of preparing for a lifelong partnership. This isn’t the most normal thing in the world to do, and it put an added strain on an already stressful situation. For the first time since I was 26, I hit the bars until the break of dawn. I consciously chose to go to bars in the middle of the afternoon to think about everything that was going on and to write about it in one of three or four portable notebooks.
During this time, I stumbled upon a secret society of married men who went to bars during the day and on the weekends just to get out of their houses and away from their families for a little while. Aside from having a round or two, they weren’t really doing anything wrong; they just needed some time to themselves. I found it pretty fascinating from an anthropological point of view and their advice and counsel helped me through some pretty rough patches.
In addition, I made a few phone calls and went to see a therapist. I realized that I was over thinking everything and that things didn’t have to be so difficult and yet I was almost completely helpless when it came to acting otherwise. This helped quite a bit. Just having an outside party to sound off on and vent my frustrations to was healthy enough to save me from going past the point of no return psychologically (and I was in the ballpark). From a clinical standpoint, people with a bipolar diagnosis have great difficulty with large stressors and I was no exception. I pissed off my family, her family, and Lindsay herself with my reckless antics.
Many couples lose weight due to the extra planning activities and lack of sleep associated with an impending wedding day. Lindsay and I lost something in the neighborhood of ten to fifteen pounds each. My sleeping habits declined from 8-10 hours a day to 5 or 6 hours a day at best. Getting married doesn’t have to be a life-altering experience in a negative way, but I looked at all of the cons beforehand instead of considering the fact that this was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I asked every married man and woman what marriage was like and answers varied. Half of the people I talked to told me that everything changes. The other half told me that nothing changes. Who was telling the truth? How would it be for us? What was going to happen after we said our vows?
The tuxedo fittings, family get-togethers, the bachelor party and all of the other smaller events leading up to the day cut into the free time we already didn’t have outside of our work weeks. There simply wasn’t enough time to spend together the way we used to and it felt like we always had to be ‘on’ as a couple for everyone around us instead of simply being ourselves. In addition, a wedding puts a lot of stress on both families from a financial and emotional standpoint and the recoil from this isn’t just unwarranted or un-needed, it’s an additional pain in the ass that both of us had to deal with. Lindsay and I were responsible for coming up with a third of the money for the wedding (which was fair), but we didn’t figure this out until the five million little additional expenses and unforeseen eventualities started cropping up in the final months leading up to it, so that didn’t help either.
Planning (and having a wedding) is a great trial run for the actual lifetime of marriage together. You get to see everyone’s true colors (perhaps for the first time in your life) and the two of you are put to the ultimate test in every sense of the word. After four years without so much as four serious fights or arguments, we bickered with each other every week. The two of us took turns sleeping on the couch on and off throughout the summer, vicious, vitriolic emails and notes were exchanged and there was even a Monday morning where I came home to find her engagement ring next to the coffee maker just in time to get chewed out by my future mother in law over the phone. Our entire lives were pushed to the breaking point and beyond. Like I said, it isn’t this way for everyone, but we’re not the only two people who have been through the experience in the same manner. And yet we made it.
We had a really bad fight about a month before the wedding and I ended up going out to a literary event that the two of us originally planned on going to together. Jeff (one of the groomsmen) went with me to the reading and he gave me one of the best pieces of advice on marriage I think I’ll ever hear: ‘You can’t make decisions just for you anymore. When you make a decision, you have to make it for both your sakes.’ I’m grateful that he told me that when he did, because he’s one of the only people (in addition to my wife) that I’m willing to listen to because he’s known me long enough and I respect his opinion. Not to mention the fact that he was right. Lindsay and I made up when I got home and another difficult obstacle was out of the way.
We originally had nine people standing up on each end of the aisles and the number was whittled down to six. While still slightly untraditional in numbers, I looked at my groomsmen as a support system, and they fulfilled this function perfectly. Joe (my big brother) was my best man and he was available for me around the clock throughout the entire summer. As a result of the wedding day, my brother David and I were coerced into making peace with each other after a silence that lasted four years. That’s a small miracle I’m still grateful for. Jeff, Brendan, Chris, Ron and even my future brother in law Rich were all life-savers at crucial critical points throughout the engagement, and the experience cemented our friendships as well as our relationships as a family whether blood-related or otherwise.
After three or four months of stress, strain, nastiness and a crippling blow to our credit scores, we made it to the finish line. Saturday, September 27th. The morning of the wedding, Joe came to our apartment (where the guys got into their tuxedos and busted my chops considerably to ease the tension) to find me watching a movie in my tuxedo and drinking a tumbler of whiskey at nine in the morning. My nerves were shot. I was low on sleep, high on excitement, and for someone who’s had previous panic attacks in high pressure situations, I was concerned about having an incident on one of the biggest days of my life. Despite the whiskey, I was stone sober and fully aware of the seriousness and sanctity that the day had in store for us. Lindsay’s grandparents (Bob & Ann) picked me up and drove me to the church where her parents were married. We chose it because we both wanted to get married in a Catholic Church and because I didn’t want to get married at the same church where 95% of my friends had gotten married prior to our ceremony.
Standing in front of family and friends that have known you your entire life is a daunting task. Standing in front of them and the family and friends of your intended to pronounce your intentions to care for her for the rest of your lives is even harder. I thought about this while I waited with my groomsmen in the rectory. My hands shook and the boys did their best to reassure me while I tried to maintain some illusion of composure. This was it. Lindsay and I both said that we were only going to do this once in our lives and we meant it. Either this was going to work forever or we’d never go through the ordeal ever again.
Both of us knew people who were trapped (voluntarily or involuntarily) in horror show marriages as well as couples who were embittered by the aftermath of divorce. It didn’t help that one of my best friends was going through the initial stages of his or that my other friend was well beyond ever trusting someone thanks to the divorce he went through. There was no small shortage of single and married men who either joked or told me with all seriousness not to do it.
Despite all this, I knew that Lindsay was (and still is) the woman for me. No other woman has turned me into a better person simply by being around and rubbing off on me. No other woman has taught me the value of patience, forgiveness, or tolerance the way that she has in the time that we’ve been together. I doubt that anyone else would be up to the task and I certainly don’t ever want to find out. She is literally the only girl who could have survived what I put her through before we got married and I’m grateful for that and a million other things. In my own asinine and backwards way (consciously and subconsciously in turns), I was testing her limits before we pronounced ourselves man and wife to see if she could handle a lifetime together with me. I know how hard it is to deal with manic depression personally and I almost didn’t want her to have to deal with it for thirty years and beyond. I wanted to make sure she was up to the challenge. She passed with flying colors.
Joe told me that the bride and her maids of honor had arrived at the church and the rest of the day lapsed into some sort of dream state. I said a prayer for the first time in years and asked for the composure to perform my half of the duties with grace and an unselfconsciousness that I’m normally incapable of in massive group situations where I’m in the spotlight. A calm came over me and it stayed there. I strolled out with the rest of my half of the wedding party and Lindsay looked absolutely angelic. The woman I’d spent four years of my life with looked more beautiful than the first time I’d met her and it took my breath away. She was a vision, plain and simple, and I was lucky enough (hopefully) to be spending the rest of my life with this amazing person.
Lindsay said before the wedding that if she had to bet money, she’d put safe odds on me and her mother for the two people most likely to cry during the vows. She was right. I fought back tears throughout the ceremony and she nudged me with her elbow and made funny faces to keep me from getting too emotional. I couldn’t believe we were finally getting married! We were ready! After a lifetime of blooming late in every possible lifestyle decision, I was ready.
Father Gene (the pastor who married us) joked about the abundance of cameras in the church. We have a lot of photography buffs on both sides and the flashes going off were a little excessive. He gave a sermon about driving from home and seeing the simple perfection of horses without even knowing that Lindsay owns her own horse and takes care of a stable seven days a week. Before I knew it, the ceremony was over and we went traipsing (jumping up and down like giddy schoolchildren) through the entrance and out into the afternoon for our first time as a married couple. The most anxiety-inducing part of the wedding was over and our life as a ‘we’ began.
Our reception was as close to perfect as we could have reasonably asked. We had over 100 people, our friend and award winning musician Gregg Sansonne performed for free as a wedding gift, and the food was fantastic and plentiful. I insisted on no less than 60% Elton John cover songs and I got my wish. My Uncle Dick also talked Gregg into letting him come up so that he could sing a song for us on our wedding day. A volley of pictures were taken (and continued to be taken) throughout the day and well into the evening. This got to be really aggravating, but I realized the necessity of the photo shoots and sucked it up for both our sakes. For the most part. We’d both been to our share of receptions and we were surprised at how late the majority of the old-timers stuck around.
Our original game plan for the reception was to stick next to each other and go around as a couple thanking everyone personally. This plan went out the window shortly after the reception started mostly because the two of us kept getting pulled away by multiple factions who need to see us right away somewhere for something really important. Multiply this by eight hours or so and you have a pretty good idea of how the evening went. I asked random guests throughout the night, ‘Have you seen my wife? It seems I’ve misplaced her.’ We met up for all of the traditional wedding dances, stole a few cigarette breaks together, and tried to group back up when we spotted each other across the reception hall, but from a logistical point of view, it really is impossible to stay together all the time during your own wedding reception.
My dad, my uncle and a lot of other guests got choked up throughout the night including me. A lot of emotions hit you all at once during such and emotional occasion and I was grateful that we’d made it through everything and glad that I was marrying the woman I did. Lindsay had the time of her life, and for a girl who doesn’t normally get to be the center of attention in the couple, she was well overdue and loving it. I couldn’t blame her. This was our day, but more importantly, it was her day, too. She put up with my depressions, my insanity, my sleep loss, my binge drinking and my button pushing throughout the summer and she deserved her day in the spotlight. I was all too happy to step back and let her bask in it. We were a team now with two members and it didn‘t matter who did the talking for us or who got the lion‘s share of the adulation. As of that day, we became a new family in the eyes of our friends, relatives and everyone else. It felt right. It still feels right.
Well after midnight, the reception ran out of steam and it was down to the two of us, Lindsay’s family and a few of our friends. We left with minutes left for the shuttle bus to our neighboring hotel room and ended up having an after party with Tori & Brian (who’d gotten engaged a month or two prior) and our friends Ian and Rachelle. We were still riding high on adrenaline and honestly, the day really did fly by and it felt like it had just started. It was like going through a time warp and finding out that you were present the entire time you were gone. By around 3 a.m., we retired to our honeymoon suite to take a hot bath together and open our gifts and envelopes. With very few exceptions, our guests were incredibly generous.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and headed out for our honeymoon. Thanks to a gas leak on the plane we were supposed to take to a hotel at Myrtle Beach, we ended up honeymooning at Lindsay’s parents’ cottage on Lake Erie instead. It wasn’t what we planned, but it was just what we needed. We had an incredible week together and took funny pictures of the town she spent half of her life growing up in pretending that it was a resort town we’d never been to. We joked around about running errands and getting up at the crack of dawn like an old married couple and in a sense, we were. After so many years, we knew each other’s quirks and character flaws down to a t. I’m used to her foibles and idiosyncrasies and she’s well aware of mine. We went to bars and restaurants either one or both of us had never frequented and had breakfast out almost every day. We had bonfires on the beach, drinks on the back patio, and walks and naps in the afternoon.
Lindsay and I caught up on some much-needed time alone together, talked about a lot of things we’d never talked about, and got to know each other again after three or four months of high-pressured aggravation. We also consummated our union as a new married couple in all the usual ways you might imagine, and that was incredible too. There was a comfort factor to our affections that’s impossible to describe to anyone who’s single. Things just got better, plain and simple. By the end of the week, we took care of our thank-you cards for the reception, talked about all the paperwork involved with getting married, and started organizing the small fraction of pictures we had from the wedding. ’I wanna do it again!’, Lindsay said while we were looking at one of our freshly organized wedding albums. I replied that we could renew our vows in another ten or twenty years.
Her parents came down on the last day and we all had dinner together, joked around and reminisced about an event that seemed like it was in the distant past. Everyone was concerned about whether or not we had a good time because of the quick change in vacation destinations, but it couldn’t have been better. For a honeymoon couple, it really doesn’t matter where you go as long as you go there together, and honestly, we could have camped out on the moon and I would have had the time of my life as long as she was by my side for the trip. I was with the woman I loved, I had her all to myself, and everything else was inconsequential.
After we got back from our honeymoon (not sure when), Lindsay and I talked about our wedding day on and off. I told her that I thought a lot about my grandfather Francis and her uncle Kevin, who had both passed, and whether or not they were with us on our wedding day and if they watched over us and approved of the union. The experience can make even the most agnostic person a little spiritual. Lindsay told me that during the ceremony, there was a moment where she looked over at me and asked me if someone was behind her. I remembered. She said it felt as if someone was poking her in the small of her back to get her attention. She thought it might have been her late Great Grandma Grace.
I never met Lindsay’s maternal great grandmother, and her middle name is a lifetime reminder of how important she was to her family. We don’t know whether she was letting her know that she made it to the wedding, teasing her (which, I’m told, she was apt to do) or trying to let her know she was making a huge mistake. Whether you believe it or not, stranger things have happened, and if Grace was there, only time will tell what her message was supposed to be. I’d like to think she was just checking in to let her great grand-daughter know that she wasn’t late, and that Lindsay looked every bit like the textbook example of a blushing bride.
And as far as the conflicting answers I got over the marriage question, both camps were right. Things change. Things don’t change a bit. The two of you don’t change much but the world around both of you and the way you both react to it changes forever, because you approach it from an ‘us’ instead of a ‘me’ point of view. That tiny shift in pronoun usage and thought changes everything and at the same time, for most intents and purposes, the two of you stay the same, only more so. If that doesn’t make enough sense, then I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to get married and find out for yourself.
The first six months have been bumpy, but we’re stronger as a result of the wedding and everything that led up to it. She’s made it clear in no uncertain terms that if I act up as much as I did over the summer again, she’ll kill me, and I responded with a sincere and dutiful ’Yes, dear’. It hasn’t been perfect and we’ve had more than our share of curveballs since we got back, but no marriage is, and we’ll get through it together and come out of all of our hurdles even stronger. Marriage isn’t about traipsing down the aisle hand in hand singing a happy tune for the rest of your lives. It’s not easy and it’s not for everybody. It’s right for us, though, and better or worse, there’s no other woman I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.
‘til death do us part,
Mr. & Mrs. Tom & Lindsay Waters