On the second day of our marriage, the sky proved too dull for sunbathing. We forwent the beach in favor of browsing Traverse City’s storefronts. Or that’s what I was doing—Nathan, meanwhile, was intent on finding dinner. After a long and hunger-fueled deliberation, he chose Taproot Cider House (unimpressive cider, magical kale pesto summer squash pizza). I lingered in Haystacks for a few minutes, then trotted down the street to the Cider House and was met by the hostess. She looked up expectantly. “I’m looking for my…”
I stopped, partly because all the nouns I conjured were indistinct. Boyfriend, fiancé—neither is a precise identifier among the crowds of sunburned adult men in Traverse City. And I didn’t say husband because the thought alone made me feel like an imposter. I looked down at old Chacos, cracking through the sole after ten hard summers, mosquito-bitten shins, a tank top half tucked into my shorts by accident, and the slim, tungsten ring on my left hand.
“I’m looking for a blond guy.”
We’ve been officially married for what—three weeks? And I’ve wrinkled my nose every time someone says “husband” or “wife.” I don’t feel old enough or matronly enough to be a “wife,” and neither of those words means as much or exactly what they should. I don’t think of him that way, whatever it is. I don’t think of myself that way.
In the car, on the way to Aquinas College for our “first look” photos on July 22, Brenna asked me how I was feeling. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.” I hadn’t cried—I didn’t cry—and I wasn’t nervous so much as uncomfortable, and I felt pretty much like myself, only in a long dress and one hundred and twenty-nine bobby pins. “It’s not as though I’ve waited years and years for this day. I haven’t dreamed about it the way other people have and I haven’t really wanted to be a ‘wife.’ I don’t necessarily want to be married. But I do want to be married to him.”
We signed a legal document that says we are “husband” and “wife.” We had a big party. Lots of people witnessed the vows. And while the whole day was surprisingly fun, it also felt surreal, and formal, and staged. I had a zit on my chin under the makeup. Nathan dabbed sweat off his forehead with a crumpled Chipotle napkin during the scripture readings. We were mostly just us, and then we were something else, too, and it didn’t feel any different.
At every milestone I’ve consciously met in this life, I’ve supposed that I’ll feel somehow different on the other side. I will be someone else, because now I’m a middle schooler, or a professed Christian, or a college graduate. Because I lived in Cairo. Because I live in Boston now. Because I’m a girlfriend, or engaged, or married. And I have been perpetually, unavoidably myself. We were married, legally speaking, in a moment, but becoming married, becoming a “wife” and a “husband,” might take a long time.
Which is odd and awkward and okay. Because I didn’t want a husband. I wanted Nathan. I didn’t marry him because he’d be someone different after we signed our marriage license, or because after that moment, we’d be adults in some new and absolute way. We will learn to be married. I will learn to be myself in a new way. I have already become more myself because of him, split-soled Chacos and scarred shins, bobby pins and tulle skirts, Traverse City, Cairo, Boston, home.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.