It’s wedding season! For engaged LGBTQ couples, it’s a time of immense joy that is often paired with a fair amount of grief, too. This summer we’re exploring challenges specific to the months leading up to marriage. This week, we’re talking about what it means for two to become one.
I got home about an hour later than planned recently. I was biking, and the first thing David said when he saw me was, “I was worried.” I recognized both the worry and the relief I saw in his face as we kissed hello. They’re feelings I’m all too familiar with. I worry all the time about something happening to him when he bikes. I don’t know what life would be without him. And as he said a couple nights later, he doesn’t know what his life would be without me.
Some might think this is strange, or might judge us for being too attached. But this awareness that we have come to need each other doesn’t faze either of us. In fact, we’re glad of it. We are secure enough in our own persons and our own identities. We are so different in so many ways, that it would be impossible for one of us to ever lose himself to the other. I will always be Constantino, uniquely flawed and gifted. David will always be David, practically flawless as far as I’m concerned (David vehemently disagrees with this assessment), and so very talented. But we’re also now, as our friends know us, the Khalafs. And we like being the Khalafs. The Khalafs are a unique, third entity that now seems an inextricable part of our lives.
Healthy dependence is good for a marriage, and it’s good for you as an individual. But it’s not something that just happens on its own. Learning to rely on another person can be difficult, especially if you get married later in life, when you’ve already lived years as a self-sufficient adult. The season of engagement affords couples an opportunity to start practicing dependence, to start yielding to each other and learning how to accept each other’s influence. Healthy dependence isn’t just emotional attachment to one another — it’s two people integrating into a symbiotic whole, engaging in a perpetual cycle of give and take.
Looking back, it is clear to me that we didn’t become the Khalafs at our wedding—that was really just our naming ceremony. The Khalafs were born when we met, and they have been slowly growing since that day. Writing in our forthcoming book about the camping retreat where we met, David says, “I felt instantly comfortable with him, so much so that throughout that weekend people thought we were dating. For me, the word that kept coming to mind when I thought of Constantino was ‘teammate.’ I remember it clearly because it was such a strange word for someone I had just met, and not in the least bit romantic.” I remember thinking something very similar. That unexpected team was the embryonic form of who we are now as a couple.
Allowing that third entity to be born out of our relationship has been both the most beautiful and most challenging experience of my life. Depending on your spouse—allowing yourself to need them—is scary. Modern society places great value on autonomy, and couples are advised to differentiate—to make sure they don’t merge too much. But truth is, guarding one’s independence is much easier than allowing deep connection. Walls require less engineering than bridges. And the work we put into “becoming one” allows us to grow into healthier, better adjusted individuals.
If you’re one of the many couples heading to the proverbial altar this summer, start talking about the ways in which you find it easy to depend on each other, and the ways in which you find it challenging. Take some time, perhaps, to draft a culture covenant for your marriage, intentionally discussing who you want to be as a couple. The third entity that has already emerged from your union has its own needs, independent of each of yours. Take this season to learn how to identify what those needs are, and what each of you can do to meet them. And when the wedding comes, celebrate the fact that you’re not becoming one, but rather, have already become three.
Constantino Khalaf is a writer living in Portland. He and his husband, David, are the authors of Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, forthcoming from Westminster John Knox Press, January 2019.
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