ith spring weddings being canceled because of COVID-19, I’m thinking about my own marriage vows, which I exchanged with my husband in front of no-one but a justice of the peace and a friend who happened to live in Vegas.
My nuptials were an exercise in social distancing because I was too ashamed back then not to give a damn about not looking like the one of those couples in glossy wedding magazines. I was bigger than my husband-to-be and I didn’t want any eyes on us as we joined our lives together, for fear that even my closest friends and family would secretly believe we were a matrimonial mismatch because of our size discrepancy.
When I look back at this decision now and consider my shame in retrospect, I see how lucky I was in that pre-Covid-19 era to have the option of gathering a hundred loved ones in one room to watch Chris and I commit ourselves to a shared life. We could have raised our champagne glasses without six feet of space buffering our bodies from those of our closest kin. We could have packed a dance-floor with arms interlocked in goofy line dances and torsos touching until dawn, even if I didn’t feel like a picture-perfect bride.
Of course I couldn’t have known then what I know now. I couldn’t have predicted that weddings, like all large gatherings, would one day be a risk to public health and safety. Although poor body image seems like a small stressor in light of the ugly illness in our midst today, it pained me so much that it sent me into hiding on my wedding day.
I’m a few centimeters shy of six feet tall, with hips that roll like two lush hills, a belly and a butt that spill. My husband, Chris, stands five-foot-three and weighs eighty pounds less than I do, his skin an olive hue to my pink flush. He’s a trained masseur, with hands like dual divining rods designed to coax pleasure from a body, to seek out pain and soothe it. He once had a job editing films for Flynt Digital, spending hours carefully cutting footage of bodies in ecstatic states.
He loves to eat.
When he finds a food he really digs, mmms and yums escape his lips, which, by the way are plump and full, my favorite feature of his gorgeous face. In bed, his appetites are no less large; when he goes down the satiated sounds are mine.
We are a hot couple. You could cook an egg on the surface of our chemistry. But the heteronormative majority has tried to tell us otherwise in a million little ways.
About a year into our relationship, we went to see live music. We stood at the stage’s lip to stand close to the sweat and swagger of the band, Chris’s arm snugly circling my waist, mine draped across his shoulders. Later, at whatever house we chose to gather for after-hours drinks, a friend recounted spying our backsides from a spot outside the fray of fans.
“I was feeling so hopeful when I saw you standing together,” he said. “I was like, wow, they must really be in love.”
I laughed nervously, too aware of what he meant.
“Why do you say that?” I said.
“I just mean that you don’t care what people think of you,” he said.
It was our mismatched bodies that made him marvel.
He had decided our bond could be neither chemical nor physical, that my big body made due with my husband’s small one for sentimental reasons, our hearts attached Hallmark-wise, animal heat foregone.
Another time, we were simply walking down the street, hand in hand, and a group of teenagers heckled us, commenting on Chris’s inability to handle me in bed. I yelled back, Chris laughed, and then I yelled at him.
At restaurants, waiters and waitresses ask us, almost every single time, if we want separate checks. It’s a microaggression that might be in my head — perhaps all couples get this question from time to time — but it felt particularly pointed in our early dating days, when I was struck more keenly by the arrows of impolite stares and passive aggressive questions about our couple-hood.
I felt too big in my body and the more I let that feeling rule me, the smaller I felt in spirit and moral courage.
I met Chris in Los Angeles, at a wine-and-snacks soiree I threw on Christmas Eve with another man in mind, a friend of a friend — tall and trim, blonde and dashing. This other guy rang my bell before anyone else that Christmas Eve, and when I answered to find him on my doorstep, his smile made my stomach tumble. I poured us wine and led us to the couch. He talked for thirty minutes about himself, scarcely taking a breath, cutting me off whenever I thought to interject. I poured myself a second wine and willed more guests to arrive. When the house filled up with friends, I was relieved to switch my focus from romance to platonic fun.
Chris came late, invited by Jill, who was one of three guests lingering in my living room as the party wound down. I was well into the wine when he arrived, a little annoyed to pour another drink for a newcomer who seemed wide awake while I was close to nodding off. But after spending just a few minutes with this very different man than the tall dull blonde from earlier, I woke up. When Chris went out to have a smoke, I joined him on the sidewalk and our conversation flowed for well over an hour.
Our first kiss came on New Year’s Day, our bodies joined in a perfect fit.
Before Chris, I had been with only a handful of partners, and I cared more for these men than for myself, in and out of bed. My deepest wish for my body back then was not pleasure, but smallness. I had dieted my whole life, starting at the age of nine, a few months after my mother died, when my father took me to my first Weight Watchers meeting. I lost nine pounds — one for every year of my little life — in my first week on the eating plan, which the corporation was loathe to call a diet.
Even at that tender age, weight loss yielded a euphoric high and I became addicted to shedding layers of my body. My father stepped on a scale beside me at weekly weigh-ins, and voiced his pride about my ability to lose. He took me to those meetings out of love, but his good intentions eventually shrunk my self-esteem.
When my body couldn’t bear more loss, I fed myself to sickness and saw my gains as failure, a let-down to my Dad.
Three years after meeting Chris, I flipped through wedding magazines to get a feel for dresses and settings, cakes and photographers, taking stock of all the minutiae of weddings that have zero to do with marriage. He had proposed a week prior and I was happy for a handful of days, but then I spiraled into stress and shame.
We didn’t look like anyone in the pages of those glossy magazines: a groom bent down to kiss his new bride’s lips, another dipped his partner on the dance floor. Husbands carried their brides over thresholds, not the other way around.
It’s not a revelation that many magazines still traffic mainly in heteronormative images of couple-hood and beauty standards, but I was floored to find that I was not impervious to the manipulative machinations of the straight, CIS-gendered wedding industrial complex.
At first, I downsized my plans and settled on an intimate ceremony, but then I scrapped all plans involving any kind of crowd. I asked Chris to elope, keeping secret my feelings about our sizes, saying I just wanted to get it done and eliminate the stress of planning.
And here’s the good news: though shame compelled me to marry in a socially distant ceremony, our unwitnessed wedding was one of the best decisions we ever made. We had a wildly happy day and didn’t have to consider anyone but ourselves. We got straight to the business of post-wedding sex after the ceremony, without the slog of posing for photos or dancing with weird cousins we hadn’t seen in years.
There were no seating charts or drunk uncles or giant bills to pay off during the early months of our marriage. We mailed post-wedding announcement cards to close friends and family, who showered us with loving messages in return.
Chris and I have been self-isolating together over the last several days as COVID-19 rips its ugly way across the globe. We’ve been together thirteen years, no kids, my parents deceased, his 3,000 miles across the country, all our siblings in far-flung states.
There is so much strength in our small number and I look back on our elopement with gratitude instead of shame; there’s something deeply satisfying about having eschewed the traditional weddings we were both brought up to favor.
I never think about our size anymore; comments and stares still happen, but I’ve become a pro at recognizing them for what they are: other peoples’ problems.
And here’s what I want to say to all those couples whose April and May wedding plans may have been murdered by COVID-19: Get married anyway! If you don’t feel like waiting, use Zoom or Skype or whatever social distancing tool at your disposal to exchange your vows inside your bunker. Then let us all know how it went — we could use some tales of unconventional love and matrimony in these trying times.