Life After Dating: We Are Family

When you marry someone and sponsor him for immigration, you declare loud and clear for the government, your employers, and your loved ones all to hear that you have created a new family. You gain legal rights and spousal privileges. Your credit ratings affect each other. Your taxes change. You send thank you cards that you both sign. Both socially and on paper, you are a new family unit. Look at us — Kale and Jessie!

But that’s on paper. Words on paper don’t represent emotions. Couples who dated and even lived together for a long time probably already feel like they’re a family — and I would agree they are one. I don’t believe a family is “a family” only when it’s recognized by the government; I have friends with strained biological family relations who consider their real families made up of close friends a “family of choice.” The concept of family is really a mindset. So, when in a relationship or a new marriage like ours do you actually start to feel like a family?

Marrying Kale nearly one year ago was a testament to being in love and wanting him as my life partner. It didn’t, however, compulsorily enmesh us in each other’s lives. Newlyweds? Lovers? Best friends? Check, check and check. But not even all the photos of our wedding day around the house, accumulating Christmas ornaments together, or the loads and loads of each other’s laundry that we washed could could force that feeling of “family” yet. It had to come naturally.

It took me many months of new marriage to realize why: emotionally, I was slowly but healthily detaching from my biological family as, week by week, I forged a new family with Kale. He became the person from whom those emotional needs were met. We started making important decisions together, everything from plumbing to gym memberships to how much money to save. Where I used to think, Where are my sisters going to be for Thanksgiving? I now thought, Where will Kale and I be? My future now had someone in it as a new constant, replacing the old constants. I experienced a subtle shift of thinking of my family and their needs as the people back home versus the one to whom I am married.

I always said I was “close” to my family, but I didn’t realize just how close. I live in New York City, while almost everyone else lives back in Connecticut. I’m a very independent woman; I always felt like I had my own separate life here that they didn’t always understand. Although the seven of us email, text and call all the time, I can go months without seeing any of them in person. But how closely attached I had been to each of them — and still am, albeit in an altered way — surprised me to learn.

The introduction of Kale into our family — and I mean our family now, because he is part of our family — is what made me realize marriage meant detaching from my biological family a little bit. “Home” stopped feeling like my parents’ house in Connecticut, even if both of us will always be welcome there. Instead “home” started to feel more like the apartment Kale and I share together. It’s not just because that’s where our wedding photos are hung up; it’s the background of our daily lives which revolve so much around each other. Connecticut feels less like where “home” is and more like where I’m from. My roots now feel planted here, with him.

Marriage is different for everyone, but for me it was a significant and meaningful emotional undertaking. I’m sure we all know people, young or old, who entered into marriages they weren’t mature enough to navigate. I don’t believe that getting married automatically makes someone more mature or more “adult.” But my marriage, at least, meant detaching from my family at age 29 more so than I ever had before — more than college, more than studying abroad, more than getting my first apartment. Getting married and building our unit of two feels like the most adult thing I’ve ever done. Kale is part of my life in an essential way as no one has ever been before.  “Husband” and “wife” aren’t just words on a marriage certificate. (Well, in New York State where gay marriage is legal, he is “Spouse A” and I am lowly “Spouse B.”)  Husband and wife are words now with emotions behind them. They are the words that make us a family.

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[Image of family photo via Shutterstock]