This year, my fiancé, Mark Brendon Herman, and I are getting married at our favorite place in the world: Harbour Island in the Bahamas. We have the whole weekend planned, from taking our groomsmen out for dinner on Friday after the rehearsal to surprising guests with a tuxedo-clad violinist playing Adele’s “Hello” when they step off the boat for our ceremony at the Other Side resort on Eleuthera. We’ve made sure the Sunday Funday pool party will have plenty of barbecue, burgers, Bloody Marys, and chilled rosé for our loving family and friends.
We even created a family crest! And being the thoughtful, organized person he is, Mark has already written his vows.
I’ll write mine soon. I have a lot to say. Considering the last few years, when life-changing events upended everything, those familiar words—“to have and to hold; from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish; till death do us part”—seem written just for us. Mark and I have already met those challenges, having weathered so much together. But just thinking about what to say has made me realize how far the world—and we as a couple—have come.
For one thing, I never really thought I would actually get married. I’m a bit older, so when I started dating, marriage wasn’t an option for gay people. Frankly, I never even thought about it. Then, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage changed all that. Still, marriage was a foreign concept to me. I am an only child, and my parents divorced when I was two. I had a very loving family with wonderful parents whom I love, but mine was an untraditional upbringing, and I would never change it for the world!
I’ve never had a family the way Mark does, with lots of time spent with siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It was mostly me and my mom, who was also an only child; on the weekends, I’d take the Eastern shuttle from Boston to New York City to see my dad, who teaches constitutional law at Columbia University.
So the idea of marriage or family left me feeling vulnerable. I remember meeting Mark’s siblings at his brother’s wedding and, when I found out we were all staying together, asking incredulously, “We’re sharing a house with everyone?!” Mark didn’t get why I was so stressed out. It was one of the times in my life when I felt like I didn’t have all the answers. Sweetly enough, his family understood how uncomfortable I was and they have embraced me for who I am. I’ve come to realize, happily, that “to have and to hold” extends to family too.
“For richer, for poorer” also rings true. Recently, I was making a big salary at a job where I was unhappy. Mark encouraged me to leave, saying, “We’ll figure it out—your happiness is what is important!” I took the plunge. I’m an independent person, so sharing such a life-altering decision was a first for me. It felt right.
The most difficult challenge we’ve met—and I’ll think about it when “in sickness and in health” comes up—was a scary injury that happened six months after we got engaged on a mountaintop in Italy: On a weekend in the Hamptons, I fell off a boat and ruptured my patellar tendon. I couldn’t walk for four months and needed help with basic tasks—and I mean basic. Not fun stuff—dressing me, emptying my pee jar, holding my back on a transfer bench in our shower, canceling our trip to Jamaica (he brought the island to me by playing reggae and making rum punch).
I remember him texting, “I miss my best friend” because I was so sad. On the way to the physical therapist one morning, I messaged Mark: “I’m dreading the thought of bending my knee, when she takes it out of the brace and tries to get my range of motion back. I’m so sick of screaming and crying.” Mark messaged back: “Just know I’m always holding your hand, even if I’m not physically there.” That day, at exactly the right moment, a hand reached over me, and it was him, there to hold my hand during the bend, for better or for worse.
I get really emotional thinking about it.
Before we were together, the most important thing for me was my career; Mark prizes family and work-life balance above everything. That’s as far apart as you can get, yet he has been a good influence on me—and my family. There were no photos of my parents and me together, and I had always wanted one. For my 40th birthday, I rented out the Boom Boom Room in Manhattan and asked guests to come in tuxedos and evening gowns. I figured I would get the snapshot then, but hours before the event, my mother broke her leg and couldn’t attend.
Fast-forward one year. Mark says, “For your birthday, be in a tux at seven. No questions.” You can probably guess where he took me. I walked into the Boom Boom Room, and my dad and mom were there, dressed to the nines. I was overwhelmed; I had never, ever seen them together. It was such an emotional moment. Like me, my parents are chronically early, so they had arrived way ahead of time and talked for two hours. They hadn’t even seen each other in over 28 years. Orchestrating that reunion speaks to Mark’s character—the way he acknowledged my family issues and how respectful my parents were to him.
It broke the ice before the wedding (we got engaged three months later).
Early in our relationship, I gave Mark The Book of Me, a do-it-yourself journal that helps you write a memoir. Later, when I proposed, I handed him The Book of Us, recognizing that if he said yes, we would be creating the ‘us’ that is a family. Mark looked at me and said, “You really love me.” That was his validation—he knew marriage had never been important to me, and that I was acknowledging its importance and giving myself completely to him—to love and to cherish, till death do us part. I do.
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Brides, on sale beginning April 30.