Let me tell you about the day in Paris I decided to get married
My marriage is a source of intense joy in my life. Why not shout it from the rooftops?
As I said in the opening issue of Very Serious, I’m going to use occasional weekend pieces to talk about life — because after all, one of the key purposes of having a good economy and a good government is to create an environment for personal flourishing and the pursuit of happiness. I have lots of thoughts on cooking and entertaining and travel to share, and I’ve already gotten some good email questions from you on those topics. But today, I want to talk about love.
There’s been a spate of weird and depressing essays on marriage and divorce in major publications lately. I don’t want to get into too much detail about them (because they are weird and depressing) but I was especially put off by the one where the author said she hates her husband and, if you’re being honest instead of “holier-than-thou” and “prim,” you probably do, too.
Well, my my fifth wedding anniversary was on Friday, and apparently I’m one of those prim, holier-than-thou marrieds. I not only love my husband; I do not hate him. Marrying him is the best decision I ever made, and it makes me so happy to wake up with him; to do exciting and mundane things together; and to build a shared life that I expect to continue for the rest of one of our lives.
Like any couple, we have had occasional disputes — I will not describe them in any detail because I believe one element of a good marriage is not airing your disputes in the newspaper1 — but on average, we are extremely happy to be around each other. I don’t have to squint to remember what I love about him or what I like about him. It’s right there.
Even though this is all positive sentiment, I feel a little weird sharing it in public. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed my marriage publicly like this before. And there are reasons people don’t tell the world about their happy marriages: it feels like bragging, or jinxing, or overcompensation.
But this perfectly healthy instinct not to brag can create a distorted impression that straightforwardly happy marriages are less common than they really are. It’s part of a broader bias toward negativity on the internet lately, where it has become almost gauche to talk about one’s successes or pleasures or happinesses, as though doing so were an insult to people who aren’t as happy.
I think it’s important for people to know that, just as a marriage could be a slog and just as divorce is sometimes necessary and appropriate, marriage also can and should be a durable source of happiness and strength. Marriage should be doing much more to remove difficulty from your life than to add it. And that’s something you should feel free to celebrate, if it’s the case for you.
In that spirit, I’m going to tell a story that I told at a little anniversary party we had with friends on Friday night.
Zach and I got married five years and two days ago, but as I thought about what to say at the party I kept thinking back to the moment a year, three months and six days earlier than that when we got engaged.
We’d been dating a bit more than a year and were on the first day of a five-day trip to Paris.
It was a wonderful and characteristic Paris tourist day. We hastily reconfigured our itinerary because of a museum strike; we visited Montmartre and posed in front of a mural that says “I love you” in dozens of languages; we had lunch on the second level of the Eiffel Tower, at the restaurant where Emmanuel Macron would later entertain Donald Trump; we had an amazing dinner at David Toutain, back when it only had one star and the tasting menu was just €72; and then, following an after-dinner cocktail in the 6th Arrondissement, we walked toward the Pont des Arts to return to our hotel on the Right Bank.
The Pont des Arts is the pedestrian bridge where lovers would attach padlocks to the railings and then throw the keys into the Seine to symbolize their eternal love.2 As we stood on the bridge, I turned to Zach and said “I think proposals are weird and inegalitarian” — a phrase he (lovingly) ribs me for to this day — “but I think we should get married.” We then made out for a solid 90 seconds, and he looked at me and said “So are we engaged now?” and I said “Yes,” and then we made out some more.3
We hadn’t planned it at all. If we had planned it, it would have seemed like too much of a cliché — Americans on the bridge with the locks over the Seine, how original. But Paris is a truly romantic place, and the romance of the city combined with our love to give us clarity about the right next step in our lives.
And that’s what’s so special to me about that moment: We had talked some about getting married, but it was truly the instant at which we decided to get married. That meant we didn’t have rings, or a padlock, or a better camera with us — all I have to show for the moment is a low-quality selfie with my arm around Zach as we give thumbs up to the camera — but it’s a memory that will make me smile forever, because it was a decision that produces enduring joy.
And I thought you should know.
There may be a difference here by sexual orientation. Straights can badmouth their spouses in The New York Times and not worry it sends a sign they don’t deserve rights. We've only had marriage for a little while, so we’d better not. Never let anyone tell you respectability politics lacks upside.
Unfortunately, the bridge wasn’t built to carry the weight from all the locks, so the city has had to replace the railings with solid metal plates that you can’t lock anything to. C’est la vie.
My iPhone photo library makes clear that we were on the 500-foot-long bridge for at least 13 minutes, from 12:28 to 12:41am.