My Secret Marriage to Phil, Part 1–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–April 1994, Part 5

One day, I saw in the glass display case by the mailboxes, an article from the S– newspaper about one of our Latvian students.  After graduation, he eventually became First Deputy Prime Minister of Latvia, then after that, head of the Latvian president’s office.  (I’m not kidding.)

This tall, cute guy was married, and said that he and his wife had married without thought for finances or school.  Things were different over there than in America, where people try to finish school and get their finances together before marrying.  I longed to be able to do the same, and marry Phil right away.

Some of my favorite songs from that time: God by Tori Amos, Dreams by the Cranberries, Cantaloop by US3, Spoonman by Soundgarden, Thunder Kiss ’65 by White Zombie, Sober by Tool.

In probably April, my roommies-to-be and I went down to the new apartment buildings, which were built but not yet finished, to see what they’d look like inside.  We went into what we already knew to be our apartment, which at that time was sawdust and bare wood and insulation.

It looked so tiny then, but we were to find that, after carpeting and furniture were put in, the rooms seemed larger.  We thought we wouldn’t fit, but in the fall we all fit in there quite easily, thanks to lots of well-placed cabinets and wire stacking drawers.  (More on that is in the September chapter.)

I thought I’d leave the apartment about halfway through the year, get married, and move into another one with Phil, as we wanted to do, but I didn’t mention this at the time.

I used to love the song “Loser” by Beck, but during Hell Week, the Pi-Kapp pledges had to sing it to the actives every day at lunch.  They’d put their hands on their hips and move their torsos around while “singing” at the tops of their voices.  It was part of a song they put together about the actives and/or about themselves, which to them was funny but to the rest of us was just plain annoying.

I once thought pledges were funny during Hell Week, but now I found the antics annoying, from the Pi-Kapp pledges walking around wearing menu signs to the yelled greetings pledges had to give the actives.


Phil and I were burning with lust, and didn’t want to wait to marry when we were so sure we belonged together.  But Phil’s mom didn’t want us to marry until after he graduated–at least a year and a half away.  So on Sunday, April 24, we married in secret.

It may be hard for many to understand, in this 21st-century world, why I was so anxious to get married.  These days, sexual relations outside of marriage are considered normal.

But in religious circles, you aren’t supposed to have them until you get married.  If you do, you are considered to be in grave sin, at risk of eternal damnation, as well as the ire of your parents–especially if you get pregnant.  Oftentimes, you’re not even allowed to satisfy your urges yourself.

And while this practice of no sex before marriage, has been a common custom throughout history and across cultures/religions, before our time, teenagers would marry in the middle of their raging hormones.

Nowadays, even 18 is considered too young for marriage; kids are expected to wait until they’re done with schooling; many don’t want to marry until far into their 20s or 30s.

If you’re in a sex-saturated culture where it seems everybody else is doing it and enjoying it, and you’re not supposed to have any kind of sexual relations before marriage (even alone), imagine how anxious you will be as a teenager to get married so you can have them without guilt or fear of punishment!

I couldn’t stand having to wait to marry Phil, when we already knew we were going to be married, and that we were only waiting for us to finish college.  Then I remembered two things:

One, an advice column I’d just read about spiritual marriages.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  The column, in a Christian magazine, advised against such marriages, because they were basically private commitments, and not recognized by the law or by the church.

The columnist wrote that if you’re waiting to finish school/make money before getting legally married, then that is coming before your commitment, and you’re not ready to be married.

But instead of being turned away from the idea, I wondered if the columnist was right or wrong about it not being a real marriage in the eyes of God.

I also didn’t know how common it actually was for people to do this.  Some states still recognize common-law marriages, which have no legal ceremony.

In time, I began to hear stories like this a lot, and not just in Christian magazines.  In one magazine, which I read a few years later, one couple wrote that they considered their anniversary to be not the day they married in a church, but a day just before that when they exchanged vows while alone in the woods.

I also read the story of Brook Kerr in TV Guide, who had a nonlegal marriage for years.

I didn’t know yet that my friend Anna considered such a marriage more real than one which has a legal piece of paper, yet doesn’t connect the hearts (though she still didn’t think we did the right thing).

In the 90s, such marriages popped up on soap operas.

As we head into 2014, the Internet is now full of websites and forums threads asking if such marriages are “real.”

There are also many people now who commit to each other without a legal ceremony: gay couples, straight couples who don’t want legal entanglements, straight couples standing in solidarity with gay couples until gay marriage is legal.  It even happened on The Crow!

The second thing I remembered: In the Middle Ages, all you had to do was exchange vows to be married.  I wondered if the same thing might apply to our hearts, even if legally we wouldn’t be considered married.

Phil said the advice columnist was wrong about such marriages being fake, that it didn’t apply to our situation.  He later said he was convinced that yes, we were truly married, and that he did plan to be there for me in sickness and health and riches and poverty and such.

He said that just because we had to wait for school to end didn’t necessarily mean that we put it first, but that it was something we had to do.  We were going to marry in a church in a little while anyway, and that would just make it official in everyone’s eyes.  But back to how we got married in the first place.

We followed a time-honored custom, called verbum or clandestine marriage in the Middle Ages, handfasting in Celtic days and days of itinerant priests, common-law marriage in the pioneer days when ministers were itinerant or absent, and common-law or spiritual marriage in modern America.

Handfasting only lasted a year and a day, but I haven’t heard of time limits on the other kinds of marriages.  The wedding would take place, with or without witnesses, and be binding before God; eventually, if possible, it would be made sacramental as well.  Only in modern times are such marriages not legally recognized.

We didn’t know the term handfasting, but probably would have used it if we did, because we intended to cement it with a legal, public ceremony in the summer of 1995–not go on with a clandestine or spiritual marriage forever.  Eventually, we even signed a simple statement that we were married.  My research paper on such marriages is here.

Here is a website which would declare our marriage valid, even though it was neither legal nor public.   I especially find this part interesting:

I specifically read about an older, Catholic couple, where the man was living one a rather pathetic pension, and the woman was getting a tiny amount of money from her deceased husband’s funds.

If she remarried, not only would she lose her first husband’s money, but her new husband would lose a portion of his money as well. They could not survive like that.

The Priest who actually answered their letter, told them about the acceptability of private marriage vows in the Catholic Church.

Since there is no certificate given, it is not a legal marriage, however the Church recognizes them as a married couple because matrimony is a sacrament that is bestowed upon the two people being joined and sealed by God, it is not performed by a Priest upon two people.

Even the Catholics don’t consider this living in sin, so why should anyone else?

If this were true, then Phil and I would have been truly married even in the eyes of the Catholic Church, even though, in September, when he changed his mind, he now decided we weren’t really married.

While this priest’s views are legitimate historically, the Catholic Church has required a priest and witnesses for centuries, because private weddings led to many problems.  I would like to see this letter, but the blogger gave no reference.

According to this page, if we had done this in Alabama, we would have been considered legally married.  A Texas website also states that it’s not illegal to consider yourselves married if you want to–so long as you don’t claim legal rights that only belong to legally married couples: “Any person can make any personal commitment they wish to another person.”

I told Phil my idea while we were in the basement, and asked if he thought it was a good idea to do like Medieval couples did and exchange vows now.  He said he didn’t think it was a good idea, but he still wanted to do it.

So we did so, trying to remember the vows we’d heard on TV and at real-life weddings all the time.  (The modern custom of writing your own vows was rarely done back then.  Even soap opera ceremonies used traditional vows.)

So even though it wasn’t a legal marriage, our vows were real.  A vow is a vow no matter what the setting, and we vowed to be together forever, no matter what.

During the vows, Phil prompted me in mine (even though I knew them quite well) and included “obey,” but I wouldn’t say it.  He frowned like he was hurt, but I just couldn’t say “obey,” no matter what.  It was a matter of principle.  He finally let it go with a smile.

To be more precise, and make sure there is no doubt, these are the vows we made: take as wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold, love, honor and cherish each other, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, as long as we both shall live/till death do us part.  I think Phil even said, “I pronounce you man and wife.”

So you see, we actually said the words, we actually made the vows; no matter if you say it in front of witnesses or not, when you make vows like this to someone, you have to mean it.  It’s a real vow.  Whether or not the “take you as wife/husband” stands up in court, you still are vowing to be together until you die.  This is serious.

I said, “Now, this isn’t legal, mind you, and is easily broken.”

Phil said, “Is that a warning to me?”

No, I wasn’t warning him that I was going to divorce him.  I just wanted him to understand what we were getting into.  However, though it would be easy to break it legally, I felt that morally it would be very wrong to take back the vows we had just made: It would be a divorce, and that would be wrong.  Our religious traditions both said divorce was a sin and remarriage, adultery.

However, Phil didn’t want me to tell anyone about our marriage because he was afraid we’d get in trouble with our parents.  He didn’t want them to separate us.

April 24 was a beautiful day to get married.  It was sunny, and the weather had finally warmed up–80s, I believe.  The house was opened up to let in the fresh air.

Now it was time to consummate the marriage.  But just then, his mom flipped on the basement lights from the ground floor, and when he went up and opened the door she told him to clean out his minivan.

It had to be done now, meaning we couldn’t go through with the consummation.  I was to go to the Phi-Delt suite at 4:30 to go to a Choir concert.  It was too late for consummation by the time Phil got back from cleaning the van.

To be continued…..


Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: