For Liza Monroy, marrying her gay best friend was the best preparation for finding her true love. / Provided
Author Liza Monroy, a self-proclaimed lovefool, gleefully admits her appreciation for the romantic comedy genre in her new memoir, “The Marriage Act.” While she isn’t deluded by fantasy, she insists that every relationship can be distilled into a rom-com. Take her first marriage — to her gay best friend in 2001, just after 9/11 — for example. “With Emir, everything was so absurd, a comedy of errors,” she says.
Her book details the set pieces of that story, which includes a cast of characters and series of coincidences that can only be described as filmic. Monroy’s friend-turned-husband, Emir, is from a conservative Middle Eastern country and his visa is expiring; he has not yet come out to his family. Meanwhile, the pair fear outing themselves to Monroy’s mother, a visa chief for the State Department, and endangering Emir’s hopes for a green card. Hilarity — like their Vegas nuptials officiated by an Elvis impersonator — and anxiety — like dodging questions about circumcision at the INS — ensue.
Spoiler alert: As with most rom-coms, their narrative has a happy ending. More than a decade later, Emir remains legally in the U.S., and both of them have found the kind of life partners they had wished for in their early 20s. Moreover, DOMA, the federal law that defined marriage as a union solely between partners of the opposite sex, was struck down last June, meaning that nowadays no one will need to make the same sacrifice that Monroy did for her friend. Although no longer legally bound to Emir, she still loves him, in a way that transcends traditional, silver-screen notions of the word. “We are together forever because our friendship — our sibling-hood — continues,” she says.
And while she says everything is different from one relationship to the next, and that her unconventional partnership with Emir wasn’t a tutorial for married life, the newlywed has learned over time how to fall in love for real — that is, with oneself first. She offers her advice:
Use your judgment: “Ultimately, when you find the right person, you feel it. You wouldn’t even think about needing advice or asking for outside input. Not that you’re fully in bliss 24 hours a day, but after a conflict, you never think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be in this relationship.’ You know it’s not going to work out the minute you bad-mouth your partner to your friends. That’s a red flag.”
Be ready: “Get to a place in your life where you’re completely fine on your own, so that you don’t have expectations of a partner. Not that you shouldn’t expect anything [in a relationship], but realize that you don’t need someone to do things for you or make you feel validated. I finally decided I didn’t need a relationship. If a guy showed up who fit into [my life], great; if not, I’m just fine on my own path. When he appeared, it was a nice bonus and surprise.”
Be independent: “[Marriage] makes you more independent because you are joining forces with somebody; you always have a teammate. Knowing that someone has your back liberates you to take risks, pursue dreams and really just be who you are. If someone keeps you from doing the things you want, makes you claustrophobic or is possessive, then they’re the wrong person for you.”
Let go: “You can’t control what another person thinks, does, feels — and shouldn’t try to. That’s why the best relationships are effortless, because you just let each other be, to grow naturally together instead of growing apart. Relinquishing control is an important clue that a relationship will last.”
In her shoes: Although the nation’s laws and attitudes toward the LGBTQ community are shifting (slowly) in a more tolerant direction, Monroy says if she needed to ensure Emir’s security in the U.S., she would do it all over again. And, as she says in “The Marriage Act,” one of her criteria for a partner is one who respects her decision to have married Emir. So how did her new husband, Jason, react when she told him? Exactly as you’d hope: He said he would have done the same thing for his friend, too. She adds that it was the ultimate litmus test, confirming that he was the right guy for her. “He and Emir get along really well,” she beams. “They’re similar in that they’re extroverted, thoughtful, witty people, so they really hit it off.”