It turns out that serial killers and the women who love them are just like us. They deal with the same struggles and questions that many of us do: What to do when the bride's mother has an issue with the groom? How to be connected while maintaining boundaries? When and where to register?
By now, you've surely heard about the engagement of the year: The 80-year-old incarcerated mass murderer Charles Manson and his 26-year-old betrothed who goes by the name Star have been granted a wedding license by the state of California.
The fact that this couple, separated by distance, prison and age, are still planning their beautiful jailhouse wedding tells us one thing: these love birds are doing something right! And in a world full of broken promises, broken homes and broken hearts, we could all learn from their example. So, without any further ado, I present lessons about love and marriage we can learn from Charles Manson and Star.
Star, born Afton Elaine Burton, was raised near St Louis by very religious Baptist parents but wound up deviating from the righteous path. As she recalls, "I was smoking marijuana, eating mushrooms, not wanted to go to church every Sunday."
So Star's parents did what any parent does when their child experiments with drugs and stops showing up at church: they locked Star in her room for much of her teenage years. Luckily, when Star was 16, one of her friends—clearly seeing that Star was in need of something—passed her Charles Manson's writings on the environment. He had her at ATWA, or Air Trees Water Animals, the organization he founded which "represents the human quest to live in balance with our planet's life-support systems."
As they corresponded, Star finally saw that Manson wasn't a killer, but rather "obviously a political prisoner," as she states on one of the many websites she maintains.
After years of getting to know Charles via writing and telephone, Star knew what she had to do. At the age of 19, she packed up her bags and moved to Corcoran, California, so she could be with the 73-year old prisoner for five hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays in the very romantic setting that is the Corcoran State Prison.
Star is unwavering in her commitment to Charles. She told Rolling Stone, "Yeah, well, people can think I'm crazy. But they don't know. This is what's right for me. This is what I was born for." Star was equally determined about her marriage: "I'll tell you straight up, Charlie and I are going to get married... I take it very seriously. Charlie is my husband."
Despite Star's insistence on their marriage, Charles played it down, saying, "That's a bunch of garbage. You know that, man. That's trash. We're just playing that for public consumption." Sometimes every relationship needs a little drama to kick it into high gear.
Surely, hearing your fiancé call your marriage plans "a bunch of garbage" is hard. And it wasn't until this month that they actually got the wedding license. But Star knew it wasn't a case of "he's just not that into you." It was a case of what she called "some situations," specifically Manson's three violations for possession of a weapon, threatening staff and refusal to provide a urine sample.
Star physically resembles Manson Family member Susan Atkins, AKA Sexy Sadie, but she's nothing like her. As she told Rolling Stone, "That bitch was fucking crazy. She was a crazy fucking whore. 'Oh Charlie, I did this for you.' She didn't know what she was doing." A lesser woman would feel threatened by Sexy Sadie, but Star clearly isn't. It probably helps that Sadie died in prison in 2009.
There's a fine line between cute and cloying when it comes to couples dressing alike, talking alike, or self-mutilating alike. During his trial, Manson carved an X into his forehead. Two decades later, he embellished it, transforming it into a swastika. Had Star chosen to do the same, she would have lost part of her identity and sublimated herself into Manson. Instead she made the prudent decision to carve an X — no more, no less — into her forehead. That's what healthy boundaries look like.
Of course in-laws can be problematic. And Star's mother, 47-year-old Melissa Burton, has not always provided the support so important to struggling couples. Burton says the family won't attend the wedding and that Star "knows how we feel about it. If I could choose a life for my daughter, I'd choose a normal one." And yet, incredibly, Burton is pretty tolerant of her son-in-law: "I know [Manson] has made lots of bad choices, but I don't think he's dangerous . . . I don't believe my daughter is brainwashed." In fact, for Burton, the mass murderer is just another one of her daughter's age-inappropriate boyfriends: "We weren't happy with the last [boyfriend]. He just wasn't someone our family approved of . . . He was older and she was just a teenager."
If you build a relationship around sex, you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Sex and chemistry come and go, but love, appreciation and mutual respect are what stay the course. The Mansons, luckily enough, have never had any sexual contact that could have impaired their judgment. Their love is based on so much more than sexual chemistry. And that's a good thing, because California may grant marriage licenses and perform weddings in the clink, but it does not grant conjugal visits to prisoners without parole dates.
Katie Halper is a writer, comedian, filmmaker and occasional history teacher. She was born, raised and still lives in New York. Follow her at @kthalps.
Photo via mansondirect.com.