For background: this post follows this post.
A wedding for me was more about the rite of passage than any religious meaning. In fact, I didn’t have any need or want for a religious ceremony – I just wanted to publicly acknowledged transition from child to adult, from dependent to independent. And I wanted to be married, meaning joined, with Boyfriend Guy (now Husband Guy).
At least, that’s what I think I thought I wanted, but now I know there was another critical, secret aspect to it: if I simply moved in with BG and chose not to marry him, I would be disowned by my family. Who knows if that was merely a threat or not, but at the time, I tended to cave to family threats.
Anyway, so my thoughts on a wedding today is about Rite of Passage.
A wedding is a ritual, complete with symbolic gestures (rings, for instance, as a symbol of love and promise – or, if you prefer, ownership). A woman walks in alone or accompanied by someone “giving her away”, and she walks out with her partner. Because growing up I always felt like my family owned me, I craved the public nature of the wedding that essentially shouts to the world through invitations, announcements, ceremony, and party, “Hey – I am not theirs anymore! Huzzah!”
The fact that I was walking out with another person, rather than on my own, is/was not important because I chose him. I controlled that choice and I was happy with it.
So I needed the whole business in order to feel like the transition was legitimate, real, solid, whole. The wedding ceremony fed some part of my mind and heart that needed the validation of the world.
Where did that need come from? Culture and family are my guesses. Sure, I had seen the Disney princess movies (Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast were the most influential) where a huge wedding and being married to a handsome prince are the goals, the ideal life for a young woman, but I actually think the intersection between culture and family was where the strongest messages were sent. There were always weddings in my extended family, and they were a big damn deal. Joyful, to be sure, but serious, as in – there are rules that must be followed, even to the extent that a participant might not get exactly what s/he wants.
For instance, my aunt and uncle who got married in our family church in the 1980s were told they could not alter or amend their vows because that’s just not how it’s done. This same aunt begged and begged our pastor to at least adjust how he asked them for their commitment to each other so that she could answer “I do” instead of “I will”. All the woman wanted was to say “I do” to the love of her life. That’s it. But no, the pastor promised her he would allow that and then didn’t deliver during the actual ceremony. Did he lie? Did he forget?* We will never truly know.
HG and I took control of our wedding. On the recommendation of a friend, we got this book and tore into it. We took apart the ritual of wedding ceremony and built one that suited us. We kept the overall shape and structure of a wedding, but we gutted it. Out with the traditional material and in with a message of union, of co-independence.
Looking back on it, this was the first step I truly took in taking control of my life, and this was a silent need I could never have predicted a wedding would fulfill.
I don’t mean to make it sound like the whole thing came off without a hitch, because there were many hitches, but they were only superficial things. (Heat index of 104 degrees; shortage of shade for an outdoor wedding; shortage of beer and water for such a hot day; less-than-planned entrances, toasts, songs, and dances all spring to mind.) On a deeper level, everything was perfect even in its imperfections because it was ours. It was our passage from one life to another. The after-party was secondary.
This is on my mind lately because of the weddings being planned around me. They seem so different to me. For instance, my next door neighbor’s mother in law is getting married this year. She’s a widow and she has found someone to spend the rest of her life with. I love that, and even though I don’t know the lady, I wish her all the happiness possible. The part that perplexes me is that they’re preparing to throw a huge wedding ceremony and reception. But they’ve both been married before. That seems foreign to me, so it makes me wonder what needs (silent or otherwise) does the wedding ceremony and reception fulfill for other people.
My only guess at this time, based on the little to no information I have, is that it’s really all about the party. There is something about the celebration that attracts others to the giant and expensive affair. Heck, maybe that’s the key: expensive. Maybe in America these days, is a wedding made more legitimate somehow by costing a lot of money? Or are we so convinced that we always, always, always have to feel like we’re super-special, and the way to accomplish that is through a super-huge wedding?
Or maybe it is about money, but from the other side – the getting side. I know HG and I have been invited to weddings of people we barely know, and my thought each time was, “I don’t even know these people, we’re not even going, but now I have to give them something.” Because the proper thing to do is to send a gift when you’ve been invited. Gah!
But I know I’m guilty of this, too. A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked if she and another friend could throw me a baby shower. This is my second kid, so honestly, I’m pretty much set (unless it’s a boy – then I’ll need clothes eventually), and I told my friend this, but ultimately my response went something more like this:
“Hell Yeah. Cash and prizes, baby. Cash and prizes.”
So, I’m as guilty as the next person.
I have strayed from my point, if I ever had one – other than the fact I’m just trying to get my head around this. I wish I understood it better, because I think if I did, I could be a better friend to my friend who is planning a gala herself. When she tells me, excitedly, about engraved this and calligraphied that, I often find I am lost for how to respond. I smile, I validate, I clap and squee, and I hope it’s enough for her.
*He was kind of an ass, so I would not put it past him to imagine he would have lied to my aunt. This is the same pastor who a few years later would not allow my brother’s funeral to be held in the church because my brother and he had one hell of an argument a couple of years before my brother entered the military. The fallout of that argument was an unspoken unofficial understanding that my brother was not welcome back in that church. The entire family left that church after that.