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What is a wedding ceremony?

21 Apr

(Olivia Leigh Photographie)

When we got engaged on that downright cold winter night a little over a year ago, giddy over the future and the present all at once, we talked about two things: standing in front of everyone we care deeply for and declaring our love for each other, and what our marriage would look like.

For me, it’s easy to focus on the marriage. We do it all the time, whether it’s talking about what our personal limits are for those hectic first years of working all the time, our goals, when we’ll be out of debt (I can hear the credit card companies laughing from here. and the federal government), if we’ll move, etc. Mostly there is wine involved with these talks. It’s good for nights like that.

But the ceremony is much tougher to talk about. Seems silly, doesn’t it? A little fifteen minute thing, where people will sit (or stand, because it seems silly to rent chairs for fifteen minutes which will probably be ten because I have Gilmore training in terms of quick dialogue) is this looming subject of what-ifs and buts.

Most ceremonies are fairly easy to plan. In fact, most couples barely have to plan them. There’s a pastor or clergy person who sits down with the couple and says (in my head, since I’ve never had this talk) “this is how the ceremony will start, music, a little intro, my spiel, maybe a hymn, a prayer, your vows, the kiss, the introduction as man and wife. And it’ll be beautiful, and it’ll go off without a hitch, because that’s how I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years now.”

And that’s great, and I bet you can even personalize it many places, and if you believe it, I bet it’s a really powerful thing. But we don’t believe it, and it’s just not us.

And so, there will be no pastor or clergyman. There will be no prayer or hymn.

There will be vows. There will be an intro, and probably a poem. There will be the two of us, promising each other that this partnership will be life-long, and filled with joy, adventure, hardship, struggle, and love. And we’ll be starting off our married life on the premise of us, something that is not one bit a lie, because we used only our definition of marriage to get there.

The good thing about having this struggle of what to say and how to structure the ceremony is that it really made me dig around for what marriage is. Why do I want it so much? Why do I get so upset when I hear people say that the GLBT population can have “everything but the word marriage?” What does it mean? Of course, in a global span, the history of marriage is kind of a depressing thing. That’s what you get when you take an institution based on practicality and inheritance and culturally fine-tune it to be this many-headed monster that can be inspiringly genuine and beautiful or painfully expectation-ridden and artificial depending on where you look.

We ended up looking no further than Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall’s words in ruling on  “Goodridge Vs. Department of Health”

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.”

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

That says perfectly what I never could, and because of that, it will open our ceremony. Sometimes, certain passages just ring so true that you can say nothing but “exactly. This.” For us, that is what marriage means, and we are proud of taking what can only be described as “the hard way” in terms of family expectations and traditions.

The toughest thing about this is those who think that we’re turning on how we were raised. That we’re saying it wasn’t good enough. I suppose that there are, on the surface, plenty of glaring differences. Between the drive towards city living, the veganism, the lack of desire for children, and the differences in religion and philosophy, it seems we’re completely different people sometimes. But I think what many people forget is that the stuff that makes us up is the same stuff that you aim for, too. How to work hard, how to love, how to help, how to laugh, and how to care, how to experience life. Different doesn’t have to be bad, and I hope that on our wedding day, our family will look past the absence of what a wedding is to them, and see what marriage means to us.

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Guest Post: on weddings and marriage.

11 Apr

When the lovely Estelle (@thatsostelle on Twitter) offered to guest post for me, she mentioned that she didn’t know what to write about. I can understand that, since my blog is kind of about… well, whatever I feel like the morning I sit down to write a post. So I asked her if she’d be willing to write out a reflection about her own wedding experience from the other side. It’s so easy to get caught up in the wedding as this huge event that you’re pointing to – for us, with this long engagement, it’s been a significant date for a long time. So Estelle’s lovely and poignant post was wonderful to read!

It’s funny… everyone keeps telling me that I got married a month or so ago. There are pictures up on Facebook; we received a teaser from our photographers. We had some gifts sitting in our living room; we cleaned up the craft table in our dining room, a permanent staple since January. James and I both have new rings on our left hands. And while all of that evidence makes the answer super obvious, James and I can’t help but say out loud to one another (over and over again) that it must have been a dream. It could only have been a dream! Seriously, does a big day like your wedding REALLY fly by so quickly that you are left to question if it happened at all?
 
The truth is – it does. It really does.
 
I knew this going in. Quite early actually, when we were booking the venue and the coordinator said something about six hours – the total time of our event – ceremony + reception. And I was happy that he said that. The time bracket would help us keep the day in perspective. It’s just SIX HOURS of your life. That’s shorter than a work day. And, for the most part, I’m pretty proud of how James and I managed to live our everyday life while planning a wedding and not the other way around. But as the wedding inched closer, I couldn’t believe I had been spending more time working on coffee filter flowers than the total time of the wedding. (That was probably not the most calming thought to have 2 days before the big day.)
 
One minute I was in our living room, crying at Up and assembling centerpieces, and the next I was packing them into my trunk with an unknown future ahead of them.
 
Can you tell my lack of control over time is sort of an obsession? No matter how many people tell you “It’s going to be the fastest [enter planning time here] of your life” – you don’t/can’t believe them until you are there yourself.
 
And as James and I are discovering, the wedding day is no different. But it feels great/magical/amazing, nonetheless. A spacey universe filled with love, cake, and champagne. All your favorite people in one room, and the feeling that you have never looked this pretty in your life. You dance when you never thought you were going to, you do shots when you never thought you would, and you see your husband cry (a lot!) as you walk down the aisle (even after a first-look)! The day becomes a mash-up of moments instead of a steady sequence of anything sensible. It was all totally organic, which was exactly what you both wanted.
 
There are two things that planning a wedding remind me of. One I have no experience in, and can only imagine – birthing a child, watching it grow, and having to let it go. Your precious baby is out there for all to see (and judge). It’s scary. And I was scared. For so long, I cared about whether people would think we were cheap because the only real flowers were the bouquets and my dad’s boutonniere (and this was a last minute decision, like a month out, last minute). Or if they thought pencils were a shitty favor. My advice: if your guests are obsessing over your centerpieces and not over your happiness, you have bigger problems. Just throw a kick-ass party and focus on what you and your future husband want, need, like/love. It’s not easy. Especially with a million opinions coming from 800 directions. But you can do it.
 
The second wedding comparsion – the one I have actually experienced – is a getting dumped. It sounds harsh. There is, after all, a happily ever after. The harsh part is all the time, effort, money and brain cells, you put into planning. And them BAM! It’s over before you know it. You are sort of torn between being the super clingy oh-my-god don’t leave me type, and the person who can walk away, completely satisfied with their head held high- ready to move forward. You feel like a psycho because you are seriously these TWO people. You mourn the time you spent on the details. You sort of miss them even after they pissed you off for a few months. Drove you to drink wine with your dinner. Suddenly, you are a wife and real life resumes before you can process anything that just happened. (Even after a honeymoon, this is tough with a capital T.)
 
But then the bright side is your free time has returned to you, and you can return to the land of the living where you are not constantly counting your pennies and worrying if you picked the right color duct tape for your programs. AND THE BEST OF ALL – you are freaking married to your best friend on the planet, relish in calling him your husband in conversation, and are overjoyed to return home after a day of work to sit on the couch and eat the meal he has prepared. Woo! It feels amazing (even after living with each other for a year and a half, that’s saying something!)
 
So enjoy it, enjoy everything, no matter how fast it may go. It’s totally worth it.
 
Even if it only feels like one of the best dreams you’ve ever had.

What do they know? My giant “eff you” to the wedding world.

23 Feb

I’m really excited – giddy, actually – about our marriage. Some days, I’m even excited about the wedding. The day that we found our venue, for instance, or the first time I spun around in my wedding dress. I love when wonderful friends (Layla!) pass along bits of their wedding, because it makes me feel like ours will not be this one overly-hyped day, but a part of something bigger. It makes me happy when R gets excited about something wedding-related, like the day that he spent hours listening to local bands and contacting them to see if they’d play a wedding on our budget.

These are all things that came about fairly organically. I wasn’t really seeking them out, they just happened. They were done kind of stealthily, before everyone had an opinion on where we should get married, who should officiate, what I should wear, who should be in the bridal party, what food should be served, who should (or should not) be invited, what our favors should be, and a zillion other things that I am not listing but are really, definitely topics of conversation.

My reaction to all of this has been, essentially, not to plan for the wedding. I just keep telling people who are wedding troublemakers that we’re too far out to even think about it. If you’re not on that black list of crazy, then I may just be willing to talk about the wedding.

But when I think about our wedding day, I’m excited for things like seeing all of our friends and family, sharing our vows with everyone, having a blast on the dancefloor, and getting some truly kick-ass photos. Can everyone just stick to those details, please? Because the other ones, the ones where only certain veil lengths are proper, and getting married in our city is an incovenience, and *gasp* the lack of a wedding cake are making me want to pull my hair out and elope.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not something I dwell on often. We still talk about our life and our marriage much more (oh, and the honeymoon. What’s not perfect about Paris?) than we discuss the wedding.

So, as a remedy to all this wedding crazy, I want to share with you all a little about our relationship. We’ve been through quite the ups and downs, through the angsty high school years, the transition to college and adulthood, and the stress of finding careers. We’ve had those months where we didn’t know how we could possibly make ends meet financially, and the string of days where one of us was always working or in classes, and it felt like we were perpetually waving at each other on our way out. But we’ve been pretty good at keeping our standards directed at our relationship, and putting the other person first.

One of our old fights that we constantly rehashed was the good old lack of communication. I admit it, I was a hinter. I thought that somehow, he would know what I meant when I dropped a hint, and I got upset when he didn’t pick up on it. Then he would get mad that I was mad, and he’d storm out of the room or go silent. Which only infuriated me more, because I felt like he was giving up on the situation. There were some pretty stormy months like that, and it took sitting down and establishing how to fight fairly to actually eliminate most of our fights. Now they honestly don’t happen much unless one of us hasn’t  had enough coffee that morning. And really, who can be blamed for that?

The aspect of our relationship that has, without a doubt, kept us happy more than any other is how we spend our together and alone times. We don’t have the spending money to have an actual date night, but we love to plan dinners at home, take walks together, and sit at outdoor cafes for hours on summer mornings. That is our time, and when we’ve agreed upon it we don’t let life get in the way of it. Those days are so important to me, because they help me sort out my week and make sense of what’s going on in my life.

Almost equally important is the time we spend apart. There is something to be said for having independent relationships with friends apart from other couple friends, and I think I’d go insane without coffee dates, brunches, and girls’ nights.

On the surface, it seems like this is just regular relationship stuff. And it is, undoubtedly. I’m sure everyone works out their own system of what works. But this is the stuff of our marriage. Because at this point, marriage is just a public statement of our commitment, and an acknowledgement of that commitment from society. Marriage will not change what we already have, it will just solidify it. I love waking up in the morning to my best friend and the person I love right now just as I will through the years of our marriage – and that is why no amount of crazy wedding talk truly gets me down, even though it can be all sorts of annoying. Because really, it’s the marriage that matters to us.

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