Wedding Brouhaha: On Making the Marital Commitment

A lot of us cried when we read the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

Kennedy Supreme Court Gay Marriage Decision

The decision came out a few days before we were married, about a year ago now. At the time, I was up to my eyeballs in wedding junk, so reading the decision was like applying a balm – it put to words a feeling I couldn’t express. Why were we in the middle of all of that nonsense? Because marriage is a beautiful union, we sought it for ourselves, and wanted to celebrate finding each other.

Yesterday, I worked most of the day, then cleaned the house and made dinner. I walked the dog and did some banking. While waiting for Z to come home, I thought about how corporeal our life together is – how much we know about the mechanics of one another. My headaches, his bum knee, our allergens, when our bills need to be paid… Marriage is such a weird blend of the earthly and the divine – where we deal so much with the practical in service of the profound. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, and I will demonstrate this to you by rubbing your sore back, buying your favourite cheese, apologizing when I am wrong or have hurt you, vacuuming without thinking about whether or not it’s your turn, and trying my very best to make you feel, every day, like you are wanted and cherished, though sometimes I fail, miserably.

I both love and hate weddings.

I wanted to marry Z very badly, but planning our wedding? The particulars of it? It was awful. Weddings are so loaded with symbolism.

It didn’t escape my notice that marriage deals, at its core, with a contradiction: The love I feel for Z is my own – it’s in my body where no one can see it. Our relationship was built over many, many hours of private interaction. And yet, when you’re getting married, you are making a public statement about your private love. I wanted very badly for the public record to state that I, Emily, am committed to this person, Z – I wanted my private feelings to become a matter of public record.

Strange, right?

And, because it’s such a public statement, everything becomes symbolic. You want to make your statement elegantly, in front of your family and friends – but which family? Which friends? Where? Who? We’d thought about eloping – there were points where that was desirable – but it didn’t seem right. I told Z, somewhat dramatically: “No, I want to marry you in the light of day!”

Turns out, I’m more traditional than either of us had anticipated.

I imagine this is true for many couples: when you actually go to plan a wedding, one person realizes they have stronger opinions about how it should be done than they’d thought. I had a moment where I realized: “But no, if we do it that way, it won’t be as binding to me. I will feel less committed.” How odd!

A dear friend is wedding-planning right now, and I do not envy her. Simple disagreements were so easily fraught: not only is everything symbolic (and expensive!), while you’re in the midst of planning you cannot escape the fact that you’re planning this entire celebration because you’re about to commit to this one, specific person (who may feel differently than you about wedding favours) for the rest of your life.

Oh, the pressure!

True marriage, true weddings: it’s not like playing dress-up when you were 4, all pretty flowers and ooh-ing over intricate icing design on cakes. It’s a rite of passage wherein you pledge your unending devotion to someone, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, in front of everyone.

It is beautiful and happy, but also requires immense soul-searching, maturity, and commitment to often-difficult personal growth.

And, during the rite, you will determine if your partner is also willing or able to perform the same soul-searching and growth. It requires phenomenal amounts of trust, which is hugely difficult if you’ve ever been hurt before.

But, you know what?

That work – the personal growth, the soul-searching, the maturity: it’s not done in one huge burst. It’s done in tiny steps, every day. It’s done in the trips to the grocery store, in the bringing of a cool glass of water, in the washing the dishes, in the little hugs and love notes in packed lunches. The rest of your life is lived in seconds, minutes, hours, days – same as your life up until this point.

Ultimately, despite all of my questioning – the emotions around the life commitment, the planning of the wedding itself and the stress of it – the alternative seemed worse. Truly: I felt so committed to Z already, that it seemed an egregious oversight for it not to be registered with our office of vital statistics.

So for all of you in the midst of planning your weddings: good luck! It is awful, I don’t envy you one bit! But after the wedding, when you have your moments of peace together, and the knowledge that the registry is correct and the person you’re with has done their own journey of soul-searching and come to the same realization as you – that they want to share the small moments of their life with you – it is awfully nice.