We Need Weddings For Things Other Than Marriage
Without dredging too deep into the circumstances of my personal life, suffice to say that I’m not anywhere close to getting married. I’m not even sure I ever will get married, but never say never, etc. But regardless of my matrimonial eventuality, I’ve got a pretty raging heart-boner for throwing — and starring in — a wedding. And it’s not especially about the presents (not that I’d say ever say no to presents), nor is it about needing attention (but, ya know, ditto.) It’s about every other special, sentimental, celebratory detail that weddings afford time to indulge in.
I want the opportunity to have everyone I love gathered in one room, eating high-calorie food, where I can hold them captive while they listen to me tearfully express my gratitude for their presence in my life. I want a microphone and waterproof mascara. I want to have to invite people I don’t like because I’m related to them, and I want to get drunk enough on really good champagne to slur sentiments of forgiveness and bygones being bygones to their judgmental, redneck asses.
I want to wear a beautiful wedding dress. Wedding dresses — the good ones, not the cheap, blinding white, ill-fitting, mass-produced crap — are masterpieces, and are often the most painstakingly selected, most expensive, most well-constructed sartorial purchase of a woman’s life. (Same goes for the groom’s suit, if he’s the sort of fellow who knows what’s up.) And with good reason; your wedding is arguably the single day in your life when you put yourself together with a heightened attention to every detail of how you look, from your hair to your shoes to your nails to your skin to your earrings, and so on. It’s not just because you’ll be walking into a room where everyone you know will be fixing their whole attention on you; you want to look as festive and flawless and full of pregnant, excited energy as the day itself. At your wedding, you are the bright, glowing embodiment of the moment.
Most people do some version of this ritual in their everyday lives. If you are planning to make an important presentation at work, you’re likely to preen more attentively that morning. You’ll want to look professional (whatever that happens to mean at your workplace), and clean, and wear something you feel comfortable and confident in, to project an air of intelligence and accessibility. Your physical appearance is assembled to mirror the spirit you want the event (in this case, your meeting) to have. A similar preparatory scenario plays out when you’re getting ready for a date, for example. Our lives are filled with instances of dressing for an occasion in which we’ll have the captive attention of some audience, whether that means one person on a date, a dozen people at work, or 200 at your wedding.
What I’m suggesting is that we need more events where the achievements of our lives are honored. We need more times when a woman can put on an expensive, ornate, expertly tailored dress and have everyone beam when she walks into a heavily decorated room. Maybe this is just an overly articulated call for more parties.
It’s worth noting that weddings don’t mean the same thing they originally did. I’m not trying to detract from their loveliness, nor the weight of what the ceremony marks. I’m not one of those people who complain about how awful and cheesy and boring weddings are. I love them. I will enthusiastically eat your cake, drink your booze, dance to bullshit songs with your cousins, and I will kiss you and your beloved and tell you how beautiful you are, and how happy for you I am, and I will mean it very much. But the unspoken subtext of a wedding is not, as it once was, “Thank god, you have found someone to provide for you. He is strong, and you will not starve. Together you will unite and take care of your aging parents, and bear children, who will work in the fields, and did I mention we won’t all starve now? Make merry!” Modern marriages are generally seen as an occasion to commemorate the fact that two people, despite the mounting general emotional dysfunction of society, have managed to fend off hoards of sociopaths, perverts, and gold diggers and found someone to love. And furthermore, that two people feels so connected, compatible, and committed to one another that they can — even for just a while, even if it doesn’t last — believe in love that’s forever. They are investing in permanence. They are expanding their family by choice, which is a thing that doesn’t happen very often in life. This is a moment worth celebrating.
But it’s not the only moment worth celebrating. For an ever-increasing number of people, marriage isn’t on the radar. It’s not a thing they want. Even if it is a thing they want, there’s something presumptuous or imbalanced about putting such an extreme level of money, energy, and general fuss towards it, over all the other achievements in their life. Having a huge, congratulatory party, and a meaningful ritual for this benchmark of their love life seems dismissive to the other parts of their existence. What about a big, fancy party with all your family and friends wishing you well and giving loving speeches about how far you’ve come when you land your dream job? Didn’t you earn it? Isn’t it a transformational experience? Isn’t it wonderful that you don’t have to “date” more awful jobs ever again? Where is the gift registry for quitting smoking? Where are the billion-dollar industries devoted to You Paid Off Your Credit Card Debt soirees? I’m not saying that we as a society don’t value these things, or that we as each other’s friends and family aren’t filled with pride and elation when someone we care about succeeds in any area of their life, but where the celebratory constructs?
There is tremendous power in rituals. That’s why there have always been so many, big and small, for every variety of occasion, ailment, and remembrance, since humans have existed. With weddings, putting so much positive energy, from so many people, into making every aspect of the ritual beautiful and perfect and filled with love, a newly-married couple can scarcely help but walk away from that day feeling like their good juju reserves are at maximum capacity as they go forward together. In essence, that’s the point. To all get together and drum up a shit ton of good vibes to start the newlyweds off on the best possible note. Good energy, prayers, karma…whatever you want to call it, the point of a wedding (other than seeing your friends get hammered and paw at each other all night) is to imbue the people you care about with lots of it as they launch into a new part of their lives, and to give them a resounding high five for getting as far as they already have.
What I am suggesting is this: we need to spread the joy. We need to validate and honor a multitude of life choices not just by giving equal legal consideration to people living a wide variety of lifestyles, but by taking the quest to cultivate a culture of equality beyond the Supreme Court, and into the dearest parts of our world. Obviously, successfully achieving legal mandates for fair and equal treatment for everyone is massively important, but it’s time to start imagining how we can elevate and celebrate the successes and important moments for a broader range of people.
I’m not proposing that we should appropriate “weddings” for situations other than forming a marriage, no more than I think we should steal Easter’s traditions and give them to the 4th of July; weddings belong to marriage and that’s fine. What I’m saying is that we need to construct new venues and rituals of equitable pomp and circumstance to traditionalize the milestones of, say, the unmarried life, or the child-free life, or even moments in the lives of married people with children who want to grant hard-earned celebratory weight to the other areas of their well-rounded lives. The point is, it sucks that we say we fully respect everyone’s ability to choose the life that’s right for them, but still save our most enthusiastic applause for only a very select few accomplishments that only apply to people who follow a fairly narrow path. I’m not suggesting that path, and those moments, aren’t exceptional and worth doing the chicken dance for, but we need to expand our criteria for what merits our A-game of party-throwing.
However the actual celebrations end up looking, and what specific moments we create new big, bold commemorations for, I think it’s very much the appropriate time to start taking stock of how we place value on life choices in non-legislative parts of our culture. It’s time to start brainstorming what symbolic rituals, joyful gatherings, and respectful ceremonies we can integrate into the thoroughly proud, diverse society we are (hopefully) becoming. Because like I said, I love weddings. Having the chance to go to more ultra-festive, open bar events, and concocting meaningful ways to not just show equal laws, but equal love? I can’t find a downside to any of that. Also, if I don’t get to put on a supremely fancy dress and raise a fatty champagne flute to my homies while we all eat steak pretty soon, I’m gonna lose my shit.
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