First comes the picture in Central Park or on top of a mountain in some foreign country, the two 20-somethings all white smiles and sparkling fingers. An accompanying Facebook status announces their engagement, and from my spectator’s seat it’s usually one of a few reactions: “Wait, since when did they start dating?” or, “Saw that one coming,” or, “Man, I secretly hoped they were going to break up.”
But every time I wonder: “Why?”
Next come the engagement photos in a country pasture or against some city skyline. It’s always sunset, and regardless of my initial judgments, they look adorable in their crisp shirts and pastel dresses – the bride-to-be sporting ten perfectly manicured fingers, one in particular showcasing her diamond passport into the oldest institution in human history.
Finally, months later, I see beaming couples on my timeline, lovingly embracing one another under big white tents on the lawns of country homes or in sprawling urban churches, elegant bridesmaids and groomsmen lined up like chess pieces on either side of the beaming newlyweds.
Seriously, I’m not bitter at all. I’m genuinely awestruck.
Watching people I know get married is like watching them get launched into space. They are moving to Mars and I’m still down here, watching the space shuttle crackle and burn, eventually disappearing into an outer galaxy unbeknownst to me.
They were people I thought I knew, thought I understood. Last I remember, they were carefree twenty-somethings like me, too, but now they are members of an exclusive club to which I may or may not ever gain membership.
At one point we all were on the same page in the book of life; now they seemed to have skipped a few chapters ahead. College girlfriends of mine, once mere frat-party-hopping mortals, have been transformed into married women. I experience sheer disbelief that people who have been on Earth the same amount of time as I have could be on such a radically different schedule.
Until now I had only ever seen wedding photographs from my grandparents and parents, usually black and white and passed to me in leather photo albums by loving people with crows-feet around their eyes and gray hair framing their faces. Until now I had never seen these kinds of images from people who are, well, just like me.
But these days, thanks to Facebook, they pop up without warning (and with ever-increasing frequency), side-swiping me with a deep, numbing sense of nostalgia and a heart-stopping awareness of the cyclical nature of human life.
Because the photos I am seeing today are the same photos this couple’s grandchildren will see decades from now. These are the images those grandchildren will recall when they start seeing their friends getting married. And it seems like everyone in all of humankind is destined to participate in this same societal ritual.
Indeed, many people I know have gotten on the rocket-ship, blasting off into an unknown dimension of reality and kick-starting “the rest of their lives.” But the fact of the matter is, I’m actually a happy spectator.
I’m a spectator who understands that we tend to overemphasize the wedding day, the glamorous photos distorting the fact that marriage is not actually the end of this crazy, free-for-all game of love, but just the beginning.
For many of us, there is still a long way to go until we embark on that beginning, or perhaps we never even choose that path.
Spectators we may remain, but as long as we understand the true nature of the game we are watching, our knowledge extending beyond the rose petals and wedding days, beyond the smoke screens that cloud many people’s ideas of what marriage really is, then we can confidently pursue love and relationships at our own pace.