This year will probably be known among my group of friends as The Year of The Wedding. From late April to this past weekend in September, it seemed like every other weekend, I was celebrating somebody’s nuptials.
In the past and admittedly every so often, I have cringed at the relentless showcase of #shesaidyes and “He proposed!!!!” clouding up my social media. Aside from being more private than not in the context of romantic relationships, I find some things about the wedding industrial complex worthy of at the very least, fair criticism, if not entire condemnation.
In the rare instance I have chosen to voice my criticisms, it has been met with, “You’ll change your mind when it happens to you.” But I doubt it. If and when I am going to the altar – as someone who cherishes commitment, marriage, and holy matrimony, together and separately, I am going into it with some of my particular political (and cultural) beliefs and positions on issues. If I change my mind, I hope it is because I have also changed my positions.
But here’s the thing: I like weddings. Not only because I love a good party, but two people gathering folks they deem worthy of witnessing their love, and bringing them together to commemorate said love, is well, worth celebrating. And yes, this is true, even in the time of hashtagged love.
Of course we’re not just in a time of hashtagged love, but hashtagged friendships and hashtagged accomplishments, and really, a hashtagged life. We all pick and choose the things that we find worthy, and the things that make us roll our eyes. Most of these things, I think, have a tendency to reveal a little about who we are and what we want. If we’re honest, they also reveal our insecurities and fears from time to time. And honestly, that’s okay too.
But I realized a few weeks ago when I was dancing with a just married friend on her ceremonial dance floor how happy I was for her – and not just for her, but for all my friends who had been promising to make lifetime commitments in The Year of The Wedding. And as that thought crossed my mind, my friend was shouting something to me about how she had followed my public writing and academic work, and she was proud of me too.
True to form, I watered it down in the self-deprecating way I often do (and should probably stop doing), by telling her that promising some dude I would love him forever seemed way more daunting than research and writing. She insisted that anyone can get married but doing work that can leave your mark behind even in the smallest way possible, is meaningful. We agreed that both things are meaningful – that both things are worth celebrating.
We both know that weddings are just the start of marriage – a splendid but demanding journey. Just like we both know that doing any work in which you want to make a difference and leave your mark, will also be challenging and potentially remarkable. One isn’t necessarily greater than the other; both are just different. Both, however, require sacrifice. Maybe that’s why we (ought to) celebrate both.
We don’t need to do what others are doing to appreciate the sacrifice they are making. We just need to understand that their accomplishments, their desires, the things that make them happy do not need to reflect us. In fact, oftentimes, they probably have little to do with us.
Yes, we have culture and community and we all create and participate in each other’s wants and desires, and lack thereof. But the older I get, the more I realize how vital it is to participate in your own life as much as possible – to follow your own path, and to choose the things that make you feel more like, you. But not only that, to have it in you to be authentically happy for those who make different choices than you.
It is, I think, the most underrated lesson one can learn in their twenties. It also seems like the kind of lesson you’ll be learning throughout your lifetime. The lesson, however, allows you to recognize that whether someone chooses to study what they love at the highest level, or give up a lucrative career for a period of time to travel or for family, or move to a new city to pursue their dreams, or say, “I do” and share for all to see – or the vice versa of any of these and more, you need not compare your life to theirs.
Because you are on your own path. But being on your own path doesn’t mean you can’t cheer others on who are on a different path. Above all, this lesson gives you the freedom to be the best you while letting others be the best them too. And when the time comes, you celebrate each other because being the best when your best and my best are different, ceases to be the imaginary zero-sum game we all think we’re playing where the winner takes all. The game does not exist.
When you and I want different things and we can acknowledge we want different things, I can be at your finish lines and you can be at mine with an embrace and a smile saying, “I am happy for you.”