It’s wedding season.
I should qualify that. The first major round of my friends and acquaintances is pulling the trigger on (hopefully) lifelong commitment, and as the end of summer approaches, all the wedding pictures are going up on Facebook and everyone’s statuses are changing to “engaged” or “married.”
I’m simultaneously thrilled for them and completely baffled as to how someone my age would feel comfortable making such an important decision and defining such a huge part of the rest of his or her life. Not having ever been in love with anyone (yet), I suppose I’m not the best judge. I just know that, while I feel like each day I have more of a handle on myself and my life, I have a whole lot of living to do before I promise to spend the remainder of it with the same person.
The weddings I’ve been to this summer have been gorgeous. I do not question for a moment the decisions of the people involved, and watching these glowing couples promise to be there for each other with their families looking on has been a joyful and misty experience for me. I’m happy to say that every friend’s wedding I’ve ever attended has felt supremely “right” to me and to everyone involved. I admire them and I marvel at them.
There’s then the flip side, of course, in the fight for recognition of same-sex marriage. My home state (go Mass!) allows it; my current state (come on, Ill) does not. I have friends who have been married in another state, who refer to each other as husbands or wives, who wear rings, but who are not entitled to the legal and medical benefits that I would enjoy with some guy I decided to hitch my carriage to on a whim. I hope against hope that someday our kids will look back on our current period in the way that I grew up looking at interracial marriage, wondering why in the world anyone would have a problem with it. I’m not sure that will be the case. I’m going to do whatever I can to help make it happen.
I’m currently reading “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage,” by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame. I’m about a hundred pages in, and fascinated by the research she’s conducted about the evolution of the institution of marriage over the centuries. Did you know that early Christians, the ones who were actively following in Jesus’s example and trying to spread the Gospel, were anti-marriage? From the beginning, Christianity has been a millenial (i.e. dealing with the end of the world) religion, expecting the Apocalypse around every corner, and it didn’t make much sense to focus on getting people together to have Christian babies if nine months from now there might not be a world left for that baby to join. Marriage was actually considered impure, because it allowed men and women to give into their sexual desires instead of focusing on their love of God. “Sancitity of holy matrimony?” It wasn’t until the church became an institution that needed to control the behaviors of a large population over a period of time that they reclaimed marriage and insisted that they oversee it. That was all about control. It had nothing to do with Jesus.
I remember when I first really thought about marriage and why it developed. I was trying to figure out my own opinions about physical intimacy inside and outside of marriage, and even though on some level I’d already known that marriage hadn’t always been what it is now, I was still startled to realize that a lot of the reasons that people got married in However-Far-Back BC don’t come into consideration anymore. Marriage started out as a way to build a family unit for mutual cooperation and survival; it also protected women from being abandoned once pregnant and gave a man a claim that helped him feel secure that the babies that the woman who worked by his side had were his and not someone else’s. It was a way to connect families and clans, to consolidate property and business, and to placate violence. I thought to myself, “Wow…I might not ever need to do this, and that might be okay.”
I recommend you read the book because I enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert and she condenses a bunch of complicated history in an entertaining and informative way. I’ll stop paraphrasing her now, but I wanted to note some things that I found particularly interesting.
As I’ve mentioned before, the majority of my friends seem to be facing some kind of quarter-life shift. I won’t say crisis, because it’s different for everyone. Having been thrown into the ocean of adulthood, we’ve managed to tread water and keep from drowning; now we decide in which direction we swim. I look at my college self, and I recognize her easily. I see much of her in me. But I’m not her anymore, and I’m okay with that. I want some different things, and want some of the same things in a different way or for different reasons. I’m having a good time growing into my adult self, and I wouldn’t want that self to remain static and unchanging.
It’s in looking at my friendships that I get the best sense of what it would be like for me, now, to get married. Some of the people who have been in my life for eight-plus years are as much a part of it now as they were then. We’ve grown together and in complementary ways. I feel pretty securely that we’ll be friends forever, because we’ve been through enough that I can’t imagine the drama that would keep us apart. But there are new friendships, too, and exciting ones, and some old pals have quietly dropped into different social circles. We’ve grown in different directions. It’s nice to catch up every so often, and we still care about each other, but life is just fine without interacting all that often. Sometimes even better, because it’s turned out that we have jagged edges that rub against each other the wrong way.
The friends getting married now are, I believe, experiencing love in the way I experience the first kind of friendship. They’ve been together long enough to know that they fit together; they’ve figured out their lives, and where they overlap and where they back off for breathing space. They’ve grown and changed and it hasn’t been a problem, and they’re happy to promise to continue to be there for each other. I think that’s fantastic. It would be like me committing to a 50-year lease with a roommate–some people you can just live with very well, and once you know you can do so, you know.
Unfortunately, not everyone is there. My friends are remarkably smart and mature and clear-eyed. Not so each 25-year-old. I’ve had the daydreams, within weeks of meeting someone, of our life together after age 85, and I know how tempting that can be even when you don’t end up ever getting coffee together. I can imagine how falling in love with someone could lead to an even more irresistible partial blindness. Or how two people who care very much for each other could grow apart, or realize things about each other that they might not even consciously acknowledge, or have very separate crises and then be upset when having the other person there doesn’t solve the problem. I know that I still don’t feel adult enough to be completely assured that I wouldn’t fall into this situation. Even if I were around a serious candidate, a very long engagement looks pretty appealing if it’s that or face an emotional, financial, and logistical split.
I guess what I’m saying is that I trust that you, my sensitive and thoughtful friends, are allying yourselves together for the right reasons, and that you’re aware that marriage won’t always be a cakewalk and that people will change and will fail and will be human, and that you’re ready to face that. I’m saying that I will happily come to your weddings and toast you and dance and probably, let’s be real, cry. I’m also saying that not til some serious soul-searching on my part will I be ready to follow you, and that I worry for the people who might just possibly be getting engaged because they feel pressured to do so, they feel like it has to be the next step, or they don’t want to be left behind by their peer group.
What I’m saying is that I’ll cheer as you throw the bouquet, but I’m not going to wrestle the Maid of Honor for it.
And finally, if I registered at Macy’s and Bed, Bath, and Beyond for the celebration of my union with my new apartment, would you help a girl out?