In Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert shared how important having a wedding ceremony was to both her friends and family—particularly to Mimi, her niece. Mimi had a difficult time being told that she now had a new uncle without experiencing it for herself. She needed to witness this new “uncle’s” right of passage from a friend of her Aunt Elizabeth’s to an actual family member.
While weddings will always be significant to the couple they’re often even more operative for the community. The ceremony is what allows the community to process and accept the other person as the newest member of the family.
We’ve all felt it at some point or another, when we go to a wedding and we suddenly feel connected to this greater good that is happening before us. You find yourself not just happy for the bride and groom, but really rooting for them. When before, you barely even knew the soon-to-be spouse; now, you’ve chatted it up with grandma, cried during his dad’s toast and made out with the best man. Somewhere between the sober applause at the church and the slurring of “bye, bye Miss American Pie” while swaying arm in arm with every friend and family member at the wedding; you gave them your blessing.
Historically, the relationship between marriage and community has been equally beneficial. In Committed, Gilbert writes about a conversation she had with a woman named Ting. Ting was from Luang Probang, a city in Laos. She said marriages in her village last forever and divorce was very rare. Gilbert asked what happens then when a couple is struggling. Ting explained that the community pulls together to help the marriage. “Neighbors will toss out ideas and solutions, or even offer relief—such as taking in young children for a week or two while the couple works out their troubles without distractions.”
Perhaps I don’t need my family sitting around throwing out possible solutions to my relationship problems. I can only imagine how well that would go. However, if ever there were a time when it was okay to admit when you were having trouble in your marriage, today would be the antithesis. Most of the time when you hear a marriage is on the rocks, it’s because the couple is getting a divorce. Why do we let our family and friends witness our love on our wedding day, if we hide from them our pain?
Somewhere along the way, community lost its purpose. I think there seems to be a social stigma where talking about our relationship problems has been labled as “airing your dirty laundry”. Are we airing our dirty laundry when we seek emotional support from the closest people in our life? Isn’t that why we choose the friends we have to be a part of our inner circle, or why we have a wedding party?
Today, however, it seems we are less inclined to include our friends and family in our marriage, as we are to include them in our wedding. We continue to have weddings where we invite our loved ones to partake in this traditional ritual, all the while keeping them at bay when the real journey begins; forgetting the tradition of our community, the support of our family and the love of our friends. Even after all the rooting, the dancing and the tears. Even after we get their blessing.
It seems we have created a “reality” within our communities where only happiness is allowed to exist and struggle has been replaced with shame. How can marriage survive today if we only see each other’s marriages as bliss?
Buddha says, “life, by its nature, is difficult, flawed, and imperfect.” Perhaps we would have a lower divorce rate if it were okay to say, “we’re in a tough spot right now” without feeling like we have exposed our marriage to be judged by our friends or even worse that we might look less than perfect.
…and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and its own. It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is…And so here, at the very heart of community life, we find not something to sell as in the public market but this momentous giving. If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing.
― Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community
- Marta Segal Block: What I Learned about Weddings from My Parents’ 50th Anniversary (huffingtonpost.com)