You Are Cordially Invited

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


Family Ties

I waited on a man who went on a voyage to India to better understand himself. After his travels he was at peace with the fact that he didn’t need to get married. To his surprise, when he came back his girlfriend proposed to him. (Perhaps he should have ran these reasons for this ‘voyage’ by her. He could have saved himself a lot of money.)  He said,” yes,” but asked why it was important to her.

She said she wanted to profess their love in front of their friends and family, each other and God.

As for getting married for my family…

Christmas sweater my dad used to wear and gave to Mike.

I do see an importance to this when it comes to the older people in my family who enjoy a good ol’ fashioned wedding. When Mike’s grandmother passed away, I felt badly about not giving her the chance to see her grandson get married. I also have several relatives who may not be able to travel because it’s just not safe for them to do so. If there’s any regret at this point for not getting married, it’s for not doing it in front of them.

As far as my immediate family; God love em, but it’s just not enough for me to “take the plunge” in order to appease the otherwise mystified, “hilarious”, or just plain blunt comments.(And clearly, there’s way too much analyzing going on in my head in order to think this would be reason enough.) Nonetheless, even though this is my choosing, it’s not like I’ve somehow become resilient to them.

In her book, CommittedElizabeth Gilbert says getting married helps family members understand the importance of this person in your life and allows them to accept him as a new member.

Luckily, Mike hit it off with my dad from the beginning. They share nerdy history books and watch documentaries about war. Sometimes my dad tries to give him his clothes. It isn’t very easy to say “no” to my dad so Mike usually ends up saving them for theme parties. (Obvious picture to the left.)

When it comes to my family, these are the times I think being married could help:

When I told my parents we were moving in together.

Every year after that we’ve since continued to live together (four total).

When I see my oldest sister stare blankly at Mike after trying not to internalize his very “Larry David” comment. (To his defense, she has never seen Curb Your Enthusiasm. To her defense, sometimes you just need to know your audience.)

The first time I announce, “I’m pregnant.”

Any time after that (if) I continue to announce, “I’m pregnant.”

When my conservative parents still have my thirty-five-year-old, live-in boyfriend of seven years sleep in a different bed.

When we go home for events where my extended family and parents’ friends are there.

Basically, when we go home.

To me, getting married in front of each other holds the most weight. If it’s something that is important to Mike then it needs to be important to me. I understand that Mike eventually, wants to get married. I have a hard time with getting married because I think it can make people a little nutty, and I’m just not sure I’m impervious to the “nutty.” Therefore, not getting married for whatever crazy reasons I have, is also important. And if you think about it, I’ve clearly voiced my concerns.

So if we just made a minor change, “for good or for bat-ass crazy” then we’ll all be happy. I will never say “I told you so” it was right there in our vows.

(I’ve already touched on the getting married in front of God. If the curiosity strikes see Somewhere Between Church and State.)

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