Second (or Third) Time's the Charm
If there’s something about planning a wedding that has surprised me, it’s all the rules.
I knew there was a “wedding industry” that pretty much thrived on satin and tulle. For the vast majority of us, there’s only one time you get to throw an all-out formal bash with caterers and flower arrangements. Unless you’re a professional party planner or work for one of those hoity-toity companies that does this kind of thing for the holiday party, a wedding is pretty much your only shot for black tie and rose petals.
The thing is, I didn’t really plan my first wedding. I was all of twenty-two, desperately trying to finish my last semester of college and find a job before I graduated so my new husband and I would not starve. Times being what they were, I succeeded, but it was not without a herculean effort. I could not finish college, find a job, plan a cross-country move and do a wedding all in eight months.
So I handed it over to my mom. I figured they were paying for it, so they should decide what we did and how much we (they) spent. And Mom did a terrific job. She showed me stuff and I told her what I liked, she arranged everything from invitations to the cake to the band, and it was really beautiful. I’m always grateful that she took that burden off my hands, and I have no complaints.
Now I’m planning a wedding, which is something I never figured I’d do again. It was never weddings I resisted, by the way; I love weddings. I’ve been to several, of all varieties: from a casual Baptist ceremony to a formal Catholic Mass to a combination Wiccan/Jewish ceremony – they stood beneath the chuppah, closed the circle, broke the glass and jumped the broom. It was awesome.
Marriage, on the other hand, is hard. I figured I’d never tie the knot or even live with anyone, because I had grown to like my independence too much, and who would put up with me anyway? I have it on good authority that I am… challenging. Yeah, that’s it. I didn’t expect Jimmy to walk into my life. And Jimmy is definitely the marrying kind – for some reason he wants me to make an honest man out of him. Poor soul.
So this wedding’s on us, because both of us have been married before. We devised a clever plan to save the money between now and 2014, with plenty of room for error or disaster. That is, once I figure out exactly how much white roses go for these days.
A lot of people have told us to just run away. Do the courthouse thing, hop a plane to Vegas, or pick some tropical island resort that has a nifty wedding package.
Neither of us wants that.
For one thing, if we were not married before an altar, we would not feel married. Jimmy has had the courthouse wedding before, and he hated it. I’ve attended them before with honor, but it’s not for us. It’s fine for those that prefer it that way, but to me, it would feel as though I signed a legal document promising to share my tax returns for life. Marriage is more than that to us.
We believe in the sacrament of marriage, a living bond forged between two people. As my priest once told me, like any living thing, a sacrament can die. And we mourn it and go on. But to pretend it is no more than a legal contract, stamped by a judge… that goes against our shared faith.
We want to be married here, in our home parish. We want our friends and family with us, and our community of faith – our church family. See, there’s this wonderful moment in the Episcopal ceremony: after the bride and groom exchange vows, the priest turns to the congregation and asks, “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”
And they answer, “We will.”
See? The people attending the wedding take vows as well. It acknowledges that no two people survive on their own, that the bonds we forge affect other people. The rest of the community, the church, the family, the friends, family-of-choice, they all have a part in this.
In Laos, there is an interesting method for dealing with marital strife. I read about it in a fascinating book that I’ll be talking about in future posts: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. It’s by the same woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, but don’t hold that against her. It’s half personal memoir, half cultural exploration into the various forms of marriage and the ways it has changed over the centuries.
The Laotians marry in a village-wide ceremony, of course. And when a married couple has troubles they cannot resolve between themselves, first they turn to their parents. Both families come together and work through the problems, an inter-family therapy session that I’m sure would have most American couples shuddering.
If that doesn’t work, they invite in the neighbors. Yes, the whole block gets invited in to discuss what’s going on in this couple’s marriage. Sometimes family or neighbors will take the small children for a while so the couple can focus on their marriage.
If that doesn’t work, the village elders get involved. They hear what’s going on and offer sage advice. Very few marital problems are not resolved by this point, she writes. Only then, if the problem simply cannot be resolved, does the couple then go to the nearest large city and obtain a divorce.
The private American couple shudders at the thought of so many intrusive people nosing in on their marriages. And then we post freely online about fights with our spouses, getting input from total strangers across the country about whether he had a right to eat the last packet of Oreos.
I’m not saying the Laotians are right. But I do believe that the people connected to our lives should be a part of the most important vow we take. I take marriage extremely seriously, which is one of the reasons I’ve resisted it as long as I have.
Because we’re only doing this once, you know. For both me and Jimmy, this is it. And I am glad this is a two-year engagement, because we will take that time not only to save money and get our financial house in order, but to prepare ourselves properly for that sacrament. It’s the most important day of our lives; it deserves proper preparation.
The main thing that surprised me, honestly, is the amount of pressure placed on a second wedding (or, in Jimmy’s case, third) to be small. Almost as if we’re supposed to get married without anyone noticing.
Don’t wear white.
Don’t wear a veil.
Don’t register for china.
Don’t invite too many people.
You shouldn’t have bridesmaids.
Don’t bother with printed invitations.
Your father shouldn’t give you away again.
What is all this? Am I supposed to be embarrassed that we’re getting married? It feels like all this etiquette is designed to make us ashamed that it isn’t our first wedding, that somehow we were supposed to stay locked in a box until we magically discovered each other.
As Jimmy said to me, this isn’t our first wedding, but it is our first and only wedding together. I feel as though all this so-called etiquette implies that this wedding – this marriage – is somehow less important than the first.
I married at the age of twenty-two, just old enough not to know what the hell I was doing. We did our damndest for the sake of our son, but it didn’t work and five years later we split. Now he’s remarried and happy, I’m engaged and happy and our son is happy with both his stepparents. I am not ashamed of it.
More statistics from Committed: that half-of-all-marriages-fail stat is a bit misleading. If you get married before age 25, your chances of divorce are actually more like 75 percent. If you marry after age 50, your chances of staying married are staggeringly higher. We are older, wiser and more mature in our 30s and 40s than we are as the twentysomethings for which those First Wedding magazines are written.
This is not a wedding to be hidden. It is not less important than the first wedding. It is the most important moment of our lives.
So while I’d prefer to wear ivory because it looks better on my skin, I’ll wear white if the dress I like doesn’t come in ivory. And I don’t know whether I’m wearing a veil or flowers in my hair, but it’ll be because I like how it looks, not some stupid myth glorifying virginity. And we’ll register, because it’s a courtesy to our guests so they won’t have to guess – or their presence is their gift, which is far richer than any china pattern.
We will invite our friends and family and community to the limit of our budget, and we will send the invitations we can afford, with our children and closest friends in attendance, because how often do you get to make your kid wear a tux?
And I will be proud to have my father walk me down the aisle again. Even though he’ll crack the joke I can hear two years coming: “Damn, I keep trying to give her away…”
We will have a fun party, and we’ll do it for cheap, but we’d rather be surrounded by our dearest friends and family dancing to an iPod than have the finest flowers and most beautiful setting… but with only the staff of some hotel for witnesses.
Hopefully the second (or third) time’s the charm. I have a feeling it is, because I can’t imagine not being with this man for the rest of my life. He puts up with my bad puns and dutifully washes the dishes and lets me nag him about eating more vegetables and loves me even when I shove him to stop his snoring. So I’m going to marry him, and we’re going to do it the way we want.
Even though he wants a Godzilla groom’s cake.