In a few months, I am about to do something incredibly, horrifically normative. I am going to get married.
But of course, why “horrifically” normative? I don’t, actually, think getting married is any kind of horrific – but, it is undeniably normative. Yet my ironic use of the term points to my consciousness, as a feminist, leftist, and “egghead,” about how this news has been received by those around me. Put simply, I’ve received the standard responses from either side of the cultural divide – the elation that seems to surround the spectacle of a woman “settling down” and, the shock of those who thought I would never do it.
But first to the more standard responses, as they are likely more familiar to many of us. The first thing that struck me about telling people that I am engaged was how often I was greeted with empathic “congratulations!,” delivered with such excitement that you would have thought, had you just started eavesdropping, that I had won a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I don’t recall so many people congratulating me with such animation for anything I’ve ever done before – and I have a PhD, so, it’s not like I don’t have an accomplishment worthy of comparing it to. Interestingly, though, most people seem aware of the oddness of this fact, because I’ve often responded to these congratulations honestly by smiling and saying, “Thank you!, all of this attention is making me feel like I accomplished something really difficult” – and this almost always gets a big laugh. (Or perhaps they are laughing because they are thinking, “I know!, right? So hard to find a good man willing to get hitched before we’re all shriveled up shrews”?)
The especially funny thing about this is how you get this response from people you don’t even know. I’ve now had two conversations with two separate bank tellers about where I am getting married, whether or not I have a dress, when is the date, etc – it seems like they not only feel compelled to extend this small talk into a more substantial discussion, but they genuinely enjoy doing so. Knowing that this random person they’ve never met is getting married soon well, it just brightens their day!
Which, like the heart-felt congrats, leaves me cocking my head and maybe giggling to myself a bit, but it doesn’t bother me too much; because quite frankly, I’m happy to take the attention, even if I think our society’s sheer joy at the thought of a wedding is problematic for all the obvious historical (read: patriarchal) reasons. And then that, of course, is where the question comes in of whether or not any self-conscious feminist should participate in any of this.
I’ll be honest. I have no misgivings about getting married and very little about having a wedding on top of it. This is primarily because the way I’ve always thought about weddings – or at least certainly my wedding – is that it is an opportunity to throw a huge party, wear an absolutely amazing dress, and have everyone talk about how great my partner and I are. This, to me, sounds awesome. If being a good feminist means passing this up – and how many feminists really make such an argument, anyway? – then I am not a good feminist.
Yet my attraction to having a wedding is not merely about having a good time or feeling fabulous; it is also about ritual, and ritual, I think, is something most human beings derive a great amount of meaning from. Not everyone – and there is nothing wrong with you if the effect falls flat – but a lot of us. I look forward to being able to share with my friends and family, through a ceremony designed by me and my partner, what that relationship means to us and why we have decided to commit to one another. The impact such ritual can have on us sometimes creeps up on us, I think; I remember walking the walkway towards the stage during my college graduation while beautiful bagpipes played and, much to my surprise, tearing up – although, honestly, that might have just been the bagpipes, because they are crazy powerful like that! But in any case, I did learn that I can definitely enjoy me the psychological, almost Jungian satisfaction of a good ritual.
Finally, of course, you get to tweak what the actual ceremony and party look like quite a lot. Not only are my partner and I doing a goy/Jewish hybrid of a ceremony, but we’re cutting out a decent amount, such as a cake, an announcement of our entrance to the reception, physical invitations, throwing the bouquet, doing that obscene thing with the bride’s undergarment, and I’m walking down with both my mother and my father, because really, they both equally raised me, right?, and that sort of cancels out the creepy implication that my Dad has the power to “give me away” to my next male overlord. In this way you can make whatever your wedding looks like in line with what you think a ritual ought to highlight and celebrate.
But then of course there are things we’re retaining despite my knowledge of their less-than-stellar symbolic origins; I am, for example, wearing white. I have no good reason for this; I just want to wear a white dress, damnit. Can’t help it. What can I say, the superstition in which you grow up…
And interestingly, the response from others that has stood out to me – other than the startling elation – is the surprise I’ve received from several others. Some of these people know me well, and others more casually, but the basic reply is the same: I never thought you would get married! This is interesting because, I’ve always wanted to get married, actually. I’ve never doubted I would try to do so, should I find a good partner. I love the idea of a partnership, of commitment, and of mutually shared sacrifice in the pursuit of that commitment. I’ve been in substantial partnerships and I’ve been single, and while both certainly have their positives, I much prefer life when I am sharing it, and myself, with one other person. That’s just what works for me.
But because I’m known to some as snarky, opinionated, eccentric and political, many assumed that I would never do such a thing. As even my own sister put it, “I’m so excited about this, especially because I never thought you would ever get married.”
“That’s funny,” I replied, “Because I’ve always wanted to get married. Yet no one ever thought to ask me if I did.”
Yet it does not offend me that my sister and others guessed wrong, because I can see why they would make such an assumption. But it does intrigue me. We all, of course, make assumptions about one another, even if we try not to; but how often could we get a richer idea of what it means to be a feminist, an activist, a leftist, a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, or insert-any-identity-here, if we simply started with asking people what their relationships are with certain ideas or practices? What kind of creative mishmash of traditional, non-traditional, normative and non-normative arrangements are out there, some already lived realities and others as yet only inchoate or yearning dreams? To think of these possibilities, as I imagine my own little monument to myself and my partner, excites me. It seems, quite frankly, like the point of liberation – for it is simply the freedom to build the life that feels most like yourself.