Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Learned From The Summer of Weddings



Well, I survived.  The summer of weddings is officially over.  And though I’ve still got one more wedding to attend in October it will be nothing like the ones I’ve been to thus far.  No more three-day events, no more tux rentals and no more best man speeches (though I will say we had another great reaction from the crowd with this last one and I am so, so proud of Dave).  And at the close of this very challenging period I can’t help but reflect.

 Without getting too personal let me just say that it’s incredibly difficult to go to a flood of weddings when you yourself are unmarried and wishing you weren’t.  Granted, I wasn’t trying to survive these dateless and that seems even harder, so gratitude where gratitude is due.

It’s strange what weddings bring out in people.  I, being unmarried but happily committed, end up thinking about what I would want in my own wedding.  People who are married reminisce about their own nuptials and compare and contrast what was good about the wedding they’re at and what they liked better about their wedding.  Single folk just try and enjoy the party and pray that they won’t be harassed by too many folk wondering when they’ll finally meet Mr. or Ms. Right themselves.  My point is: everyone’s thinking about weddings.

It’s one of the most conforming experiences I’ve encountered in adult life and it’s so impossible not to get sucked into it.  And to be perfectly honest let me just come right out and say that for someone who likes to consider herself as being unique and different I totally failed to stay above peer pressure this summer.  I had my freak outs and my poor sweetie had to have a lot of conversations with me to try to calm me down and remind me of that.  (“Do you really want to get married just because everyone else is?”)

It’s got me thinking a lot about how much time I spend, in general, comparing myself and my life to others.  And I think that some of the insights I’ve gained are worthwhile. (Even if they’re the same lessons I’ve been trying so hard to learn since I started this whole crazy journey.)  Here they are:

Society, at least here in this country, is designed to acknowledge only the big milestones.  Graduations, housewarmings, marriages, births, deaths and maybe a milestone birthday or anniversary- but that’s about it.  You figure out how to finally balance your checkbook after years of perpetually overdrawing your account and people will look at you sideways if you throw a party for it.  You make some huge breakthrough in therapy that allows you to not have a panic attack when driving through a tunnel and people will be confused if you brag about it.  You reach some giant epiphany regarding yourself after some really tough life challenges and people will refer to you as a crazy hippie or some such dismissal if you try to talk to them about it.  There are no celebrations for those individual, unique events.

And yet, those are a heck of a lot more important in the grand scheme of things then the big milestones.  Why?  Because they are unique, they are yours.  There aren’t commercials and websites and how-to guides for those things.  Not everyone has them because they’re just yours.  They make you you.

I have to wonder if I’m just too American to really grasp the value of the culturally significant milestones.  Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by so much false romance and epic storytelling around individuality.  Maybe in other cultures where conforming is actually a valuable and respectful action there’s a much more gentle attitude towards shared events.  I’m sure I would see things very differently if I were from, let’s say, the Gansu province of China.

But I’m not so I can’t really imagine how they see the world.  I only know how I see it and from my viewpoint it’s littered with weddings and baby showers and the like.  And that’s why conformity is so hard to escape.

Because if you reach one of those milestones everyone will approve of it.  Not just the people you’re inviting to the event, but everyone.  No boss ever questioned why their employee was requesting two weeks off for their honeymoon.  You get a free pass about a variety of odd behaviors if you explain that you’re a new parent and subsequently super stressed.  People expect you to go a little nuts when preparing for any big event like that.  There’s acceptance.

But for the things that only you go through, people don’t understand.  You get a “Good for you” for a therapeutic breakthrough rather than a “That’s wonderful.”  People assume that they don’t know what it’s like so they don’t try to.  And it can be rather lonely in that way.

Plus, without the culturally significant milestones, how do you know you’re doing the “right thing”?  I watched a TED talk not too long ago where someone spoke about how the more alternative lifestyles are accepted the harder it becomes for people to choose.  When there’s only one way of doing things you have a goal in mind and a clear, distinguishable way of knowing you’ve reached it.  Graduate, buy a house, get married, have a baby, send out Christmas cards and show off pictures of your kids little league games- everyone understands these things.  But the paths less traveled?  People don’t know how to evaluate those, they don’t know how to measure them.  So there’s no “atta boy”s coming your way and you have to know for yourself that you’re doing the right thing.  Well, I’m gonna come right out and say it: that is NOT easy to do.

To forge your own path, to measure your own worth, to really not care what other people think of you- that is NOT easy.  We get rewarded for conforming.  We get stories and whispers and urban legends for walking our own path.  Like the great artists- mental illness and tragedy is so common for them many people actually associate that with creativity.  But those people didn’t seem too happy to me.  All that individuality didn’t afford them any contentment.  And as many people talked about them and their epically tragic lives I don’t think many people really knew them.

But then again, maybe that’s really what marriage is supposed to be all about.  Beneath the flowers and cake and parties; beneath the favors and formal wear and beneath the stares of strangers who technically only see it from the outside it’s really about something rather personal.  It’s about pledging to bear witness to the life of someone else.  To be there for not just the big events, but the tiny victories and tragedies alike.  To cheer for their accomplishments, comfort them in their freak-outs, fight with them in their battles and stand with them in their storms.  As much as the event itself may fall into a million different conventions the life that comes after is still unique, and you’re vowing to share it with someone.

Perhaps all my attitude about it this summer is simply because I’m still just one of those people seeing it from the outside.  And perhaps that’s why, even after all of this, I still want to go through it myself.

Because when it comes down to it, I’ve already got a partner.  We already share the victories and tragedies, we struggle through the challenges together and we cheer for each other when we succeed.  I’m already living the life I want to live with my mate.  And someday, in our own time- when it’s right for our story- we’ll have our friends and family celebrate it with us.  Not conforming, just agreeing that a wedding is a nice way to mark the significance of our story.  And without rushing it, I look forward to seeing it from the inside.

13 comments:

  1. Hey Bev (and Dave :)

    I totally got goose bumps toward the end of your post, 'cos you so nailed it.

    I haven't had a very conforming life, yet "all of a sudden" I've found I have all I wanted: A family of my own and a wife who loves me, shiny bald head and everything (God help her:)

    You take your own sweet time - as you seem to be doing - and as you said, when it's right for you and Dave, it will be just right.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know exactly what you mean. As a married, pregnant woman who owns her own house, it is incredible how the big American milestones get all the attention. My boss seems to treat me better BECAUSE I'm having a baby and doing the traditional family stuff. People ask me about the baby time and time again and don't really ask me how I'm REALLY doing. Every big change in life is valuable AND difficult. But when I graduated from therapy and my therapist said there was no more work to be done, I felt THAT was a bigger milestone than when I bought my house in 2007. Yet everyone had a piece of advice or words of wisdom to give me when I bought my house as a single woman in her late 20s. A woman who has conquered her demons in therapy and has come out on top? Well, nobody really knows what to say to that or how to congratulate you. But, girl, you and I both celebrated for me at that time in my life, and I celebrate with you every time something huge happens in your life. Congratulations on being YOU!
    (you don't mind coming to my baby shower do you? LOL!)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Honestly, I admire your non-conformity. I wish I'd been stronger way back when. I loved my independence, and feel almost as though there's a bit to much compromise in giving it up - a one sided compromise that doesn't jive and never will!

    Hold to your independence - you'll never regret it and some of those folks, the true harpies, only want you to be as miserable as they are! Just a few - I hope! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. You may not have gone through an actual wedding ceremony yet, but it sounds to me as though you already have a pretty good handle on what it means to be married... maybe better than some of the couples whose nuptials you celebrated this year.

    My hubby and I have been married for more than 44 years, and for us, it was never about the wedding day, and God knows, the wedding day wasn't all about ME. I don't care what's considered "acceptable" or "excused" behavior for a bride-to-be; I'm not impressed with a diva Bridezilla attitude. For us, our wedding was about sharing our happiness with friends and families. My hubby was in the Army at the time, and I gave him the option of what he wanted to wear. He didn't want to wear a tux, so he wore his uniform. Fine by me. Nobody wore a tux. Our best man didn't even wear a suit; he wore a sports jacket and tie, and that was fine with us. Because it wasn't about what anyone wore; it wasn't about spending a lot of money or trying to impress anyone. It was one day... a day of celebration and fun. Not just for us... for everyone there.

    As for celebrating milestone, I agree. Instead of making a big deal about one particular day because of what the calendar dictates, why not celebrate every day? I'd much rather receive a small bouquet of flowers on some "insignificant" day "just because" than receive some fancy expensive whatever out of obligation on a birthday or anniversary, or whatever. So I'm with ya, kiddo.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very very thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I happen to be one of those people who loves the rituals built into society (our culture or others). I think they're important. I think a ceremony to bury our dead, where people gather and share food and memories is important. I think graduations, sending a young person into the world with a significant ceremony with family and friends is supportive, a rite of passage. Likewise, while maybe not for everyone, I think weddings hold the same significance. A service with family and friends, food and celebration that signifies a new phase in life.

    A friend of mine who used to live in South Africa shared with me that when he and his wife wanted to get a divorce, it was a family decision. Everyone gathered to hear the two sides and it wasn't a given who would get the children. Although ultimately his marriage ended, he spoke highly of the input of elders and family members of this decision. He said the gravity and the support were more keenly felt.

    I'm not advocating for family-based divorces (yeesh) but I really do think there is a cultural significance to the ceremonies we have in place.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Excellent post, Bev! I can relate to feeling 'out of step' with your friends, but at the end of the day, you have to be happy with the choices you make, and as long as you feel you're doing what's right, that's all that matters.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is a super-thoughtful post. I'm glad you took the time to reflect on what the summer of weddings showed you!

    I think you hit the nail on the head about conformity and milestones. A flipside is when nonconformity would be a much better thing than conformity. People don't take too well to that. When I became single again, a lot of people tearfully asked if there was any hope of reconciliation -- not realising that my ex leaving was the best possible outcome for that relationship. When I announced I was moving back to my home town and shifting my career more towards what I'd wanted to do in the first place, colleagues (and one relative who also worked in my old career) called me up and begged me not to "squander all my experience".

    And yet everything worked out better, both in career terms and in the terms of my personal safety and well-being.

    Conformity can kill people if it's valued more than what it's supposed to achieve.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love honest posts like this. :) We can't get too wrapped up in what everyone else is doing. When I reach a personal milestone, if I don't celebrate by myself, I celebrate with a friend or a couple family members. It's small, but it means a lot to me. And if I get married one day, I want that to be small as well. I don't need everyone knowing I made a breakthrough with something, the people I care about know. The thing is, not everyone graduates, get married, buys a house, and has a baby. I know people in each camp. We should celebrate these things. They are milestones. And how everyone celebrates these things is different. Sometimes it's just dinner. I have many people who ask me and my sister all the time when we're doing the traditional thing. It bothers her, it doesn't bother me.

    I love weddings. And I always attend them dateless. It's perspective. I'm happy when someone gets a book deal, but that is when I feel left out and hollow inside. It's not that I don't want to get married. It's that I'm not comparing myself to them. I am, however, comparing myself to the person with the shiny new book deal, especially if they're younger than me. But we just can't do that. We all have our own path to carve out in life. Some people's path is conformity. They need that. You don't. And I believe we're happier when we do things in a way that's best for us. People may not get it, but that's really okay. We don't always get them either. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post, Bev. It would be so nice if others respected us and our choices, and we engaged each other at whatever common point we can find - books, dreams, hobbies, etc - instead of turning away from those not on the "traditional" path. A lot of people don't know what to do with me because I don't have a traditional lifestyle - no kids, no "normal" career, tortoises instead of a dog or cat, obsessed with books, etc - so we end up talking about the weather. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I really appreciate this post. As someone who has never married I've struggled with the fact that I haven't had the traditional milestones that everyone is supposed to have according to our society. I seem to have difficulty with it each year when it's time to send out the Christmas cards! I admire your acceptance of your choices and feeling comfortable with doing things on your own time. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This post reminds me so much of the eight years I was trying to have a baby and of course ran into every glowing pregnant woman in a ten mile radius. Not a fun time.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post, for so many reasons. Living outside the box is getting more normal, at least. My boyfriend and I have been together for 11 years (not married) and my son (not his, but his by now) has grown up calling him his dad. It's not really as weird as it would have been a generation or two ago. I think that's a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  13. A refreshing post to read Beverley. I have long since campaigned against the ritual, that marriage has become, and thankfully have refused three marriage proposals that would have ended in divorce if I had have accepted. I too, now have a forever mate and know that we are right for each other but feel it unnecessary to conform for a number of reasons. It is however tempting when the government offers enormous tax breaks, that amount to thousands of dollars every year, for married couples here in Denmark. It also provides both of us more security if one of us were to die suddenly. There are many milestones that I consider more valuable than marriage including birthdays, graduations, a new home, and death. At least in these we celebrate an accomplishment rather than just the possibility that two people may or may not stay together. Thanks for sharing this thought provoking piece.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for your comment! I will love it and hug it and pet it and call it George. Or, you know, just read and reply to it. But still- you rock!