Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary. They were married in 1955, and my dad died in 2010. My mother was 20 when she got married, not even legally allowed to drink the champagne cocktails they served. I was 21. We wore the same veil and the same hooped petticoat when we walked down the aisle. We said the same words from the Episcopal nuptial mass. We are both widows now. Time and society have changed Marriage quite a bit, and I’m sure that will continue. We redefine our social institutions, and why not? We made them up. Kind of like the bowling game Steve invented (see my post “Hope for a recovering perfectionist”), your experience grows outward into broader concentric circles. If you’re a linear person, you may not see it this way at first, but imagine an aerial view of the game as it progresses, and that may help. So, what is marriage for? When I was 21, I was absolutely thrilled to be getting married. It had been a goal of ours for 5 and a half years! Jim and I wanted to marry and “have lots of sex and babies” (best Alan Rickman voice there). We wanted to merge our lives, our fortunes, our fate, our names, the whole bit. And we wanted to do it in the context of a social community that we had become invested in: our families and our church. This commitment to our relationship, the larger circle of people supporting us, and to our belief in a personal God who was also invested in us, was a very spiritual thing. It was central to our lives and how we lived them out. I didn’t think very much about the legal arrangement; it was rather swallowed up and incorporated in the religious ritual. I enjoyed a very successful, loving marriage for 24 years. And I don’t want another one. My experience has shifted into another circle.
I have always and will always value relationships very highly. I have a wonderful relationship with Steve. We started talking about getting married in December of 2008. My previous experience was that when you talk about marriage with a boy, you’re engaged and then you get married. Well, when Steve talks about something, he really explores it deeply. We now laugh and recall that what he really meant to communicate back then was that he was not afraid of marriage. He is willing to marry. But what kind of marriage would it be? How would we define it? How would we want to live it out? What is the purpose of a legal marriage? How is our personal ‘contract’ with each other different than a social contract? What part do we want ‘society’ to play in our life, including family, the state, the country, the world? At this stage of my life, I’m not about setting up a family that will interact with society. I am about developing a committed, working partnership that will support our growth into deeper living on many levels. We may encounter some legal situations that would give us good reasons to get married…like if we travel internationally and find that married couples navigate the system more easily, or if we start filing taxes as a family business or something…and we may decide to marry then. I definitely wouldn’t want to change my name. I want to have the same last name as my children. Besides, I would rather die than give up the only thing that may possibly give me an Italian identity!
What about the giddiness of being in love, of beginning something special that you share with your friends and family, of having a big party with presents? Well, we’ve talked about that, too. Speaking of “Don’t Super-size Me” (my last post), have you ever been to a wedding that wasn’t out of scale in some way? There is so much going on in weddings. Traditions upon traditions upon social customs upon personal expression, etc. Steve and I are often confused by those layers of social business, and we prefer to communicate one-on-one. So maybe, when we have a place that we feel will be our settling place for some time, we will want to invite people who are part of our social contract to hear more about our partnership in that place and celebrate it with us. Actually, we are doing that anyway every time we invite people over for dinner.
And then there’s dancing. I didn’t have dancing at my wedding. I don’t think my mother did, either. Steve and I are going dancing tonight…at Old World Wisconsin in a barn with a bunch of strangers and their children. This will be our third time. I love dancing there. I feel connected to my body, to people, to music, to my thoughts, my emotions, to the prairie and nature and the wooden floor, to history and to life. For me, that’s a blessed arrangement indeed. So, like the song says, “I hope you dance.”