I was never one of those little girls who dreamt of their wedding. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever met any woman who was, but maybe that’s just the circles I move in, rather than indicative of womanhood as a whole. For many years I just never though I’d get married, primarily because, sad-arse that I was, I didn’t think anyone would ever want to marry me. Although I had the excellent example of my parents’ happy marriage, I thought it far more likely that I would end up serially monogamous to a series of cads who treated me badly.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself wondering and wondering when my partner would finally propose, and worrying that he didn’t want to marry me at all. (cough-false consciousness-/cough)
These days there are many ways couples can show their commitment to each other besides walking down an aisle, saying “I do” and having to pash in public. To some purchasing property together may be a bigger leap of faith, or having children, or agreeing to shift to the other side of the world indefinitely. A ceremony, particularly one that has evolved (not very far) from a transfer of ownership, just isn’t that important to many these days.
For me it was. For me it was shorthand, in a language I could understand, for “I’ve thought really hard about this and I reckon you and me we are forever.” To hear that mattered. And, socialized beast that I am, to hear it in the traditional format of a marriage proposal mattered more to me than I expected.
We set a date almost immediately* and it felt like it was a suitable distance from the now. As I found when I was pregnant, it took me quite some time to shift my thinking from being in the preparatory state. Even though I wanted to get engaged I wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted to get married, and part of that concern was wrestling with my inner feminist about the institution of holy matrimony.
As a feminist I reject the idea that marriage has to be about an exchange of property rights; transferring ownership of a woman from her father to her husband. For some it still operates in this fashion, and I wish it didn’t. For me, getting married could be something quite different from that, it could shake off the shackles of its origins just as the word queer has.
I quite understand that for others it simply cannot. Had the Civil Union Act passed a few years earlier I might have opted for that instead. As it was it came in just before we got hitched and so we hadn’t really considered it, although we were both strong supporters of the legislation.
And I support a lot of what Anita wrote about taking marriage, and civil unions, out of our legal framework entirely. Why do we need a law to recognize what are effectively personal and emotional commitments, which have little to do with the state? It’s nice to have a piece of paper to acknowledge a momentous event in your life, the official melding of two lives, however wedding certificates are really dull documents, not even printed on pretty paper, and is protecting them really worth all that institutional bother and bureaucracy?
It’s nice to go to weddings, be they civil unions in churches or traditional services on cliff tops. I enjoyed organizing our big day (weekend actually) to the point where I still find myself sizing up places as possible wedding venues. However that’s more because it was a great event to put together, so intricate and challenging and with quite high stakes. We were able to come up with a vision and then achieve it, and that was rather satisfying. It didn’t have to be for a wedding; it could have been a 30th birthday party, or an International Women’s Day rally, or even a funeral. Generally though it’s hard to source the moolah to put on those events at the same level as a wedding. It’s socially acceptable to be obsessed with organizing your wedding for months beforehand, but start showing an interest in planning your 30th birthday a year ahead and people will think you are self-obsessed and a bit mad.
So I’m a hypocrite, I guess. I value my marriage, but I don’t expect anyone else to really care about it, give it any special status, above the relationship that lies at its core. I love weddings, and talking about them, but I don’t really support the institution behind them. Ah well, we’d be pretty boring if we never contradicted ourselves.
* Actually we set a date about two days after getting engaged, but the next day realized we were looking at the calendar for the wrong year and then it all became complicated.