*A, Heritage Education/Outreach & S, Media Anthropologist*
Today’s wedding graduate post is, like all the wedding graduate posts this week, written from more than a year’s perspective on the wedding. It’s a lovely thing because the story we tell about our wedding, a year or more into our marriage, is a little different. We talk less about the dress, or the details of the day, and more about the emotional journey that we’ve been on. A’s story, incorporates what she learned about rites of passage working on her PhD in anthropology, and it’s meaty stuff. Her discussion of rites of incorporation is exactly what I was discussing when I talked earlier this week about owning our new family holidays. So here is to the journey of creating family.
“Life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be reborn. It is to act and to cease, to wait and rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way. And there are always new thresholds to cross.”
(Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, 1960 p.189)
Maybe it’s the word “graduate” that I keep sticking on. With its air of finality, of having passed through the gauntlet of training and preparation (like an 80s movie montage, complete with sweatband) and emerging on the other side newly transformed and accredited. Maybe that’s why I’ve started and not finished this post several times in the last year and a half since we got married. Because we celebrated getting married not just once but a whopping four times, and still I’m not sure if there was some mystical moment where we passed into a new state of being.
So lesson 1 of wedding planning: Getting married is a process, and you might not know when it’s over (if it ever is).
Like many couples before us on APW we got married in a series of transatlantic steps. There was the original proposal where I freaked out and said, “Not yet.” There was the second proposal where I asked him and he said, “If you’re sure…” There was the legal wedding complete with fake flowers and wood paneling at our local London registry office after which we giddily toasted with friends at the pub. There was the wonderous, boisterous, big wedding in Cape Cod where we sang and danced with family and friends all around. There was the party back in Oxfordshire where S’s uncle’s band played Tom Jones covers and everyone drank warm ale. And finally, there was the celebration for my parents’ friends in the Bay Area where we ate amazing cheese and introduced the Northern Californians to the joys of mince pies. When we talk about the “year we got married” we literally mean we were getting married all year.
But, lesson 2: The process of getting married wasn’t all about big crowded rooms.
There were little milestones too—hard ones and silly ones and weird sneaky sideways ones.
The time that we got into our first big fight after getting engaged and realized that no one was walking away. There was sitting down in a pub garden and making a “mind-map” (we’re both arts educators) of what we wanted the wedding to feel like (participatory, like-an-anglo-american-village-fete, crafty, relaxed), and making it happen. There was the insanity of organizing our wonderful party together and understanding that I had to trust S to sort a lot of logisitical crap out (and watching him come through).
And, amazingly, there was the process of writing our wedding contract together and using it as a way to talk about our hopes and values as a couple. And later there has been hanging it on our wall to remind us of what we promised to each other, when the going has gotten tough.
And eventually there has been learning to say the words “husband” and “wife” without feeling the need, as Caitlin Moran says, to “temper [them] with invisible quote marks.”
But, lesson 3: (As many others have said) In both good and bad ways this getting married malarkey wasn’t just about the two of us.
Not just because our parents wanted to have more parties and involve more people than we did—and oh did they, on two continents—but because our wedding was definitely a village production. We had one of those weddings people on APW sometimes worry about, where everyone pitches in and gets involved and bakes and sews and draws and glues and cross-stitches and goes on beer runs and feeds you BBQ or a stiff drink as needed.* Some of my favorite memories of the whole gorgeous mess will forever be of the random cross section of people we know who drank and laughed and pitched in for days before the wedding, the random moments where my English brother-in-law was folding programs with my oldest Northern Californian buddies.
But there were trade-offs for the participatory-ness. I worried I’d become the gang-boss of an (extremely pretty) factory, and that I’d stolen away time from my friends’ holidays—although everyone kept assuring me to the contrary. Plus, because we wanted everyone to feel involved and have some ownership over the wedding, we also found ourselves celebrating at parties thrown by parents many months after we might otherwise have liked to have just-been-married-already. Who can complain, however, when lots of lovely people want to celebrate with you?
For me, one of the most wonderful things about wedding planning was the excuse to have lots of late night chats with my mom and sister online. While it was so hard to be so far from home when taking on this kind of huge life event, we managed to pretend like we were together to gossip about dresses, family, but also what partnerships can and should look like. And all this from my tiny study hovel, while I was limping through the final stages of writing up my PhD.
Which brings me to lesson 4: Other things don’t pause for wedding planning.
Some longish-time APW readers might recall a question I sent to Meg awhile back. About how I couldn’t concentrate on finishing my doctorate because I was enjoying wedding planning a leetle too much.
Good news, I finished it! Handed in two days before we left for Cape Cod and somewhat behind schedule—about which I have no regrets. Despite the mad dash to the finish, I knew I had to get it done in order to be fully present for the week-of-joy/madness leading up to the wedding at the Cape.
One of the lucky things I was able to do while wedding planning was to find a way to use my job to reflect on the process of getting married, and vice versa. My circumstances might be unusual (teaching undergraduate anthropology), but if you can do this I highly recommend it—and I’m sure that for lawyers or teachers or counselors or writers or artists or students (seems like what many APWers do, right?)—there might be some scope? For me, this meant stealthily assigning readings that allowed for explorations of topics like gift-giving, gender, the body or kinship, all of which helped me think through the social rituals associated with weddings.
One week I was doing a unit on Rites of Passage, which brings me back to the amazing van Gennep quote I started with above. Van Gennep writes about how ceremonies commemorating the passage from one life stage to another always have three phases: the “rites of separation” where you move away from what you once were, the “rites of transition” where you are neither one state or another, and the “rites of incorporation” where you become accepted into that new status or group you were aiming for. Most cultures have some elements of all of the above in weddings—for mainstream US/UK culture think aisle, ceremony, vows, rings, kiss…
We had these rites, more than once, and they were huge and meaningful and made me cry my eyes out. And yes, something deep and profound shifted in both of us. But the weird thing is, even after all that celebrating and ceremony and crafting, I’m not sure I felt “married.” It’s now, a year and a half later when we’ve got a few more knocks to us and our marriage is starting to get a bit more worn in, that it snuck up on me.
Lesson 5: Both getting married and being married make you feel married.
I’m not sure I was convinced of the importance of getting married. We have plenty of long-term partnership couples around us (gay and straight) and don’t think you need a piece of paper to make you feel committed. Yet for us, the journey was transformative. It wasn’t a single moment during the ceremony or on honeymoon – though both were emotional and incredible in equal measure.
What I wasn’t prepared for, what no one could have told me, was how much the process of getting married would make us feel married. I’ll say again, the process of getting married—because it wasn’t just the wedding day but everything that led up to it, and indeed everything that’s happened since. Getting married was a single day, but it was also a collection of conversations, actions, intentions, gestures and glances. It was then, and now, and tomorrow. S and I are taking the new challenges and chances life has given us in stride, wobbly and sometimes out of synch but deeply together. As van Gennep wrote, “there are always new thresholds to cross.”
* However, lesson 3b if you like, I was already having crafternoons for my buddies and pretty involved in making stuff communally and baking a lot with friends well before the wedding. I would not recommend going this crazy route if you don’t know for sure that your community is into it.
The Info—Photography: Davina + Daniel / Venue: The Holden Inn, Wellfleet MA / Caterer: Terra Luna / Rings: Bario Neal / Invitations, Menus, Name-tags: Hand illustrated by our friend, Paul Andrews and printed by my friend Kate on a Gocco / Thank-you Notes: Dutch Door Press / Guest Book: Krank Press / Dress: Dressmaker in NY / Suit: Diverso / Ties: Me & Matilda /Friday Night BBQ: Porky’s