This being the thick of wedding season, I’ve heard quite a lot of wedding chatter—on wedding boards and blogs, on the train, and at drinks with friends—to the effect of “I like my friend, but I don’t like his/her fiancé, so I’m going to go to the wedding to support him/her and just party it up.” I would like to respectfully suggest to the world that this attitude is a little lame.
As someone who is both getting hitched and attending hitchings in this particular wedding season, I wanted to submit a post on thoughtful wedding guestmanship. Here on APW, we often talk about being thoughtful and engaged (ha! I punned!) during the process of wedding planning as a means of avoiding the dreaded WIC and the pressure of all the weddings that have come before. But in the same way that the WIC has created a lot of unnecessary pressure on those planning weddings (from having the most adorable guestbook to making sure you have all the feelings), I also think that it has lifted some of the necessary pressure on the community surrounding the couple. When a wedding is primarily a source of entertainment, an Event, or essentially a performance art piece, then a guest becomes an audience member—a passive observer as opposed to an engaged participant.
But when you’re invited to someone’s wedding, you’re not just being invited to a bitchin’ dance party—in fact, in some cases, you are not being invited to any dance party at all. You’re being invited to share in a moment of commitment. It is an honor and a responsibility, and I think that in the same way that we expect the couple to have done at least a little work on their relationship before they make it to the altar, driftwood chuppah, or beribboned tree, we should do a little prep work ourselves to make sure we’re ready to make a commitment as well—a commitment to recognize and support the relationship being affirmed.
I personally have developed a litmus test for deciding whether or not I can go to a wedding. Before I look at my budget and my schedule to figure out if my attendance is logistically and financially feasible, I ask myself, “How would I respond if [my friend who is getting married] called me bitching about the fact that [his/her honey] never does the dishes?”
In my own home, the fact that my honey never does the dishes became a post-engagement perpetual issue, and one that inspires a more potent, diverse range of emotions than I ever thought possible to feel for the love of my life. Because as Maddie has discussed previously, it’s not just that the dishes are there; it’s that THEY WILL BE THERE FOREVER. It’s that he doesn’t appreciate me AND NEVER WILL. It’s that he’s already treating me like a Mom (in a bad, pejorative way) SO JUST IMAGINE WHEN I ACTUALLY AM ONE. It’s that we used to be so feminist and now I cook and he leaves the dishes for me too and HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN WHO AM I?!?!?!?!
So essentially The Dishes are the site where I have decided to place all of my anxieties about Forever and Womanhood and Identity and the fact that I’m entrusting a lifetime of future happiness to a human being. All of those things are a Very Big Deal, but the dishes are not. So every single person in my closest circle has received a call about the dishes. Every single one, at least once. And most of them have the same response, every time (bless them)… but not all.
The ones who know me and support me say what I need them to: “I understand your frustration, but C respects you, he appreciates you. We know this because we see it. Deal with your shit, talk to him about what matters, and try to stop yelling about the dishes. You know it hurts his feelings but doesn’t actually help anything.” (Note to self: perhaps have this embroidered on something that you can hang on the backsplash.) I always end these conversations more calm, less pissed, and ready to ask him to do the dishes without feeling like his not having already done them was a referendum on our relationship. Excellent.
But once, I got the following: “Yes, he does not respect you. If he treats you like that, how could he? Run! Run like the wind, my friend! I will meet you in the grove!” And of course, when I hung up the phone with her, I remained enraged. The source of my anxieties validated, it took me days to calm down. I threw myself into a tumult of am I making the biggest mistake of my life? that I could not wrestle into submission without the even-handed guidance of my mother. And that’s when I realized exactly how damaging it can be to have someone in your corner who doesn’t have your relationship’s back. This is when I realized what I want, practically, out of having a wedding: I’m giving everyone a heads-up that they’re on my “To Call in the Case of The Dishes” list. I’m letting them know that we need them, and I’m asking them to recognize that we’re married and help us stay that way.
You see, as much as I love C, I don’t believe that people stay together for fifty years on their own. I believe that everyone has The Dishes, and I think The Dishes are going to get harder as we get older. I can convince myself, when left to my own devices, that the dishes aren’t a big deal because a) I am a rational person, and b) they aren’t. But I look around me at some of the challenges that the strong partnerships have survived, and I don’t know if I’d be able to talk myself through those challenges on my own. When my 17-year-old cousin was killed in a car crash last year, I don’t know how my aunt and uncle made it. I don’t know how they survived, and I found myself wondering how C and I would survive. I wouldn’t be able to tell myself The Death of Our Child or A Terminal Illness or My Mom’s Cancer Is Back isn’t a big deal. It’s a really big deal. And I am going to need a community around me, when I am facing a reality that seems more than I can bear, to remind me that my husband is my partner, not my enemy. That I’m taking my legitimate frustrations out on him not because he deserves it but because he’s there. Because it’s what human beings do to each other when things are hard. In those moments, I will need people to remind me that I chose this person, and that I can either keep choosing him as my partner and keep building my relationship, or I can treat him as a scapegoat and start ending it.
So when I get those adorably designed invitations in the mail with their coordinated, pre-stamped RSVP cards, before I even look at the calendar I always ask myself: “What would I say if my friend called me about The Dishes?” If I think the only response I could ever muster would be “run like the wind, I will meet you in the grove,” I check the “no” box. When two people go through the (what I can attest is) very hard work of deciding to commit themselves to each other and wrestling through what that means and what that demands of them, I think that the least we—the people they ask to be their witnesses—can do is commit to recognizing and supporting them through the inevitable challenges that will come their way. I think that if, going into a wedding, you know that you would rather see the relationship fail than succeed, it is irresponsible to attend that ceremony. Everyone deserves a partner who sincerely believes their “I do,” and every couple deserves a community that sincerely believes their “I will.”
I know that at my wedding, I certainly hope everyone means it. Otherwise I hope they come bearing truckloads of paper plates and plastic forks.