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Zen: There And Back Again


Zen: There And Back Again | A Practical Wedding

So! I got married. Twice.

Things look different now, this side of the weddings. I’m still digesting the change they effected in my life—I suppose figuring out what it all really means will take a lifetime’s work. But it’s funny how participating in these weddings has changed how I see some things.

Name changing as a practice, for example. I’d never had any intention to change my surname upon getting married; I like my name as it is. Besides, as far as I know it’s not a Chinese custom—it certainly wasn’t the custom in the community I grew up in. My mother and grandmother kept their surnames, and I saw no reason to diverge from tradition.

I was surprised when I moved to the UK and realised how widespread name changing is. I knew it was a tradition in Britain, but didn’t really understand why people would want to cleave to the tradition, given the inherent inequality of a practice that involves women taking men’s names but men not taking women’s. Oh, I understood it intellectually—of course people are attached to their cultural traditions, and everyone ought to be free to decide what they want to be called—but I didn’t really get it beyond that.

I didn’t get it till the day I got married. And then it became obvious why you’d do it. I mean, keeping my name is still absolutely the right choice for me, and I feel very comfortable about that—but suddenly I could see why people decided otherwise. What had happened seemed so vast, so terrifically significant, that you felt you needed to mark it in some big way, in a way that would be very public, that would need no further explanation. Of course you might want a different name; in a way you were not even the same person you were before.

Of course, socialisation and culture still play a great part in influencing the form in which this sense of a great change is expressed. Cephas took our wedding pretty seriously as well, but didn’t respond with enthusiasm to my suggestion that he take my surname. Still, it’s cool to have that added emotional understanding of why people might make that choice. (I say “might” because there are doubtless all sorts of different reasons why people decide to change their names—the one I mention is just one that makes emotional sense to me.)

Wedding inspiration in blogs and magazines also looks different. It’s not that the type of delightful details wedding blogs and magazines devote pages to seem trivial or uninteresting now. They just seem irrelevant. They don’t really seem to have anything to do with what weddings are about—at least weddings as I experienced mine.

It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, since I loved all the details we included in the weddings: the adorable cow and tiger cake toppers I scoured San Francisco’s Chinatown for; the vintage Volkswagen Beetle in which I beetled to and away from church; the kerongsang (brooches) my aunt pinned onto my outfit for the Malaysian reception; the million fabric poufs my mother and aunts handmade to decorate our house.

The details were important, in a way. Their cumulative effect added something to the wedding. But they never went to the heart of what the wedding was.

Meg put it better in the book:

The carefully crafted details are, in the end, just that: details. They barely hit your radar screen on your wedding day. The things that stick with you are those that you could never ever plan.

If you pinned me down and demanded that I stop rambling and explain what this “heart of the wedding” was, I’d have to explain it this way. It involves yet another unexpected change in perspective.

I didn’t expect to feel beautiful at my wedding. I hoped I’d look nice and that I wouldn’t be too stressed about my appearance. But I knew I wouldn’t feel beautiful because haha, everyone knows beautiful is not a feeling!

Well, that showed me, because I did feel beautiful. I knew I was—I didn’t need to be told, though everyone does tell brides how nice they look. The feeling of certainty had little to do with my outfit (though it was lovely) or my hair (though it was doing all it could to help). It came from a sense of being loved. It was a sense that no matter what I did, it would be perfect; that everything I was was just right.

That’s what I thought the wedding was about—remembering that you love and are loved. Everything else is icing.

Photo from Zen & Cephas’ English wedding by Angela Sharpe Photography

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  • AliceMay

    Thank you, Zen, for a beautiful and wise post. I am rarely one to shed tears over a post, but you so eloquently described what I hope to be true of my own wedding, that I am glad today to have my own office with closed door!
    p.s. In a strange, small world, I think I may know Cephas.

  • http://robyntheblogedition.blogspot.com Robyn

    “That’s what I thought the wedding was about—remembering that you love and are loved.”

    THANK YOU for summing up exactly what I’ve been trying to say about my own wedding. You are so right. Awesome post, and congratulations!

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    Congratulations! I’m so glad we got to be some small part of your wedding process.

  • Sara B

    “That’s what I thought the wedding was about—remembering that you love and are loved.” EXACTLY THIS.

    When we got up after the toasts to thank everyone, I had a whole speech planned out. Then, I really looked at the hall filled with people who love us and were there to celebrate with us, all smiling like crazy. I was able to squeak out some sort of thank you before I just started to cry. I was so overwhelmed by the love and joy!

    Thank you for such a wonderful post that really hits home!

  • carrie

    “That’s what I thought the wedding was about—remembering that you love and are loved. Everything else is icing.”

    Beautifully said. Congrats, Zen!

  • http://somethingshavehappened.blogspot.co.uk/ Siobhan

    Congratulations! and yes the love was the main thing that I felt too, in the midst of a pretty sh*tty year there was this day dedicated to love and it was beautiful and I felt beautiful and I’m so glad you got that experience too (hopefully without the sh*tty year part)

  • Moz

    There’s nothing like love to make you feel beautiful.

  • Jashshea

    *Sobs.*

  • Jashshea

    Oh, and congratulations! Hopefully you’ll share photos of your days!

    • meg

      Wedding grad posts coming up, of course!

  • Laura

    Beautiful. I particularly wanted to comment on this bit:

    “I didn’t get it till the day I got married. And then it became obvious why you’d do it. I mean, keeping my name is still absolutely the right choice for me, and I feel very comfortable about that—but suddenly I could see why people decided otherwise.”

    That’s interesting, because it was very similar to my experience as well. We had many (hard) discussions before the wedding about name-changing, and I had finally agreed to change my last name to his last name. But even though we’d made the decision, I wasn’t thrilled about it. I was sad about losing my last name and wasn’t sure I’d be happy with his.

    And then the wedding rolled around–and we got married–and it just clicked into place. I remember being in the bathroom with my maid of honor BEAMING about my new last name. Now, it just felt RIGHT. We were married.

    I’m sure not everyone gets this “aha” moment when it comes to the name changing…but I have to say, I’m sure glad I did!

    • Shiri

      I also had this “a-ha!” moment, but for a completely different reason from what Laura and Zen describe.

      The morning after my wedding, on my way back to my aunt’s house for the post-wedding brunch, I was exhausted. We’d slept 4 hours, I still had bobby pins in my hair, and I had bruises from my dress – but I was absolutely elated and comfortable in a way I didn’t know I hadn’t been before. I turned to my new husband and told him that for the first time, I got why people changed their names. For me, it was that we were connected in a new way. I had never felt so close to him and so much a part of him, and taking his name meant being him in a way that I now felt like I was.

      He then turned to me and asked me if I still didn’t want to take it, to which I replied “oh yeah!”. I kept my maiden name, but now I get it.

      • Adrini

        I must be missing out on something.

        Alex and I lived together for ages before we got married. We survived all kinds of chaos and loss. Getting married felt almost like we were lying. We weren’t making a commitment. It was one we had already made ages ago. I was the same person as before – albeit with no more wedding stuff to do. A new name felt silly and unnecessary. Plus I had done enough paper work and errand running for ten years already.

        We’re almost six months out now and the only reason I feel different is that we’re moving and really changing our lives and taking a chance on our careers. Everyone keeps talking about how everything changed at the wedding. I’m really starting to think I’m missing out on something.

        • Shiri

          You’re not!! You’re definitely not. And you’re not alone in it, either: http://apracticalwedding.com/tag/when-marriage-doesnt-change-things/ and the ensuing discussion.

          Everyone’s experience is different. Don’t let this make you doubt or worry or feel like you’ve missed something in any way. Please.

        • MDBethann

          It sounds like things changed for you BEFORE your wedding and your wedding just made things legal. And that’s okay too – I don’t think it means you missed anything, you just experienced those changes differently than other people may experience them.

          For me, there were changes both before the wedding (i.e. living together) and after it – it’s easier for me to look at my DH’s family of origin as my family after the wedding than it was before it, and I think its easier for him to see my family of origin that way too (enough that my mom commented on it over the summer). Yes, I did change my name (I added his last name to mine, so it’s nice and long now) but I also think the change came because of how our community looks at us as a unit more so after our wedding than before it, even though we cohabited for 2 years before our ceremony.

        • Zen

          Well, I’m finding that life post-wedding is pretty much the same as life pre-wedding. I did feel like something big had changed in the course of my weddings — there was definitely a moment of inspiration or grace or whatever you like to call it — but now the furore’s died down it’s back to business, so any change that occurred is pretty intangible.

          So — don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything? As Shiri said, everyone’s experience is different. It sounds like you’re at a really exciting place in your life right now anyway!

  • Moe

    “The feeling of certainty had little to do with my outfit (though it was lovely) or my hair (though it was doing all it could to help). It came from a sense of being loved”

    I can no longer read APW on my morning train commute. I end up in tears everytime. Thank you for sharing your experience I can’t wait for my wedding especially now that I’m becoming more clear and focused on what’s important.

  • http://www.theloudandclear.com Kate

    Congratulations! I felt the same way about details pre and post-wedding but also had trouble articulating it. Of course, I still read APW but, the other blogs and resources that I liked a lot during the planning process also seemed irrelevant to my life afterwards and I’ve drifted away from them.

    I’m so happy you felt beautiful as well!

  • http://havearrived.wordpress.com becca

    Yes!! It took me a few weeks to even be able to look at wedding blogs after our wedding. I am just now, 6 weeksish later, coming back around but skip over all the visually focused posts and go right to the philosophical ones, which now ALL make me tear up!

  • Emily

    “Well, that showed me, because I did feel beautiful. I knew I was—I didn’t need to be told, though everyone does tell brides how nice they look. The feeling of certainty had little to do with my outfit (though it was lovely) or my hair (though it was doing all it could to help). It came from a sense of being loved. It was a sense that no matter what I did, it would be perfect; that everything I was was just right.”

    THIS.

  • Hello Jodi

    As someone coming back to her first day to work after her honeymoon, this resonates completely. I actually just got done ordering marriage licenses and filling out social security paperwork right before I read this. There’s a lot of things I “get” now.

  • DNA

    Congratulations, Zen! It’s always great to hear about your wedding and your perspective. (I also didn’t grow up in a name-changing culture, and I’m married to someone who is. We also had multiple weddings too.) I can’t wait to see your wedding grad post.

    Just one more thought:

    “What had happened seemed so vast, so terrifically significant, that you felt you needed to mark it in some big way, in a way that would be very public, that would need no further explanation. Of course you might want a different name; in a way you were not even the same person you were before.”

    Wouldn’t this be an argument for both people who got married to change their respective names though, not just one of them?

    • Zen

      Yup. That’s where socialisation comes into play, I suppose. I wasn’t really proposing it as an argument for or against, since it doesn’t seem, nowadays, to be something people decide on for entirely rational reasons; if you choose to change your name or choose not to it seems usually driven by emotional reasons. I was just describing the moment of insight when I suddenly got it: oh, that’s why you’d do it!

    • KH_Tas

      ‘ “What had happened seemed so vast, so terrifically significant, that you felt you needed to mark it in some big way, in a way that would be very public, that would need no further explanation. Of course you might want a different name; in a way you were not even the same person you were before.”

      Wouldn’t this be an argument for both people who got married to change their respective names though, not just one of them?’

      This is why I presented my partner with the options ‘both or neither’ about name changing. I wasn’t changing (hyphenating) if he wasn’t. At the moment neither of us will be changing our names.

      • dysgrace

        I really want to see what a husband-to-be version of APW would look like. The cultural expectations for women surrounding marriage – you are a whole different person, the wedding changes everything – are these so completely different from the cultural expectations for men?

        Zen: extra props for Hobbit references, please please keep writing for APW.

      • thesasha

        We are both changing our names.

        Both of us will be taking on my mother’s last name after the wedding. It was a complicated decision process, but I am incredibly happy with this result. I was also okay with taking his last name, and my feminist argument was that since my mom raised me, it made no more sense for me to be attached to my dad’s last name than to the name of my partner…

        er, actually I have a lot of thoughts on this, which I just typed and deleted. This is the short version. But I like where we ended up, and respect the multitude of options as all being valid (and ones we considered at one point).

        Unfortunately, it’s more legally complicated then taking one of our names or combining names.

      • Kelly

        Could not agree with this more. We are really, really struggling with this right now (and have been since the moment we got engaged). I would love to have the same name as him, but it doesn’t feel right for me to make such an enormous change when he doesn’t have to do anything at all. We can’t agree and I just feel really lost and alone and like this is not an okay or reasonable thing to talk through with other people. Thank you for reminding me that there are other people out there!

  • http://www.whorrak.com/adimatt Adi

    My husband is in the (long, wearing) process of changing his last name to mine. We’ve been married two and a half weeks and the end is not in sight. Also, looking at the blogs and the magazines? EXACTY. They’re still pretty, but I have zero interest in them. Basically yes, yes, exactly yes. I am so happy to be married an I DO feel different and being a wife… It’s not scary. I was so scared of “wife” and now I’m not. I embrace it. And posts like this one have helped me so much along the journey. Thanks again, APW. I wasn’t sure, beforehand, if I’d be a lifelong APWer–I thought this side of the wedding might make me less interested in the blog. I’m happy to say, I’m just as in love. I root for the engaged couples like a sort of bizarre game of red rover, waiting for them to join us marrieds, and excited for them to do things like reclaim wife. So welcome, Zen! You’re doing it right :)

    • Zen

      “It’s not scary. I was so scared of “wife” and now I’m not.”

      I’m laughing in recognition. Thanks for the welcome. :)

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      We never got comfortable with the use of “fiance” and used boyfriend/girlfriend or partner throughout our engagement. We didn’t AVOID fiance(e) exactly, it just didn’t work for us. Husband and wife? Somehow that just made sense and came easily to us.

  • Sandra

    My fiance and I are having the name-change debate now. I always assumed I would keep my last name, I love it, its the kind that people comment on to the tune of “thats an amazing last name”. I didn’t anticipate how hurt my fiance would be by that decision. He’s trying to be supportive, but to him if I don’t take his last name, then somehow I haven’t taken all of him. Its a sore spot that we haven’t really resolved yet. We’re moving towards hyphenation or some variation thereof, but I don’t yet know where we’ll end up.

    • Zen

      That sounds really hard! :( Fortunately Cephas isn’t bothered, but I can imagine how horribly fraught it could have become if my decision to keep my name did hurt him. Good luck with working through it — I hope you get to a place that works for both of you.

  • Jaime

    To my knowledge, most cultures follow one of two patterns when it comes to taking or not taking a husband’s last name. Either the woman does because she is now her husband’s property, or property of her husband’s family. If she does not it is because she is still her father’s property. (Which is sad regardless how you slice it.)

  • http://geniusobviously.blogspot.com Stephanie

    I have never commented on APW before. I’m not married, not engaged, not pre-engaged; I don’t even have a boyfriend. I clicked over to the website from some random link one day and fell in love with the ideas and the community. I never comment (though I always read and refer all my friends to articles on here when they’re thinking about changing their name) because I always felt a bit silly as a single girl.

    But… I’m sitting here in a coffee shop, with tears in my eyes, trying not to cry (I did a really good job on my eyeliner this morning).

    “Well, that showed me, because I did feel beautiful. I knew I was—I didn’t need to be told, though everyone does tell brides how nice they look. The feeling of certainty had little to do with my outfit (though it was lovely) or my hair (though it was doing all it could to help). It came from a sense of being loved. ”

    THIS.

    There is a picture of me and my best friends from my surprise birthday dinner last month where I’m obviously so happy. They’re looking at me; you can see how much they love me and you can see how beautiful I feel. (I *did* feel beautiful that night.) I love that picture so much – not just because my bangs look good and I have cute red lipstick on (and everyone tells the birthday girl they look beautiful too). I love that picture because it shows just how loved I am.

    THIS.

  • Senorita

    “What had happened seemed so vast, so terrifically significant, that you felt you needed to mark it in some big way, in a way that would be very public, that would need no further explanation”

    I cut this out and pasted it on my background.
    Name change is something that we have been majorly struggling with. As a future physician investigator who’s already published there are so many levels of complicated. Ironically, I think that a lot of my angst actually originated from my religious reading of APW. I’ve been trying to find a way for our family to have the same name without feeling like I was cheating on myself, and your quote flipped the switch on the light bulb. I’m grateful.