Wedding Graduates: A & S

*A, Heritage Education/Outreach & S, Media Anthropologist*

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

“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)

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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).

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.”

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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.

Cape Cod London International Wedding Short Dress

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

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  • Yes, this:

    “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.”

    is also how it was for us, and how it is now since we are planning little sis wedding over skype, messenger, emails for early next year.

    Also, lately, 1 year and a half in (depending if you count from the civil wedding last May or from the religious ceremony in September), I have been thinking about what you are saying here (I think) about how the whole beeing married has not change how much we love each other (thow it grows every day) but it is more about how we feel more connected to each other, because we are our own family, how the “togetherness” is really something apart, uniwue.

  • Aurélie

    Fantastic ! This is my favorite graduate post ever !
    I love the anthropological point of view about rites of passage and the process of getting married.
    And the lobster !

    • Seconding that this is my favorite graduate post to date. I love the message that getting married is a continual process and that we’re always passing through new thresholds together. Ugh, I could eat that up. But also, the photos? So vivid and beautiful.
      Congratulations, Dr. A.

  • International Academics getting married…
    I think it is the only way we finish the damn PhD. And then there is the experience of suddenly becoming not only a wife but a Dr. as well.
    I appreciate the perspctive from a year and a half out. My view and feelings about our World Wedding Tour have also changed over time. I whole-heartedly agree that it is the process, even after the last celebratory event, of the first year and a bit that makes you ‘feel’ married.

    Congrats for finishing your post!

  • I love that you aren’t apologizing to yourself or to us for prioritizing your wedding planning (which you loved) over your doctorate work. As long as you ended up getting both done, there’s no shame in picking joy first!

  • Ceebee

    What I learnt most in the past year is…Never walking away.
    The process of crossing each threshold is to preserve, persevere and protect and choose one another over and over. Jump the broom!

  • Sara

    LOVE this. im an american living in holland with my dutch bf/partner/baby daddy. reading this post makes me feel more confident about planning a wedding in america transatlantic-ly. i have one question- did you have some type of wedding planner or coordinator (or relative) for vendors to contact or meet with locally? or were you able to do it mostly via skype and email? (after writing that question i realized i have about 50 more. can we have another post about this pleeeease?)

    • Heey I am also in NL, husband is dutch as well :)

    • No, we didn’t have a planner… Though we had my mom and sister and step-mom and step-sister, but none of us were local to where we got married on cape cod! I sorta wish we’d had a local day-of coordinating person, but I also don’t know if there was anyone I could have found that would have had our same aesthetic/spirit in mind. By far and away the biggest headache was that stupid US cell phones can’t usually make international calls, so everytime I called a caterer or hair person or whatever to ask about prices they couldn’t even call me back!

    • Sarah

      I’ve been planning my wedding in NY from England. I initially freaked out about planning transatlantic-ly (with a fiance who spends a lot of time in Asia, while doing a PhD), but it’s worked out pretty well. We purposely chose to have a long engagement (longer than we needed to plan, in retrospect) and, twice a year when I’m home, I do a flurry of local wedding stuff. It helps that my parents are local — I tend to give their phone number to vendors — but you can do a ton by email/skype. I only picked vendors who would work with us that way. Also, if you get a Google Voice phone number, that’ll give you a US number for them to call.

      If you want someone to fire your 50 questions at, you’re definitely welcome to email me: sarahben2012 [at]

  • Jean

    I love this post! I have a PhD in Anthropology too and am getting married in June. I’m knee deep in wedding planning and I can’t turn off my inner-anthropologist. So I have talked about marriage and the wedding planning process a lot in my lectures this semester. It seemed a bit self-indulgent at first, but the students loved it and related in new ways to material that can be abstract and seem unrelated to their daily lives.

    Congrats on the marriage and the PhD.

  • Edelweiss

    I know the amazing-ness of this post is because of all the perspective a year and a half out which blurs the attention to details, but I have to say. WOW the dress. WOW. I love it.

    And add that last week I put a text about generational theory to my Amazon wishlist and I’ve just added The Rites of Passage. Seriously, APW sometimes feels like an online graduate course – and I love that too.

  • Emily Elizabeth

    Great wedding grad post, I loved hearing about the anthropologist perspectives. I minored in anthropology in college, and loved it.
    I can’t believe I missed your question way back when, because seeing those answers and knowing that other people were going through the same problems as me would have helped so much. When we were engaged, I found myself sucked in to wedding land big time, and neglected my thesis work a lot. It really seemed to derail everything, and I couldn’t even relate my work to wedding planning at all (I study birds…). In some ways I’m still dealing with this issue, even though we’ve been married for a year and a half (hey, I’m on here instead of working right now!) But my husband has been amazing about keeping me working, and encouraging me to finish my work!
    So… thank you! And now I’ll get back to it.

  • one thing about the dress… and generally about writing about the details (which I didn’t really do here)… I loved the dress and the way the whole wedding looked and felt. I struggled with the fact that bunting and homemade cakes and whatever got really trendy during our wedding planning. But S (who is the heritage education person, I’m the anthropologist) really wanted this ‘new england village fete’ theme, so it felt justified and appropriate.

    Also, about the details… I wrote on my own blog recently about this, about how the wedding blogosphere can pick up your details and spit them back out in nice and odd ways. Essentially, though our wedding felt sort of chaotic and ramshackle our awesome photographers made it look so pretty and together (i was thinking that again as I read what I’d written just now)! and then they sent it to Style me Pretty which was CRAZY because I didn’t even read that blog because it was so intimidating… anyways, this post is about that madness:

    • Pippa

      This: “I struggled with the fact that bunting and homemade cakes and whatever got really trendy during our wedding planning” sums up how I feel about wedding planning so well! You are reading my mind, still speaking my language A! You’re awesome!

  • Pippa

    I’m another reader who has to say that this is my absolute favourite wedding graduate post ever. Congratulations on what looks like a wonderful wedding(s) and on having a community around you that wanted to help you celebrate all year long.
    But seriously. This post is speaking my language. Speak on!

  • Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post. I especially liked the part about the rites of passage and three phases. I have been thinking about that a lot this year, especially liminality and rites of passage in regards to immigration…

  • When I first heard about the ‘rite of passage’ applied to weddings, it was in a cynical environment where people rolled their eyes, a white dress and party planning does not a woman make. It wasn’t until I actually had gone through the motions of the day itself that I realized that it wasn’t a simple, physical rite, but this profoundly spiritual movement. It’s those knocks and dents and wearing in that you are talking about – right on, lady. And good for you both!

  • I think the aspect of formalizing the rite of passage was one of the main reasons for me to decide to be okay with a wedding instead of an elopement. Situations of liminality make me feel uncomfortable.They make me want to retreat (and it makes my mom tell me that I don’t know how to throw a party). However, I felt that my parents and husband’s parents would probably derive a lot of comfort from the rituals associated with a wedding. It seems like something for them to hold on to when we pack up our bags and leave.

    Like you, A, we’re an intercontinental couple and when, post-ceremony, both my and his parents expressed how happy they were that we now have people who are family on both sides of the ocean, I did a mental “YEAH!”. It was precisely what we hoped for.

    Reading how your state of marriedness is progressing and developing is very interesting. You’re so eloquent. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Ana Maria

    I really really feel your post. Maybe because I’m also a continent away from my family, and taking all these big steps far from them is just plain hard! And when you said “While it was so hard to be so far from home when taking on this kind of huge life event” I was like that´s me that´s me!
    I second (or third, or fourth) the motion making this the best grad post ever. It’s the first that has ever really made me teary.
    Rock on sister. Congrats.

  • Oh my god, so many amazing photos! And it was so interesting to read your perspective as an anthropologist. (Way to go with the ‘steathily assigned readings’, by the way.) Congratulations to both of you!!!

  • Marina

    “the process of getting married would make us feel married”

    This is so wise, and verbalizes something I’ve thought about for a while but never been able to say right. A large and important part of my marriage now is all the things I learned and experienced through the the whole process of getting married.

    • I was going to write the same thing! The wedding day was huge, but the process of getting married (from dating to being engaged to planning a wedding and a future together) was far more “transforming” for me than our actual wedding day.

      • It really was true for us – in a way so much more about the whole journey than it was about the single day (although that was wonderful). Glad people are finding the post so relevant!

  • Oh I love this in so many ways. Having so many people who want to celebrate your marriage in multiple places is both a blessing and a little bit of a curse. But focusing on the blessing is truly important.

    And the wedding in which friends make it happen: I totally worried we were putting our friends to too much trouble and that they would end up hating me for being the boss. But sharing those boss duties with my partner helped a ton. And in the end they didn’t hate me — I learned how much they loved me instead.

  • April

    “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.”

    OMG – YESSSSS!!! *THIS* I want to “exactly” that bit one trillion times because you put into words what I couldn’t say to the many people who asked me during the time leading up to the wedding, and the months that followed, what it felt like to finally be getting married. I think I said, “Um – whuhttt?!” But you are so right – the PROCESS is quite an eye-opener. It’s what crystallized it for me and my husband as well and it bowled us over. The anticipation, planning, and decisions taught us so much about ourselves and each other. Oh, and the hard bits (family, tears, stupid arguments) and fun bits (friends! cake! dancing!)… Then, going thru the actual, lovely day – all 14 hours of it. And even immediately after our honeymoon, one evening as we were still unwrapping gifts, writing our Thank You notes we got a little quiet and one of us (not sure who, now), stopped and said, “WOW. We got married. THAT HAPPENED!”

  • Shauna

    Wonderful post. One I wish more brides would read (and understand).

    It reminds me of the WONDERFUL blog I follow:

    The author speaks to the emotional aspects of getting married which is a HUGE life transition and how we have to understand this to really become new, better, deeper human beings. Highly recommended read!

  • I love the whole post and especially the idea of the wedding contract! Congratualtions Dr. A!

  • Rachel

    I had the great joy of attending A. and S.’s wedding and it was neither chaotic nor ramshackle. It was heartfelt and fun and casual in all the right ways, and the spirit of communal preparation and crafting pervaded the day. I baked a cake for the dessert table, and took home a few of the pretty dessert plates that A’s mom collected at flea markets and yard sales in the months before the wedding. It was lovely to have both contributed something concrete to the wedding and taken something permanent from it.

  • I love this perspective. If I were to ever do my education over again I’d go the anthropology route. I love how the rites of passage can look so different from one culture to another, but at the core are truly the same thing. They are a thread that ties all of humanity together.