All right, lovelies, if you’re planning a wedding right now, take a deep breath and read this. You can spare ten minutes for yourself.
You are not having a wedding. You are getting married.
If you’re marrying the right person, at the right time, for the right reasons, the ceremony and reception will make up about .000015% of your marriage. (I calculated that assuming 4 hours of partying and 30 years of marriage). It’s a blip. A wedding is a speedbump.
The wedding is something married people don’t spend much time thinking about. What do we think about? What to make for dinner. What’s chewing holes in the chard. Whether we can put off going to Costco another week. Whether to watch a second episode of Game of Thrones or go to bed early.
There are a lot of things we don’t think about or notice. For instance, neither of us really noticed how gray we were both getting until we were looking through some photos from the 1990s, and remembered we both used to have very dark hair. We don’t always notice when we somehow merge consciousness and wind up wearing the same color shirt, even though it happens at least three days a week. We probably don’t notice when we complete each other’s sentences or take over telling each other’s stories because the other one tells that part better.
I married my best friend. He’s a smart person. That being said, I strongly doubt he remembers our wedding vows, although he keeps them. I know he doesn’t remember the song from our first dance, because every time it comes on the radio, I have to nudge him. I would be astounded if anyone who went to our wedding remembered any of the dishes from the reception or the flavor of the cake. Probably nobody still has our wedding favor or the invitation. That’s fine. It worked out the way everyone would have wanted, which is that we’re closing in on eight years of marriage and still together after over a decade. The woman who caught my bouquet was the next to get married, but I don’t need that to be part of the story of her marriage. I won’t be wearing my dress at a future anniversary, because I lost 25 pounds and it wouldn’t have fit. Everything about our wedding is a memory, except the rings.
The ring has been everywhere. I’ve never taken it off. It’s been to seven countries and three continents so far. I wore it on our backpacking trip to Iceland. I wore it through my entire history of running, from my first failed attempt around the block to my first marathon. I wore it to a Warrior Dash and washed the mud out from under it afterward. I wore it the first time I climbed a rope. I wore it when we climbed the Rock of Gibraltar. I was wearing it when I published my first book. I also wear it when I fold laundry and take out the trash.
Marriage is about a lot of things. A wedding ceremony, not so much. I eloped with my first husband and we got married at the 24-Hour Church of Elvis. We both wore black. I had never laughed so hard in my life. I never cried so hard as the month he asked for the divorce. I thought the whimsy of our wedding would represent something about us, but the truth was I didn’t know him well enough before we made the commitment. The wedding isn’t what makes you married. Marriage is something that comes about when you realize you’re entwined around each other and you’re not even sure exactly when it happened. Hopefully that started before the proposal. A wedding isn’t a way to jumpstart the process. It’s just an extremely expensive party with some paperwork.
Don’t do it if you have any doubts. I mean it. Anyone who has been married will tell you that, and anyone who has been divorced will tell it to you with the thousand-yard stare of a survivor. If you’re marrying the right person, it will still be the right person later. Signing the marriage license does something to you inside. It flips a bunch of switches that neither of you ever realized you had. Subconscious ideas about what marriage means and what husband and wives do will float up from the primordial ooze. Some of us think marriage means neither of you will ever change. Others of us think marriage means it’s time for both of you to change – but mostly the other. Some of us have profoundly traditional ideas about who does what. When I got married the first time, I thought marriage meant I had someone to love and support me no matter what I did – so the first thing I did was to gain about 30 pounds. My ex thought marriage meant sex on demand. I also thought marriage meant that we shared the same financial goals. Imagine my surprise when I learned he had cleaned out our house savings in only two months. Marriage isn’t always all hearts and flowers. It can be an existential struggle that will teach you things you will wish you never had to learn. You have the power to bankrupt one another, financially and emotionally. You have the power to cut psychic scars that may never heal. Marriage is something to enter trembling with awe at the forces you are about to unleash, in each other’s lives, across the lives of your family and friends, possibly even in the form of new humans yet to be born.
I believe in marriage. I believe in love. I believe in the power of a family to become the cornerstone of a neighborhood. I believe everyone should take all of these things more seriously. I don’t believe in the wedding industry. I don’t believe in starting a life together with debt. I don’t mean tens of thousands of dollars of debt, I mean any debt. I paid for my half of our wedding in cash as the expenses came up. I bought my dress (for $36), I bought his ring, I laid down the deposit on the reception hall, I found the officiant and paid her. I had zero credit card debt and zero car payments when we got married. If we’d waited another year, I wouldn’t have had any student loan debt, either. Debt is a way of making sure you’ll always have something to fight about. If anything takes you down, it’s almost certainly going to be money worries, and if it isn’t that, it will be fighting about housework. Figure that stuff out and don’t let it poison your life.
You want a partnership, not a party. You want a life together, not mutual debt bondage. Run away together in a nice tie and/or a pretty sundress you’ll wear for an entire summer. Invite your loved ones over for a yard party. Do a Google search on the kind of epic three-week vacation in four-star hotels you could be going on for the same price as the wedding. Or the car (or matched motorcycles) you could buy. Or the entire houseful of new designer furniture. Or the interest you could earn in your retirement accounts. Think about how old you think you’ll be when you die and add 15 years.
If you’re going to do this thing, put your back into it. You’re going to be together even on days or months when you annoy each other. You’re going to be together when you have to do things you don’t want to do and when you’re not in the mood, whether it’s for cleaning the gutters or going on a long road trip in the rain to visit your in-laws. If you can pull it off, the benefit is that you’ll develop a deeper relationship than you have with any other friend or relative you’ve ever had. You can help each other not only to be the best possible versions of yourselves, but to go beyond anything you had ever imagined. If you see the future shining in your lover’s eyes, it will be the task of a lifetime to bring that future into being.
Best of luck to you.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.