This post is part of our Love Symposium. An introduction to the symposium can be found here; all of the posts written for the symposium can be found here.
Once upon a time (five years ago) in an enchanted place (their shared apartment in North Carolina), two friends of mine got engaged. I had been friends with her for longer than I had been friends with him but I was friends with both of them and very, very excited for their impending nuptials. Then the did a truly confounding thing: they asked me to officiate their wedding. I was honored but unlicensed. The internet is a hell of a thing, and my own state was in no position to quibble with my having “found” “god” “or” “whatever” and so I was licensed. The wedding itself was a beautiful thing: outside, casual, heavily scripted so as to prevent me from saying anything dumb.
Since that wedding in 2009, I have turned my license-to-marry into a lucrative business, earning almost $21 ($20) in the subsequent years, having married dozens (one) of couples (couple) at whatever venues (venue) they’ve wanted (a park by the side of a busy five lane road). Despite this corporate monolith of mine – “The Las Vegas of West Virginia!” is what I’ve been unofficially dubbed by my children after I specifically instructed them to refer to me in that manner – I was approached again a few weeks ago by two friends who asked if I could squeeze their nuptials into my packed (empty) officiating schedule and, of course, I agreed. I was encouraged to consider making brief remarks about what I know about marriage during the ceremony itself. This means that for the first time, I’m running the very real risk of being like most of the officiants at other weddings that I’ve attended. I’d like to avoid that if at all possible.
In that, I don’t mean to disrespect the work that they do, although to reread it, that’s what I’ve effectively done. I think because I lack any sort of religious background at all, I don’t for the life of me understand what the words that they’re saying are meant to accomplish. I don’t know anybody who looks back on their own officiant and says, “But for that officiant’s wise words, we never would have made it!” or “Thank god for that ONE WEIRD TRICK THAT WILL SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE we heard that day!” I understand the job to be acting as the master of ceremonies who guides everybody involved through what amounts to a performance. That said, let’s not pretend as though it isn’t true that for many of the people in the audience, the faster the better.
Clearly, I am insufficiently reverent.
This extends to my personal life. Here is where I explain that my (awesome) wife and I got married on a Tuesday at the county courthouse. My parents came, because they would have murdered me if they hadn’t been invited, but my wife’s didn’t, and none of our friends knew ahead of time. I giggled the entire time because I got nervous/excited/bemused, and that was very inappropriate, and afterwards, we announced our marriage on Facebook to incredulity and congratulations. By the time we got married, my wife and I already had two kids and a mortgage; what was the big deal about the state getting involved? Other than the cool ring of course. There are so many things you can do with the ring during a teleconference that you’re not paying attention to. Our engagement literally involved my wife saying, “Oh, there’s a time available on a Tuesday?” and me saying, “Okay.” She paid for our rings because I was at home with our baby. We love each other very much. In fact, she loves me despite me writing stuff like this. I hope. Honey?
There are those that balk at me (very occasionally) doing this. The objection follows religious lines and essentially implies that by virtue of my own non-existent beliefs, I am unqualified to stand in front of two people who specifically asked me to be there. I do not have an answer for these folks. They see the world one way and I don’t. I find it tough to conclude anything but the following: there’s no right way to be married. Or perhaps, there are an infinite number of right ways to be married. Or perhaps, the only right way to be married is what works for the two people who are married.
This should really be emphasized more. Beneath society’s grandiose and stupidly expensive vision of what marriage should be is the perfectly reasonable reality that it’s work, both the literal work of maintaining a life together (which includes all of its ups and downs) and the more soulful work of learning to continue living with one another. I suppose there’s nothing huge in saying this. No fireworks. No pizzazz. When somebody’s dropping this much money on a wedding, I suppose they don’t want to hear that a significant part of being married is the endurance necessary to make it until tomorrow. I suppose they don’t want to hear the message embedded in something like this:
That last part there, about life being what happens while we wait for the big things, is what so thoroughly captures marriage in the way that I recognize it, as a day-to-day project with its ups and its downs, as an agreement between two people to try their damndest to make it to the next good day, as work. This though isn’t to say that there isn’t beauty and happiness in marriage. There is. There’s the other stuff too. I guess there’s no money or bookings in emphasizing this concept of marriage as work. It certainly doesn’t sound fun. “Dearly beloved, we are here to contractually obligate two people to labor in service to one another.” I’d probably be better off doing the other thing, or, in the case of the first wedding I ever performed, simply following the script; people liked it when I followed the script. As I get closer to this wedding that I’m about to officiate, my guess is that I’ll get more direction on what exactly I’m meant to (not) say. That’s fine. Everybody’s wedding is their own thing. My job is as I described it before – the guy who gets everyone to the end of the ceremony.
But if I can, I might try to (very briefly!) explore the concept of marriage as work, not so much as an attempt to have something officious and important-sounding to say, but because the work that I’m describing might be better understood not so much as labor but as love.