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How To Earn Almost $21 Officiating Marriages

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.

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33 thoughts on “How To Earn Almost $21 Officiating Marriages

  1. 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.

    Loud applause.

    I know couples who aren’t ‘married,’ but they sure are in a life-long committed relationship, and are, in every sense of my notion of committed relationship, married in their hearts. Some don’t want the institutions of state involved. Others, can’t have that institutional blessing — either because their variant of married isn’t legal or they’ve got an old legal marriage on the books that’s long since dissolved. To me, marriage is in the heart and the living life together, and it won’t easily line up with a rule book.

    Nice post, Sam. Thank you. And I, too prefer casual weddings where the focus is not on the ceremony but the living.

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  2. The best officiating comment I ever heard was from a Rabi, who essentially said:

    “You two may remember when you came to me and asked me to marry you, that I instructed you to look at each other with fully open eyes from that moment till today, to make sure that you knew what you were getting yourselves into. And now, today, I want to tell you to spend the rest of your lives with your eyes half closed, because trust me, it’s easier that way and you’ll be a lot happier.”

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  3. “My parents came, because they would have murdered me if they hadn’t been invited…”

    Jaybird’s mama was our sole attendee for the same reason. Well, actually, she wouldn’t have murdered us, but she did *literally* threaten to hex us. Also we needed a witness, might as well be the hex-threatenin’ lady.

    (She later managed to forget all about said hexing. Which really caused me problems because I’d been relying on her witness to trump Jay in the “whether Maribou said obey in her wedding vows” argument (I didn’t, obvs.), and once she demonstrated her unreliability in witnessing matters by forgetting about the hexing, I was forced to fall back on, “I MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT KNOCK IT OFF RIGHT NOW,” which wasn’t nearly as much fun.)

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      • Oh, no, the details get better.
        They required exact change in order to get the judge to officiate.
        It’s over $50 and they want exact change.
        Obviously, we don’t have that on us…

        Did I mention the computer system went down?
        They weren’t sure they were actually allowed to let us get married…
        (and we weren’t sure it was actually entered into “the system”)

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      • Hi, Mom, I’m getting married!
        “When?”
        “April 15th.”
        Mom starts to look at next april the 15th, alongside one of her “best friends”.
        “Oh, no, you can’t possibly get married then — Teri’s already got something planned! How about next June?”
        “No, mom, in a month.”
        (She didn’t believe me.)

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  4. You know, my sweetie and I, we’re not very romantic in traditional ways. Our idea of a hot date is a used book store, an antique store (one with old buttons and knitting needles and ham radio equipment, please!), a beach with sea glass, foraging for something in the woods.

    And we didn’t have a big deal wedding; I refused to hide and make a big appearance and walk down the isle. We got married at our house, and I wanted to greet my friends and family as they arrived. When everybody was gathered, we stood in a circle and said our vows in the sunshine on our deck. A friend played and sang a song I wrote, you can listen to it here, without a vocal part; that’s my sweetie on piano.

    http://zproject.wikispaces.com/file/view/lately.mp3

    We’ve always said we’d like to do it again. Stand somewhere we love, and re-pledge our lives together.

    I wondered if anyone else had considered this?

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    • Since none of my family could be at our wedding, Jay and I talked about renewing our vows on our 5th anniversary, back home where I grew up, so that everyone could come… then it became 10th… then 15th… then my brother decided to get married on the 15th year… then everything familial imploded rather, and now, I don’t know. We might some day. Maybe for our 25th?

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  5. My experience was quite a bit different than what the rest of you mentioned. The size of our wedding was largely dictated by my in-laws when they slid a piece of paper with our budget across the table one night after dinner at their house. When I saw the number and realized it was about the same amount that my parents paid for their first house, I knew I was in for a long 10 months of planning. Some background: My mother-in-law has been helping with wedding planning at their church for many years and has seen a LOT of weddings. My wife is also their only daughter. The biggest factor was also that they have no family in Louisville. It’s just them and my wife. So they really wanted to bring all of their family together in their adopted hometown just one time and throw a hell of a party.

    So our wedding had about 200 attendees and it was quite a production. The audacity of it didn’t change the importance of what we said to each other during the ceremony. The vows meant a lot to us and of course they would have been just as powerful in front of a few relatives in a barn. But in some ways it did feel more powerful because we were making these promises in front of so many witnesses.

    One little logistical detail I recommend: See your spouse-to-be before the wedding. It’s a silly tradition to not do so. I insisted on this and after some coaxing my wife agreed. We met in a small chapel in the back of the church and had a few minutes alone. It really helped with the nerves. Afterwards we went ahead and took most of our photos which I think the guests appreciated when they didn’t have to wait so long for us at the reception.

    And have a private table at the reception for just the two of you. Guests will actually leave you alone so you can eat and the wedding party can just sit with their spouses or friends instead of trying to make small talk with people they met the day before at rehearsal.

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    • I insisted on this and after some coaxing my wife agreed. We met in a small chapel in the back of the church and had a few minutes alone. It really helped with the nerves.

      This is such a wonderful suggestion.

      Afterwards we went ahead and took most of our photos which I think the guests appreciated when they didn’t have to wait so long for us at the reception.

      You mean you had the photos take when you met, before the wedding? That’s a wonderful suggestion, too. In many of the weddings I’ve attended recently, so much time is given to staging the photos that the bride and groom seem to miss the event. This makes me very sad.

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      • We took probably 90% of the photos before the wedding. All we had to do afterwards were a few quick photos with some relatives that showed up late. I think we made it to the reception about 40 minutes after the guests which is pretty quick compared to other experiences I have had. I went to one wedding where it was over 2 hours and the guests were all half-ripped on free drinks before the bride & groom arrived. They paid very little attention to the big entrance and it just went downhill from there.

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  6. We reserved a spot on the beach (free), paid the county to deputize a friend as deputy county recorder for the day ($50) and walked over to a nice restaurant for lunch afterwards (~20 guests at about $40 per plus cake cutting fee). Now we have a nice restaurant pre-selected for anniversary dinners.

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  7. You must be terrible. ;)
    My friend Lori got licensed for roughly the same reason and got roped into three more in the same year. I don’t think anyone has ever paid her though. She could have made $80 by now!

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  8. I’d been living with my future wife for a number of years when we decided to get married. We’d already bought the house, so…

    We got married on a beach in the Carribean. Most of the cost of the “wedding” was actually the honeymoon since we were there a week, got married right after the minimum stay and the required time needed to notify the locals in case they wanted to object. The entire wedding took 40 mins, 20 for the pictures. Best idea ever. No one but us the officiant, photographer, and a witness.

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  9. I believe I’ve mentioned in the past I’m a big fan of the approach in continental Europe, my brother got married in the Netherlands and the entire ceremony consisted of the officiant explaining in English what he was about to ask in Dutch then asking it. The questions themselves.

    “Do you A take B to be your husband/wife, and do you accept the responsibilities the law places on married persons?”
    “Yes”

    That’s it – I would estimate with the translation, getting people seated etc the whole thing took 10 minutes tops. The rest of the day was for the couple to celebrate how they wanted to.

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