16 April 2008

On marriage, and weddings, and the bridal experience.

So, I was standing in the fitting room at Vera Wang, looking at myself in the dress (and wearing the Undergarment of Insanity. This undergarment required many google searches, but I finally found something which was backless AND had an underwire. The only design flaw – besides the lack of instructions for the adjustable straps – is that it’s not a snap crotch. So, um, that will be fun. Luckily my maid of honor is up to the task.)

So there was this beautiful dress and that I was wearing in front of a full-length mirror and then on top of it was my regular old face, and it felt … strange, like someone had photoshopped my face into an ad. After I eloped with my first husband, I really gave up the idea of ever having a real wedding or wearing white and I guess the reality of it still hasn’t sunk in. Leaving aside considerations about tackiness of wearing white to a second wedding … I definitely bought into the bride concept enough to not care that A) this is my second marriage (but first wedding!) B) that white originally symbolized purity/virginity and we’ve been living together for a couple of years and, uh, clearly not a virgin

I really wanted that status symbol of being a bride, illogical as it may be in my case. And yet, while I wanted it, I don’t feel like I deserve it (see objections A and B above)… which is bullshit since the whole bride-wearing-white is a marketing concept and the only thing that qualifies one to deserve to wear a white dress is the desire to wear one and the ability to purchase it. (I also feel very torn about the idea of a couple receiving gifts for a wedding, since the original idea was to help a couple set up house together and we did that when we moved in together. But I wasn’t so torn that I failed to register at a couple of places; nor did I request that anyone who wanted to give us a gift should make a contribution to the charity of their choice instead because actually, there is a bunch of stuff we need and it would take us years to be able to afford it on our own. Almost all our furniture and sheets and towels and stuff is hand-me-down and/or left over from college, so - for example - the towels are getting pretty threadbare, as you might imagine. Blah blah justification-cakes.)

Anyway. I hate it when women become consumed by their weddings and swore that that wouldn’t happen to me, but I cannot seem to shut up about it. Everyone indulges me in this, too, which is not helping my resolve. Because truthfully I do feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to have this marvelous wedding (thank you, Mom and Dad) and so I shouldn’t complain, because, you know, lucky.

That said, planning a party for 150 people when there are all kinds of other agendas in play IS a lot of work. As an example of another agenda … my mom is using the wedding as an excuse to have a mini family reunion with her side of the family, which I think is a fairly common side function for weddings (and funerals), it just hadn’t occurred to me beforehand that this was the case, so I was like, WHY exactly are you so insistent on inviting these people I barely know to my wedding? Why would they even care about my wedding? … because …despite the marketing, my wedding is not actually all about me. (It's about Dave, too! Heh.)

But a big community celebration of the couple's commitment to one another is kind of the point of having a wedding, I think. And that’s a really cool tradition, and it was one of the things I regretted most about eloping the first time around. I can totally see where someone wouldn’t be into having a wedding and would just want to do something quiet at the courthouse, but I like the idea of the wedding as a chance for a bunch of community good wishes for people starting a new phase.

And it is a new phase. I lived with my first husband for a while also before we got married, and things definitely shifted after we got married. It felt a little more permanent and not like we might break up after every big fight. I liked that feeling. I’m also, of course, deeply glad about Massachusetts’ no fault divorce options, since I do think it’s important to be able to get out of a relationship once you’ve tried everything and it’s still just not going to work.

Even after I left my first husband, I was somehow relieved to have gotten married at all – I’d been terrified all my life that I’d end up an unmarried spinster (such an awful word), lonely and the object of pity for others. This fear was not helped by the fact that I was a super late bloomer and didn’t really start dating until I was about 19 … and even then, I couldn’t really find anyone to be my BOYFRIEND, which I thought was my fault. In a way it was, since I was all fucked up about myself and thought I was just unlovable and unattractive, when really it was not so much that I was unlovable as that I was thought that finding someone to love me would fix my giant seething mass of insecurities. Which, as it turns out, is not a good idea.

I have a pet theory that damaged attracts damaged, which is why when I first met my first husband - and I was the same mess that other, saner boys had run screaming from - and he stuck around to actually become my boyfriend, it was a sign that he was just as fucked up as me. It should have been a sign, anyway. That’s unfortunately the kind of lesson that only experience can teach you.

At least I learned it pretty well – after I left the first husband and moved back to the states, I would meet men in bars and tell them that I had just left a marriage, that I was unemployed and living with my parents - and you’d think they’d be all, beep beep beep flashing lights, back off! But no, the strategy kind of backfired, since I was so open about admitting how much I’d fucked up, it disarmed them into thinking I wasn’t crazy and asked for my number anyway. I guess they ignored the obvious logic that only a crazy broad would get herself into a shitty situation like that.

But somehow being married – the fact that someone HAD once wanted me enough to commit to marry me – did a lot for my self-esteem. Fucked up though that is, the status afforded to women who get married went a long way towards making me feel better about myself. (I also had, and continue to seek, a lot of therapy.) But it was like I’d checked some kind of life goal off the list: I’d proved my worth by getting married, just as I’d proved my independence by living abroad for a while. On to the next life goal: Owning the Dallas Cowboys.

So on the eve (… nearly) of marrying again, I don’t have that huge need for someone else to validate my worth as a woman by marrying me … which I think is why I am entering this marriage with so much reflection about the meaning of weddings and the experience of being a bride. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t enjoying all the priviledges that come with bridal status – everything from the mild envy of other women to getting to wear the white dress and getting a couple of fantastic pieces of jewelry to having a party where I will be, legitimately, the star for the day. (Co-star, really, but the wedding industry is All About The Bride – which is fucked up, but this is long enough already so I won’t get into it.) That’s a lot of ego-stroking, so no wonder I found it seductive and no wonder, as a good progressive liberal feminist, I also found it troubling, with all the class indicators and consumerism which surround weddings.

So my strategy has been to try to separate the wedding (which is basically a giant party) from the marriage/relationship, which I don’t expect to change much (apart from maybe the comfort that a worrywart like me derives from being married during fights.) And I feel like I’ve done a decent job of this for the most part, but as the wedding date gets closer (May 18th, peeps!), I am finding I’m getting more sucked into the idea that the success of the wedding will somehow be a predictor of the success of the marriage. Which it’s not, really.

You can have a perfect wedding and it can still all end in divorce a few years later, or you can run into every disaster possible and still make a go of the marriage. In some cases … like where one member of the to-be-wedded couple behaves badly at the wedding or during the run-up, in retrospect it’s like, yeah, that groom who banged a stripper at his bachelor party, that probably should have said something about the prospects for his future fidelity during the marriage … but mostly, as long as the couple continue to treat each other with respect as hopefully they’ve been doing all along, the wedding isn’t any kind of reading of the entrails of the marriage’s success. I was just having a hard time for a while making the distinction in my head between Dave’s and my relationship and our wedding.

The wedding and the relationship are related, sure, but not the same, although I hadn’t previously made this distinction. Therefore, the fight we had last weekend freaked me right out (Oh noes! We are fighting right before the wedding! Does this mean we shouldn’t be getting married?!!1111???)

But actually, if you (okay, me) take a step back and think about it, it makes sense that we should be fighting because Dave’s school stuff continues to be wicked stressful and also very time-consuming, plus his band is really taking off. And all of THAT results in Dave not having much time at home to help with housework or wedding stuff or hang out with me (never mind time to himself, which is probably more important than the first two).

Plus I’ve had some changes at work that mean I feel like I need to prove myself (obviously dealing with wedding stuff – which mostly needs to be dealt with between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm – is not helping my work situation.) So I end up feeling lonely and also overworked, especially given the increased effort/time spent at my paid work … and so we’re both getting a pretty raw deal right now, which is why it’s no surprise that we’re fighting, but also that the fighting isn’t really anything but a byproduct of both of us being short on patience and on sleep. And it’s not an indication that the wedding ought to be called off, it’s an indication that we’ve got WAY too much going on right now.

And we’ve recognized that, and Dave has made changes at work so he’s “only” working a 32 hour week, which will hopefully help with the school pressure. As for me, the wedding WILL be over soon, and then things can mostly go back to “normal”, which is still too busy, but at least might afford more time and energy for yoga and self-care. And we’ll reassess the situation once the big old wedding hurdle has been cleared, and see if we need to make other changes. And if that doesn’t work … well, remember what I said about Mass divorce laws! Heh. I’m not planning on ever getting divorced again, though.

Holy crap. 2000 word blog post, and it’s not even humorous. I wonder if anyone will read to the end?


Kaethe said...

I did.

It's isn't humorous, but it's very honest, and very clear-eyed. It's difficult to step outside the pampered bride mystique and look at the consumerism, and the assumptions implicit in the modern American wedding. Most people have a very hard time distinguishing between wedding and marriage.

Now, if you raise the issue of last names, you can get a hundred comments. So, are either of you changing?

Cara deBeer said...

Well, thank you! For reading all the wya through and for the nice comments.

Neither of us is changing. It's a huge PITA for me and he's not interested in taking my name. Plus, I really like deBeer. (No relation to the diamond merchants, FWIW.)

If we have kids, he wants them to have his name, which is fine with me. (And kids-at-all is currently a big if. There might be another post coming up about how, with a marriage on the horizon, people feel it's fine to ask about my reproductive timeline ... which I find intrusive and bizarre when it comes from people who are not friends or relatives.)

Kaethe said...

Well, if you don't like intrusive and bizarre, not getting pregnant is a good plan. You can never get a village to help change diapers, but strangers are all over you with health dictates and pawing your stomach. (I really wanted kids so I was willing to put up with that, but I don't encourage anyone who isn't enthusiastic.)

Lucky me, I didn't have to get all feminist on the Spouse about naming the kids. He hated his last name, and preferred they have mine.

There, see, the name issue comes up and the comments soar. Winka.

Rooie said...

Hey, Cara! First of all congratulations! I am completely out of the loop, I guess.

I read all the way to the end, too, so Kaethe and I can now compete in the next amateur level of long post reading.

The post made me both (a) very glad that Arthur and just ran down to the courthouse and (b) very sorry that Arthur and I just ran down to the courthouse. I'll never get to wear a wedding dress! On the other hand, I hate dressing up!


Anyway, all best wished to you and Dave.

Lisa said...

I read to the end. And I have really nothing to say except I think you're very brave. That's probably not exactly the most romantic affirmation you're going to hear, but that was my first reaction so I'm sticking with it. At the very least, you're brave to wear foundation undergarments with no snaps.

Cara deBeer said...

Brave to get married at all, you mean, or brave to go through a wedding?

And Sarah, I'm only doing it this way because I tried the no fuss route last time and regretted it. Heh. So I'll do it the other way now. Oh, and don't feel bad about being out of the loop, I have tried to be quiet about it all along. Until now, when it's taking over my life. Heh.

But hey, the ballroom dancing lessons we just got back from were totally fun!

Leah said...

So, where *are* you registered?

Cara deBeer said...

a little bit boringly, at bed, bath and beyond and also at macy's.

Anonymous said...

Reading to the end of that blog was painful, why are you still going on about our marriage, when you know exactly why we got married. Immigration in the UK was a problem for you and you were so disappointed that you couldn’t stay. Sure we said we would marry properly in the future but that future never came. It was very hard to maintain a relationship with someone that completely cut herself off from society.
Unreal that you will be wearing a vera wang dress, thought you would be up for something simpler from the Armani Prive collection. What would an underdressed ‘hills have eyes’ character look like walking up the isle with you.
I only read the posts to see how Interim is doing, she’s fine so stop fussing with the vets, she does it on purpose for attention, the more you fuss the more she will do it. She must be costing you a fortune 
It would be nice if you could stop posting about me on a public indexable forum, I have never said anything demeaning about you to anyone, so would expect the same courtesy.
Remember this is your first REAL wedding so treat it that way and look fabulous...
Anyway I wish you all the best with the wedding and hope it goes as you had planned it