Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Weddings #1 : The Heeby-Jeebies

A wooden bench against a white wall with
a shadow of a two people embracing across
both wall and bench.
Having complained at some length about the bombardment of wedding-related advice, suggestions and miscellaneous pressure Stephen and I received within the first seventy-two hours of becoming engaged, I asked my friend Vic, "What is a dragee anyway?"

She answered, "Somebody who doesn't want to be at the wedding?"

(Apparently, dragee is a bit of confectionery, like a sugared almond but not.  I was later reminded that at my sister's wedding, they had some chocolate ones covered in gold plate.  Or possibly gold-leaf.  Either way, they tasted kind of metallic.)

For many years, I had recurring nightmares about being the bride in a traditional straight wedding, which are only partly explained by my subconscious imploring me to leave that relationship. Whilst I deeply regret getting married the first time, I don't regret the way the marriage bit was administered; in secret without romance or ceremony (except as much as is legally necessary). Weddings frightened me.

Five years ago, I wrote:
The traditional wedding is a fantastic manifestation of the traditional inequalities in marriage. Women do all the work; the bride must organise everything, the venue, the decoration, the itinerary, she must appease family members when the political conflicts arise over the seating plan. In many cases, the bride even chooses what the groom is going to wear. And all this for her big day, the happiest day of her life etc., etc.. Meanwhile, the groom is obliged to make a big show of reluctance, stag parties and so on, and turn up to perform his brief role in proceedings somewhat hungover. He gets to speak, of course; whilst the women did all the work, it is the men who get to make the speeches.  
It's a horrible caricature, but you have attended this wedding, haven't you? You bought them the hideous vase with the turquoise flowers on, remember?
It is a horrible caricature and now I don't think it's fair.  I have been to straight weddings a lot like that which nevertheless celebrated basically egalitarian relationships. These events are all about symbol and ceremony, and it is fairly common for people to play a symbolic role that may be a world away from their usual role, just as it is common to dress up in clothes than you'd never normally wear. I have known some formidable matriarchs who originally vowed, "to honour and obey."

Stephen's engagement ring: a silver ring with the
texture of a leaf skeleton.
There was never any danger of anything like that when Stephen and I got engaged, but as we began to talk about things - especially when we began talking to other people - I became subject to a touch of the heeby-jeebies. This wasn't exactly helped by a particularly lengthy conversation with my parents which began
"It's your wedding and you can do exactly what you like - we'll support you and help in any way, whatever you decide to do.  But..."
Among their many suggestions and concerns was the worry that Stephen's parents might be heartbroken if we didn't get married in a Church.  There are lots of personal and practical reasons for not doing so, even though Stephen and his family are Christian.  We'd talked this through and were sure Stephen's parents would be happy with our plans. My entirely non-religious parents weren't. We listened to and humoured them up to the point where my Dad stated that he knew a Canon who owed him a favour. Seriously. And no, I didn't dare ask.

Then there's noticing things written about weddings and the process of getting married. My rage against groups who think marriage belongs to them has only increased.  I notice articles or blog posts extolling the virtues of keeping names or taking someone else's name or combining the two surnames into a new one (our options there would be Welly or Kitehead - we should run an internet poll), all of which strongly imply that there's only one right way. At the time of writing, I think I know what I'll do, but I'm not completely sure.  I know, from experience, that whatever I do I will be judged for it.

I also notice products aimed at me, a woman about to get married.  Most of these are just excessive and silly, but some, such as Bridal Betty (via Vagenda), are utterly baffling; blue dye for your pubic hair (or down there as the website puts it - it's one thing to sell pubic hair dye, it's quite another to use the word pubic) raises many pressing questions, such as
  • Attempts to dye my walnut-coloured (head) hair purple have always failed because I couldn't bring myself to bleach it beforehand. Wouldn't this be an issue given that most of the world's short and curlies are nearly black? 
  • I understand Bridal Underwear is also a thing. It's very expensive and almost always white. Are these products compatible?  Even on a warm day?
  • Does it include a warning for couples who have never seen one another naked before their wedding night? 
  • Surely, celebrity influence on what women do with our pubic hair has gone far enough without Marge Simpson muscling in on the action?
  • Why?  As in, why oh why oh why?
You get the picture.  About weddings, I mean.  I got a little distracted by the thought of blue pubes... 

Thing is, I think weddings are a fundamentally great thing.  It is a public ritual - something we rarely do in this culture - which celebrates love.  Not only romantic love, but familial love, friendship, love among a community and sometimes spiritual love (whether expressed in a religious building or not). All these people come together.  Families are joined together.  There's music, special food, poetry and speeches.  Two people declare their love and commitment to each other in front of the other people they love and who love them.

My engagement ring: a silver swirly sea-inspired
ring with a round sapphire in it.
(Getting it reduced to fit my finger.)
It's a wonderful thing.  It isn't necessary for lasting love and it isn't sufficient for lasting love - some people marry who are not in love at all, while many others live happily together for a lifetime without marriage. But in general, I'm all for weddings.

Stephen and I want to celebrate our love in a public way. We have become part of one another's families and have befriended one another's friends. We want to bring the principle players together and celebrate that. We also want the legal and social advantages of being married.  Stephen looks really hot in a suit. So we both want a wedding.

But I need to do some working out.  And this is where blogging comes in handy!


Ruth Madison said...

I love reading because it is so different from all the other wedding messages out there. It's about all your options and saying that anything you choose is right for you. People write heartfelt essays about their experiences of planning weddings to be authentic to themselves and their feminism.

She has posts too called "reclaiming wife" about what it means to be a wife now and how we don't have to perform rolls expected of us throughout history.

Highly recommend reading it!

The Goldfish said...

Thank you Ruth - will definitely have a look around there, it looks great. :-)

Life in Deep Water said...

Not sure if I should really say what I'm thinking.

Oh, to hell with it...

Blue pubic hair???


Naah, you both know me by now I think to know that all I wish for is happiness for the two of you.

You do realise of course, that when I'm dropping off to sleep tonight, the thought of blue pubic hair will intrude and I'll be awake until dawn!!

Best wishes to you both. :-)

Life in Deep Water said...


I forgot to say great photo of the shadows of you two.

Still thinking of blue pubic hair...

Unknown said...

Your engagement rings are gorgeous! Did you pick them out together, or for yourselves, or for each other, or what?

Re: "Blue Betty": I'm pretty sure that's a sneaky/"cute" way of getting the "something blue" into your outfit--"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." Classy. -_-

I'd never thought of the gross inequality in the traditional division of wedding duties. The way it's alway spun is that the wedding is "for the woman"--"every woman wants to be a princess," etc., which really is kind of silly. Still, though, I like the idea of weddings in general, and as long as you're working on it together and making it something significant for you, I'm sure yours will be an amazing celebration.

(Sorry to jump in with a novel--I just started following, and love your blog! :D)

The Goldfish said...

Life in Deep Water, Gary, Thank you & I'm sorry to have put this image in your head. The company does other colours for days you're not getting married, although I can't vouch for whether any are less disturbing.

Katherine, Thank you for your comment. We're very pleased with our rings, which we each chose for each other. Stephen proposed but I was kind of expecting it and wanted him to have a ring too. I think they're both from either Etsy or Folksy (a UK-specific version of Etsy).

Thanks for what you say - your comment isn't overlong at all! Nice to see you around.

GirlWithTheCane said...

Oh, weddings...

At my sister's wedding, once we were able to sit down, I quietly said to my father, "Enjoy this. I'm eloping." I'm not religious at all, I'm terribly unorganized, and I don't really like being the centre of attention. A wedding seems like a nightmare to me.

I was even deadset against the idea of an engagement ring at one point, preferring that he save his money and that we go on a trip. Or have a big party where the people that we loved could get together and celebrate the fact that we love each other enough to want to make a commitment to each other. Then I thought, "But isn't that a wedding?" Oh, no... :P

I understand wedding heeby-jeebies. Eloping still looks good to me, but I catch myself sometimes thinking thomgs like, "If I *were* to have a wedding, where would I want to have it..."

Congratulations on your engagement, and I sincerely hope that you can plan a wedding that's perfect for the two of you. :)

Never That Easy said...

Congrats again on your engagement - I've noticed that sort of 'now that we're engaged we're open to public discourse about our choices' pressure in every wedding I've been involved in (at least a dozen, at this point). The weddings that were most successful - as in the bride and groom were HAPPY and EXCITED and not stressed to the point of wanting to call the whole thing off - were the ones where someone (usually the bride) got fed up enough to say "Screw this: we're doing what we want." So - do it your way, all the way. :)

I second the recommendation for I find a lot of their posts to be so out of the ordinary (as regards to wedding planning and living as a married couple), in such a good way. Also recommend OffBeatBride, which has a ton of non-traditional wedding ideas and examples.