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On Getting Married, Part 2

November 16th, 2010 No comments

With all of that ranting about all of the commonplace, traditional aspects of a wedding that Tracy and I proudly said “no” to described in Part 1, it’s completely fair to ask what it is that we DID want our wedding to be all about.

To which I would say (assuming that question were ever asked of me), “I’m glad you asked!”, for it is what we created our wedding to be all about that I am most proud of all.

One of the things we asked ourselves as often as necessary while going through the wedding planning process is “why have a wedding at all?”  (This arises naturally when hassles of wedding planning come up, and the more cynical part of you demands to know why you didn’t opt to elope in the first place.)  “Because we have to” or “because people are expecting it” or the like are the answers to this question which will bring you deeper into the experience of the whole thing being a burden, so we were careful to create and keep present for ourselves a reason with a little more substance.

Why have a wedding at all?

The John-and-Tracy answer to this most valid question is as follows:

We live a really blessed life and there are a lot of people near and dear to us who have contributed massively to that blessed life.  Tracy and I both know for ourselves who we are for each other: even the most magnificently executed wedding day isn’t going to change or deepen that any further.  So the wedding would be less for us and more for them.  We created that our wedding would be a celebration and acknowledgment of those near and dear to us: the people who have guided, influenced, and shaped us into the kinds of people we are today who are proud become husband and wife to one another.  And THAT we couldn’t have gotten by eloping.  THAT is why have a wedding.

And that’s just what we got.  Though there were some that were missing, among our 55 guests in attendance there wasn’t a single person in that room that night that we weren’t delighted to have there, who didn’t have some special meaning to us.  We weren’t saddled with having people there that we didn’t really care for but felt we should have for some political reason or another, and I think that, as a general rule, when you have that high a percentage of beloveds in a single room you’re bound to have an amazing time.

Now then, with a clear understanding of why we should want to have a wedding for lots of guests, it only made sense that we be mindful of the substance of that wedding for which we’d have all those witnesses.  As I mentioned in part 1, a religious ceremony did not speak to us, so we didn’t do one.   Instead, working with our most excellent officiant Susie Grade we put together vows to one another that we could genuinely own as our own words, and opted to a Celtic traditional handfasting ceremony.

These two things moved Tracy and I (and I’m told, many others who were there) way more than a reading from Corinthians ever did.  Below you’ll find the complete words from the vows (I just about lost it at about line 7, by the way) and handfasting ceremony, but first and to wrap up I want to say a few things about the structure and significance of the hand fasting (that a cold reading of it probably won’t convey alone).

The hand fasting ceremony consists of a series of questions and answers asked of both the bride and groom, each in turn, which are quite similar in nature to the declarations in standard “in sickness and in health” vows we’ve heard a million times.  What I find completely awesome about them is the honest connection to reality that they betray.  For while the traditional vows are all declarations that essentially say “I promise to be perfect and never let you down even when times are rough” (which seems an unrealistically tall order when you consider divorce rates), the vows in this ceremony admit what for what is darn near inevitable over a span of decades spent in close proximity to another human being.

Let me show you what I mean.  Some of the questions are plainly positive in nature, for example: “Will you share his dreams?”  “Yes” the bride replies, right on cue.  “Will you share in her dreams?”  “Yes” then responds the groom, predictably enough.  But then later the groom gets “Will you cause her anger?”

Now here you might expect an answer like “No, never; baby, I would never do that!” (ok, perhaps a little more formal, but still a denial).

But that’s not how the script goes.

The line is “I may“.  And now the audience is truly paying attention.  “Is that your intent?” continues the officiant, “No” is what the groom confirms, and everyone in the audience who’s been married for a few years nods in approval and appreciation for the realism this ceremony [surprisingly] is imbued with.

I love everything about this ceremony.  It sets up marriage as a genuine committed journey, not an impossibly perfect ideal to be eventually fallen short of.  The full ceremony is listed below, feel free to steal and share it.  (Incidentally, this ceremony is the origin of the phrase “to tie the knot” as it pertains to marriage.  The first through sixth cords alluded to are cords of rope that are strung over the joined hands of bride and groom as the ceremony progresses.)

The Wedding Vows:

John,
I choose you to be my husband,
to join with you and to share in all that is to come,
to give and to receive,
to speak and to listen,
to inspire and to respond.
To gather wisdom from our shared experiences,
to discover the joy of loving more deeply
  as the years pass.
To build a life rich with laughter, love, and adventure
while bravely and enthusiastically facing our future.
I will be loyal to you with my whole being
as your Wife and best friend
as long as we both shall live.
Tracy,
I choose you to be my wife,
to join with you and to share in all that is to come,
to give and to receive,
to speak and to listen,
to inspire and to respond.
To gather wisdom from our shared experiences,
to discover the joy of loving more deeply
as the years pass.  
To build a life rich with laughter, love, and adventure
while bravely and enthusiastically facing our future.
I will be loyal to you with my whole being
as your Husband and best friend
as long as we both shall live.

The Celtic Handfasting Ritual:

Opening Words:
Know now before you go further, that since your lives have
crossed in this life you have formed ties between each other. As
you seek to enter this state of matrimony you should strive to
make real, the ideals which give meaning to both this ceremony
and the institution of marriage. With full awareness, know that
within this circle you are not only declaring your intent to be
handfasted before your friends and family, but you speak that
intent also to your God. The promises made today and the ties
that are bound here greatly strengthen your union; they will cross
the years and lives of each soul’s growth.

Do you still seek to enter this ceremony? Yes

Blessing: I bid you join your hands and look into each others eyes
and hear this blessing:

Blessed be this union of heart, mind, body and soul. May the
symbols of these cords which will soon drape across your wrists
also tie together your souls that you will love, cherish, and honor
one another to the end of your days.

Will you cause her pain? I May
Is that your intent? No

Will you cause him pain? I May
Is that your intent? No

Will you share each other’s pain and seek to ease it?  Yes
And so the binding is made. (1st cord)

Will you share his laughter?  Yes

Will you share her laughter? Yes

Will both of you look for the brightness in life and
the positive in each other? Yes
And so the binding is made. (2nd cord)

Will you burden him?  I May
Is that your intent?  No

Will you burden her?  I May
Is that your intent?  No

Will you share the burdens of each so that your
spirits may grow in this union?  Yes
And so the binding is made. (3rd cord)

Will you share his dreams?  Yes

Will you share her dreams?  Yes

Will you dream together to create new realities and
hopes?  Yes
And so the binding is made. (4th cord)

Will you cause her anger?  I May
Is that your intent?  No

Will you cause him anger?  I May
Is that your intent?  No

Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper
the strength of this union?  Yes
And so the binding is made. (5th cord)

Will you honor him?  Yes

Will you honor her?  Yes

Will you seek to never give cause to break that
honor? Please say, “We shall never do so” We shall never do so
And so the binding is made. (6th cord)

Tie (wrap) the cords around the hands while saying:

John and Tracy, remember that the knots of this binding are not
formed by these cords but instead by your vows.

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On Getting Married, Part 1

November 15th, 2010 No comments

I’m a married man!

And I’m delighted about the whole thing.  The future that I get to create and live out with my beloved the next seven decades or so is quite exciting, and I shall have much to share on the matter as time goes by.

But for now, speaking as a newly vetted participant in the whole “planning a wedding and getting married” thing, I have a few reflections to share on the matter.  Depending on your own marital status, what follows may either read as one man’s [highly abridged] guide to how to do it, or one man’s [vaguely entertaining] recounting of going through it.  In this part I want to discuss what strangely turned out to be a pivotal concept on our road to wedding day:

Defying expectations without dissing them.

The phrase “defying expectations” is usually used in, say, popular media, to connote things along the lines of “mystical”, “magical”, “delightfully surprising”: something that goes beyond the ordinary, predictable ho-hum.  In this case I use “defying” more in the spirit of a petulant child that doesn’t want to do as told, and “expectations” to refer to fast held notions of WHAT SHOULD BE.

I gather that, for a great many couples (Tracy & I included), the act of getting married/planning a wedding comes ready-made with strong sense of urgency to do things in accordance with a certain established way.  (Contrast this against the process being a blank canvas, with bride and groom having full freedom to do whatever is within their own style and self expression.)

No, by default a couple seldom has the luxury of that proverbial blank canvas upon which to create and plan their nuptials, but rather inherits a big ball of expectations that said nuptials should live up to.  It’s not surprising nor unreasonable that a feeling of pressure is there: it’s simply the sum total of various ideas and ideals that come from surrounding culture, friends, and family.  I mean, everyone knows a wedding is a big deal. And the bride and groom are generally in on it too: just by carrying a desire to have the wedding be pleasing and memorable for all involved, even the unspoken (or imagined and non-existent) expectations of others get added in.

So, when it came to Tracy and I (Tracy especially, from her experience as a wedding photographer), we realized that this sense of pressure would be there.  And we felt it.  And we occasionally got carried away or stressed by it until remembering that our wedding was in fact ours to create.  And we subsequently forgot that wisdom and went back to step one, and repeated as necessary.

Like everyone else, we really wanted to be sure we were planning our wedding to be the way we wanted it.  Perhaps less like everyone else, we were prepared and willing to say “no” to things that are highly anticipated or expected.  We were even excited to do so, to be so defiant and say to the world “we’re not gonna do X, Y or Z because everyone else does… this will be OURS!”.  It was the active resistance to doing any particular thing because it was simply expected of us: expectation without a matching desire on our part wasn’t sufficient.  Anytime we felt ourselves going through the motions of the “getting married” script and/or letting that script make our decisions for us, we came back to the question “How would John and Tracy get married?” and resumed thought from there.

It’s harder to do than it looks. :)  To be crystal clear: we didn’t even have any overzealous parents who were going zilla-style controlling on the situation.  Rather, all three were the epitome of being laid back, hands off, and keen to root us on.  Like I said before, the weight of it comes from the sum many [even humble] opinions and ideals.

But we got through to the blessed day and stayed reasonably true to our intentions, and the result was darn good.  I of course cannot be trusted to not be biased, but I will put in nonetheless that it was the best wedding I’ve ever been to.

So what did we say “no” to during our crusade for wedding individuality, and how did it fare?  Here’s the list of things that are super common in American weddings, about which were greeted by at least some form of suspicion by our non-adherence:

  • Save the Dates and RSVPs. Our save the date notice went out as an email notice leading our people to a website where we hit them up for their mailing address (electronically).  We still sent the RSVP by conventional mail, but it sure was nice to have the replies come back via the internet.  The site for both was pretty spiffy, too.
  • Bride’s maids and groom’s men. Just a Maid of Honor and a Best Man filled out our wedding party.  For my sake with groom’s men, I love my brothers and there are a few other friends who would’ve fit the bill, but I preferred to kept it simple.  Tracy’s been a bride’s maid 3 times already and is clear she did her friends a huge favor by not subjecting them to the cost and rigmarole.
  • Bachelor party. It’s supposed to be just the groom with his dude friends, I’m told, but I was quite content to have some of my near and dear girl friends be there to celebrate the occasion.  I had no interest in going to a strip club anyway.
  • Diamond ring. Tracy and I are both underwhelmed by diamond craze and think it’s only by a massive marketing campaign that rock size is somehow indicative of how much we love each other.  Nothing against anyone who chose and loves their diamonds, went simply opted for topaz instead.
  • Groom in a tuxedo. A rental would only fit so well, and a purchase would just collect dust afterward. It’s just not my style.  A three-piece suit, however, is.  Not only that, but it’s a fine piece of formal wear that I shall enjoy to wear out again.
  • Bride’s bouquet. We wanted to chuck the whole thing, but were ruled by reason that it’s an important ornament/something to do with the hands for the bride, during ceremony and pictures.  Jury’s still out on how grateful we are for caving on that one: Tracy couldn’t get rid of it fast enough and who can really say if it would have been all that awkward without it?
  • Religious ceremony. It turns out a Celtic knot tying ceremony spoke to us more genuinely than any particular religious doctrine on the subject of marriage, so that’s what we went with.  (My sister had the best reaction when I told her in advance of this: “So is that like, your religion now?” as if I’d just turned 2 shades weirder on her.)
  • Specially colored slip covers for the ceremony chairs. We were thinking it a superfluous detail that would only last about 30 minutes, but we did back down from our “no” on this one.  I will admit, they looked pretty darn good in a way that white or black wouldn’t have.
  • Elaborate decoration. We got by with adding very minimal decorations to the space in which we were married and had our reception, the space as it came needed so little else to have the ambiance we were looking for.  We even passed on having some sort of height-building elements (floral or otherwise) to demarcate our “alter” for the ceremony: we figured the 3 of us standing front and center would make it a focal point enough.
  • Sit-down dinner. We opted instead for heavy passed appetizers, spiffy spreads of various foods, a whipped potato martini bar, and carving station.
  • 10-top round tables for the reception. In our experience, people only talk with their dates and those seated to the left and the right under that setup.  We wanted more intermingling among our peeps, and so opted for a scattered assortment of high tops and 4-tops, all unreserved.  Worked great for coming and going with our alternative catering option.
  • Wedding cake. In our experience it’s overpriced, generally not as great as it’s cracked up to be, and three’s usually a ton left over and thrown away.  So we skipped entirely.  Instead we had a gelato cart with four fab flavors to choose from.

To be clear, I’m not saying that anything we did was revolutionary: a lot of these variations on the theme have either been around a long time or are coming more and more into vogue.  But every item on that list was a point of contention, met with some sort of surprise, misgivings, distaste or reservation by at least one person who is important to us.  It is these things that we stood for, the things that needed to be stood for because they don’t garnish immediate universal acceptance, which made our wedding ours.  Simply put, with no disrespect to the standard formula of weddings (ok, except perhaps wedding cake: I blasted that pretty hard) we sought to have ours a different way.  And from my vantage point, it totally worked.

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