Tonight we are having a couple of our new neighbors over for dinner, newlyweds. (I don't know if either of them ever read this blog, but I hope they aren't too horrified to discover they have become writing prompts. Welcome to my world. Dinner and everything else is strictly off the record.)
I love entertaining. I'm looking forward to this evening for all kinds of reasons: conversation, wine, an excuse to eat decadently. But there's more to it today. I feel like I am getting to welcome someone into the league of married people. Like anyone died and made me nuptial ambassador, I know. But still. That's how I feel. Like I might run out the door when they pull up and pelt them with rice (I won't).
I am excited for this couple in the way some parents might feel excited when friends announce a pregnancy. I barely know them, but I know they are creative, unconventional people, and I know from experience that when two creative, unconventional people board that most conventional of institutionsmarriage it makes for a hell of a ride.
Both times I got married, I was already living with my intended. Both times, I swore that marriage wouldn't change anything. I don't know who I thought I was kidding. Marriage changes EVERYTHING. I don't care how free-spirited you are, you cannot sign on to a culturally-sanctioned covenant as old as civilization, with the collective heft of history and society behind it, and not be altered by it. I can't, anyway.
This is why I don't think civil unions cut it as an ultimate substitute for, instead of a step toward, legal marriage for all consenting couples. It's not the same. Marriage is different. You go into marriage and you might come out again, but you come out as something other than what you were, legally, spiritually, substantively. You can't turn bread back into flour and water, and you can't turn married into anything that doesn't define itself against the word married.
I once attended a wedding where the couple had painstakingly written very elaborate vows outlining all the ways in which they would protect and respect each other's individuality. I had been married long enough to be very, very amused, though I was sad for them when it didn't work out. I wrote our vows (or assembled them from various traditions) when Patrick and I got married, and they were also quite elaborate for two people who claimed to be doing it mainly for the benefit of the INS at the time.
I don't think I've referred back to them since, although I've threatened to, in times of sickness and poorer, hoping that I might have left those parts out. But I'd probably be chagrined to see how many of those high-minded promises we've broken over the years.
It's been a hell of a ride.
A friend of mine who teaches relationship workshops says that there is as much a need for stories about real marriage as there is a need for soup kitchens for people who are hungry. I agree. I think too many couples are fed a bland and watery gruel of happily ever after. I mean, congratulations to all the people who stayed married for forty years and never knew a cross word between them, but that doesn't help ME. I would much rather be seated across from the couple who divorced and remarried each other twice in those forty years and still know days where another anniversary seems dubious.
I don't have real wedding silver to shine up for dinner. Ours was not that kind of wedding. Our guests were a ragtag band of gypsies from the bar where I worked at the time, and our families aren't the silver-bestowing kind. But I'd like to think if we had, the pieces would look well-used by now: tiny scratches, a dent here and there from being dropped on occasion (or flung), perhaps a missing piece we've learned to do without. It would bear the mark of wear and tear, the patina of something precious, durable and worn.