When I was a kid, I didn’t dream of being President or being rich and living in a mansion. At 5, I wanted to live in a shack in my grandma’s backyard, and I wanted to bake donuts at Safeway. (Mind you, I’d never baked anything in my life. I think I just liked the free cookies and thought their cakes were beautiful.)
I grew up. My tastes changed, but not by much. When I was 15, I wanted to be an artist and move to some exciting-sounding city, like New York, Seattle, or San Francisco. By 17, I wanted to be a professional street performer and/or run away and join the circus.
I wanted to travel around in a van and hitch rides and sleep in a pup tent in fields with my lover— because there was always someone else there, in the dreams. I wanted a forever-love and had the suspicion that he or she was out there: my partner in crime, my patient companion. I always wanted them.
But I never wanted to get married. I wanted us to wake up every morning and choose each other all over again. I wanted our love to be a constantly evolving decision and not a given.
All this to say, I never saw myself getting married. The “big white wedding” that we say all little girls dream about, it never even occurred to me. I want a life more wild, and that life sounded tame.
And yet, I’ve decided to get married, so now I’m trying to figure out what that means to me. No one ever tells you that saying yes to a proposal might come with some hard thinking. I wish I had more examples of wild marriages. Images of future domesticity and pleasant tameness horrify and frustrate me, and I’m not sure if that’s youthful naivete or just an indelible part of my personality.
This picture sums it up pretty well, I think. I have perpetually chipped nail polish, burns on my hands from work, and tattoos. And a beautiful diamond ring that’s a little too big for me. “Too big” strikes me as poignant.
So when people start talking about designer shoes, invitations on special paper, and centerpieces, I get a little freaked out. It’s not that I’m ungrateful— please don’t mistake it for that. I’m just afraid of uncritically going with the current. I want to know why and for what purpose?
I want to know, does marriage oppress women? If my father “gives me away,” does that imply that I am an object for men and not a sovereign person? Do I need to make sure that my vows don’t say that I will “love, honor, and obey?” Why does the woman wear an engagement ring but not the man? Does this mark me as property? I’m not property. Do I keep my last name or take his, and what does each option mean to me?
There are so many layers to these things. I can’t ignore the cultural and historical whys. I am trying to figure out what to keep and what to discard: what traditions are good and where we should create and substitute our own.
So if you see me on the street and I get a little cagey when you talk about the wedding, please know that it’s not you, it’s me. And it’s not that I don’t love my partner dearly, it’s that I’m working through my thoughts on the whole institution of marriage, and why we do it, and what it means.
I have the creeping suspicion that marriage isn’t too small, so much as my current perception is too small to contain it.