I used to wonder if I would be invited to any weddings, but then I turned 27. The average age of marriage in America. Seven weddings, five bachelorettes, one year. It’s enough to drive anyone to the brink.
Wedding number six: Milan.
Night one: An open cocktail bar in the heart of downtown Milan. Outside, tram tracks crisscross the cobblestone streets. It’s raining softly. Street lamps light up the rain and the wet cobblestones, making the street scene look like stained-glass.
Guests fill every corner of the bar. I elbow my way to the counter and order a Campari spritz. The harried bartender gives me an Aperol spritz instead. Drink in hand, I turn my back to the bar and survey the crowd. Clusters of conversations buzz around me. Not unlike a small child who can’t find their parent in a supermarket, I look hopefully around. I make eye contact with a man in his 50s. Like the bride’s father, he’s Scandinavian, he tells me, but lives in Paris. He tells me how the bride’s parents love cars. They bring their cars to Paris every year from New York to drive with him. “Oh?” I say.
“Cars are more than machines,” he says. “They’re like a philosophy that allows you to connect with the road.” I smile and nod. “At least that’s how I see it,” he says. I let the topic slide as we move on to how the far right is becoming a growing threat in Europe and around the world. I order a Negroni and move on to another conversation.
Day 2: The wedding is a civil service in a “marriage room” in the famous the Duomo piazza. The wedding guests gather outside the marriage room. The non-Italians guests glance nervously at each other, not sure of the protocol. Finally, family members wave us into the room and we park ourselves against the tapestried walls. Then the wedding party walks through the crowd and the service begins. I feel like I’m looking through keyholes as I find spaces between guests’ heads to see what is happening at the front of the room. An Italian official reads out the vows, which are punctuated infrequently by a translation. The bride and groom sign, they kiss. They’re married! They walk out of the room and we shower them with petals. Next stop is the cocktails, then dinner, then toasts, and dancing.
Not all weddings are like this. I went to one on an island in a golf course in Vail, with dramatic mountains and the setting sun as the backdrop, a Jewish one where the Chabad rabbi kept mentioning how the groom, a “nice Jewish boy,” would take care of the bride, until she yelled out mid-service, “and I’ll take care of him too!” I went to a sober Christian wedding and one with Arabic dancing and a pregnant bride. I went to one in a backyard where Korean moms in traditional dress danced non-stop to Gangnam Style. Really, it runs the gamut.
I’ve spent 7 weekends of my year at weddings, 5 weekends at bachelorettes. That’s 12 weekends devoted solely to a personal decision a friend happens to be making. For each weekend I arrange plane tickets, train tickets, rented cars, hotels, nearly all for places I’ve never been. That’s a quarter of my weekends based around someone else’s schedule.
But is it worth it? I get it, my friends are getting married. They’ve decided to spend the rest of their life with someone. But most of the time, they were already spending their life with this person. This person was already their partner and would likely continue to be so whether they decided to sign this piece of paper or not. I loved my friends before they got married and will continue to do so. I’m not quite sure why I need to celebrate this decision that really, quite frankly, has nothing to do with me.
In the 1700s, marriage celebrations occurred so that families could meet each other. Inviting family to witness a marriage solidified it and put societal pressure on the couple to stay together. But that was before couples exclusively married for love. Now, couples marry for love. They know each other, typically for years, their families and friends meet long before any wedding. They don’t need societal pressure to stay together- they have chosen each other, and decided together, that they’d like to spend the rest of their lives together. Again, it has nothing to do with me.
Along with all the time and money and stress spent planning trips for someone else’s occasion, more often than not, weddings make me feel less than. I have a career I’m proud of, I take part in activities that enrich me. I’m quite comfortable with myself and my life. I’m proud of what I am accomplishing, and I hold great hope in accomplishing more. Yet weddings make me, and the life I’ve created, feel worthless. The verse read at most marriage ceremonies is a verse from the Old Testament, where God creates Eve out of Adam’s rib. From the start, Eve was made to be a companion to Adam. She was not made to be her own person. People may say that there’s more to that verse than meets the eye, but as an audience member, this is what I hear. The verse strips women of their agency. It says to women, who wake up each day and make their own decisions and lead their own lives that, “no- you were placed here to be a companion.” Further, as I’ve learned from the weddings I’ve attended, the overarching Judeo-Christian belief is that God brings partners together as soulmates, people who fit each other like puzzle pieces. “When your spouse burns the toast and hasn’t done the laundry,” one pastor said at a service, “you can just say to yourself, ‘well, this is what God made for me.’” God molded and formed us at birth to be one particular person’s companion. As someone who cultivates my own life, I don’t want to be told that I am put on this earth to compliment someone else. I want to believe that I am whole, all on my own. I am not dependent on my partner to complete me.
My friends’ marriages have nothing to do with me, they make me feel like shit, and, lastly, what are we actually celebrating? When I ask my friends how married life is, they laugh and say, “the same!” In today’s era, nothing changes couples get married. Everyone experiences major life events. Buying homes, getting promotions, graduating school. All these events are pivotal ones that start a new chapter, but we don’t celebrate them the way we celebrate marriage. So, again, I ask myself, “What’s the celebration for?” Am I merely celebrating that society has given them an “ok” to have kids? That now they pay less taxes? That now they have fancier cutlery and dishes than I do?
Perhaps this sounds bitter, and it quite well may be. I have shelled out money and vacation days, and spent energy figuring out stressful logistics to celebrate this not-very-tangible change in people’s lives which has nothing to do with me. I’ve gone dress shopping, to dress fittings, I’ve ordered specific gowns, bought specific shoes, I show up early to sit in a hall, make polite conversation, and listen to a service about how I am not here on this earth to be my own person. Perhaps I am bitter that although I have accomplished things, and hope to accomplish more, I don’t throw parties to celebrate my successes where my loved ones shout my praises. Today, when more than 50% of women aren’t married and when women have a host of other accomplishments under their belt and are able to gain new footholds in the world with each decade, why are we celebrating a decision two adults make between themselves?
I am happy my friends are happy. I love my friends dearly. When they ask me to show up, I will show up in full form and dance the night away. I am happy for them regardless if it’s for a promotion, or a new child, buying a house, or running a marathon, or getting married. But why do I need to celebrate a marriage as if the bride and groom had discovered the cure for cancer? With the amount of time and energy and money put into each wedding, I feel like something more in their lives should have happened. I’m not saying marriage isn’t a big deal, but – oh, I guess I am. What if we diminished the hoop-la around weddings and increased the hoop-la about other achievements? Let’s celebrate publishing books, running 5Ks, becoming heads of departments, finishing a painting, or, just life. At the very least, let’s get rid of statements at the pulpit that diminish someone’s wholeness. I know my friends don’t believe that they are not complete without a man, so why should they have a service that espouses that? And if my friends do believe it, I ask that they give me a heads-up, so I know to skip the wedding.