On getting married: the great and the ugly

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First things first: I have been shamelessly neglecting the girl without borders blog lately. I’ve missed the unstructured writing and pure freedom of expression enormously, I really have. But as if getting through the end of a two year, two-sited Master of Science program with some sort of cohesive thesis about undocumented migration wasn’t enough, my partner of five years proposed to me last month! In the world’s most romantic gesture, he decided that timing was shite and we’re totally student-style broke but it’s about time we celebrate this wonderful thing we have! And I couldn’t agree more. It took me completely by surprise – which, five years into living with the same man is a good sign that he continues to thrill me, I’d say – but it has been a great joy.

I never grew up thinking I wanted to get married, have a wedding day or be somebody’s wife. Practically everyone’s parents around me were either divorced or living through horribly unhappy marriages. I was a child of divorce and grew up with some pretty traumatizing step-people on both sides. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting the chance of ending up in that situation. Weddings are impractical and expensive, not to mention energy-consuming. The whole thing seemed like kind of too much of a big deal and, frankly, living together with someone for whatever reason is quite enough of a commitment.  I still feel that way about the latter. But what I realized in my early 20s is that breaking up a “cohabitation” situation is about as painful as any divorce. And, with that, the fear of separation disappeared. The only way to avoid it was to never let anyone in. And that didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.

And yet I just couldn’t see myself wanting to be someone’s wife. Why would anyone want that? As some kind of life-goal, that is. I never understood it and I still don’t. But along came this guy. This man who not only understands and supports my choices in life, but has always managed to grow with me. He makes me laugh and he challenges me all the time. We’ve seen the world together and put our relationship through many tests of distance and time, always coming out stronger and closer. I trust him with my life and my heart and I can’t imagine ever wanting to go through life without professing that in front of the people we love. Formalizing our “family” status, as I have experienced it over these last five years. We both live away from our relatives and have often been each other’s everything on many occasions. He taught me that I could be entirely me and still be loved. How would I not want to marry this guy? In his lovely and warm way, he made sure I knew he felt the same way that I did about us and our future together.

And so he proposed. We decided some practical things about the wedding almost instantly: we’re getting married in Brazil with close friends and family, and we’re doing it right after New Year’s which works out perfectly because we already had Brazil travel plans around then and it’s summer in the southern hemisphere.  My aunt owns a beautiful events venue, where my sister works so that was also resolved fairly quickly. And then came all the other stuff. I started looking at dresses, he started looking at suits. We decided to make our invitations DIY style and things started to move fairly quickly from there. We have international guests so that put a little pressure on organizing things but other than that we have been doing the wedding stuff part-time seeing as both of us are graduating before European summer.

All in all, the responses to our engagement and wedding plans have been overwhelmingly positive. But they’ve been odd at the same time. The more outspokenly conservative members of both our families have appeared particularly excited that we’re finally stepping out of fornication-land and into a wholesome union. Weird, to say the least. This is a celebration of what we already have, people. Relax. But okay, institutions like “marriage” have meanings to people that extend far beyond my individual definition of it. So fair enough, I accept that we are pleasing people for whatever reasons that they agree with. On the other hand, however, I have dealt with a strange resistance from the, shall we say, more “politicized” wing of my family. No one has straight out told me anything too negative, but I did hear about how “surprising” it was that I, of all people, would want to embark on this traditional institution and live out some Disney princess fantasy in a white dress.

Now, hang the fuck on for a minute! I can appreciate that I am a feminist and that I never dreamed of having some idealized wedding day so maybe it’s a little unexpected that I would all of the sudden want to do this. But who said anything about traditional and princess-like? I come from a long line of feminists who think women can make their own choices, whatever those choices may be. If those choices happen to fall within the realm of normative, then that should be fucking fine because human beings don’t have to live their lives being billboards for a fucking cause. And yes, I am also a sociologist who can appreciate that maybe some of these “choices” ain’t all that open, and are more the product of socialization and internalization of expectations in most cases. That being said, we’re giving people this huge party and expecting them to take flights and buses and long drives to see us profess our loves for one another. Isn’t it, like, kind of okay that we want to dress up for the occasion and make it nice? I buy Easter napkins, for goodness’ sake and I’m an atheist who’s been to church maybe once in my entire life.

I was a little bummed out by this whole thing. I felt so misunderstood. I’m not some lady getting married to some fellow I barely know because that’s “the right thing to do” in life. I’m me, getting married to the silliest and loveliest man I’ve ever met five years after we’ve been together and solidly facing the world. So for anyone to insinuate that we are traditional or living out some fantasy is pretty fucking insulting. This was week one of our engagement. It took a lot of explaining but the skeptics got on board. They understood and things moved on from there. But the conflicts didn’t stop. Only now they were internal ones.

The wedding industry actually is a pretty conservative and gender-normative pile of crap. I have to admit that half of what I read makes me want to buy a dress at H&M and get married in Havaianas flip-flops with a beer in my hand. But then I remember my life need not be a statement and I breathe. For instance, I emailed a vintage wedding dresses store in Amsterdam. I told the owner I wanted to make an appointment but didn’t really know how things worked so I asked what to wear and whether I could bring my friends or fiancé – seeing as my family isn’t in this country and all. She replied that I could bring X many people, what to wear and then commented that I “can bring whoever, but fiancés don’t usually come with”. So all she was really telling me was that she didn’t think I should. Not that I couldn’t, but that I shouldn’t. That people don’t do that.

She wasn’t the only one either. A bridal outlet a few towns away actually states clearly that only women can be part of a bride’s entourage. Are these people fucking serious? In 2014? I’m very sure that our wedding is going to be super sweet and a legendary fucking blast because it’s ours and no one else’s, but is it absolutely imperative that it be associated with something so exclusionary? “Ladies only” means I couldn’t try on dresses with my father, for instance. Or that if I was transgender maybe I wouldn’t be welcome in the store at all! Having wedding norms explained to you by a stranger is so incredibly inappropriate too. And every single time that I come across one of these absurdities, it becomes a little easier for me to understand and forgive the well-meaning women in my family who questioned our choice to have a “wedding”. Not because they were right – at the risk of overstating this and sounding super cheesy, I really cannot wait to marry him – but because wedding planning has opened a door to the dark side of societal expectations regarding marriage.

A door that apparently leads me back to another century where I sure as hell do not want to be.

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7 comments
  1. Tessa said:

    People will always question you, no matter what… don’t listen to the silly people. It’s your wedding, your life, your choices! I still get comments about my black wedding dress, 3 years after it so… just remember to have fun. 😉

    • Thanks Tess! And for the record: you looked incredible in your black dress 😉 ❤

  2. Dani said:

    I was married in Brazil almost 10 years ago.

    It was lovely a lovely ceremony and has been an even lovelier marriage.

    I’m sure yours will be too.

    Congrats!

  3. So I have to say… Like you, I just got engaged after 5 years in a relationship and a lifetime of never wanting/thinking about getting married (let alone fantasizing about a wedding or a dress or any of the stuff that comes afterwards).

    The only difference is that I have been adamant about “waiting” to actually “get married,” mostly because I’m still kind of getting over/processing the shock of it all (and trying to re-conceptualize my notions of “marriage” and “wedding” to accommodate my personal feminist beliefs) but ALSO because I totally don’t want to get lost in the wedding planning craziness- nor the inevitable stress of dealing with both of our families.

    However, it is refreshing to hear that despite the stress and the not-so-radical wedding industry and our screwed up notions of marriage, you still “cannot wait.”

    I love that. I need to hear that- and be reminded that a wedding and a marriage does not have to look like or be like the images presented in those glossy wedding magazines, that getting married does not mean we automatically “sign up” for societies prescriptions of what being “married” means, that we can retain our independence, autonomy and feminist beliefs and values and still be “wives.”

    • Exactly! That’s so it. It’s a battle everyday for people to not misunderstand what you’re doing – I think that may be true in every aspect of our lives, really – but at the end of the day if you and your partner know why you want to be together and you have a relationship that you love and already feel good in, then marriage won’t change that! We may not need an official procedure to legitimate our unions, sure, but it’s hella romantic in this day and age, without being traditional to begin with, to still choose to do that! It’s a testament to love and romance that does give you a few more rights here and there in legal terms! With the right person, it’s not some dusty old notion of an oppressive institution. Enjoy this moment that you guys decided to celebrate life together and remember to breathe and laugh the absurdities off. Writing helps to cope too. 😉 Oh and congratulations on the engagement!

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