December 13, 2010
About a month ago, I got married. It was the best day of my life.
Before the wedding I got into a habit of occasionally watching Bridezillas. Yes, I admit it. I’d heard of it before and my curiosity got the best of me while flipping channels. That show is brilliant marketing— once it’s on, you can’t turn away from it. It’s like watching a car crash, you want badly to not see it, but you just can’t turn away.
Bridezillas is one of a new type of TV program that shows the worst of American culture, and it does it very matter-of-factly, especially considering that they’re chronicling what should be one of the happiest days in the lives of the folks on it.
Since my wedding day, life has been a delightful whirlwind of activity. It’s given me a lot to think about, especially about marriage. But to say exactly what I want to, I need to relay some of the events of the past month.
The day of the marriage itself is mostly a blur, but I have some shimmering images frozen in place in my mind. I remember very clearly the first glimpse of my bride as she came out of the little room at the back of the church and I remember her walking down the aisle. I remember our quiet moment behind the altar during the Ave Maria and I remember our first dance. I think we were both hovering and spinning two feet off the floor.
It turned out perfectly, but we didn’t plan it that way. The best piece of advice we got was from our photographer. He told us that weddings are this crazy thing that end up having a life of their own. He said it wouldn’t be exactly what we thought it would be, but that it would be better. That stuck with us both I think, and helped us to let things be as they were going to be. The wedding would be over in only a matter of hours. So we focused on the important parts - that we were going to be married for the rest of our lives, and that our family and friends were there to celebrate with us.
We chose St. Lucia for our honeymoon, a charming little ex-British isle with winding mountain roads, huge palm trees, dazzling blue water, and a very hospitable culture.
We left for Dulles airport at 3AM on Monday to catch our 6AM flight to Miami. By the time we got to St. Lucia we were pretty exhausted, but not too exhausted to people watch. The customs line at the airport was a perfect place for people watching. The entire line, probably 200 people, was pairs of newlyweds celebrating their marriage.
At least, we think they were “celebrating” their marriage. We were still giddy from the experience of getting married two days ago despite two flights (I’m not fond of flying) and not much sleep. A lot of the couples looked either bored or annoyed. They had twice as many bags as they needed, mostly pulled by the men. The women meanwhile all had fake manicures and shirts with “Bride” written in rhinestones. We even saw a few “Groom” shirts. No joke. I don’t think they used rhinestones though.
It felt.. well, fake. Commercialized. They didn’t look happy to be married, they looked bored now that the wedding was over. We started playing a sort of sad game: trying to pick out the couples that would get divorced and how long it would be. We figured the more downtrodden the guy, the brighter the pink “Juicy” pants of the girl, or the more obvious the rhinestone “BRIDE” flashing at everyone, the more likely the divorce.
Once we got past the customs line, the next few days were fantastic. We explored St. Lucia, read books on the beach, took a day trip to Martinique, went ziplining, and relaxed together. Saturday the weather took a turn for the worse when Tropical Storm Tomas paid us a visit. The forecast suggested it would be gone by Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t. Instead the storm sat off our west coast and intensified into a hurricane.
Hurricane Tomas finally fled early Sunday morning, but it had left its mark. The island was without power or water, bridges were washed out, and both airports were closed. We were on the north end of the island and fared much better than the south. Still, there was noticeable damage, and we both felt uncomfortable sitting in our resort when we could be helping. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to do much and the staff continued to serve the guests very efficiently. Within a day, you’d think nothing had happened in our little corner of the island. But the airports were still closed and some people were starting to complain.
Funny thing was, the only people really complaining were the American honeymooners. The Brits and Canadians didn’t complain at all, they just relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Even the staff, mostly without power at their homes, kept pouring drinks with a smile.
We were fortunate in that we didn’t have to leave until Wednesday, but we still didn’t get off the island until Thursday, and it was a bit tricky. The main airport wasn’t accessible and no planes were coming in. We got ahold of American Airlines (after a bit of work) and they rerouted us from the small airport through Puerto Rico and finally back to BWI. The caveat was that each flight had only one seat. So my wife flew off the island at 10:30 and I flew off at 12:30 and we rendezvoused in San Juan.
When I say this airport was small, I mean tiny. It was one runway and the 50 passenger prop plane we flew out on was the biggest plane there. The ticket desks had lines out into the parking lot as they were still trying to catch up everyone that hadn’t left from the storm. Our boarding passes were slips of paper with the flight number written in pen.
Once again, the Americans were obvious. The girls (forgive me) were prissy, acting out, crying, and the guys just didn’t know what to do with it. Not once did they either comfort or call their wives out on their behavior. Instead they just acted out in their own way. The Brits, French, and Canadians meanwhile were calm and reading their books.
We, I’m somewhat proud to say, considered it an adventure. I won’t say it wasn’t stressful, because it was, especially the bit about flying separately. Leaving your new wife is not something you want to do on a honeymoon. But we did it, and it worked out just fine.
The most frustrating part of leaving my wife was when we found out on the flight that the only reason we each only had one seat was because a bunch of people double and triple booked seats on every flight in their panic to get home. We heard stories of 3, 4 and 5 hop flights to get through the islands, huge cell phone bills, rental cars and 5 hour car trips from airports— all to get back to the states. The Americans just didn’t know what to do in such a different situation.
After the whole mess, we finally took a taxi home from BWI and got to our doorstep at 2:30AM, tired but still excited to be home and starting our lives together.
I went through all of that to say a few things, with a whopping month of experience behind me, about what marriage is and is not.
First, getting married is a humbling experience. If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. Brides and grooms: contrary to the huge blast of marketing we all get from the corporate machine surrounding weddings today, it is NOT your day. Weddings have a mind of their own and, like everyone else, you’re along for the ride. Weddings are a celebration of your love with those closest to you. It’s best experienced if you have the chance to stay humble each step of the way. For us, each gift we opened and every face we saw that day was a reminder of our great good fortune. Because it was humbling, it was hard to be anything but thankful and happy.
This was why we kept laughing at all the women with BRIDE shirts on our honeymoon. It was a sign that they thought the whole experience was theirs. They owned it, it was their day, and everyone should know it. Not unlike what we see on Bridezillas, just more socially acceptable. Kinda.
The commercial wedding machine has another effect. Most people look forward to the wedding more than the marriage. It’s all about the big day. But it’s important to remember that the purpose of the wedding is marriage. The day is just a day, and it will end quickly.
All those BRIDE shirts and fake manicures had bored faces above them, because the wedding day was over. They were trying to cling to that day rather than embrace the fact that they were married. In their minds, I really think they went from “beautiful bride” to “old married maid” in one day. That’s what our culture has shown them.
Every day after the wedding day is more important than the wedding day itself. A marriage is a lifetime and it is wonderful. We should all be lucky enough to prepare for it through a wedding.
I don’t mean by this that people shouldn’t do it up on their wedding day. They should. We certainly did. One of the things I was so pleased about was how authentic our wedding felt. Perhaps I’m biased, but there were no pretensions— it felt like “us”.. like Maureen and Greg. Weddings are about celebrating, not about appearing beautiful, rich or better than anyone else.
That last point is important, and one we saw echoed on the honeymoon. The top two reasons for divorce in our country are infidelity and financial problems. So live within your means, and start that on your wedding day.
It seems common today for weddings to go as big as possible, with the bride and groom getting enormous party limos, insane catering, destination weddings, even multiple dresses for the bride. When the hurricane hit on our honeymoon, a bunch of couples were making expensive phone calls home to their parents to get their credit extended, or to get cash advances. It seemed like none of them could really afford their honeymoon.
Again, none of these things is wrong by itself. Rather they are warning signs. Why is $2,000 in flowers needed, especially if it’s not in the budget? Same question for the honeymoon. If you’re fortunate enough to have a wedding with all the trappings, be humble. But if you can’t see yourself deliriously happy getting married cheaply in a very simple ceremony and driving in a thirty year old Pinto to the local beach for a one night honeymoon, I wonder what it is you’re celebrating. Is it a wedding or a “look at me!” photoshoot?
All of this leads me to one last point. When I was trying to understand the decision in front of me to marry Maureen and whether it was the right choice or not, I of course talked it over with some of my closest friends. My friend Dominic had a particularly memorable answer. Dom is older and established, he has a lovely wife and three children. So I asked him when he knew that his wife was the one for him. He said, “You know Greg, I remember one fine Sunday morning a few years ago. The whole family had just gotten back from church and my wife was in the kitchen making breakfast for the kids and I was putting some plates out. I saw her smiling as she worked and I thought ‘Wow. I really picked the right one.‘”
I was flabbergasted at first. How could you not know she was the one for you until years after your wedding? Then I realized his main point: love is a DECISION.
That’s the rub. There was a certain unadaptability in many of the couples we saw and were scared for. They didn’t want to change. They weren’t willing to say- yes! I share my life with this person, we’re completely together. It takes a lot of effort to see something from the other person’s perspective, to be willing to recognize that your life is so wound up in this other person’s that you are inseparable. But that’s what marriage actually is: choosing to love and live together, as one.
Like the perfect wedding that so many people seem to want, the perfect person, the perfect spouse, the soulmate, all of these ideas aren’t real. It won’t turn out like you expect— and if you expect the perfect spouse, the other person can never live up to your expectations. But the truth is better than that.
Love is a decision, and that’s how you live happily-ever-after.