Since I graduated from high school and left the Midwest, I dread checking my mailbox. It seems it is always stuffed with ivory vellum letterpress invitations, powder blue engraved save-the-date cards, reception notes done up with hand calligraphy, carefully drawn maps, RSVP slips on cardstock. Everyone has gotten married and I have shelled out hundreds of dollars on gifts and travel expenses to help celebrate my friends’ special days, all the while knowing that (though this isn’t the point, though it is against my good-little-Midwestern-girl nature to think this) none of it would come back my way. Since gay marriage isn’t legal, I never planned to wed, which meant no fancy stationery, no gift registry, no hordes of friends both pleased and envious to cheer me on.
I have been critical of weddings for the last ten years. While I’m supportive of my friends’ marriages, and I can’t seem to help but cry at their ceremonies, I speak out against weddings often. Growing up, it seemed I was always a flower girl. My mother’s four younger brothers were marrying throughout my childhood. By the time I reached adolescence, half those marriages and my faith in the institution had ended. Though I was raised by parents who married young—high school sweethearts for whom divorce never entered the discussion—I have always been suspicious of the idea of walking down an aisle wearing a veil, my father handing me over to another man I’d vow to obey, another man who would run my life, tell me not to stay out late or forbid me to cut my hair. Of course part of the reason I resisted this idea, even in my youth, was because of my latent homosexuality. Once I was in college, out and proud, marriage, like monogamy, seemed one more of those things that just didn’t fit into what I expected to be my “gay lifestyle.”
It is not uncommon to view promiscuity as a virtue when you’re young, but even when I was trying desperately to be a wild lesbian bachelor, I knew that I was really just not wired that way. Still, I maintained a firm grip on that ideal, abhorring marriage, promising myself I’d never change my name and allow my identity to be subsumed into another’s. I was young, I was free, I had my own plans and I didn’t want some other person to show up and get in my way. But there was, of course, another reason marriage wasn’t attractive to me; unless I live in Massachusetts (which requires proof of residency to marry), it’s not legal for me to wed. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for anyone to feel wary of a wedding, but how could I help but be suspicious of something that was denied me? I don’t care if I can’t have it; I don’t want it anyway!
Even the unspoken blessings some couples receive implicitly makes me cringe. The way some types of couples are lauded and others ignored. I remember one moment this summer, sitting around in the living room with my parents, my brother and his fiancée. Dad was playing DJ, tracking his history with my mother through songs. He played songs from their wedding—“Evergreen” and “Candle On the Water”—then Brother started popping in CDs.
“This is the song I played on our second date, six years ago,” he said softly.
“That was when he told me he was falling in love with me!” FSIL finished the sentence. We all sat quietly listening to Mazzy Star croon “Fade Into You” as each couple snuggled on the couch. Two weeks ago, I had cried my eyes out in a tent in the woods of Michigan, soft folk music strumming on a stage a hundred yards away as I told my new girlfriend Luckdragon I was falling in love with her after knowing her for a week.
“Can I play a song next?” I asked.
“Oh, Valerie, we don’t want to hear your lesbian music,” my mother laughed, standing up to refill the pitcher of lemonade as Colin popped another CD into the stereo.
Though I have recently fallen head over heels in love, I do reject the notion that still seems prevalent that marriage is an accomplishment to tick off. If I am to be successful, it will be on my own merits, not because I managed to snag a spouse. It is difficult for me to maintain that conviction, however, as I have watched my friends wed, and each birthday since I turned 20, my grandmother has called me up and reminded me that every woman in my family either marries by the time they’re 20, or remains a spinster forever.
It is for this reason that I have found myself obsessed with and repelled by the spectacle of my friends’ weddings. When my best friend (and Maid of Honor) got married two years ago, I never thought she would succumb. She had been just as critical as me about weddings, but when I showed up the day before the ceremony to don the coral bridesmaid dress and stand by her side as she married a man I adored and knew to be perfect for her, I discovered another demon. Now, I imagine it is hard to plan a wedding in six weeks, with a mother-in-law on her deathbed, ordering you around and your future husband saying, “Please, honey, just this once, it’s her dying wish!” Well, the woman had so many dying wishes it’s a wonder my friend didn’t pull the plug, move the date and do everything her own way. All this is to say that I understood what had driven her to this frazzled, maniacal state; she had extenuating circumstances. And in the end, her ceremony was disgustingly perfect. As she and her new husband left the church, now lawfully wed, the sun was setting and the rosy-peach clouds looked exactly like the puffs of tulle the bridesmaids were wearing.
Six months later, as she showed me her wedding photos, I couldn’t help but feel jealous. Even though I hated the idea of getting married, even though I was so happy for my friend, I felt left out. This was more than just “always a bridesmaid…”—I’d only been a bridesmaid once. Even my reticence toward the institution was beside the point; it just wasn’t fair. I felt like I was looking at pictures of all the fun my friends had at the club I wasn’t allowed to join.
To be continued...