The definition of marriage has changed substantially over the course of human history. From the utilitarian transference of ownership to the euphoric sense of romantic bliss to the modern conference of contractual structure to whatever crap is being fed to you by the anti-equality set, and that’s the overly simplified version.
It could be said that in the last 150 years or so, particularly in the modern United States society of ever increasingly industrialized and secular homogenization the definition of marriage has been redefined moreso than at any other point in the history of the world. We no longer even recognize our own historical interpretations both in defense of, or in replacement of, them to a more equal culture.
The implications go well beyond those who say “I do” as it impacts at the most simplistic level what our youth of today expect to gain from marriage, what they will put in, what they will expect from their partner to put in, what they will accept from their partners and what their partners will accept from them and how their combined efforts will be understood, accepted and supported by their families, friends and the greater idea of society as a whole. It is a much more complex maze than perhaps at any other point in history because of the connotative dissonance that can exist in the internet age along with the most diverse melting pot of cultural differences ever parsed upon one another.
In that sense, it is amazing that any two people would ever undergo the cultural plight that is marriage and yet, here I am nearly a month into such a personal battle feeling as if I am winning it with the partner that will fight with me the entire time.
So, what does feel different about, well, everything now that I’ve said, “I do.”
Honestly, nothing at this point.
But, I believe that is a function of the success of our engagement and moreso to that of our relationship as a whole.
Long ago, I was given a piece of advice. At the time it seemed fairly simple. It’s proven anything but that, however, I do believe it is defining to any relationship taking that step into marriage: “Plan a marriage not a wedding. A marriage is between you and your partner and last your lives. A wedding is the festivity that your family and friends celebrate your marriage.”
Too often couples are so busy planning the wedding for their friends and family they forget the importance of their own relationship in it. They are so focused on the details of reception, her dress, the food, the theme that they forgo the planning of the ceremony which is actually the more important part of the day and completely ignore the ‘happily ever after’ part which requires all kinds of groundwork to be even remotely a reality.
We began our engagement talking about the ceremony and when all was said and done we’d spent so much time talking about our future together the bond that created between us was undeniable. It actually made writing the ceremony and planning the reception that much easier.
Did we throw a kick ass party for our friends and family?
Oh, hell yes we did.
But, we also left them all in tears after the ceremony because of how thoughfully it was crafted. Granted, we are Unitarian Universalist which allows us a great deal of freedom in piecing together the ceremony but even beyond the non-traditional way we expressed our love to one another in front of our friends and family was the time, effort and energy we put into the process which is what stood out so clearly and tugged at people’s heartstrings so strongly. The reason our ceremony was so emotional for everyone was because we spend a year and half talking about our wants, our needs, our expectations and our desires and how we wanted to be as a family celebrating good times, consoling in bad and generally supporting one another. We discovered the deepest places of one another, our vulnerabilities and strengths, our fears and happiness, our struggles and specialties in the process of integrating our lives and our families to one another long before we stood together to take an oath to one another.
So, in that sense, nothing changed after saying, “I do” because the process of getting there we’d already done it many times over.
That isn’t to say the “I do” was routine. It was anything but, for in that moment it felt overwhelming and wonderful. But it didn’t change who we are as individuals or as a couple in some profound and epic sort of way. It didn’t magically make us more in love or spring forth new desires toward one another or erase any of our faults, quirks or bad habits.
Our civil bond already existed before our wedding took place as we’d become Domestic Partners. That legal contract comes many (but not all) of the responsibilities and rights in the eyes of the law that many people associate with marriage, so having that experience took a lot of the pressure off of how the wedding was going to be a turning point.
We lived together before the wedding too. There were no surprises about living together and dealing with ‘roommate’ issues that come with moving in together for the first time. It provided us with a more intimate understanding of one another and vaulted some of the conversation from the more superficial ‘how to combine households’ and chores and responsibilities to the more deeper how do we integrate families and what do we truly desire of one another.
Our relationship takes work and we defined that as a core tenant early on as well. On a regular basis we sit down as a couple and undergo what we affectionately call a SOTU, or State of the Union. It’s like a date only instead of being about a “romantic” agenda it’s about the rest of life. We do it on neutral territory, so outside of the house, when time is not an issue. We both come independently prepared with a list of topics. Sometimes they are concerns or grievances, sometimes they are positive reinforcement and support, but they are never overtly negative or accusatory toward the other person. We express ourselves freely, sometimes quite animated and emotional, but with the expectation that we aren’t being judged and any negative emotions are left on the table and not taken with us at the end of the conversation. It isn’t an exercise in solving problems, it is one in the basics of communication. We do date nights, therapy & counseling, religious services and meditation among other things to strengthen our relationship too, but it’s the SOTU that is the cornerstone we set that’s uniquely our own.
Through all of this leading up to the wedding, weren’t hung up on the little things which freed us up to step back and put effort into the bigger ones. Exploring the philosophical rather than becoming mired in the daily details was freeing and although we’re only a month into our marriage I feel we’re much further along that many other newlyweds I’ve met in the past. We have an understanding that we truly can be there for one another across a broad range of circumstances because we’d heard one another pour out our souls.
Personally, my expectation for marriage changed more profoundly when I popped the question than when we finally said, “I do” in part because it was the initial, “Will you,” followed by, “Yes” that actually changed the parameters of the relationship for us, sending us down the pathway to a lifelong commitment that, “I do” was simply reaffirming. It’s that perception of re-affirmation that also proves the desire for us to continually renew our vows in the years to come, so we are constantly working toward the expression of commitment in marriage rather than the singular celebration of the wedding day.
Again, that’s not to say the day wasn’t good. It was one helluva part that I’ll never forget. But, it’s moreso all of the other moments leading up to it that define who I am and who we are as a couple that I’m way more invested in and proud of. She’s the perfect wife in that she expresses much the same gratification for the process of living life and together we’ve come to this point of