Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tradition and ritual

I was thinking today about the best New Year's Eve I ever experienced. I think it was the '99/00 New Year's, and the evening started off wtih College Boyfriend and I attending a swanky party up in the area where I grew up. Said party was also attended by the moneyed kids, whose parents owned second or vacation homes in the area, and several people I'd gone to preschool/elementary school with. So anyhow, we got all dressed up and went to the party, and it was the most phony scene ever. The only person there who was even a little bit genuine was Oldest Friend who had invited us. The rest of the crowd consisted of bored rich college kids who were already disaffected with life, or ambitious social-ladder-climbing college kids who were trying to get the rich kids to marry them. There was very little festive about the event, other than the expensive alcohol, and after an hour or so College Boyfriend and I left to go to another party.

This second party was held at the ranch where another college friend's parents lived. Hippies still living mostly off the grid, their house was glass and plants and new-age things, with a sleeping loft above and a well-limed outhouse a short walk away. The party was primarily attended by our college friends or other friends who'd grown up in in the area, and while there was drinking and such, there was also great merriment, with music, singing, a huge bonfire, and dancing. The dancing was nothing formal - more a tribal need to move one's body rhythmically around a fire because it was a beutiful starry clear night and people were playing music. The party was indoors, outdoors, filling the house and the surrounding area with noise and celebration, with no pretense or ennui to be found. Everyone there was real, and feeling real things, having real emotions, celebrating a signifcant event in a very human way. I look back on that night, and some others similar experiences I've had dancing around fires on the beach or at the cabin or at Burning Man, other nights spent in the company of friends, everybody full of joy and participating in making the event a community effort, and realize how lucky I am to have had those experiences. Because if I have to choose between a dirty hippie party and using an outhouse but get to experience that true community again, or a rich kid party where everything is phony, give me hairy armpits every time.

In doing a lot of reading about weddings recently, I've come across quite a few things written about wedding ettiquette and wedding planning from a variety of perspectives. While I agree with what most have to say about weddings and what NOT to do, there's one bit of proper ettiquette that keeps sticking in my craw. See, according to Miss Manners etc., one is only allowed to have one wedding. For me, that's no big deal - I'm only having one. But I've had friends have to work with situations where it made sense to get legally married (ie, sign some paperwork) long before they've been able to have the community celebrations they were already planning. I've heard of people who needed to do the legal thing for immigration or deployment or medical insurance reasons, and I can understand the argument that the legal wedding is the wedding, and you don't get to do it over. But there's no reason (in my opinion) to consider signing some paperwork a wedding unless that's what it means to you and your partner. To me, the wedding (and the whole reason we're having one) is to make a formal commitment in front of friends and family - the couple's community, one might say - a commitment that says We Declare We are Family. Whether that commitment involves a religious ceremony or just some words said by a friend, the important thing is that the couple delares their intentions before the community. If one signs paperwork in front of a judge, but doesn't feel like that was the true community-witnessed or religiously-witnessed commitment, I don't think people should feel bad for wanting to have that sort of an event, even if the paperwork's been signed.

Weddings are one of the few times in this modern life that people subscribe a large amount of tradition and ritual to an event. It's one of the only days that one gets to play an age-old role, something that is inherantly important to the community as well as the couple involved. It upsets me greatly that there are a large number of people in this country who want to get married and cannot - they can have the public commitment, but they don't get the legal rights that go along with, just as ettiquette says that those who do the legal paperwork out of necessity don't get to have the public commitment at a later time. To both of those things, I say fie.

One of the things I hope to feel at our wedding is that sense of hummanness and connection, that the rituals we go through on that day and the people who help shape the event and attend in support will feel truly real. No phonies allowed. I'm not particularly interested in the WIC trappings, nor am I particularly interested in just the legal bits (if that were the case, we could have done it years ago, as CO is common-law and all you have to do is say you are husband and wife in public). What I am interested in is participating in an age-old human tradition to tell our community that we are a team. I think we're very lucky to have the legally-appropriate genders, and circumstances aren't forcing us to break our commitment down into a governmental institution. Because as indie as I seem to be, I think some forms of tradition and ritual are very important to people and communities, and I think everyone needs a dose of real connection in this age of isolation.


Abby said...

Amen, I really agree with you about weddings. The best weddings I've been to are always ones that emphasize the communal aspect of two people decided to be lifetime partners and it feels so wrong that this country refuses to recognize that kind of lifetime commitment when it doesn't come with the "right" genders.

Yank In Texas said...

Word. That's why, whenever we get around to do it, it's just going to be a giant party that happens to have a wedding in it.
And I agree about the legal and communal aspects. Sometimes the legal is necessary and it's not a WEDDING, it's just a legal thing. Weddings are communal parties.
Also what abby said.

EEK! said...

I'm quite excited over it all.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I rolley eyes most of that weddingquette shit. Aside from "thou shalt not treat thy guests like crap, be a raving lunatic and troll for gifts" each his own.

In large part my distaste is cultural, too. Miss Manners frowns on stating "No gifts please" on the invite which is very standard on Indian wedding invitations. That's because no matter how po people are, they don't go to functions without bringing gifts and it's usually how we signal "Look, just come for the party, leave desiquette at the door".

Well, think about it this way, we've gone to extreme interpretive lengths to get around how banning polygamy doesn't violate the first amendment and how banning gay marriage doesn't violate the equal protection clause. I'm of the opinion the pendulum will swing back eventually.

Olivia said...

I like this post and what you have to say about wedding etiquette and marriage rights. ALL people should be able to have as many weddings as they like.

My husband and I married quickly and quietly for immigration reasons. The sooner we married, the sooner he could obtain a residency visa and work, instead of continuing to volunteer for no money. Only my parents were in attendance and we held a bbq a few weeks later to celebrate with friends.

We planned to have a second, church wedding in his country for his mother and friends. Unfortunately, his mother passed away a few months later so the wedding idea was dropped. Miss Manners, et al, should lighten up and realize not all unions are meant to happen in the same way.

Stephanie said...

Two of my siblings married individuals from other countries (I'm very proud of my multi-racial family even though I've had nothing to do with it so far :) ) and did the paperwork several months before the actual wedding. It made sense, and it didn't diminish the joy of their actual wedding days. I love what you have to say about the importance of community. I think it is sad how many modern day weddings are about the bride putting together the perfect event, and not about a public declaration and celebration of a new family.

Sara said...

Great post! That sense of community was what I was looking for, too.

Your internet-savvy-self probably already knows about but I am going to post it just in case.

MLE said...

Thanks, Sara, I'm all about Ariel and her crazy wedding corset! Also, your wedding kicked ass. I might even steal some of your ideas, like afterparty at mom's house.

Cari, you guys are going to have the best food at your party. I know it.

EEK, me too!

Monks, I can see how the "no gifts" thing might be necessary in a culture where there is such pressure on guests to outdo themselves on gifts. And I have hope that we'll follow in Canada's footsteps not too long from now in re: marriage for everyone.

Abby and Olivia, welcome! I'm glad I'm not alone in my feelings.

Stephanie, I find it very odd to be a "bride" and read about what "brides" should be and do all over the internet, and in a lot of ways I just don't want to be like that. Luckily, I've found some alternative wedding-planning-type communities where I don't feel like such a freak for not needing everything to be perfect.