I’ve got weddings on the brain. This past year alone, 19 people from my extended circle of friends got either married or engaged, including myself (yes, I counted!). In case you’re wondering, my Facebook mini-feed is indeed awash with nauseating “romantic couple” photographs.
In one sense, this wedding fever isn’t particularly interesting. I’m 25, a couple of years out of university, and considering Grad school ““ most of the people I know are in similar positions. It seems as good a time as any to lock that down, if you’re so inclined. But there is something spooky about the fact that myself and two of my best friends from high school got engaged within three months of one another ““ and I swear on every Jane Austen film adaptation ever made that we didn’t collaborate on this in any way at all. That said, I know our 15-year old selves would have loooooved every bit of it. Of course, that was before I embraced feminism and became able to articulate all the thoughts and feelings that had been swimming around my brain regarding the position of women in society. We all know the drill about feminism and marriage. There are those of us who would eschew marriage ““ if not altogether, at least until same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Those who choose marriage often take steps to ensure that the process is as patriarchy-free as possible: a mutual agreement rather than a formal proposal, a non-white dress, a joint walk down the aisle, of course the list is endless. However once the choice is made, marriage or no, next comes the task of defending and explaining yourself to every person who feels that it’s their business to politicize your decision and demand a justification. This may or may not refer to the entirety of your friends and family, not to mention colleagues, strangers or the fervently religious.
I watched Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com navigate these waters in 2009, and as of two weeks ago it seems that it’s become my turn (of course, minus the public scrutiny Valenti had to face, thank goodness). If only to amplify this message, one of those high school best friends I mentioned asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding next May. This is a woman who believes in full equality but doesn’t actively participate in the feminist community, so to speak, and the only thing non-traditional about her wedding is that it is not going to take place in a church. In the midst of my own engagement, her $30 000 wedding and all its accoutrements are staring me in the face like a Martha Stewart tattoo on my forehead (mirror in hand).
Allow me to clarify: I don’t begrudge this friend one bit of her wedding. I believe in equality, but also in choice, and the power of difference. What’s right for her is right for her, and it’s okay if that’s not what I would choose for myself. What I find myself struggling with, and what the countdown to her big day has become a constant reminder of, is whether or not I have “sold out” by agreeing to get married at all (will we be able to resist all the consumerist manipulation?). Or worse, because of my rejection of many classic wedding traditions, that my engagement and future wedding is somehow less meaningful (or heaven forbid, less romantic) than those of other traditional, white wedding brides.
My fiancÃ©, let’s call him Peter Parker (because he would like that, ain’t I sweet), didn’t propose to me. Technically I proposed to him, shock of shocks. In reality, we had already made the commitment to one another, and were simply waiting for the right time in our lives to tell friends and family. Though I was the one who first suggested now might be the time, it was a mutual agreement, made at home in our pajamas, without rings, kneeling, or the recitation of full names. Little did I realize that the first two questions people ask upon hearing the news would be: “How did he propose?” and “Can I see the ring?” (exclamation points not included).
Here’s where things get complicated. Peter’s mother wears an heirloom diamond engagement ring passed down from her grandmother, with the understanding that she would pass it along to Peter when he became engaged. Needless to say, I feel honoured and excited at the prospect of such a gesture. But how could this rock on my finger not be a betrayal of my feminist beliefs? If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, isn’t it a duck? Peter simultaneously saved me from this dilemma and made me fall in love with him all over again by announcing that he wanted an engagement ring of his own. We found one that suited him perfectly, and I can’t wait to see it on his finger. I have no idea what we’ll do with the ring when we actually get married, if we’ll replace it with a wedding ring or what. I know that people will likely just assume he’s already married, and at the end of the day I’ll still be wearing a diamond engagement ring. I don’t really know what to do about that. I don’t know whether I’m going to wear white at my wedding. I don’t know how formal I want it to be, or who’s going to walk who down the aisle. I don’t know how to satisfy everyone’s expectations as well as my own, and I don’t know how I’m going to fend off the blank stares and rude questions that have already begun filtering in.
What I do know is that I don’t have to make these decisions alone. I know that whatever the critical reception of our decisions, we will support one another. And I know that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. I’m hoping that’s enough. I think it is.
Over the course of my wedding-related internet travails, I have managed to find a number of websites and blogs that I’m hoping will help me maintain my feminist/non-consumerist/non-traditional sense of purpose in the shadow of the Great Wedding Machine. Here are a few: