I caught myself looking at wedding pictures online again. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Something about the dreamy, gorgeous pictures of two people happy and in love…and this made me really think about the way our society views relationships, love, and marriage.
Think about it. Think about all the commercials you see on TLC. The point of these shows is finding the perfect wedding dress, or the perfect bridesmaid dress, or winning some competition so your wedding is better than someone else’s. Think about your favorite television shows. The destination of the relationship is always the wedding. The best example I can think of this is The Office. I watched the first three seasons avidly, spurred on less by Michael Scott’s off-color jokes than by Jim and Pam’s sweet and star-crossed romance. The last episode I watched of the show was their wedding. They got married, and I lost all interest in the show. Think of every Disney movie you’ve ever seen (and I don’t count the sequels as real Disney movies). Cinderella and Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip, Belle and the Beast, Jasmine and Aladdin – the list goes on and on. The story ends with the wedding and that magical phrase “happily ever after.” Think of the romantic comedies that pervade our culture. They all end with either (a) finding the right person or (b) marrying that person after a suitable and unrealistic amount of trial, travesty, and drama.
Can you name a single movie that focuses on the romance that happens after the wedding? At the time of this posting, I can’t, but I certainly welcome your suggestions.
I think that most of us probably dream of our wedding days and dream of finding the person we could have that experience with – but how many of us imagine doing our taxes the following year with that person? Do we consider that every time we want to make a career change, or go back to school, we now have to consider this other person? Or if our spouse wants to make a change, we may have to leave a job we love in order to support them, or put our own dreams on the back burner for them. This is the person who will see you not all dressed up for dates, or in your wedding finery, but in your sweats, with uncombed hair. You will wake up every day to their morning breath. You will have to visit their parents – who will be the grandparents of your children – on a regular basis. This is the person you will have a joint bank account with. This is the person who will have the medical power of attorney and decide whether you live or die if you are in a coma. One of you will plan the other’s funeral.
Speaking of funerals, recent deaths in my family helped me come to a realization that radically altered the way I view romantic relationships, and that is this: there is no happy ending. The camera will not fade to black as you embrace and drive off into the sunset, the wedding is not the final chapter, and that first realization that this is the person is the beginning of something, not the end.
The reality of it all is that the end of life, for all of us, is death. Not some happy, eternally youthful picture of two lovers – but, if we’re lucky, a very old person who has had amazing experiences, drawn closer to God, and goes peacefully and lovingly into the great beyond.
I stopped considering potential mates in terms of someone I could marry and started thinking of them as someone I wanted to spend my life with. I realized that with my boyfriend at the time, I kept thinking things like, “If we can just get through the next few years, we can be married and everything will be okay.” It finally dawned on me that marriage wouldn’t make everything okay. It would make everything permanent, legally binding and incredibly hard to get out of. The same problems would exist. The pattern of fighting we were currently in, a deadlock of stubbornness, would likely continue throughout our entire lives. Finally, I pictured our wedding. I pictured taking his hands, and starting to say the wedding vows. I imagined how I would feel, and the result surprised me, even though it was my imagination. I felt tired. I felt trapped. I couldn’t even look my imaginary groom in the eyes as I said the vows. I ended the relationship within days of this insight.
(Let me take a moment to say that my ex is a kind and wonderful man, for whom I have great respect and wish nothing but the best.)
I believe that the current statistic these days is that half of marriages end in divorce. Many religious organizations are screaming about the protection of “traditional marriage.” That’s not a topic I’m going to get into here, but I will say this: If one truly wishes to improve the institution of marriage, I would suggest that they target Vegas wedding chapels, online minister certifications, and the wedding industry. Perhaps if the possibility of spur-of-the moment marriages were reduced, people would think more about their choices. One wonderful thing about religious marriages is that many churches require a period of premarital counseling before the wedding, and the couple is able to sit down with a third party who helps them talk through issues in their relationship and to really prepare them for the marriage, not just the wedding.
I wonder what would happen if people – particularly women – stopped focusing on their dream dress, or the perfect photography, or the whole wedding itself and started thinking about the realities of the next fifty or so years of their lives. (I hate to be hard on my own gender, particularly with all the current controversy, but I don’t think anyone would contest the fact that more women watch wedding shows than men.) It’s not just about finding a person that you could make a commitment to, or who you can’t live without. It’s about finding a person that you can live with through everything life throws at you. And it has nothing to do with a dress.