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Friday, June 3, 2016

I'm not sure if a wedding is a beginning or an end

A pretty stunning photo of a bride and groom. Image source.
So it turns out we're going to be engaged for a year and a half before getting married. Because when you're trying to plan a wedding on a different continent, and you want to bring in guests who need to get visas, plan their international trips, and save money for plane tickets, that's how long it takes.

So this has me wondering what the meaning of engagement is anyway. And what is the significance of the date of the wedding? What's going to change, on that one specific day? If we had the wedding in 2016 rather than 2017, would that actually make a difference?

I've always thought of a wedding as both a beginning and an end. But maybe it's not. Maybe there will be a whole several-year-long transition period, rather than just one day when everything changes.

In purity culture, a wedding is an end. You can finally stop with all the physical boundaries- you can touch each other without shame, you can kiss, you can have sex. (The engagement marks the end of the emotional boundaries- you can finally say "I love you" and let loose with all the feelings, all the deep things that you couldn't share before because you had to "guard you heart." You can finally dream and plan about your future.) But this doesn't apply to us- we don't believe in the purity rules, we're not holding back because of artificial limits attached to specific arbitrary dates.

In fairy tales, Disney princess movies, and romantic comedies, a wedding is an end. Specifically, it's the resolution at the end of the story. Two people get together, overcoming whatever challenges stand in their way, and then they get married, the end. But that's not realistic- life after marriage is more complicated than "happily ever after."

People recommend premarital counseling, and so a wedding is an end. It's the deadline. Premarital counseling has to be finished by then. I decided Hendrix and I would do something like that. I found a list of important topics on the internet and questions for each topic, and I said we would discuss one topic per month. (This schedule has us finishing well before the US wedding, but after getting the marriage license in China- which is when we're legally married.) But, why exactly does it all have to get done before the wedding? They're definitely things that need to be discussed at the beginning of a marriage, but there's no reason that the exact date of the wedding would be an important factor in that. (I guess the only reason would be, what if you uncover some huge problems and decide not to go through with the wedding after all.)

[Also: back when I was in purity culture, I assumed "premarital counseling" meant basically "So, you both are really devoted to Jesus, right? Yeah? Really REALLY devoted? More than anything else? You're sure? Really sure? Okay good." Because they said the most important thing in a marriage is that both parties love Jesus more than anything. But actually, I'm pretty sure that premarital counseling at the average evangelical church is run by people with more practical experience with real-life marriage, so it's about actual relationship skills like communication and how to manage money. There's a disconnect between the abstract purity ideas they're teaching the teenage girls and the way they actually approach marriage. I call this hypocrisy.]

In purity culture, a wedding is a beginning. You can have sex for the first time. Which, remember, this is purity culture, so having sex completely changes your entire identity. You become a completely different person. And remember, getting married is "God's plan for your life." Finally you can get started on living the life God intended for you. All that stuff before didn't really count. And women are supposed to change their last names. A new identity. A new life. A beginning. But none of this applies to me and Hendrix- we don't follow purity culture. And I don't really believe in "God's plan"- and if I did, I would believe in a variation which didn't so totally revolve around marriage and what people may or may not be doing with their genitals. And as for our last names, I'm not changing my English last name, but there will be some other changes, which I guess will be a subject for another post.

When you make a wedding registry, the wedding is a beginning. It used to be, when people got married, they moved out of their parents' house for the first time, and they needed plates and bath towels and all that. But for most couples now, that doesn't really make sense. Most of us have already lived alone, lived with roommates, lived with our romantic partner.

And when couples celebrate their anniversaries, it's almost always the anniversary of their wedding day- the wedding is the beginning of the count. They say "we've been together for 15 years!" which means married for 15 years. When we decided it would really take a year and a half to pull everything together for our wedding, I was kind of unhappy because this year and a half wouldn't "count" toward our years together. We'll have to wait that much longer before we can tell everyone "we've been together 20 years!" and be applauded for it. Occasionally I hear couples say "we've been together for 12 years, and married for 7" and I always kind of think, well those years before they were married don't really "count." And if it's a difference of over 2 years, I think "oh they must have had sex before they got married." Purity culture taught me to judge people this way- those years they dated [and probably had sex] before getting married were a bunch of sin and should absolutely not be celebrated when we talk about long and healthy relationships. (You should date the minimum amount of time necessary to decide you want to marry someone, then be engaged for however long you think you can manage to not have sex- hopefully it'll be enough time to plan a wedding! So probably 2 years from when you start dating until the wedding.) I wish I could quit thinking things like that- but I still do, because purity culture. By the time Hendrix and I get married, we'll have been together 4 years. What's the meaning of those 4 years? (Also, what's the society-wide average?)

So none of these explanations on how a wedding is an end or a beginning really works for me and Hendrix. Things are changing now, and things will change gradually over the next few years, but I don't know if anything will change on the actual wedding day itself.

And let me just say- every so often I read a Christian blog post about "isn't it so sad that young people nowadays are living together and having sex before marriage, and therefore their weddings and marriages are meaningless?" and that is TRIGGERING AS HELL. And if the only reason your wedding/marriage is meaningful is "we can finally have sex now" I think you have other problems and should quit judging me.

But things have changed since we got engaged. I'm thinking about the future a lot more. Making plans. Savings accounts. Talking about what it will be like when we have kids. Talking about whether we want to move to the US at some point, and when. Basically, a lot of very adult things. I'm even doing more housework than I used to. (I'd like to give not-having-depression the credit for that though.)

And sometimes I think I want to get married faster, and sometimes I think I'm not ready yet.

The best I can figure is that the wedding is a very official, formal, public celebration of the relationship that already exists. It's not the start of the relationship or the start of our "real life." It's not God, our friends, and the government giving us permission to have sex. It's not making new promises; it's stating out loud, publicly, the promises we already live every day we are together.

And of course, it's an awesome dance party.

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