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Monday, September 25, 2017

I Told Them We Already Live Like We're Married

A bride and groom. Image source.
At our wedding ceremony, I read out loud this thing that I wrote. It was about how Hendrix and I already love each other and are committed to each other. We already support each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. We already live together and share everything we have. At the wedding, when we make vows, we're not promising something completely new and different; we're stating out loud the promises that already exist in the way we live every day.

It was important to me to read this at my wedding because it's extremely anti-purity-culture. In purity culture, you can't love each other fully until you're married. In terms of tangible rules, that means you can't have sex or live together until you're married. But it's more than that- there's this romantic ideal of "two becoming one" and that sort of thing, as if the wedding day marks a massive change in the very nature of the relationship. Like it changes it into a completely different thing. Before the wedding, you're not a family yet, you're not 100% committed, and then after the wedding you have fully given yourselves to each other, you're "one flesh"*, having awesome honeymoon sex that's awesome because you waited and all that.

Back when I was in purity culture, I believed this myth about romantic relationships having "phases" which were very distinct and the transitions were marked by big, obvious events. Something like this:
  1. Dating: You need to "guard your heart." You should be careful about loving your partner "too much" because there's a possibility that you might break up and then that would be the end of the world. Allowable physical contact: Holding hands, hugging.
  2. Engaged: It's finally okay to be in love, you don't have to "guard your heart" anymore, because there's no longer any risk of breaking up. Finally you can let yourself feel your emotions, happy emotions of love and attraction. Allowable physical contact: Kissing. DEFINITELY NOT ANYTHING INVOLVING ANYONE'S GENITALS.
  3. Married: Wow finally you can fully love- share your heart, your body, your home, your possessions, your dreams. Allowable physical contact: Sex. But not anything "depraved" like porn or non-monogamy.
Different purity-culture adherents would, of course, sort the "allowable physical contact" differently between those 3 categories. (This is the subject of endless "where is the line?" discussions in youth groups everywhere.) But my point is, in purity culture I envisioned a system where there were strict rules for physical contact with one's partner, and those rules would change drastically, instantaneously on the day you get an engagement ring and on the day you have your wedding. The rules about the physical side were the most obvious part of this "three phases" perspective, but the emotional side of the relationship would also change drastically, I believed. The relationship would suddenly become a completely different type of relationship.

That's not reality though. Here in the real world, relationships grow and change gradually. People live as committed partners for several years before the wedding. Couples have discussions about whether or not they want to get married- the proposal doesn't just come out of nowhere. It's not a fairy tale where you just meet Prince Charming one day and then you're suddenly in happily-ever-after, never look back.

But even though that's not what a wedding really is, I couldn't help but feel like that's what we were pretending. I felt like a wedding is sort of a performance where you come in as two separate people and leave as a couple, as if you want your guests to believe the myth that it is a big drastic change in the entire nature of the relationship. I felt like there was this ideal we were pretending to follow, where we don't fully love each other and share our whole lives with each other until the wedding day. Like, yeah we know that's not reality, but we should be ashamed of our reality and at least put on an act.

So that's why I had to read my little reading at the wedding. To explicitly say that no, we're NOT drastically changing our relationship today. We're already committed to each other, and our wedding ceremony is a way to show the world our love and commitment- it's not somehow the cause of that love and commitment. I felt a bit weird, like I was telling everybody "our wedding's not real, because we already love each other for better or worse." But I had to do it, for me.

Probably none of the wedding guests really understood what it meant. They were probably just like "aww that's nice." For me it was a very anti-purity-culture statement, and there's no way I, Perfect Number, could have had a wedding that didn't include some anti-purity-culture statement. But I didn't mention purity culture specifically. I didn't mention sex. I did say we live together, which I know is quite the dog whistle for good church people, even though it's the most boring, normal thing for "secular" people.

It's important to me that, at our wedding ceremony, I stated that Hendrix and I were already fully committed to each other and the wedding isn't the start of that. Part of me felt weird, like I was saying our wedding isn't real, and that's not something I should admit in front of all the guests; I should at least pretend to follow the "ideal." But that's exactly why I needed to do that. I don't believe in purity culture anymore, and I don't believe the "ideal" understanding of a wedding is one where the entire relationship changes in one day.

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* As a white woman married to a Chinese man, I have some opinions about this whole "one flesh" thing. My "flesh" is very different from my husband's. Like literally a different color and not the same at all. And no matter how long we're married, that's never going to change. We're not "one flesh."

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