It’s easy to hate marriage. I try and retain a healthy amount of positive feeling, but in late June my romantic resolve was tested when I was stolen away from some long-needed summer camp adventures and taken to a wedding in four-hours-distant Philadelphia. I was exhausted, still stuck in the vestigial six-hour sleep schedule of finals week, and would have preferred not to engage in the cramped rituals of family road trips.
Sticking in the back of my grimy, tired brain was the fact that the bride was the recently divorced mom of a dear friend of mine. No matter how cool her new soon-to-be-husband might be, the separation had sucked for my friend her daughter.
When we got there, we were joined by grimacing relatives wearing Duck Dynasty t-shirts and khaki shorts. I’m really not one to criticize, because I forgot my boots at home, leaving me nothing to wear on my feet but a pair of scuffed-up Vans. The night before we were out of shampoo, so I figured conditioner probably did mostly the same thing, and applied it liberally. Conditioner of course did the precise opposite as shampoo, making my hair look like Spider-Man 3-era Tobey Maguire.
According to the tenets of the Quaker meeting hall in which the wedding was to occur (they weren’t even Quakers!), I wasn’t allowed to wear my hat, showcasing my greasy mop to the world. It was also on the brink of rain. I’m usually a fan of rain, but following the ceremony there was to be a New Orleans-style parade through the streets, which I was significantly less a fan of, considering the weather.
The bride’s daughter, Carrie, was wearing a dress – an article of clothing so uncharacteristic for her that I figured it must have been forcibly pulled over her shoulders. I expected her to be teeming with discomfort and maybe even disgust, forced into a foreign piece of fabric to watch a man successfully complete his invasion of her family life.
Carrie was glowing. She radiated love and excitement and magnificence. Entering the Quaker meeting hall, whose unpainted, polished wooden pews were beautiful enough for me to forgive the no-hat rule, she walked up to the podium and read a speech. Her prose was simple and warm. After conquering a few tears, she deemed the union a “Carrie-approved marriage.” The applause was uproarious.
After tear-filled praise from the matron of honor, and charmingly raspy acclaim from the bluesy best man, it came time for the bride and groom to read their vows. The static exhilaration of watching two people proclaim their love for each other filled the room like the smell of lightning before a storm. The officiant said “By the power vested in me…,” the bride performed three staccato happy jumps, and then the fairytale deed was done.
It was here the ceremony shifted into bonkers parade mode. My dad jumped up with his guitar to lead the guests in an ecstatic rendition of “Happy Together” as all marched out to the mercy of the temperamental clouds. Whether it was everyone’s voices mixing together like cake batter, or the tiny flower-girl twins, or the three staccato happy jumps, or the omnipresent smile on the faces of Carrie and my parents and even the Duck Dynasty-clad cousins, I was back on the marriage boat again, tied to the mast, with wax in my ears.
There was a time when spouting sobering facts and statistics, particularly those relating to such universal experiences as love, was a cultivated skill among my fellow misanthropic fourteen-year-olds, probably because it made us feel more like the gritty Ubermenschen we all so desperately hoped to be. There’s no need to mention here the prevalence and percentage of divorce, or the chemical puppet-strings behind attraction, because you’ve probably already heard it from some misanthropic fourteen-year-old (possibly on the Internet) and secondly it’s just not that important.
Acts of affection are living metaphors. Hugging, holding hands, kissing, sex, and marriage are all quixotic attempts to do the impossible: Make two people one. There’s a myth that, out of fear of mankind, Zeus split humans down the middle and scattered them throughout the world. Somewhere out there, we each have a second half, wandering about, waiting to make us perfect enough to rival the gods. Though I don’t believe those dream people exist, that doesn’t mean we should stop looking. We will never accomplish the lofty goals of our affections, but isn’t there nobility to the effort? Yes, plenty of people realize that, after years, the struggle isn’t worth fighting any more, but that does not change the fact that, for at least one fairy-tale moment, they tried.