My thoughts on marriage

14th century French manuscript image of courtship.

14th century French manuscript image of courtship.

Lately the Catskills have become one of the prime areas for destination weddings. New venues, from renovated barns to golf courses and even resuscitated Borscht-Belt resorts, are popping up all over the place Some couples choose to drop hundreds of thousands on a super-deluxe fully planned soiree at a swank Hudson Valley mansion, Others are happy with the simplest of potluck ceremonies in an upstate friend’s backyard under a homemade arbor.

On the mid-pricier side is a farm up the road from us that operates as a wedding venue. According to their website, they are booked solid through next summer. That’s a lot of weddings!

As we have one of the closest rentable cottages to the farm, we regularly host couples attending these events. So I often hear about the celebrations; all lovely and romantic, hipster cool (ack!), with beautiful flower-draped brides and beard-dripped grooms (or vice versa), happening deejays, all set before the backdrop of our abounding nature and lovely mountain views.

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Speaking of views, here are a few of mine on the subject of marriage.

This past December my parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at the Century Club in Manhattan, inviting over a hundred of their closest friends and family for a big wonderful party. Fifty years earlier they had gotten hitched before a judge at the old municipal building downtown, with only my father’s first cousin in attendance as a witness. After all those intervening years of moving houses, moving countries, raising four kids and lots of their kids’ friends, all my mother wanted was the party she didn’t have when she married my father.

In their defense, it had been the second marriage for each of them. Having had big bashes for each of their first nuptials, they thought a quiet civil ceremony more appropriate

Fifty years in, they finally were getting the party they deserved, celebrating a union that worked. And through so many ups and downs they now were closer and more in love than ever. Through all the decades of their marriage, when divorce was so rife, it was truly an accomplishment that their relationship had survived.

Growing up in the Seventies it seemed to me that my parents were one of the few couples among my friends’ parents who didn’t split up, and in so doing they set a good precedent for me and my siblings. Due to their example, though certain past lovers might strongly disagree, I am inherently a fan of both commitment and monogamy. In my mind, marriage doesn’t necessarily represent these beliefs. I’ve seen those lofty vows broken too often not to be a bit cynical.

I do crave what my parents were able to achieve through their tenacity and hard work. I’ve never felt the need to get married, though, being more of the Joni Mitchell school of “we don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true.” Not that I begrudge those who choose to enter into a state of legal joinery, it’s just never been my path.

Over the years I’ve had female friends refer to my lack of interest in this supposed venerable institution as stark evidence of my avoidance of growing up (who, me?). One even went so far as to say that she would never trust a man in his forties who hadn’t been married, which was a bit of a shock. Seeing as how so many marriages end in divorce, I’m not sure how a divorced man would be more trustworthy than the never-married me. But people often become strange and unrecognizable when it comes to their ideas about marriage and weddings.

Take, for example, a term like “bridezilla.” The sucking chest wound that is reality television (even for those of us who don’t watch it) has so insinuated its way into our culture, debasing it at every step along the way, that the shock I recall having when I first encountered the term “bridezilla” was astounding. It was as though women were suddenly afforded the right to behave badly on what should be a beautiful, solemn and wonderful day. And as for men, the two bachelor parties I’ve been to were both held at incredibly seedy strip clubs where I watched my soon to be married friends writhe gleefully beneath scantily clad and grinding lap dancers. Are these not bad precedents to set at the beginning of what’s meant to be a lifelong journey of love and commitment?

Anyway, enough of my cynicism.

Gay marriage is now legal throughout the U.S., which thrills me and lessens my cynicism considerably about this institution, and this country.

Four years ago, as my partner Catherine was getting ready for work, I cornered her in her closet, got down on one knee, and put an antique diamond ring on her finger. We didn’t need a tropical beach at sunset or a romantic dinner for the mood to be just so. We were in the presence of our three cats, and that was enough. It felt odd at first to do it, but it also felt right.

Since that morning we’ve unconsciously avoided setting a date for a wedding, but interestingly have slowly begun to refer to each other as husband and wife. And who knows, maybe that’s enough. I’m not saying assuredly that Joni was right, and that legally binding ourselves together might not make it all more real and solid, but for now we are happy, and our cats can’t tell the difference. Now all we need to do is have a really big party.

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