My wedding happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I know it did. We have photographic evidence to the tune of $2,000.00. (I’m told that’s cheap.) There’s a dress hanging in the closet, and a piece of paper with a stamp on it.
But I’ll be honest, my wedding doesn’t feel like the most important day of my life. We danced and sliced up a cake. If I could’ve skipped it, I would’ve. Just like I skipped every graduation since high school. Our culture has too many ceremonies. We need to chill.
Even my proposal didn’t need a bunch of fireworks. It wasn’t filmed or photographed. He didn’t get down on one knee. We’re both practical adults. A little jaded and roughed over. We just had an evolving conversation. Then one day he showed me a ring and said, “Do you want to get married?”
I smiled and said, “Yeah.”
And then we had sex to celebrate.
I’m not saying ditch weddings altogether. But they just don’t matter that much to some people. That doesn’t make you a bad spouse. A small wedding doesn’t doom your marriage. In fact, I’ve read that bigger weddings have a higher divorce rate. Go figure.
Here’s the big secret: Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks like the people who dread their weddings are the ones who stay married the longest.
That makes sense. You’re looking forward to the rest of your life with your partner. All that expensive planning is just stress and a bill.
And yet, somewhere in the country there’s a bride-to-be freaking out about her dress — right this second. A groom’s mulling over the prospect of his bachelor party as the last chance he’ll ever get to visit a strip club.
Now, that’s a laugh.
My wedding was essentially uneventful. What do I remember far better? The honeymoon. Specifically, the bed. I remember a hotel clerk walking in on us and apologising profusely. And I remember the hot tub in our bathroom. A very nice touch.
Sure, I remember parts of my wedding. Like the photographer wouldn’t give up on making me smile. “A little wider,” he kept saying. “A little bigger.” Some happy people just don’t show it in their lips.
But that looks bad in pictures. So you have to fake it. Convincingly.
Wedding planning takes on an entirely different feel when you don’t try and live up to reality television. We both had jobs. And not much cash. And even less time. Imagine planning a wedding on the tenure track. Also imagine that you and your spouse live in one state. The rest of your family and friends live in another. And they aren’t going to fly to you, so….
Luckily, wedding planners exist. We were a wedding planner’s dream come true. We had two meetings. Maybe a third one. We always gave our wedding planner the same answer when she called or emailed about details: “What’s cheapest? Okay, do that.” I think we even hired someone to send out our invitations. We just uploaded a spreadsheet to a website and then got back to the incredibly fun life of pre-tenure academics.
Some of you may have followed me online for a few months now. You’re thinking, “She’s married? What?!”
But that’s the thing. Like your wedding, your marriage doesn’t define you. Sometimes I forget I’m married.
Some people might think that’s terrible. But consider most natural processes. Walking. Blinking. Breathing. We don’t give that a second thought. Because we do it all the time. So if you do your marriage all the time, then you probably won’t think about it as a “marriage.”
Some of you also might think, “But you’re so open and flirty online.” So you get married, and suddenly you have to gain 10 pounds and stop taking any pride in your sexuality whatsoever?
Not gonna happen.
Some of my college friends tried to push all the tired stereotypes on us after the wedding. They guilt-tripped us for having our own friends, our own social gatherings, our own hobbies. One of them even tried to shame us for playing computer games on the weekends.
We do plenty of things together. Exercise. Meals (sometimes). Sex. We watch some of the same TV shows. But we also have our own. I know, shocker. We might eat dinner at different times because we have different work schedules. Sometimes I get hungry before he does, and vice versa.
Imagine a truly happy marriage in which either spouse can eat whenever they want. Blasphemy, or common sense?
Sometimes, we even sleep apart. Not because I hate my partner. Or our marriage is a sham. No. Because I’m the lightest sleeper on earth. Someone rolling over in bed has a 70 percent chance of waking me up.
Marriage isn’t worth the effort if you don’t do it on your own terms. Don’t live someone else’s marital expectations. Come up with your own. A different type of marriage exists for every different type of couple. The fact that we expect millions of people to plan the same kind of wedding and live the same kind of married life is utter nonsense.
You might have a wife or husband. A home in the burbs. A kid. All that might look like conformity. But it doesn’t have to be.
How your marriage operates. What you do in your home. How you raise your kid. That’s all you. And you can do it your way.
Listen: Can you outsource your wedding vows? Post continues after audio.
Not everyone needs to know everything about my personal life. Until now, I never felt like writing about weddings or marriage. I don’t wake up every morning and think, “What does a married person wear?” I didn’t throw out all my clothes and buy special married ones. My daily habits didn’t change all that much. Neither did his.
Maybe I forget my marriage. But I never forget my partner. Weddings aside, most of my happiest memories reference him in some way. Mainly because he was there. Some people place so much importance on the idea of their marriage, like it’s some living thing.
No, the marriage doesn’t live or die. Marriage is a word. Focus on your partner. That’s a real, breathing entity to touch.
And if some day that person becomes unbearable, or stops making you happy, then separate from them.
Trust me, your kids will thank you.
My parents valued their marriage way more than each other. Or me. They fought constantly. My mum started most of the arguments. She pushed my dad. Cussed him out savagely. Broke dishes over his head.
Our family was one of those rare cases of domestic violence where the wife and mum instigates the violence. My dad only called the police in the most dire circumstances, when she started going after the kids.
Me? I begged my dad to file for divorce. Neither me nor my brother wanted to live with our mom. We wanted him. But my dad wouldn’t do it. He didn’t want us to think we came from a broken home.
But our home was worse than broken. It was poisoned. Gangrenous. A broken limb can mend. But a rotting one has to go. Instead of chopping off the infected leg, he let the idea of marriage tell him what to do.
The stereotypical wedding vows sell us on a very naive notion of life. In sickness and in health? Those vows were written by someone who’s never dealt with substance abuse or violent mental illness. What if your spouse becomes sick in a way that’s not just a burden to you, but threatens your life and your kids? You should divorce.
My dad could’ve divorced my mum and still cared for her. He could’ve continued trying to help her with therapy and meds. He could’ve given her money. Simply removing her from our household would’ve made everyone’s lives far better. Even my mum’s.
Marriage means little without real actions to back it up. A marriage doesn’t change your loyalties. It’s not a guarantee of much. It doesn’t alter your behaviour when you love someone, and decide to make a life with them. Me and mine? The formalities almost came as an afterthought. Sure, an expensive one that we paid for ourselves. It was kind of like throwing a big party for all of our friends.
After that, we relaxed. Our married life doesn’t differ that much from our single life. We’d both tired of the party scene. We had careers.
If I have one regret, it was not pushing harder for an elopement. But whatever. In the big scheme, that’s a small one.
Marriage is an overrated concept. We’ll still use words like “wedding” and “anniversary” for centuries to come, I’m sure. But they’re already starting to mean very different things. People are wising up.
This post originally appeared on Medium. For more from Jessica, you can find her articles here.