“But it’s just a big party and a certificate, isn’t it?”
I’ve been engaged for three months, and this is one reaction I keep encountering.
Mostly, it’s a throwaway comment meant, I suppose, to pre-emptively defuse any bridezilla tendencies I may be secretly harbouring (because if I can think of my wedding as just “my 21st: part two”, they seem to think, I won’t morph into one of those mental brides who spends $25,000 on a giant “gypsy wedding” dress before suing everyone in sight over my wedding video.)
Sometimes, it’s coming from a different place, from people who genuinely don’t share the desire to publically pledge their commitment, or who quite feel secure and happy enough in their relationship without promising to stick around forever, thank you very much.
Some of them find the whole institution icky and outdated (and, to be fair, it did used to mean you belonged to your husband, hence the pretty legit Second Wave feminist backlash against it.) In fact, in my circle of politically progressive friends, rejecting the relevance of such a traditional norm is almost a badge of hip, subversive honour.
Whatever the motivation, it jars with me people bandy about the “just a party and a piece of paper” line. Because, basically, that sentiment downplays the fact that marriage is a Pretty Big Deal for me, and for a lot of other women.
Because, let’s face it – marriage is transformative. Not in some “my prince has come! I’m no longer a penniless and unfulfilled wretch of a woman and can finally start my life,” Disney-esque way. And not in a “we’ll never fight again now we’re married” way (nope. Debts, family squabbles and disagreements over whether to finish Breaking Bad or Girls first will still happen.)
Marriage does, however, signify some major changes to your identity, because it formally marks the transition from one life stage to another. That’s the factor absent from most parties- which, it’s widely understood, are more a chance to catch up with your friends, make jelly shots and bring out the novelty piñata (or is that just me?)
At my last birthday party, for example, I don’t recall making a lifelong commitment that I then signed into law.
I don’t believe that, at my last housewarming, I involved my family and closest friends in an age-old set of rituals that we’d planned 18 months prior.
I don’t remember turning up with one name to my last work Christmas drinks and leaving with someone else’s. (Actually, ahem, I’m keeping my name after marriage, but that’s not the point.)