Agree to the Party, But Not All It Represents

I don’t know what happened. I was in a pretty good groove. Writing, exercising, budgeting, things were going pretty well. Then, I went and got engaged and literally the entire situation that is my life changed.

All of a sudden, each and every of my thoughts have changed to the singsong of fairytales and hummingbirds, blissfully cheering “Weddddding, wooooo!!!” The books went from Lean In and Awakening Your Inner Giant to Bridal Bargains and The Big Book on Weddings. My budgeting goals have shifted from, “budget to get rid of student loan debt fast,” to “budget to have a beautiful wedding and fantastic honeymoon in Italy.”

What is wrong with me?! I’m progressive! I don’t like princess fantasies! I’m an independent woman whose education, attitude and work experience prove that she is self-determined, goal oriented, and committed feminist.

So what IS it about weddings that is the great equalizer, bringing women to the same altar of veils and flowing dresses, sparkling rings, promising that she will be the most beautiful bride that there ever was? I’m no damn princess, and I wasn’t the kid who always dreamed of her wedding. I had soccer practice to go to.

…Although I do know I’m going to look dashing in a casual beach wedding dress and a flower crown….

Anyway, back to my question. What is it about weddings that is so enchanting? I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, but in all honesty, there has been a lot about this experience that is very annoying. All of a sudden, people assume that I will follow the marching orders of brides before me. I am asked if my Dad will “give me away.” Really? Am I held captive somewhere and unaware of it?

Or how about the naming of the female attendants on the bride’s side, “bridesmaids,” or “Maid of Honor.” Am I the only one who hears how ridiculous those names are? Are they going to go milk a cow after the ceremony? Or perhaps hide back in the maiden’s quarters hoping and praying that their time too will come when they are rescued by His Highness?

My point is I have been sucked willingly into the world of white, which includes being assaulted with some troubling truths. While the whole institution of the wedding is steeped in tradition, most of the tradition in this world is steeped in patriarchy. And for some crazy reason…women LOVE it. This is their “one chance” to be a princess. Come on ladies, have you never really paid attention to those Disney films? Those princesses were often slaves of some kind or even locked in dungeons.

DUNGEONS! I myself have never seen a dungeon and I hope to God I never will. But even if they weren’t in the dungeon, they were slaves to their parent’s, often father’s, wishes for their lives, with little to no self-determination. They had zero rights or means to get themselves freed from their bondage and were dependent on Prince Charming to get his shit together and save her. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to save yourself?

I digress. But I think a lot of women fall victim to the dangerous thinking that, YES, I finally found some guy who is going to take care of me and financially sponsor me for the rest of my life. While I know few of us would really say this out loud, that’s very much a huge female fantasy these days.

Don’t believe me? I have some examples.

I was watching a Modern Family re-run yesterday, one of my favorite shows. In this particular episode, Gloria was one of the main characters. Born in Colombia and from a life of poverty, beautiful Gloria met and married her American husband, a man twice her age with a bank account that could make Wall Street bankers blush. Her life is depicted as a dream. She is spirited and free, has a no nonsense attitude and speaks her mind at will.

In this episode, Gloria and her husband Jay just had a baby, and Gloria’s Colombian family came to visit the new infant. Gloria’s sister, also beautiful, never found her prince and is still living in Colombia. When said sister visits, she behaves like a slave – doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, and is clearly oppressed. However it is explained that these chores makes her feel good and normal in this rich country. Gloria feels bad for her sister, and offers to give her some of her clothes. The two walk into what looks like a small designer boutique, which in reality is Gloria’s expansive closet. The sister is overwhelmed with awe, and clearly jealous that her life isn’t as wonderful as Gloria’s.

Later in the episode, Jay gives a speech at their son’s christening, and decides to talk about when he met Gloria. He mentions at the end of the story that the beautiful woman he first saw and desired from behind wasn’t in fact Gloria, but he later learned was her sister! This was news to everyone, and the sister filled with rage and jumped from her pew to strangle Gloria, shouting, “You stole my life!!”

Poor Gloria’s sister. She wasn’t picked up by a dude who thought she had a nice ass to spend all his money on her. What a dream to sit around married to an old guy and his money. Do you see what I mean?

What I am finding is that the wedding seems to be a symbol of many things, but a very strong idea is that men are the moneymakers, women are the fair helpless maidens. One other show I’ve gotten into lately is called, Rich Bride, Poor Bride. I like it because it is all about the budget for the wedding, and I like to see how couples choose to spend their funds.

But sometimes I am ready to slap those brides. So many of these women fall into the role of, “this is MY wedding,” and “I’ll talk him into paying for it,” and “he always gives me what I want.” I even heard one bride say, “I have no respect for a budget or saving. That’s for him to worry about.”

!!!!!!

I realize that television is an exaggeration intended to shock audiences. The words and behaviors of these women are appalling and that’s why they made the cut to be aired. But these attitudes are not locked in our televisions. They are deeply ingrained in our society and they are, in my opinion and experience in planning thus far, most prominent around a ceremony like a wedding.

My point is, when planning a wedding it is important to not get wrapped up in the hoopla. Everyone tells you what you “have” to do. May I remind you, there is almost nothing in this world that you HAVE to do!

Sure I am excited and a bit wrapped up in planning this big beautiful day, but that’s because I like planning parties, being a host and can afford it myself. I refuse to get an attitude over it or demand that someone else foot the bill. If I didn’t have the money, Vegas isn’t that far and I could run up there and get ‘er done around $100 with a sweet Elvis pic to boot.

I’m a woman who is going to take advantage of this opportunity to throw a bigger-than-your-average-Saturday fiesta for my friends and family to celebrate Scott’s and my love. Yes, I’m going to look damn good in whatever dress I choose. And while it will probably be white, long and somewhat traditional, that does not symbolize submission. Wearing it and participating in the cultural tradition of a wedding does not mean that I buy into everything it could be perceived to represent. Tradition can often be a very bad thing, and in the case of weddings, the bad thing is the tradition of the helpless bride – which has now morphed into the bratty, selfish, spoiled bride. She was traditionally a piece of property, the currency transferred from father to husband in the wedding ceremony. Yeah, I don’t celebrate that.
By wearing my white dress, I am wearing it because I like it. I have olive skin and it will be August so I’ll have a great tan. Besides that and a few other items I’ll borrow from the weddings of yore, Scott’s and my wedding will only represent one thing. Love….as celebrated by the best party you’ve ever been to.

Tying the Knot…then Sometimes Untying It

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The Internet is a pretty incredible thing. You can easily get the traffic, clicks, and hits to your blog and other social media sites with simple reporting tools like WordPress stats or Google Analytics. As a budding writer, I’m quickly and neurotically learning the ropes to find and use this important data.  It helps me understand what topics people like to hear about, and what only me in my nerd queendom seem to care about.

Most of the time it’s fairly predictable. People like topics about life, sex and surviving work. But to my surprise I discovered the other day that the top search that included my name was “joni erdmann divorce.”

Yikes.

Y’alls just loves the sticky stuff, don’t ya? That’s ok. I don’t hide it and it’s not a secret. I’ve just never been one of those people who fancied bringing it up. I mean how fun is it, you’re out having a good time, and then after someone playfully makes fun of the divorced horse in the room about a totally unrelated topic they quip, “Yeah I do that, haha, that’s probably why I’m divorced!” All laughter stops.

And they never miss an opportunity to bring up the ex-husband or ex-wife, “Oh yeah, I’d come to happy hour but I need to meet with my ex-husband to pick up my mail.” I dunno, I just don’t care to label my ex that way. I call him my friend because I think that’s the most appropriate label for him now.  I get that it’s rare, but we are friends, and that’s where our relationship is right now. So shit, I’m going to opt for a kinder term that doesn’t bear harsh connotation and questioning.

Divorcees bring up their D-word because often times they think they have to. They assume people are wondering and choose to bring it up to show that they are OK with it. I’m more than ok, but I don’t think I have to walk around with a label on my status, no matter how much society wants me to. I personally avoid labels for everything, but especially on this subject.

I always check the “Single” box instead of “Divorced.” It is so hilarious that the form gods have created this useless box just to make fun us. No, there aren’t tax breaks for divorce, we treat you just like a single person…but we want to know about it and make you check our arbitrary box.  Dicks.

I never straight up lie about it, but I’m not going out of my way to bum others out by bringing up that little detail about me. And besides, if it all happened in your early to mid-20’s I don’t think it counts.  Ok it absolutely counts, but I’m 29 now and most of my friends are just now getting married, so I think it’s almost inappropriate for me to bring it up. “Yeah I’m divorced and am living proof that sometimes marriages end…but good luck with yours, here’s a gravy boat!”

If you were in my shoes, which you very well might be, you[‘d] understand.  It’s not a badge of honor like a degree or a track medal.  It’s a title akin to a scarlet letter, begging to shame you, like you did something wrong. Which is weird because we loooove marriage so much and there’s a lot of pressure to do it. Every time Americans hear about a couple getting married, we rejoice, “Congratulations!!” followed by a plea for every detail thus far. I’m totally one of those people, partially because I know the game pretty well and mostly because I absolutely believe in love and commitment.

And because we are so in love with marriage, we don’t rejoice when people announce their divorce. Which I’m not suggesting.  But when we hear the news of departure, we always respond sadly and slap our hands to our faces, “Ooooh, wow, they have been together for [insert years of adhesive glue], that’s really sad.”

A couple years ago, however, a friend of mine was telling me that she and her aunts were throwing her Mom a party.  I naturally asked what kind of party it was.  “A ‘Happy Divorce’ party!” she squealed.  My brain couldn’t process that information, and my silence requested that she go on. “Well, my mom was with this total loser for the last 7 years, and nobody liked him.  But we never could say anything to her as she just changed to conform to his lazy son-of-a-slut ass. Finally she is leaving him and we couldn’t be happier!”

She’s absolutely right. Comedian Louis CK also puts it well:

“Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce … That would be sad. If two people were married and they were really happy and they just had a great thing and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times.” [Louis C.K.: Hilarious, 2011]

Right?? So why the hell are we automatically crazy sad for people when they announce their divorce?  Maybe it’s not so sad. They made a, yes very difficult and thought out, decision to move on with their lives without the other person. Good for them?

Now I must insert the mandatory caveat. Some divorces are very heavy, very tragic, and absolutely terrible.  Sometimes it is someone who was perfectly happy, they come home, and their spouse announces they are getting divorced. That’s sad. I don’t really want to play the blame game in hypothetical situations, but I have a very hard time believing someone could be entirely oblivious in a marriage where the other person was totally unhappy.  I might suggest that the person living in the lie of bliss may not be tending to the needs of the unhappy partner…and the unhappy partner needs to get a backbone and fucking say they are considering packing their Pruis before it’s too late.

There are certainly those situations, but we decide to apply them to every case of divorce.  We automatically assume it’s the most absolute tragic scenario and with heavy hearts we mourn.  We do the same thing with marriages, assume that it’s the most romantic fairy tale of a union, and that rainbows are going to shoot out of their eyeballs for the rest of their lives.

These assumptions are stupid and we need to knock it off. You can keep the happy rainbow assumption about marriage, but when people get divorced, it’s not always a terrible thing.  Sometimes it really is a fantastic decision for everyone, and life is going to be a lot better for the two after they stop killing each other trying to make it work.

I know that there are the religious people out there who completely disagree with me. I know that all too well because they are the ones who begged me to stay in my marriage for so long. I knew the marriage was over fairly early on, but because I made the commitment to God, I stayed. I made a lot of mistakes during that time – getting caught up in a legalistic church, drinking the Kool-Aid, marrying the first guy that asked, and waking up one morning married to someone I hadn’t even known for a full year.

Whoops. I don’t mean to sum up the seriousness of those 4 years and pretend it didn’t matter to me, because it did, but I don’t think I have to feel bad about it for the rest of my life. I spent 3 out of those 4 years in and out of counseling, Bible studies, reading relationship books, studying healthy marriages, doing everything I could to make it work. But I was still unhappy. It wasn’t my time to be married yet, and that’s completely my fault. Then I invested everything I had into trying to make something work that never had a chance in the first place.

That’s a little bit of my story.  I realize it’s less tragic than some, but it does give me some authority to speak on the subject of marriage and divorce.  I will never write a book on how to have a perfect marriage, just like I will never write a book about how-to-not-fear-spiders. But what I can say is how important it is to love who you are with, and that includes yourself.  When I was in that silly church that loved to call me a horrible sinner for even considering divorce, I told them I was miserable and unhappy. They replied, “Marriage is about holiness, not happiness.”

My best friend at the time said this, and I didn’t believe it then but I’ll say it now. “That’s a bunch of BULL SHIT.”

Marriage is about a lot of things, and I don’t think you can sum it up in a trite little phrase like that. I don’t want to go into the depths of my misery, but what I can say is that one of the best decisions in my life was my divorce.  And I know I’m not alone on that one. There are a lot of very difficult decisions to make in life, and divorce is one of them…but sometimes it’s the right one.

And while society thinks that they can label us who believed enough in marriage to try it, sometimes hastily, we absolutely do not have to bear the damning titles they want to give us.  I’m single, not divorced. I’m a woman, not a divorcee. Once we can shed these sad and miserable titles, we are free to dream again.  Sure, we need some time to lick our wounds and put ourselves back together again so that we can be a whole, single person. But once we do, there is hope again.

Just because you may have been in a bad marriage, doesn’t mean all marriages are bad. Just because you may have been divorced, doesn’t mean you fail at life. If you fall in love again, you shouldn’t have to be afraid of wearing a yellow dress because you aren’t pure enough for a white one. Fuck that.

Life is too short to get caught up in meaningless labels and shaming each other.  I for one am excited about my future in love. And maybe marriage.  I believe deeply in commitment, and love the institution of marriage. I also believe everyone should get a fresh shot at marriage, even if you’ve tried before. Marriage is a celebration of love. I think of all things to focus on, I think it should be love, not labels.

Now go on, you can change your search to “joni erdmann blissfully happy.” 😉