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An audible sigh of relief overwhelms me as I tuck my feet under a handmade quilt my godmother made as a wedding gift, still crisp and barely used, looking over at my husband who is eating breakfast from a shiny new bowl and spoon.
I am acutely aware of this new reality, one that has brought peace of finally settling into married life.
Even more aware am I of the two rings that sit stacked on my left hand as I keep my balance by holding onto the pole of a bus I take to work each morning. I wonder if anyone notices my youth, though I also find myself cowering down for fear of judgment.
Being married as an early 20-something was perhaps once a norm, but one need not look deep into any statistics to know it’s anything but that these days. Sure, our engagement at times encountered looks of wonderment and, “wow, really?” “you’re so young” “what do your parents think?”
Yes, really. No, we’re not. And I haven’t lived with them since high school, but they approve.
In the days leading up to the wedding, I received unsolicited advice from a man 30 years my senior, advising and assuring me that it was a nice thing to do, to get married – but these things don’t always work out so hopefully this man is the one for me.
This jaded view of marriage hurt my spirits as a bride-to-be, but mostly brought me to wonder if we’ve somehow lost hope in the face of committed relationships. As a Millennial, at times it seems to me that failing to recycle is a greater sin than infidelity to one’s partner. A byproduct – though not at all a result - of the hookup culture, so to speak, I’m keenly aware of how much of an anomaly I am.
Even more shocking to most is that I did not “test the waters” and live with my husband before being married. The decision towards marriage was not taken lightly – believe me, the stress of planning a ceremony and reception for over 100 people is no easy feat so I would only dream of making the decision for a darn good reason.
Our wedding was beautiful, simple and countercultural. Don’t get me wrong – the food was delectable, the guests lively, and the wine plentiful. But as a friend who flew in for the wedding said to me, “It wasn’t about the party.” In the 10 or so months we spent engaged, my then-fiancé and I strove to plan for a marriage, not a wedding. Difficult as it was to not get bogged down by the near-perfect-but-unattainable wedding industry, the very fact that a friend affirmed such a truth meant we had at least in part done what we set out to do: prioritize what was to come after “I do.”
We didn’t have a wedding cake, we used fake flowers, there was no garter toss, and the suits and dresses were not identical. Family, friends, classmates, acquaintances in tow, the church filled up on a Friday afternoon for a wedding ceremony Mass dedicated to Mary the Mother of God, and two young people dedicated to God and one another. I gained a husband, a new family (lots of nieces and nephews!), and an awareness of the sanctity of the promises I made before them all. I still have autonomy, I am my own, but I’m living with and for someone apart from myself. A challenging feat, to be sure – but one with rewards that reach far beyond today or tomorrow, in a world that idolizes instant self-gratification.
The day wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly authentic. One of our flower girls chucking her container of Cheerios and collapsing onto the floor instead of walking up the aisle was not foreseen (nor was it surprising, but I digress), though it certainly lent a message to our guests that would not have gone far with prim and proper decor and design: marriage isn’t about perfection.
Spending our time preparing for marriage instead of the wedding was more difficult than I imagined. With the wedding dress shopping came the expectation that I was supposed to cry and exclaim, “this is the one! I say yes to the dress!” – as though picking a dress was somehow emblematic of my having found my Prince Charming to marry.
There was the push to lose weight, to have every suit and dress coordinate with each other, to control the bridesmaids’ accessories and hair so as to give a uniform look, and on it went.
While the external pressures to perform and have a Pinterest-perfect wedding plagued us at every wedding prep and vendor corner, we were there to remind each other to look inward at what was actually important.
The Mass, the music, our families and us. A marriage to the best friend I’ve had for nearly two decades of growing up, the promise of forever, and a heck of a long journey ahead of us. No amount of cake testing or venue shopping led us to the altar, but the imperfect planning of a marriage seemed, at the very least, a step forward in the right direction.
Tucked under my quilt, resting in this new reality of post-wedding life, I can appreciate from a comfortable distance the insanity of the wedding planning and how easy it can be to get sucked into its nasty possession. Easy, even now, to compare our wedding day as I attend others this wedding season: Maybe I should have spent more time looking for a perfect dress. Was our dance as fun as theirs will be? Did our guests actually enjoy themselves? Maybe my bridesmaids should have all worn the same dress...
On and on it goes. Difficult always to escape the pressures, but as I look around my home that’s been unpacked with wedding gifts and my husband’s possessions, I’m content knowing this new reality that’s unfolding.
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