First of all, getting married is not something that happens during one day or at any one point in time. Getting married is a process and during the process of getting married there is a particular day upon which ceremonials typically occur.
I want to describe the events surrounding mine and Mike’s wedding day because some people out there want to know about it. Part of sharing this is to remind people - or let you know - that it IS possible to create a very authentic, personal, and conscious wedding day to celebrate marriage, love, commitment, community, or whatever you think marriage means. I want my story to remind people that our spirits, passions, and beliefs can shine through every thing we do in this world - a wedding being one prominent opportunity. That being said, it is not without its own set of challenges. I did not agonize over colors schemes, seating arrangements, which dress to buy, demo hair styles, or learn new make-up strokes. I did however agonize over what the purpose of getting married was, how to afford a socially and environmentally responsible dinner, and the ridiculous amounts of gender stereotypes that perpetuate a woman’s disempowered role in society. Here are my thoughts. I trust that I will insult some people along the way. Such is life... or at least such is my life.
Why get married?
For me and Mike the process of getting married began at least 3 years ago when we first started talking about getting married, about whether we wanted to get married, and what marriage meant to us. Actually, our marriage probably started before that in the many subtle ways as we evaluated each other as potential partners. For me, and many young girls, the process was well underway as we grew up fantasizing about the princess wedding dress and a prince charming who would sweep us off our feet as he presented a diamond engagement ring and requested our hand in marriage. To be honest, I don’t really remember much of that, which may have had something to do with my parents divorce. That was when I remember first questioning the whole institution of marriage in the first place, as I grieved my own parents divorce becoming privy to the devastation embedded within broken vows. Then, throughout several serious relationships, from high school onward, I was continuing to question the idea of marriage entirely. I began to see many inequalities, both covert and overt in the institution, the ceremony, and the process and frankly some of it pisses the hell out of me. Sadly (IMO), I realized how many people are ready to accept these inequalities in order to uphold a tradition they have yet to think deeply about or to uphold a tradition simply because they do not have the time to think about it. Caveat: I will offend some of you reading right now, in fact, that is my hope. This is a serious issue of equality.
The questioning around the wedding was, admittedly, excruciating, and not just for me. I judged and I was judged. I even worry right now that some readers are reading because they just love to hate my ideas, arguments, and ridiculousness or just think “oh Mandy, give it a rest.” But these issues are important and I absolutely believe without a doubt that any human who believes in social justice and human rights should seriously look at the marriages and weddings around them and ask some deep questions about how they exist and manifest.
Let me go into further detail, starting with the engagement.
Will You Marry Me?
Mike did not propose to me. He did not get down on one knee and ask me to marry him. He did not ask my father (or my mother) beforehand if he could have my hand in marriage. Had any of that happened, we probably would not be married today. In fact, it blows my mind to think that anyone in their right mind would even consider that a man has the right to ask the woman’s father permission to marry the woman. Sidenote: asking both parents is hardly reconciliation for this perpetuation of a practice that implies a woman is not her own person. This is not just an innocent tradition. It says very strongly that women are owned and given from parents to husband.
What did happen was that we were in a cafe in Toronto when we found ourselves in a very heartfelt conversation about whether or not we wanted to get married, not whether it was practical or logical or reasonable, which had been our typical conversations up until that point. This conversations was different. This conversation came from our hearts (not our heads) and was marked with a very distinct YES on both our parts. We, in every sense, asked each other if we wanted to get married. It wasn’t planned as such, it just happened.
Mike also didn’t hold out an engagement ring for me and we didn’t go buy one for me to wear afterwards. I didn’t get him one either. A woman I knew once referred to an engagement ring as “putting the woman on lay-away”. I (dis)liked that analogy very much and hence forward decided not to get one. Mike and I did discuss each wearing engagement rings, to reconcile this inequality, but it just never happened.
Not having an engagement ring was an interesting experience in and of itself. Awkwardly, when it would come up that I was getting married, people (women) would look toward my hand. Either they would notice nothing or I would say out loud “I don’t have an engagement ring” and then proceed to say why.
We had no engagement party either, had no showers, and no bachelorette. At the time, I didn’t know what this wedding was going to look like and, I think, I was resisting falling down the rabbit hole. I don’t really have any big issue with engagement parties, except that they likely require the showing off of the engagement ring. But I didn’t have time to think about it so opted out. Showers were a can of worms too, IMO. The commercialism embedded within them nauseated me, although as far as I can tell the Jack & Jill showers are a good attempt at removing gender inequality. But to me, showers were another portal down the rabbit hole and I wasn’t sure if I would survive. I like things and gadgets and towels but what did we really need? I try to avoid buying them because most things, stuff, and gadgets aren’t really helping our world out that much.
I had no bachelorette party. Lindsey and I talked about this a lot and we went back and forth about it and its purpose. If we had more time we probably would have figured something out. But I didn’t have any extra time to think up and appropriate bachelorette that suited my philosophy. However, I still can’t wrap my head around how we think strip clubs are acceptable for bachelor party’s so I kind of think the whole premise of bachelor(ette) parties are actually a little ridiculous! What exactly is the purpose of partying in an atmosphere of pseudo-sex before getting married? The last chance at romance before getting hitched I think. Is this something we should condone?
Nevertheless we made it through the engagement phase and on to the wedding day. But getting there also had it’s set of challenges. Everything from planning the day to planning a ceremony was questioned.
The Wedding Industry
The money associated with this day was probably one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with. On any given day I resist commercialism. I fall into it’s clutches often, I admit, every time I buy a new shirt or pants that I don’t actually need. Make-up, a new bike, new runners, all of these commercial goods get me. A wedding felt like commercialism on steroids for me. There was just endless amounts of things one could buy for the wedding and all events surrounding. I don’t think I need to list them. As a result, I know I personally had to be extremely conscious of what we were buying. But in the end, what we did spend money on was:
- Venue ~ $400
- Local, Niagara Organic Wine that we bottled ourselves ~ $900
- Hard alcohol & Champagne ~$200
- Local Beer (actually we got that for free)
- CO2 cartridge for our soda machine + water flavoring ~ $50
- Local-produce Catering with free-range, ethically treated animals, and gluten-free/vegan options ~$6000
- rings that Mike made himself in Toronto using recycled silver ~$300
- fabric for a dress that my mom made for me ~$30 + pattern
- shoes ~$100 (I splurged!)
- alterations to a suit Mike bought at Value Village ~$35 + ~$8 suit
- a few fresh local flowers + vases ~$200
- a few decorations ~$160
- polaroid film ~$60
- evites with digital envelopes ~$75
- manicures & pedicures ~$130
- rental car to pick up family from airport ~$120
- probably a few other things I can’t think of.
Minimalist to some, but possibly even a bit more than we really needed. We could have just gone to the beach and had a potluck... we thought about that but admittedly, I got scared of the unpredictability of the weather.
All of these commercial items incur expenses, not too surprisingly. For the first while I could not imagine spending an exorbitant ($10K) amount of money for one single day. After some reflection, I did come to realize that spending $10K in one day that was for and many others a wonderful celebration and community event was actually well worth the money. I think many of us in our society typically look for the acquisition of items as good in exchange for our money. But paying for an experience was, and is, very rewarding.
That being said, weddings are not very accessible to those without a great deal of disposable income. We were fortunate to have support from our families and were fortunate to let go of some major expenses (e.g., paper invites, table-service dinner, photographer, expensive venue, DJ, wedding gown, engagement ring, wedding bands NOT made by Mike...), hair salon, and probably lots of other things down that rabbit hole that I didn’t go find. We did our wedding for about $10K, with 65% of our money going catering. If we had done a potluck (which was considered), it would have been well under $5000. But not everyone has $5000 to spend on a wedding, never mind the $50K that many people spend. Many people take out loans or simply cannot afford it. And the gap between those people who cannot afford it and those who can bothers me immensely. I feel for the women who want the princess wedding gown for a day they have waited their entire life for but cannot afford it. I feel similarly for children who want a new pair of Nike shoes for Christmas but who’s parents can’t afford that either. The commercialism of our society sickens me on any given day and is heightened at Christmas and apparently during weddings. The fact that some people are not able to celebrate a union easily without money is very sad to me (even a justice of the peace and all the documentation is around $250 - $500).
I say all this seemingly very righteous but the reality of it is that I struggled very much to succeed in keeping our wedding costs down. And like I said above, I could have been consumed by consumerism. But I did what any addict does to stay sober. I didn’t put myself in the situations that would cause me to crumble - no wedding shows, no dress shops, no decoration places, no wedding magazines. Actually, it really wasn’t that hard to stay away from all of that. It kind of makes me sick! ;)
After coming to terms with the money, Mike and I were able to design our ceremony, which I first I personally could not even call a wedding ceremony. Now, after the fact, and slightly leading up to it, I felt confident enough that we had reclaimed the word wedding to be true for us. But until then I couldn’t even say we were having a wedding or getting married. And I never ONCE called myself a bride - still can’t stomach that.
The Ceremony Sets The Tone
Our ceremony was created by myself, Mike, Bronwyn (our dear friend who married us), and Lindsey (my soul sister and Bronwyn’s partner). It was not traditional. To start, Bronwyn is not a minister or a justice of the peace. She is our mutual friend who’s ideologies we relate to and she knows us well. The theme was love, community, and commitment and we wanted that to come out in the ceremony. Bronwyn spoke to each of those in her sermon, which she developed thoughtfully and delivered eloquently. She used her own words, our words (through an interview she conducted with us), words of friends and family, and words of other great beings. It was absolutely beautiful and memorable.
The ceremony started with Mike and I standing up at the front with Bronwyn. There was no isle for me to walk down. For me, I could not get past the tradition of where the isle came from. The last thing I wanted to represent was a veiled woman being walked down the isle and then given away by one man (her father) to another (her groom). Now, for those of you who want to say “hey, sometimes both parents walk the bride down the isle” I have to ask, do you really think that makes it all better? Mike’s brother and his wife both had their parents walk them down the isle. That was pretty good. But what I would love to see (or hear about) is a ceremony where the bride and bridesmaid’s are waiting for the groom and groomsmen at the end of the isle. But that in itself is still plagued with gender stereotypes that I won’t get into.
It’s also worth noting that in a traditional Christian ceremony the minister asks “Who gives away this bride?”. Seriously? Still? When I have questioned this I was told of some bride’s having both their mother and father answer the question. Really? That’s better? I guess the fact that mothers, not just fathers, get to own people is a step in the right directions. Or at least that’s what proponents of that adoption would have to claim to justify it. Sorry, I’m not convinced. Some other things in the ceremony I find funny:
“Do you promise to obey?” Hahaha! No. I don’t.
“Do you both come of your own free will?” Hahah, I surely hope so!
“The groom may now kiss the bride.” as the bride is unveiled for her new husband. Hopefully he likes what he sees. Oh the agony a bride must once of felt hoping she was accepted.
So what did we do? Well, I certainly did not agree to obey anyone and decided not to have vows. This promise of forever after is frankly bull shit. What is the purpose of this when 50% of people break their promises? Vows have lost their integrity and worth. In fact, IMO, weddings themselves have. I have sadly seen too many people get married because corporations like DeBeers have successfully marketed weddings with “Diamonds are forever” and convinced too many people that the hoopla of weddings IS what getting married is all about. For more on this, see below about “money and commercialism”.
So, after much reflection on our ceremony, we decided to write our own set of intentions, rather than make promises we couldn’t keep. And we committed to those in front our friends and families as witnesses. Here’s how that went:
Bronwyn, our MC, after a sermon on love, commitment, and community said: Mandy, what is your intention in marrying mike?
Mandy says to Mike:
For me, love is a practice, with the hopes of finding and achieving unconditional love. My intention is to love you unconditionally and in so doing, let our relationship serve as a practice of offering unconditional love to all beings. My love for you will teach me to be love.
Bronwyn: Mike, what is your intention in marrying Mandy?
Mike says to Mandy:
For me, I know our relationship, like all relationships, require hard work and attention in order to succeed. My intention is to work with you during those difficult times, turning toward you, rather than away. This love will teach me to be love.
Bronwyn: Mike and Mandy, over the course of your relationship will you cause each pain or hurt?
Bronwyn: Is that your intention?
Mandy: our intention is to ease that pain when it does occur.
Bronwyn: Will you cause each other anger or frustration?
Bronwyn: Is that your intention?
Mike: our intention is to ease that anger when it does occur
Bronwyn: Will you cause each other to worry or be burdened?
Bronwyn: Is that your intention?
Bronwyn: What are your intentions?
Mike: Our intention is to grow together as one, while also growing as individuals, and to devote meaningful attention to growing our relationship.
Mandy: Our intention is to encourage and support each other’s paths, unselfishly.
Mike: Our intention is to be open, honest, and understanding.
Mandy: Our intention is love each other unconditionally, to exist in a state of love, and to bring love and kindness into the lives of others through this practice.
Mike: Our intention is to remain together as a couple through good times and difficult times.
Mandy: Our intention is to seek help from our community when necessary.
Bronwyn: do you both commit to these intentions?
M&M: We do
Exchange of RINGS...
Mike and I found these intentions in a Pagan wedding and we both really resonated with the idea of intentions. We also loved the fact that it point-blank exposed the fact that we will not be perfect partners and that we will cause each other pain and hurt and anger.
This happened to us before we got married and we certainly weren’t going to delude ourselves into thinking that some magical fairy wasn’t going to make us perfect partners when we got married. So we laid it right out there. An important theme for us was that we would turn toward our challenges, not away from them, and the Pagan expose of that was wonderful. In the end, our wedding day was wonderful
After The Wedding Day
We had few regrets... although the classic “not getting to spend time with everyone” emerged. But what surprised me was that some of those terrible industry things popped up in my head. I actually had several really disturbing thoughts after seeing the photos including: 1) I should have whitened my teeth, 2) I should have gone on a diet, and 3) I should have had my make-up and hair professionally done. My choice not to do all those things was actually quite simple - I wanted to look like me and be able to still recognize myself 20 years from now rather than looking back at some photoshopped fake, anorexic woman that was never me except for a day. But the fact that those thoughts popped up in my head at all is suggestive of how disturbing our society is.
After our wedding we also had several people ask if we were “really” married. I find it kind of funny to think about how much we rely on these external institutions to dictate our experiences in life. No, we did not get married in a Church and we have not had the government approve of our commitment to one another. But we assure you that spending money and inviting our friends and family to take time away from their busy lives and spend money to travel to see us and shower us with love and generosity is the institution to whom we feel most accountable. In fact, we asked that our community indeed support us in our marriage, as we recognize that we will have troubling times. I suspect that this institution will support us more than the government or a church we don’t attend. And if God is up there judging us for doing it our way, perhaps he/she should consider revamping his/her way because it’s only about a 50% success rate last time I checked.
One last thing that I can’t help but mention. Many people asked me if I was going to change my last name. My answer is simple: “It’s not 1950”. Mike and I considered several options... including him changing his name, flipping a coin, and us creating a new name. All of these have been done but I still think we need some better options, particularly when offspring come into the picture.
I have been working on this piece for over a year and still haven’t completely figured out what my view on weddings is; but I present it nonetheless recognizing that just like a wedding day becoming conscious of issues and of ourselves is a process. On that note, I will conclude with... nothing further at this point. I do, however, look forward to hearing from those who "Like" these thoughts and those who adamantly oppose it.