Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The hoopla of marriage

Weddings are a special time.

For most people, it is a time of celebration and parties.

The ceremony symbolizing the union may vary in each culture, but the ethos is the same: it's a time for new beginnings. A time when two families, not just two individuals, join forces.

And society acknowledges, and blesses, the newly weds, congratulating the respective families on this milestone.

But what makes a wedding special for the bride and groom is very different from what makes it special for the parents, relatives and friends.

My wedding was a quick affair.

I had flown in from Iowa City for a weekend...just to hang out; nothing special. We had been having conversations about marriage, living in, social pressure, parental expectations...wondering what the big deal was and why people gave it so much weight.

For the past two years we had discussed the meaning of marriage and concluded that for us the act of getting married by itself didn't signify a binding contract.

A social ceremony is held to validate the couple's commitment to each other -- but why do we need to publicly show our promise? So we can be held accountable, right? But when the two people who made that agreement don't want to honor it anymore, can others really hold them to it?

My life partner had decided early on that marriage wasn't for him. He wanted to spend his life with me, but he didn't need the stamp of marriage to make him carry on that undertaking.

I, on the other hand, wanted the illusion of security that an official document (but not a social celebration) provides. It wasn't that I didn't' trust him; I was just too entrenched in the socio-cultural value system I had grown up knowing.

We decided to walk the middle road.

So, that Thursday when all we had decided to do was sleep and watch TV, we paid a visit to the local court house.

We hadn't intended to get married -- just get some information, find out the process, etcetera.

Seemed pretty straightforward -- fill out some paperwork, present your IDs, pay the 79-dollar fee for a marriage license and decide when you want to have the ceremony. Seeing as it was so simple, we did the needful and took an appointment for the next morning.

We arrived at the courthouse at 10 a.m. the following day -- me a little giddy; he his usual composed self.

We walked down the steps to the marriage ceremony room, were asked if we had any witnesses, and upon answering in the negative were provided one.

The County Deputy Marriage Commissioner asked if we had rings to exchange. Nope.

"Do you have a necklace for her?" she asked, knowing that in Hindu wedding ceremonies the mangalsutra was more important than the ring.

"No," he said.

She shrugged and said, "Alright then, this shouldn't take long."

Eight minutes and 80 dollars later, she had pronounced us husband and wife.

I don't even remember those eight minutes -- all I remember is feeling oh-so-grown-up.

And special -- here I was, standing next to a guy who despite his dismissal of the institution of marriage, had participated in this ceremony to show me he really, truly loved me.

He didn't have to do it, but he did it anyway.

And for me, the gesture meant more than the piece of paper we walked away with.

No one knew we were getting married.

I didn't know we would be married by Friday when I flew in the day before.

And we didn't feel any different. I retained my last name. We told our parents. And that was that.

From our point of view, that is.

Our parents' perspective was slightly different.

Both sets wanted a public display -- mine a little grander than his.

The planning conversations began.

Not with me, but amongst themselves.

For many months prior to my arrival in India, all that mom and dad talked and breathed about were "the arrangements."

I found this handy visual on Dazediva's site to demonstrate what their planning must have entailed.

Breakdown of wedding budget

My parents were planning a wedding and a reception in my hometown, followed by another reception planned by my in-laws in their hometown.

We were flying to India for 10 days during winter break (I was still in Iowa) and didn't want a grandiose celebration -- after all, we were already married.

Not according to my parents.

My folks didn't acknowledge the "paper wedding" for the longest time, because they hadn't "given me away." And until they did that, I wasn't "his." Needless to say, they hadn't mentioned our clandestine court wedding to anyone.

They wanted to invite immediate and distant relatives, friends, extended social circle acquaintances, colleagues -- everyone they knew for their only child's wedding.

I was treating it only as a symbolic event -- so all I wanted was for people I cared about and those who cared about me for the crux of the ceremony.

Traditional Indian Marriage -- Wedding Ceremony in my parents' living room
Eventually, after a lot of heartbreak, crying, and emotional blackmailing, the ceremony took place in my parents' living room. The wedding venue had been flooded the night before.

Only 12 people were present and the ceremony took all of 90 minutes.

Finally -- we had gotten the social validation.

We were done.

The two receptions that ensued allowed for more social acknowledgment -- with the guests commenting on the food, our attire, the decorations, and the entertainment.

Of course, they had come to bless us -- the rest of it was just social norms.

Despite not wanting to, we did it all. Growing up I'd realized weddings are such a waste of money. Money that could be used to benefit so many people who really need it, but I went along anyway because this was the only way I could show my parents, the same way he did for me, that I really, truly loved them.

And they needed to do the whole jing-bang because of peer pressure. What would their friends say? What rumors would their colleagues float? What would our relatives think?

This was their only child -- they had to do right by the society they lived in.

Almost a decade into this relationship, seven of which have been spent as his wife, I can reflect and say we really didn't need either of those ceremonies for us.

We needed them for the people around us.

Even though we are married, our friends will vouch that ours is not the traditional husband-wife arrangement.

We've never been good at playing those roles, and I hope we never learn how to.

For us, being together is all that matters.

Marriage is just a by-product.

Also posted on my blog.


Cynthia Pittmann said...

Hi Mansi, I enjoyed reading about your family dynamics and how your relationship impacts your parents. It's true that sometimes we have to be (or seem to be) someone else so that our family will be more comfortable.

Fortunately, the requests to participate in ceremony are usually familiar. I think it's more difficult for a person to be dramatically different from family expectations.

For example, some people who are 'in the closet' have to continue to pretend. It seems so awkward and painful to me; but I'm beginning to understand that culture and one's place in it influences how to handle this type of situation.

btw I just came back from your First Impressions blog. I read about Facebook and your professional reasons to stay connected. You seem like someone who wants to be entirely honest. What a difficult and admirable road you have chosen!

Mansi said...

Thanks, Cynthia. Weddings are complex...marriage is, too, but if two people are attuned to each other's needs and are accepting of each other's faults, the journey becomes a lot easier. It's really difficult to toe the line between individuality and cultural norms...but, then again, who said life was going to be easy? :-)
As for being entirely honest -- what other way is there?
Thanks, again, for stopping by to read ... and share.