Much to his visible relief, my boyfriend was pleased to discover when we started dating that I had zero interest in getting married ever again. Like, ever again. He had never been married and didn’t feel that “it was entirely necessary,” which was music to my ugly-divorce ears. I couldn’t fathom being tied to someone legally again. I wasn’t sure what the point was really, either. I’d been married. He still left. I wasn’t a virgin anymore. I’d previously cohabitated out of wedlock. It really did just feel like the excuse that never-marrieds and celebs like to give: it’s just a piece of paper. And while that piece of paper ultimately didn’t hold our marriage together, it did, along with our two kids, fuse our lives after divorce.
Whereas in the latter fourth of our marriage, about three years, we’d spoken increasingly less and less, settling into a roommate situation at home on different floors and in different beds, post-divorce it seemed like we were always talking. And by talking I mean nasty emails and lawyers and all sorts of shenanigans relating to the kids. Details that previously he would not even have cared about, like after school activities and sports, now required permission due to joint legal custody. It was like a perpetual game of “Ex-Husband May I?”
And while I definitely didn’t want more kids- because OMG I’m not always 100% sure I want to keep the two I already have- the idea of being beholden to another person again was daunting. But then I fell in love. Way, way in love. And I started to think about getting married. Again. And I have no idea why. I wanted to be able to call him my husband instead of my boyfriend. I wanted him to be a stepfather to my kids. I wanted to celebrate anniversaries. I gazed at elderly couples holding hands and thought “I want that. I want to get married.” But none of those things actually require marriage. Those are technically just the by-products of an excellent, healthy relationship.
So I started to think about why I disliked marriage so much, and after lots of contemplation and a bunch of angry rants to my boyfriend, I decided that it wasn’t marriage that I was against but The Wedding Industry. You know what I mean, right? The magazines and the sites and the commercials that promise The Happiest Day of Your Life, if you get the right Diamond Engagement Ring, have the Perfect Proposal, The Most Amazing Dress At Any Cost, The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony and Reception and The Most Romantic Honeymoon Ever.
There are so many details to distract from what you should really be doing as a young couple about to get hitched, and most of it isn’t remotely romantic: get pre-marital counseling, have a pre-nup drawn up, agree on finances currently and long term, set goals, decide how you’ll fight (will you go to bed angry or not?). Ask yourselves: Is The Happiest Day of My Life really going to be my wedding day? And is it the best way to spend a bunch of money right now?
In my case, no, this was not the way to spend $25,000 just out of college and grad school. That $25,000 should have paid off school loans or credit card debts, or put a down payment on a home or been invested. But that’s not Sexy and Romantic and part of The Best Day of Your Life. Some of that money should have been used for a pre-marital counseling session, or twenty, but we scoffed because We Were In Love. A pre-nup? We had nothing and thought it was So Unromantic. We joked that if we got divorced I would get his student loans. Well the joke was on me because as we got older we also got very different views of how money should be spent, when and where and then on lawyers.
My Tiffany-style, one-carat diamond ring was perfect in every way, as was his surprise proposal at an expensive restaurant. Again, all things that The Wedding Industry says you should do to ensure Happiness and A Wonderful, Successful Marriage. I had the ring and the proposal, now I needed the dress and bridesmaids and a venue and a color theme and and and. I remember at one point floating out of my body, looking down on myself taking a tour of yet another reception location option and ruling it out because of the ugly carpet, thinking, “What is wrong with you? The carpet doesn’t matter!” But that’s the thing about The Wedding Industry. Like bacteria in a moist environment, it thrives in false illusions and baseless guarantees.
A recent study by Emory University called “A Diamond is Forever and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Wedding Duration” supports my theories. A less expensive ring, lots of friends in attendance at little cost and a honeymoon all correlated with lower divorce rates. It’s no guarantee of course. But from my perspective, here’s why it works: with a lower cost, greater friends and a time away together the emphasis is on the couple, not The Wedding as a single day. A ring shouldn’t be proving anything, it should be a token of love and commitment. Being surrounded by friends who love you as a couple is a strong sign that you’re on the right track. More money spent often means trying to impress and no one should need to be impressed on your wedding day other than in your choice of partner. Money for a honeymoon means you’ve prioritized yourselves together at the start of your marriage, when no one is watching. Of course there are many couples who have big weddings and lavish honeymoons and end up happy forever. But I’d argue that the ones who don’t might be even happier in the long run because they started out thinking about themselves and not just their guests and one day.
I think now about My Perfect Proposal from my boyfriend and I realize there isn’t one. We’re in love, we know we want to be together forever, and that’s pretty much enough. He could turn to me on the sofa one day and casually ask or even just say “lets get married” and that would be perfect for me. Even though I’m anti The Wedding Industry, I’m still a woman in love and therefore troll Pinterest for engagement rings because apparently not all wedding-related delusions can be rationalized. I get all hive-y when I see $5,000 rings or even $2,000 rings. He and I are already working on our long-term financial plans and I’d rather see that money invested or saved. I may or may not have private boards on that site of wedding ideas too but, honestly, my perfect wedding involves just he and I and a judge on the beach on Catalina Island (or even just the county courthouse) and then lots of beer and friends and kick ass casualness at a later date. My bridal ensemble would be well under $500, as would my ring hopefully. There’d be a pre-nup and pre-marriage counseling and long discussions about The Things That Matter and Maybe Aren’t Pleasant to Discuss But Necessary. And it still wouldn’t be a guarantee. And there’d still only be a piece of paper and a promise that could be broken. But we’d have given it our best shot for a successful life together, not just one successful day.