The couple across the street from me got married last weekend. They moved into that house about six months ago and have been fixing up their backyard ever since. They ripped out an old shed, did some landscaping, and put up a beautiful old wooden arbor at the side entrance that you can see from the street – all, apparently in preparation for this celebration.
Early on the morning of the wedding, they were busy unfolding little white wooden chairs, setting up lights and flowers, and running around looking a little frantic. I watched all of this as I had breakfast at my dining table and it was fascinating to see everything take shape right in front of my eyes in what seemed like such a small amount of time. That day, I left my house to spend most of the day at the animal shelter where I volunteer and when I returned at around five that evening, the wedding was just getting underway. The guests were arriving, there were cars parked all up and down the street, and I could hear people talking, children laughing and screaming, and occasional strains of music drifting from across the street.
Later, as I was working at my laptop, I glanced out the window and noticed the wedding party was having their pictures taken in front of the house. My neighbors were dressed up like I had never seen them before. They are not "dress up" people. He is usually wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts and his long ponytail is usually mussed and looks like it is about to come undone. She normally wears cargo pants and t-shirts and hiking sandals. But on this day he was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and long beige trousers. She was wearing a beautiful pale green gown and her long hair was pulled up into a sleek and elegant knot. As they posed for pictures, it was hard not to notice how happy they both looked. She looked jubilant, like someone who felt like jumping up and down but didn’t dare do so in such a lovely and grownup gown. He looked radiant (and also like someone who’d had a bit too much wine). I was captivated by the sheer joy on their faces. I’ve only met them once or twice whenever their dog has wandered across the street into my yard. They are usually outside working on their yard at the same time I am outside working on mine and their dog often seems to find my yard more intriguing than theirs for some reason. Anyway, I had assumed they were already married. As far as I could tell, they had always behaved like people who have already been together for a long time. Watching them having their pictures taken was sort of a revelation to me. It’s interesting how much a wedding ceremony can mean to people.
I’ve never had any desire to be married. I took a weekend trip to Paris with a guy I was dating a few years ago and we broke up the second night we were there because he felt I was less interested in the babies he kept pointing out to me than the dogs I kept spotting in the park where we had been people-watching that afternoon. He told me that it had made him realize that we did not want the same things in life. He was right in that I generally am more interested in dogs and cats than babies but I didn’t understand what that had to do with our relationship. I later understood that he just really wanted to be married and had finally come to the conclusion that I was not a good prospect for that.
I think the idea that most people have of marriage is a sweet one – finding someone to start a family with, someone that you look forward to waking up next to every day for the rest of your life. I have never wanted that for myself. For the past four years, I’ve been waking up next to a cat who snores so loud it sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t be happier. I like the idea of being responsible only for myself (and my pets) and not having to worry about how someone else’s decisions might affect my life or how my decisions might affect another person’s life. I also like having my house all to myself. Last summer, my boss and I were on a business trip together and at dinner one night, in a rather fatherly and concerned way, he asked me if I ever thought I would get married. All I said was, "What for?" He didn’t have an answer. He probably thinks I’m squandering the best years of my life in solitude and loneliness but I don’t agree. I have plenty of friends. I date. I see my family often. I also have two dogs and two cats – someone with that many pets in the house is never really lonely.
Although I don’t see the point of marriage for myself, I also don’t understand the desire to keep anyone else from getting married if that’s what they want. If having their union witnessed and officially sanctioned and celebrated is important to a couple, they should have that right. Nothing brought it home to me more than the blissful expressions on my neighbors’ faces the other day. If getting married in front of their family and friends can provide that kind of happiness, how can anyone be willing to deny that happiness to anyone else?
I think about one of my good friends, Rob, who will be 30 on his next birthday. He would like to be married. He has told me this several times. Of course, I doubt he will ever meet the guy who will meet his incredibly high expectations. But I admire his persistence as he continues looking for that perfect man.
I also think about my nephew. He’s still too young to actually settle down but he falls madly and deeply in love with every guy he dates. As self-centered, immature, and materialistic as he sometimes is, he frequently surprises me with his proclamations about the ideal life – a small house, a dog or two, and a vegetable garden.
Whenever I hear people talk about the sanctity of marriage, I always wonder if they ever consider the irony of how so many people in this country actually get married. There’s the drive-through wedding chapel in Las Vegas and a myriad of other spectacles from which to choose. People can (and apparently do) get married while sky diving, riding a roller coaster, or under water. Nobody seems to question the solemnity of these unions. They are entirely legal in spite of the peril involved in some of them. What is it about the ceremony and the legal privilege that marriage declares that makes some people more deserving of it than others?