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18 Brides in a Year
If I count events attended plus invitations received, my year in weddings tallies up at 18. I sometimes try to unload a bit of my social vertigo in regards to this figure, and people are like “Whaaaat,” and I reply that I know, it’s crazy, there is no good reason that someone with my lewd conversational habits should possess even 18 friends. But nonetheless 18 is the number! 18 weddings, 18 save-the-dates fluttering off the refrigerator door when I drunkenly seek my snacks. 18 clues about 36 families’ pasts (the curious middle names, the mom I didn’t know lived in Charleston), 18 aesthetic indicators of the present (the invitation pressed on a 7″ record, the blown-up glamour shots of the bride), 18 opportunities to celebrate a straight and monogamous future (so it goes, this year) through institutionalized romantic ritual.
This isn’t a unique problem, or really a problem at all. It’s just a situation, and for me the situation is not even unique to the year: in 2012 I went to six weddings in one summer and skipped quite a few more. But 18 weddings is so many weddings that the words start to shift in meaning. Eighteen is now an adjective that means too many. Wedding, a noun that means too much.
First, the C.R.E.A.M. angle. Let’s say that I were to go to all of these 18 weddings, which I have not done and won’t. But let’s say I did, and each time spent around $300 in transportation, $100 on accommodations, $75 on each present, and $100 on incidentals. For the very lowball price of those tickets, 18 weddings would run me $10,350. That is $4,000 more than I spend on annual rent.
Second, I know: my rent is really cheap. Part of the reason is that I live in a college town in the Midwest. The other part is also the real reason I have been invited to so many weddings: the guy I love and live with. Together we are a good pair, good wedding guests; we are both congenial and mildly rowdy, happy to split up at a party and/or flirt shamelessly with the other person’s friends. Separately we’ve got strong group-text game with our people from high school, college, grad school, work. And, although we’d easily go to our friends’ weddings alone (and mostly we have; the time, the money!), they are always kind enough to invite us together. It’s been four and a half years, I guess we seem like a unit, and I guess we are.
With the exception of my year in the Peace Corps, I’ve lived with one boyfriend or another since I was 17. My personality to the contrary, I still gravitate towards the stuff of marriage: stability, assurance. And I love the stuff that’s at the base of these weddings too: our friends finding the person that makes them the best and happiest, their friends gathering for a good night and good luck. But in the aggregate and the abstract, I hate the whole charade and everything about it, I hate it, make it stop.
Over the summer, my boyfriend and I did go to one wedding together, when one of his former roommates married her sweetheart under the starry, wild West Texas sky. It was a warm night in Marfa and I leaned against my boyfriend’s shoulder at the reception, wine-drunk, candy-stoned. All I meant to say was This wedding is so beautiful. I didn’t realize I said the next part aloud. But I can’t imagine myself doing this, and all night I’ve been thinking, if even this can’t make me want it, then what will?
When I looked up his face was crumbly, and I wanted to throw myself away.
18 women, 18 brides. 18 capable, wonderful, educated, privileged, professional, socially aware female humans enthusiastically plunging into an institution that holds about as much interest for me as a bag of playground rocks (some! Not much, though) and whose associated totems have historically represented the diminishment and commodification of a gender that needs more of either as much as we need a swift punch in the face. I understand easily why a man would want a wife; it’s harder to for me to grasp why a woman would want to be one. The language and semiotics of marriage are terrible: we’re still proposed to, our cervical fealty insured by a ring, our fathers give us away to our fuck buddies, we erase and replace our own names. The preferred aesthetic for “bride” is still very close to that of “princess,” a role so passive and empty that there’s not even anything there to subvert.
I am surprised much less by the weddings than the reluctance to let those signposts go. People (mostly men) keep bringing this coded nonsense even when your disinterest is registry-crystal clear. When are you gonna make an honest woman out of her? When are you gonna put a ring on it? This Christmas, my dad bought my boyfriend a new set of golf clubs. One of his friends texted Hmm, think that means ‘Hey, stop screwing my daughter and just marry her already.’
We are scheduled to go to that friend’s wedding next July.
There’s that great line in Persuasion: “How quick come the reasons for approving the things we like!” That’s my favorite sentence in all of Jane Austen, who I admire greatly as a writer but have never desired to reread. Be that free indirect discourse ever so lovely, nothing’s dead on arrival like a goddamn marriage plot.
Still, Jane Austen is great at the intersection of ego and faux-conviction, and this quote implies an even-wiser converse. How quick come the reasons for disapproving the things we hate! I’ve got other reasons, by which I mean personal failings, that go into my “conceptual” distaste for marriage. My boyfriend, the most emotionally secure and generous person in the world, was recently kind enough to suggest that my fear of commitment might be linked to my aesthetic predilection for the transitory over the permanent: fireworks over monuments, live music over all. “I think that’s why you like the internet,” he added.
The internet in 2013 was particularly great at asking whether isolated women and their isolated actions were feminist, or feminist “enough.” This can be a good question, inviting clarity about how one person’s pursuit of happiness can stomp all over another’s. But much more often it’s a bugbear. Pop stars aren’t closing any abortion clinics; we’ve got to leave people the fuck alone.
It’s here, on this issue only, that I find myself on the other end of the equation with my interference flag in hand. This year my wedding invitations have in fact seemed to me like the internet’s bad habits: why has this routine become ubiquitous, why are we all doing this when half the fuel is narcissism and half the time we’re miserable, why can’t we burn it down and build for ourselves something better?
But then I remember that it’s really none of my business, and that being a woman today still means learning how to rehabilitate junk patriarchal traditions in the manner of your choosing, and that the “Is This Feminist” question almost always says less about the person in question than it does about the person writing from behind the screen. These 18 brides, the women of my year, are doing what they want. Me, I’m standing in front of my refrigerator coming to grips with the way these invitations condense so many of my fears: the persistence of institutions, the necessity of compromise, the fetishization of women and objects and women as objects, the way men grow up believing they’re so important, the slight possibility that for some of us, for me, they are.
Last night, I went to my last wedding of 2013. This couple I love like family got married at the venue where the groom works; the bride’s two-year-old twin daughters walked her down the aisle. Her bosses made the dinner, her friends and relatives spun the records, and the whole night was glittering and wintry and down-home and real. I remembered how different these things feel when the Marxist horror of the whole production eases up, and how great it is to have a buddy in this deeply unfriendly world. I thought about how the bride and groom are best friends who have already had babies, bought a house, drowned in medical bills. They came up floating. May we all.
Jia Tolentino’s feminist attitudes are highly inappropriate for the learning environment.