Monday, May 25, 2009

The Member of the Wedding

"A second marriage," said Samuel Johnson, "is the triumph of hope over experience." This is a quotation I should have considered before my second wedding, which took place in a drive-up chapel in Reno, after a few margaritas and a stop at an ATM. (Fashion note: The bride wore a white Anne Fontaine swimsuit coverup and matching Keds.) Despite my request for a non-religious ceremony, the officiant decided no marital union, even one between a bitterly lapsed Episcopalian and a carol-despising Jew, was complete without a mention of Jesus.

The witness was my sister, then a mature-looking 11, so with an illegal signature and a violation of the Second Commandment, it's possible the whole thing was void from the start (an argument I considered, then rejected, during the discussions of the generous spousal support I wound up paying). It was, however, madcap in a way that seemed right for us. After all, we did get engaged in a Brazilian jewelry store.

On the way back to the home of the friends we were visiting, we waved to Reno's residents, pageant-queen style, from our borrowed convertible. But when we leapt into one of the guest room's twin beds to consummate, it turned out it was sheetless. That's when I started to cry.

Perhaps it was the margaritas wearing off. Or maybe I remembered that my new husband's second vow of everlasting love (this was his third) had been pledged at the San Francisco Opera House, in between Acts Two and Three of La Bohème, with all attendees dressed in black tie and red shoes.

Those are the sort of details I would have preferred to be recounting, just as I can remember all the details of my very modest but lovely first wedding in an apple orchard, except why I decided to marry the groom in the first place. But somehow the Napa wedding that #2 and I were going to have on our first anniversary never happened, nor did it on our fifth; and by our tenth, the support payments were over.

I was reminded of this not long ago when he sent me an elaborate script for a wedding ceremony at which he'll be officiating in a few weeks, for the grown son of friends. It seemed ironic to me, and I don't mean "rain on your wedding day" ironic. And not just because I once bought him a 1768 edition of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary.

I did not grow up playing "wedding." I grew up playing "princess," far more satisfying in that there only has to be one of you and you can totally rule, yet you still get to dress up in something poufy. And I have always thought that obsessiveness about weddings happens most often to those who have not thrown many large-scale parties, as I have both personally and professionally. (I've also written for numerous bridal publications and their corporate overlords.) Weddings can be wonderful celebrations, including the four in my immediate family that I've been to, but in my case the resulting marriages haven't worked out that well. It's about who you're marrying, not how.

However, I am a product of my culture, and though I have successfully avoided seeing Bride Wars and the Sex and The City movie, I do have strong opinions about diamonds and dresses, and I think it's unfortunate that I see either as some kind of validation.

It will soon be 15 years since that night in Reno, and only two likely candidates for the party of the second part (not including foolish crushes) have showed up. Both are fiercely opposed to marriage, after dire experiences with their first wives 30 years ago. One recently attended his college friend's third wedding, which will probably confirm his opinion. I will be meeting the other's new flame tomorrow. I am very happy for him, but I have to confess that if she turns out to be The One, I'll wish them well, but... well, I'll listen to this.


Wondering where the post title came from? Go here. Tired of me explaining my allusions? (My illusions - see above - are inexplicable.) Tell me off in the comments.


  1. Yes, you can bring a horse to water but you can't make him, um, think.

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