Lately I’ve talked with several women both in North America and India about the experience of weddings. Expectations are high on all parts. Brides are supposed to look and act perfectly, families are supposed to give the perfect gifts. Now, in North America, even, guests are not only expected to give gifts, they’re also often expected to book trips to tropical destinations or cruises at their expense for so-called “Destination Weddings.” It is such a big milestone for many, but at the same time I’m hearing so much about how stressful and costly it can be for all involved that I am honestly baffled as to why many people do it except out of a sense of family obligation.
I still remember the day I proposed to Sage. The story was like this. After knowing each other in person for about three months and having met online two months before that, we stopped at the library. (Some things about my life never change). I pulled in to the parking space, turned off the car and said:
“Sage, I have been thinking. Right now you’re not covered by health insurance. If you get sick or even break your arm we will go broke. If we were married you’d be covered by my health insurance. So why don’t we get married?”
Sage thought for a moment and with all of the emotion one reserves for talking about what we need to get at the grocery store, or a reminder that the cable bill is due responded: “OK, but I get a cat.” And then, we picked up the books we were to return to the library and went inside.
And that was it. It was decided. We had decided soon after we met, even before we met in person, that we would be together forever. Neither of us is religious so we didn’t feel we needed some divine blessing for that decision. All of the emotion and joy you might imagine being a part of a marriage proposal was in that conversation – one in which both our stomachs were filled with butterflies, our eyes with tears and our hearts with love. For us, marriage was matter of paperwork, only.
Of course there was a practical aspect to this and we had to figure out exactly how one goes about becoming married. As it turns out, it is relatively simple. First, oddly enough, we had to go to the doctor and have our blood tested. Though I don’t think it is the case anymore, at least in 1992 in Massachusetts, a syphilis test was required before permission to be married would be granted. Of course we both passed this test. This cost about $50 for both of us.
After that we headed to the town clerk’s office and filled out the marriage license paperwork. This cost about $35. Then, with the fees paid, we needed someone to perform the marriage. Sage called around to find a “Justice of the Peace”. In the US, they often are called upon to administer oaths of all sorts including marriage vows. Sage found a woman in her 60’s who lived nearby and set up the appointment. The woman asked Sage if we had any vows chosen and Sage said “No, whatever gets it done the fastest.” which, I think, on some level disappointed the Justice of the Peace – this was not the least bit romantic. “What kind of sad marriage was this going to be?” She may have thought.
Then the time came to call my family. I called them from work first thing in the morning – a time when I would find them to be most sober. Still, by 9:00 AM, they were likely 3-4 drinks in to their day. My dad picked up the phone and I gave him the news: “Dad, Sage and I are getting married next week.”
There was silence on the other side of the line for about thirty seconds as he processed this bit of information. And then the silence was broken: “Is she pregnant?”
Once I assured him that he was not going to be a grandfather for quite some time, I told him that they wouldn’t need to come. However, my brother would be invited to come and be the witness – one witness was required to make the wedding official.
That evening, Sage called all of her family and friends who were much happier about the news than my own parents. were. We both laughed a lot about how something that seemed of such little consequence to us – it was just paperwork after all – would make so many people so happy.
After all of the plans were made, we headed to the animal shelter to find a cat. I, being new to cats, gravitated toward the quietest, most boring of them all. Bill just sat there like a lump. That would be good. He could sit like a lump in our living room too. But then Sage asked me to come to see the one she was looking at. There was a very vocal, friendly cat who immediately came up to me begging for attention. This cat, Shelly, went home with us that day and would stay with us for the rest of her 18 year life.
Shelly was the closest thing we had to a traditional marriage practice and even that was a stretch. Sage doesn’t like jewellery so she would literally have laughed at an engagement ring – or just as likely been upset that I had spent so much money on what was, in her mind, simply a round piece of metal – a tiny keyring – with a rock glued to it. However, demonstrating my devotion by giving her a gift she liked was welcome.
After all of the plans were in place, the day finally came. We drove to an old bungalow in a suburban neighbourhood and rang the doorbell. A grey-haired woman came to the door and let me, Sage, and my brother in. We went in to her living room. Our vows took about a minute each. Though I can’t require a word of the vows she had provided us with, I remember us both being surprised that we teared up a little bit as we said them. It wasn’t so much that we were happy about being married so much as that at least part of the vows really resonated with our own feelings.
And then it was over. We were married. We talked a bit longer with the Justice of the Peace about her cats but then we had to go. We were hungry and it was almost lunchtime. We drove around until we found somewhere with a decent and inexpensive lunch and went there. And all told, once we added up paying for the blood test, marriage licence, Justice of the Peace, cat adoption fee, and even lunch for three, we had spent less than $200.
Our wedding had one guest who was mandatory. We received no gifts other than the happiness of Sage’s friends and relatives, and one shelter cat. The day itself was so insignificant that we generally don’t celebrate our anniversary. Neither of us knows the exact date we were married – we have to look it up on the certificate to be sure if any form requires it. Even now, as I asked Sage to help me confirm one of the details for this piece, she got the year wrong.
What matters to us is the commitment we made to each other soon after we met to spend the rest of our lives together. What matters is that as we made that commitment, we also understood that this would be a relationship of mutual love and respect. There was never a big ceremony, and we didn’t have to swear in front of our families or even a higher power that might later hold us accountable. We value each other so much that merely making that commitment to one another is enough. It was enough for us then, and it continues to be enough for us almost 27 years later.