by Abby Blaize
Mawwiage is what bwings us together todaaayy….
Dated references aside, I’d like to discuss that “dream within a dream” and pull apart the mind fuckery that is America’s favorite institution. In our culture, the supposed climax of love and romance is attaining a super sexy legal document. Even as politicians fight to maintain intense restrictions on this piece of paper, we’re pretty sure that the final ingredient for a successful relationship is getting a state government involved. After all, nothing spices up a long-term relationship more effectively than a grumpy employee processing you and your beloved’s signatures.
I know I’ve got it wrong. It’s not about the document– it’s about the celebratory affair. It’s about spending a small fortune on outdated symbols and tiny bottles of bubbles. It’s about swearing fidelity in front of a crowd of loved ones and in-laws, and then shoving a dry chicken or fish option down their throats afterward. I’ve ingested too many romantic comedies to not be aware of the fact that the height of romance is doing the Chicken Dance with your Great Aunt while slightly intoxicated.
We love a good wedding. Just look at America’s favorite and most accessible art form: television. The popular sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, spent an entire season hashing out the details of a pivotal marriage ceremony, Friends stuck its biggest shocker in the midst of wedding vows, and Game of Thrones served up bloodshed and drama at the Red Wedding and, recently, at the Purple Wedding.
There’s much to say about the marriage industry and the crappy things it does to make money. People with more advanced degrees and better vocabularies than myself have written books and made careers about this very topic. But we’re past all that now, right? It’s 2014 and even though I still watch marathons of Say Yes to the Dress with a carton of ice cream nearby, I know it’s just the stuff of shallow entertainment. Reality television is intentionally over-the-top, therefore, these women spending small fortunes on white gowns are deserving of parody, not thoughtful criticism. Still, the caricature of love and marriage trotted out on the small screen leaves a lot to be desired.
Cultural expectations exist elsewhere, I suppose. Pinterest would have me believe that the DIY-wedding is the way of the future: cost efficient, intimate, and innovative with Ball jars. The radio hits streaming from my car stereo repeatedly reference the little chapel we’re gonna get hitched in (that is, if I’m at home in Indiana). From personal experience, I believe that marriage in America revolves around one special, symbol-laden ceremony that ends in happily-ever-a-few-years-until-we-call-it-quits. Marriage isn’t forever, it isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t suit every personality type.
Yet, marriage dominates headlines. The “Marriage Debate” rages on in the media and in every level of government in the United States. As same-sex couples fight for the right to forge their names on that magical legal document, conservative groups push back and hold up an ideal standard of “traditional marriage.” Yet, as far as the history of this country is concerned, traditional marriage has had nothing to do with the government, and as far as the history of western culture goes, traditional marriage looks a lot more like a young girl being signed over to an older, land-owning male and a lot less like a man and a woman gleefully skipping from a chapel arm-in-arm.
Traditional marriage, and the government’s regulation of it, is such a recent concept in our history that it makes sense that debates are rarely productive and often frustrating. As the marriage debate rages on, as conservative groups relentlessly push back against progress, and as the 24-hour news cycle continues to yammer on about the possibilities of cat-human marriages (personally in favor of those, for the record), take a second and think abstractly: When we talk about marriage, what are we talking about? Are we talking about love, or are we talking about a beautiful wedding, just like the one we saw play-acted on TV?
Loving, monogamous relationships are repeatedly held up in culture as the most fulfilling way to live. As a bitter single person, I’m not terribly interested in debating or challenging that belief, but it’s worth noting that more than ever, love wants to exist outside of government control. It’s not just about same-sex couples, it’s also about cohabitating heterosexual couples, it’s about long-term polyamorous relationships, and it’s about the scores of other people who are uncomfortable with the government entering their personal lives as an equal shareholder. The cultural dissonance between our ideals, political debates, and art, and the actuality of human experience is louder than ever. We still celebrate marriages in media, argue passionately about the right to marriage, and laud monogamy as the most productive pursuit of happiness, despite love existing outside of any legal container.
It makes sense that same-sex couples view marriage equality as the most effective way to shape America into a country that treats them as fully privileged citizens. It makes sense that we still hold up marriage as a beautiful ideal despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. After all, it’s the story we’ve been telling for decades. Boy meets girl. Girl articulates emotions. Boy gets on one knee. Girl turns into a Bridezilla and dons a floofy dress. Boy and Girl walk down the aisle and America tunes in at 8/7 central.