Every refrigerator seems to be wearing a save the date magnet these days. Weddings have always been, for the most part, an indication of hope. I say "for the most part," because over the years, I've seen one or two fiances creep, crawl, or, in the case of one friend, shuffle her feet like a zombie towards the altar. She snapped out of it about one month before the big day.
On my refrigerator is a beautiful save the date magnet that features engagement photographs of my son, Greg, and his fiance, Julie, whose relationship I have enjoyed watching grow since their last year in college. They will be married next month. Over the weekend, we drove up to attend Julie's bridal shower. It was a great time for our families.
Since their engagement, I've tried to conjure sage advice, like in the old movies when somebody said something worth remembering. I tend to think so deep on things like that, a crane is needed to get me out of it. What about just saying, "I am so happy for you!"?
I am so happy for them.
There was no discussion of marital love in our family as we grew up. I suspect that's true in a lot of households. I asked two sisters how I'd know when I was in love. One said, "When they make you sick to your stomach, but you get over it." The other said, "Just take the most irritating quality he has and multiply it by five million. That is what you are marrying."
Caution in relationships was a monkey on my back in my pre-marital years. It wasn't my husband that I was afraid of, it was something that didn't have a name. For our church service, I chose a song to sooth knee-knocking. It was "Be not afraid (I go before you always...)"
I don't think many people who knew me when I was single held high hopes for our wedding to come off the ground, and perhaps they thought that if it did, it would not last. My youth was compared with the main character's in the film Runaway Bride.
Greg was perfect for me. It was I who was the unsuitable catch. It so happens Groucho Marx had a quote for this condition: "I would never want to join any club that would have me as a member." My advice, thirty years later, is to do whatever you need to do to discover your self worth. It is not about occupation or what you do for other people. It is about the part of you that is so core, only God really knows it. The part that has been misjudged by others first, then by you, yourself.
I was terrified at the thought of two imperfect people living in a three-room apartment. I kept reminding myself that we got along well. It was going to be fine and whatever wasn't fine, we'd work through, because that's what love was all about, right? Maybe not historically, but ideally.
About twenty years later, we attended a Life in the Spirit seminar in a Catholic Church. The congregation was of Filipino descent. They were sweet, friendly and extremely kind to us. My tendency, when I meet really sweet people, is to assume they hit some Yin Yang lottery and have a natural ability to navigate problems better than most.
Wisdom often arrives in hindsight.
One wife rolled her eyes during a group discussion and mentioned her husband's fascination with beautiful women. I looked at his face. He didn't appear shamed or embarrassed. This was an open dialogue, a bit of transparency. (Okay, so it was her transparency about him, not about herself, but still... it was quite casual and he appeared unfazed. His smile was straight.)
The most interesting verbiage occurred one night during the seminar in which a wedding anniversary mass took place. The couple stood on the altar, facing the congregation (like giddy game show contestants.) The priest asked something like, What would you like to share with others about the secret to your marriage longevity? The wife smiled sweet, and I waited for a litany of wise quotes, like "Never let the sun go down on your anger," "Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff."
Her smile broadened and she waved her hands up and down at us in a gentle motion, like the Pope, blessing the crowd over St. Peter's Square.
"Expect to have lots of sex!" she said.
OH, MY GAWD! I fish eyed the crowd. Was I the only person shocked by this? I mean, it wasn't by what she said, but where it was said: ON THE ALTAR, not over a gin and tonic in a bar. I fogged out and did not hear another word that was said for the remainder of the mass.
My fog was a collision of my earlier "training" mixed with the confusion of real life. If what she said was true, then s*x was not just for procreation as I'd been told. But still, can you blurt that out in church?
Deliberation revealed that, yes, you can. The lesson was, whether you're in church or outside, keep it real. Married couples cannot begin to incorporate faith into that which they are shamed into denying.
The best wedding day preparation advice I received was: "Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy your day. It goes fast." With that in mind, and without Mom, I planned every detail and tried not to sweat the small stuff. I was proud of myself for it, foo-pahs and all.
The only thing I didn't plan ahead for was paying everybody off on our wedding day, so while I led the rumba train around the dance floor, Greg was stuck writing checks.
This revealed something about my personality, too. I would plan the wedding and every event, cook for weeks for seventy five people for any party, but on the day of the event, I wanted to enjoy everyone. I did not wish to pull food in and out of ovens.
This brings me to the subject of compromise. Well, no. Another time.
Preparation for the "big day" is an exciting time that often mirrors Lucille Ball's job at the chocolate factory when the chocolate moved so fast on the conveyer belt, she stuffed them into her mouth, pockets and her top. That's how perfectionism can work. Those who wig out risk defeating the purpose, embracing the inner Bridezilla... stomping on the catering hall, smashing the cake, the limosines, the in-laws God forbid. But as life coach Dina Chu said, "Nothing is wasted. Each experience adds to our portfolio of knowledge."
All of it prepares us for living the committed life that has been the brunt of many jokes. Groucho Marx said, "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?" Apparently many. Even the jokes remind us that a sense of humor is necessary, as long as it does not become a weapon.
To be continued...