I’ve written about a lot of things on my blog that I felt were important to me over the years, so it’s something of an uncanny feeling to know that I’m writing about the one that’s the most important thing I’ve ever written. On Saturday, I got married.
My wife’s name (wife!) is Alaina Browne. Many of you who know me in person have met her and know of her, and a lot of you whom I’ve never met might know her from her work on A Full Belly or with Mule Design. She’s much more than a few URLs, of course, but it’s a useful introduction for people who didn’t know we were connected.
It’s hard to find words to describe something as amazing as what this past weekend was like for me… The funny thing about life is that the most profound things are often the most banal. Our story is unique and at the same time exactly the same as every love story that’s ever been. Though this was the most personal thing I’ve ever been through, it’s one of the few events so universal that almost everyone understands it. And I wish everyone could have the happiness we do, and could have as much fun as we’ve been having.
But there are the parts that are uniquely us, maybe even some ideas that might inspire other people who wrestle with the everyday details of relationships, commitment, family, friendship, and marriage. I don’t intend to write about what Alaina means to me, because some things are just for us, but I thought I’d take some notes on them now, as much for myself as for anybody else who’d want to read them.
For a long time, I’ve resisted sharing anything about these parts of my private life on my blog because the blogosphere can be an unkind or even impersonal place. Now that it’s a matter of public record, though, it seems an arbitrary distinction to make. (After all, I talk about my politics or my hobbies on my site, and those could be equally personal.) But it’s been important to me to protect the thing that matters the most to me, and it makes me sad in some ways that years ago I wouldn’t have though twice in the past to talk about my engagement or wedding in advance.
For better or for worse, that’s not the way my blog works anymore. It’s a more public space. But if my wife is okay with the fact that I’ll probably have to filter out tech support requests from the comments on this post, I think I can deal with it. Some kinds of attention are just par for the course in the blogosphere. (Although, given that there were half a dozen Blogebrity A-listers at our wedding, what does it take to make the blogging society columns these days?!)
I’ve also had a number of people who’ve seen photos of the event online ask about how they can commemorate our wedding. Ordinarily, I’d be aghast at the idea of promoting a wedding registry to strangers, but we’ve registered with an organization called the I Do Foundation. The group let us select a number of charities we wanted to support as a couple, and people who want to celebrate the event can make a donation in our names to the charity of your choosing. So I’m not too shy about promoting that option, and I’m even willing to ask everyone to be generous.
So how did I get to this point? Growing up, I didn’t understand marriage in the same way as my peers. My parents basically had an arranged marriage, which gave me a vastly different perspective on the path to commitment. (Arranged marriages aren’t quite as exotic as most people in western countries seem to think: Being set up with someone who shares your economic, cultural, religious, and social background is pretty much a universal tendency, whether the setup happens through one’s parents, a church mixer, or on Match.com.)
The defining trait of marriage in these contexts is that the commitment comes first. It doesn’t occur to most people to get upset that they don’t get to choose their siblings; You just love your brother or sister, or you try to, and you fight sometimes and you disagree, and then you get over it, and that’s what family is about. And in some ways, marriage can be like that, too. There’s a liberation in knowing you don’t have an easy out: You know you’re going to make it work, and you’re not going to give up.
So one of the great things about having had the perspective of another culture’s look at marriage was realizing that there’s a freedom in knowing you can always count on the commitment as a framework that you work within. The absence of that immutable commitment was the thing I most lamented and was dismayed by in so many of the marriages I saw growing up. And it made it easier to know when I was ready and that I’d found the right person who shared that desire, even in a thoroughly American context.
Once you get to the point where you know you’re ready to get married, though, there’s a lot of logistics. And I think it’s probably stressful for most people. Everything I’d seen on television or movies or magazines seemed so much more focused on people getting “weddinged” than on getting married. If you tell people you’re engaged, they start talking to you about that one day, and almost never about the other half century you’re signing up for. More couples probably pay for wedding planners than for marriage counselors, and I think the allotment of resources there shows in a lot of marriages. I don’t care how good the florist at your reception is, they’re never gonna help you talk to your in-laws. Oh, and don’t even get me started about the whole engagement ring thing.
The sad truth is, when it comes time to get married, people talk about arbitrary (or tacky!) traditions and what kind of dessert you’re going to have and who’s sitting at what table. But they don’t talk about whether the couple really tells each other the truth, whether they agree about things like kids and family, and whether they’ve ever honestly discussed money and finances. If those things don’t sound romantic to you, then maybe you’re not doing it right.
I’ve been married all of two days; I won’t pretend that I can give anybody advice on married life. But I’ve already seen what’s worked to get me to a commitment and a love I never thought I’d find. I’ve learned that, when you’re doing things right, starting a life together as a couple can be fun and enjoyable and downright simple.
And perhaps just as importantly, I learned that you can define love and life on your own terms. Our families and friends came together from all over the country and all over the world to bring us together. Other couples who inspired us overcame obstacles ranging from family pressure to geography to finances to legal prohibitions to old-fashioned cold feet to build a commitment to each other. And in the end, that inspiration is what we’re trying to honor by making this step together.
Among the many things that were said, some of the words that my father-in-law shared with us struck me as the best lesson I learned in getting married. And like I said, it could seem simple, even obvious, when you read it on a screen, because it’s so universal. But when you live it and make a public commitment to it, it becomes downright profound.
What he told us is that, in the end, only love matters. Success and fame and wealth and even health all fade in time, and in the end all you have is love. And love is what matters. I hope everyone in the world gets the chance to discover that in the way that I have. I love you, Alaina.