One young woman resists on-bended-knee conventions
BY: Sarah Blustain
About a year ago, my partner (it's so hard to figure out what to call him) of three years--knowing I would squirm at a grand gesture--timidly handed me a peach-flavored candy ring and suggested we formalize our relationship.
From what I hear, this is every girl's dream (featuring a rock instead of a Lifesaver). But there was a problem. Getting married would (unless we eloped--an option Daniel has ruled out) involve some kind of wedding.
The older I've gotten--and the more imminent the whole marriage decision--the clearer it has become that a wedding, with all its adherence to an outdated model of gender relations, is itself a huge stumbling block to my marrying. The trappings of the white wedding simply do not represent what I aspire to in my life, or in this intimate relationship. As I imagine it, marriage is a process--a figuring out, day in and day out, how to walk side by side--and I've been engaged in that process with Daniel for several years now. Walking down an aisle would not change that a whit.
Faced with the peach candy ring, I told Daniel I was committed to him, but as for the rest, I just didn't know. After sharing bills and vacations, and the grief over his mother's death, our relationship seemed pretty stable, with or without rings. Nonetheless, Daniel suggested I take the next week to think about a public ceremony.
That week has drawn out into many.
When I tried to talk about my dilemma to others, I found few who seemed comfortable challenging the wedding trope. Tell a married couple you're uncomfortable with the notion of a wedding, I discovered, and there's apt to be an eerie silence, as if you are mocking them. Tell it to a single woman, and she becomes cranky, as though you're failing to appreciate your loving partner. Girlfriends flinched when I said I'd hate a diamond ring ("But you've got it coming to you!") and shrugged when I declared I couldn't possibly sign a Jewish legal wedding contract, or ketubah, selling my virginity for a monetary price. All, I'm sure, quietly assumed that I'm afraid of commitment, disloyal, unsure about the fellow--or perhaps psychologically disturbed.
But I'm not scared of commitment, and I don't feel crazy. Most days, I feel frustrated that what seems so intuitive to me--that a traditional wedding makes no sense in a feminist world--should be so hard to communicate. Many days, I feel lonely because, as patient as Daniel has been, I'm figuring this out in a world that feels hostile on this score.
Some say that the social pressures of a Jewish wedding--the public ceremony, the witnessed ketubah, the extraordinary expense--play an important role in turning the one-day ceremony into a lifelong commitment. But if feminism has taught us anything, it is to acknowledge the social pressures that direct our lives, to become aware that our assumptions, our choices--indeed our very desire to dress up in white and play fairy princess--might be created by forces outside ourselves, forces we actually don't very much like. We happily question our fashions--are we really more comfortable in panty-hose and pumps?--our motherhood, our sexuality. So why, when I ask women to apply that same soul-searching questioning to the tradition of the white wedding, do I become a rebel?