Today is a big day for you. I wish I could give you the lessons I’ve learned in 15 years of marriage, all packaged up pretty like the china and mixing bowls you’re getting today. I wish I could be there to assure you everybody will like the cake and your mom won’t cry too much and none of the groomsmen will pass out and nobody will step on your dress and you won’t have to use the bathroom in the middle of the ceremony. The wedding is going to be beautiful and it will all run smoothly, although you’ll hardly even notice.
You’ve been weeping your way through TLC’s wedding themed shows for years, dreaming about this day. You have bought into the hype that this is supposed to be the most important/beautiful/special day of your life and I wish I could just relieve you of that pressure. This day is actually about a legal and spiritual process that connects you to your husband, come what may. It is also a day your parents spend a lot of money to throw a party for their friends and relatives and a handful of your friends, too. As much as TV tells you this day is about celebrating your love, that’s only partially true. Sure, everyone is there to witness your commitment to each other, but they’re also there because weddings are essentially a family reunion where people give you toasters. I know that’s not what anybody talks about when they’re planning their “dream wedding,” but it’s just true. Someday you’ll be at the wedding of a relative you just barely know, but you came because it was one of the few chances you get to see Aunt SoAndSo and you pay for that opportunity by buying a tablecloth and in return you also get cake. It all works out.
So try not to stress out about the whole thing too much. The wedding matters way less than you imagine it will. Nobody is actually looking at the table decorations and judging you. And if they are, why in the world did you invite those people? It will be happy and it will be beautiful, but the emotions you feel right now won’t hold a candle to the love you’ll feel for that man beside you the day someone hands you your son. There are bigger days coming for you guys. Days that are much more about YOU and your love. And you won’t have to worry about how you look, if everybody else is having a good time, and how much the cake cost during those days. In as many ways as you can, let your parents have this one. After all, they’re paying for it.
But here’s what nobody else can tell you– there are going to be days you’re tempted to regret what happened here, and it won’t have anything to do with how you wore your hair. This marriage commitment is no small thing. This is not just a party to show the world your love. This is not just a moment to legitimize your relationship. This isn’t about getting tax benefits. This is about joining yourself to this man you’ve chosen.
You will ride into that church on a cloud of romance and happy feelings in spite of your best efforts to make a clear-headed, thoughtful decision. You are excited to enter the world of adulthood and you think marriage is the fast track to get you there. You think this is a cure for loneliness, but it’s hard to imagine the kind of loneliness that can exist within marriage. You know that feeling when you’re at a party and everybody seems to have someone to talk to, but you? That intense loneliness of being surrounded by people, but not connecting to anyone? That feeling of not being chosen, not being wanted? Marriage is no cure for that. It just opens the door for that feeling to become your norm on the hard days.
They aren’t all hard days, but it’s just too difficult in your pretty white dress, holding an impossibly lovely bouquet of flowers to imagine how hard those hard days will be. We vow to love each other through all manner of dramatic calamity, but I don’t think those are even the most challenging moments to choose to stay married. The outside circumstances of sickness, poverty and the generic “worse” will be difficult moments when you band together as a team to work through the tough times. But it’s the commitment to love each other through the unveiling of obnoxious habits, the revealing of unresolved childhood trauma and baggage, the days when there are no romantic feelings and not even the dramatic feelings of anger or sadness, there’s just a deadness you can either submit to or fight.
This is the secret of marriage– it is not some institution that is inherently good or bad and you are just along for the ride. It’s a choice. It’s a choice you made that day in your heels and pearls and it’s a choice you make in your sweat pants and ponytail. As much as we imagine these marriage vows will close the door on this choice for life, that’s not how it works. That door is always open, waiting for one of you to walk back out. You consciously, intentionally choose to stay in your marriage the same way you chose to enter it. With thoughtfulness, with love, with a thousand tiny decisions to value this man you promised to love.
All of marriage is a fight. It’s a culturally subversive act to be faithful to someone and their needs instead of only caring about yourself. But when you’ve persevered through the hard days, you know the truth of Ephesians 5:28, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” When we love and respect our spouses, we are loving and respecting ourselves. When I choose my own “good” in conflict with what’s best for us as a team, I am only hurting myself.
But that’s not the message you’re going to get whispered seductively in your ear and shouted at you through billboards. We are supposed to be “happy” at all costs and if marriage doesn’t make us happy, then happiness is probably waiting for us around the corner as soon as we leave. This is why it takes a fight– to pushback against a consumerist culture that sees people as tools to get us what we want instead of inherently worthy of value and worth the sacrifice it sometimes takes to love them well. Sometimes happiness IS waiting for us around the corner, but it’s a corner we walk around together in new ways of interacting that are more healthy, facing our pain, being honest about our struggles, sacrificing what we thought it meant to be the perfect spouse in order to be the spouse our partner really needs.
So fight for your marriage, but not just in counseling and in tears and in uncomfortable conversations (although DO THAT, TOO). Fight for your marriage in long walks, in dates to the county fair, in dinner conversations where you prioritize the partner who is feeling the weight of a difficult work interaction, by holding hands in bed and making the coffee in the morning. Remember this wedding day as the first time you choose to be married, but not the last. Don’t be lazy about the process of being married. It is much more work than planning a wedding. Your dress and shoes and the decorations will soon look dated in pictures, but your marriage shouldn’t be something that only looked good on you for a season.
Enjoy this day. Take a moment to smell your flowers, taste your cake, hug your relatives. Remember that any wedding “disasters” are not some tragedy to be avoided at all costs, but they are what will become the fun stories you tell for the rest of your life. Look at this man you’re marrying. Really look at him. He’s scared, but he’s here and he’s happy to be with you. You’ll see that look a lot in your life together. Life is full of hard times and in spite of your fears, you’ll choose to face those things together.