By Dan Philander (@philaender)
Typically, the decision to get married happened in a bar. The Slug & Lettuce on Kloof Street, to be precise. There was a sort of proposal — a question was asked and then answered — after which the conversation immediately moved to the subject of the engagement. It was a Saturday night shortly after our fifth anniversary, and as far as we were concerned, that was a long enough engagement period, thank you very much, and let’s get married soon. Let’s also tell nobody (an agreement I just barely clung to) and do it at Home Affairs, sort of quick and quiet-like. After that, we decided, we would go back to our lives.
It sounds short and sweet but by that point, the conversation about marriage had been going on for about a year.
Personally, I blame our friends. It’s as if they all silently decided to up and wed, because my social media feeds were suddenly awash with images of nuptials.There were husbands and wives at all the parties and we even found ourselves invited to a wedding or two. The concept of marriage began cropping up in conversations and, rather reasonably I think, in the wake of too much whiskey.
I knew fairly early on how I felt about marriage.It should be a union of two consenting adults, dually committed to making each other happy and successful. I also knew that throughout society, marriage is often the complete opposite. Marriage has been used as an effective tool of oppression, harm and misery. Too often, a towering monolith that crushes consent and agency, excludes those who do not conform to normative perspectives and, as if to spit in the face of all of that, sometimes lasts no longer than the time it took to make the decision.
I also faced the rather inconvenient truth that marriage and weddings are not mutually exclusive. It had become abundantly clear to me that the ceremony and ritual of marriage was an added layer of societal pressure and oppressive tension, and that the core tenets could not be reached but through that decorated doorway known as the wedding.
Even more, the parameters of marriage were, to me, archaic and did not fit my context.
Another consideration had to be made for experience. As a couple, my husband and I had been surrounded by excellent and appalling examples of marriage, from strangers as well as people we knew well. Real, tangible manifestations of marriages and of an enormous variety. We got to see the iterations of marriage, from proposal all the way down to the divorce, or to the thirtieth wedding anniversary. And everything in between. In that, I consider myself incredibly privileged. Even Hollywood had its input and, in my case, the dozens and dozens of books I had read since I first devoured a story at seven.
It was, I like to think, in the spirit of carefree ungovernability that we decided to get married.
The very first decision we made was that we would do this our way. Yes, we had examples and yes, we knew the wider, socio-economic implications of marriage. We did not discount or dismiss them. Nevertheless, we did not let it impact an incredibly personal thing, tailored to fit us and only us, something that, at the end of the day, was ours.
My next decision was to dispense with the wedding. Don’t get me wrong, I want my white dress and bunting and speeches and glasses of champagne and dancing and maybe even some fireworks, who knows? To me, though, that seems very much like a celebration and if that’s what we’re going to be doing, then I want a marriage to celebrate. I want to earn that big party. I want to deserve a day dedicated completely to me, my husband and this wonderful thing we have built together.
I want to have something to show for it. I want all that ritual and gorgeous ceremony to happen on a rock-solid foundation, for a relationship that defies science. As I sit and write this, I have perhaps been married for about five minutes on the great clock of life. Not much to celebrate, in my opinion. Just enough, in fact, for me and the cool guy I love.
We told very few people, for a myriad of reasons. If I’m honest with myself, there was a selfishness to it. I cherished and respected what we were doing and a part of me didn’t want to share that intimacy with anyone. I wanted it all to myself, because of how much this marriage meant to me.
And it meant the world to me. Despite wrestling with the various issues that arose when we decided to get married, and the unusual way we went about it, that we had decided to pledge our love and loyalty for as long as we are able was monumental for me. It was such a fundamental decision, in so many ways, on so many levels. For whichever the interpretation, and however one goes about it, if you are giving your word to someone else, freely and happily, then it’s a big deal. Upon reflection, I don’t think I could have done it with anyone else.
And that, I think, is what made the difference.