was sitting at my desk editing porn, about to go to lunch when my
phone buzzed – an incoming all. This happened in 2005, and no one
really texted very much. It was a call from Derek, an old chum of
mine from high school. We hadn’t spoken in a while. Maybe I saw him
a year or two previously, but we’d drifted apart more or less since
graduation. Our ten year reunion was a year away, but I had no
intention of attending.
“What’s up?” I said.
“Oh, I meant to call my Uncle Greg. You’re next to each other in my phone.”
“Okay… well you got me now,” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good,” Derek said. “I’m about to get on a plane.”
“Where you headed?”
“Any reason for the trip?”
“I’m getting married tomorrow.”
had plenty of follow-up questions for him, but I’d long ago learned
not to bother asking for his logic. Derek was a kind and sweet guy,
but not especially high wattage. We’d been friends since freshman
year, when a girl who liked him wrote his name on a bunch of sanitary
napkins and stuck them up all over the side of the building near his
lunch spot. She also made a t-shirt that said “My name is Derek
[Last Name] and I got this shirt for free.”
was never clear to me why she did this. He liked to wear promotional
and commemorative shirts that you get from going to radio station
live events and movie premiers, so that was the angle. But why she’d
unleashed her fury on him was a mystery. He just went about peeling
the pads off the wall and threw them away.
Derek was getting married at 26 was neither surprising or
unsurprising to me. That he was flying to London was interesting,
but not surprising either. He explained that his girlfriend was
already over there because she’d just started a theater program. She
was going to be there for the next two years.
you’re moving to London for two years?” I asked Derek.
He lived in Seattle and intended to remain there. I didn’t bother
asking him why they were getting married if they were going to spend
the next two years separated by a 9-hour flight.
had one other friend who’d already gotten married by then, but he was
even thicker than Derek. He’d moved out of his mother’s house and in
with his girlfriend at 19. Five years later, she said he either had
to propose or move out. He saved for two months, then bought a ring
and suddenly they were engaged. The next year they were married.
Kids followed pretty quickly.
a woman in her 60s asked me when I’m going to get married. This
happens occasionally, and it also happens every time I speak to my
mother because she thinks it’s an indication of when she might
officially become a grandmother.
I was your age,” this woman [not my mother] said, “I had been
married for twenty years.”
did not say this with disdain or judgment. Just stating a fact, and
maybe contrasting her life and generation with mine.
“You were married very young,” I said. “But those were different times. A 20-year-old bride these days would be considered unusual, if not unfashionable.” Yes, this is how I talk to older people.
“They were very different times,” she agreed.
was on his third wife when he was my age.”
right,” she said. “Hemingway.”
Laura Kipnis’s book Against Love is a long argument opposing the commonly accepted form of traditional marriage, understood as cohabitational sexually exclusive monogamy. For the wholesome among us, this is the default view of marriage, although many marriages fall outside of these constraints. And, of course, in this era many relationships fall inside of this definition without the formality of state sanctioned and/or religiously verified matrimony. Monogamy of this kind is the basically understood standard romantic relationship.
book really has nothing to do with marriage in a modern sense, but
rather describes the assumed ritualistic singularity of bound love.
As the title suggests, Kipnis’s thesis is that loving like that
simply does not work. She suggests it turns people into amateur
detectives and petty thieves, forever looking to either skirt the
self-imposed rules ourselves or seeking evidence that our partners
are cheating us out of our rightfully earned access to their complete
and undivided attention, affections, and the broad spectrum of their
It is as if the pain they might receive from the risk of loving another person is somehow negotiable, based on a measure of perceived deception and betrayal. To me, that’s a silly and immature way to become involved with others.
Love is loss.
And the bliss you enjoy in love is matched by grief when it’s gone.
rest are just novel details. But still, we find ourselves hunting
for facts, bizarre and inconsequential proof of justified suspicion.
Nowhere is this more prevalent and absurd at present than on social
mother was afraid of becoming an “old maid” if she did not marry
soon after she finished community college. Her wedding was a week
after her 25th birthday. Her first child was born a month
before she turned 26.
In China, the term sheng nu is a popular way to describe unmarried women over a certain age (negatively). It means “leftover lady,” because they are considered too old to have children, I guess, and therefore will never marry.
Many young women in China, I’ve been told, see a very small window between being a student and becoming sheng nu, because they want to continue their education and increase their earning potential. Since it’s taboo for a man to earn less than his wife, the idea is to become as highly qualified as possible before aging out of marriage.
A friend of mine who works at a law firm in the Bay Area told me that many of her biologically female coworkers have been insisting that the company pay for their fertility interests. They believe their personal lives are put on hold in favor of working long hours that interrupt their ability to procreate. In this case, their personal lives are defined by family planning.
Hemingway had a total of four wives, with each marriage commencing no more than a year after its predecessor ended. Morley Callaghan suggested this also coincided with the completion of a major novel for Hemingway.
My friend Derek’s marriage to the thespian only lasted a couple of years, as far as I know. I heard he’s remarried and has a kid or two. Obviously, we haven’t been in touch in a long time (and I’m not on Facebook, where I would easily find out about these things).
sexagenarian told me it was good that she married so early because
her husband died young, and she was happy her grandchildren had a
chance to get to know him while he was still with us.
In the autobiographical section of Stephen King‘s memoir On Writing, he describes the meet-cute where he and his wife first encountered each other at a poetry reading. The event was near the end of their university days, and he says they married a year and a half later. And then within three years, they had two children that were neither planned or unplanned, according to King. Then he details some of their financial struggles leading up to the publication of Carrie (at 26), a professional debut that turned a corner onto one of the most successful fiction writing careers in American history.
I’m sure a lot of readers view this type of portrait of young American parents fighting to survive until one (or both) of them are recognized for their genius as honorable, if not inspiring. That’s fair, I guess, if for no other reason than because it’s how it happened (King does not call himself a genius, btw). But it’s much easier to give a shit about these sorts of pedestrian tribulations in retrospect, long after the master has been regarded and awarded for their talents.
about this decision, regardless of whether he thought it through at
the time or not – and I cannot see how someone could not think this
through, personally – strikes me as absurd, foolish and risky.
Maybe even selfish, too. Idealistic as I was at 20 – compared to
how skeptical and realistic I think I am now – I’m sure I’d have
felt the same way if I’d read this account back then.
I have personal reasons for feeling this way. When I was a kid, most
of my friends were the children of divorced parents. They almost all
seemed to grow up with the attitude that they’d get married and have
families just to prove they could succeed where their parents had
failed. As an adult, I’ve noticed that many of my close friends have
parents who are still married to each other. Obviously, these cannot
be the same friends.
What’s that mean? I don’t know. But I do know that social media is the best friend of a predatory bridal industry. Trust me.
about tradition? I don’t consider that a good
question, but it is one worth addressing.
is the illusion of permanence.”
Guess who said that? Woody Allen, but before you freak out, he said it as Harry Block, the titular character of Deconstructing Harry (1997). It’s a movie about a fiction writer who is only successful in his work, his art, which he bases on his life, which is completely fucked up. He’s an emotional menace, so selfish and destructive that almost everyone who knows him personally hates him, while everyone who knows his writing loves him (sort of). Maybe they see him as flawed, transparent, vulnerable. Or maybe they just think he’s imaginative. It’s a comedy.
If there’s a point I’m getting at, I guess it’s this:
Religion puts unnecessary constraints on somebody’s pursuit of life, liberty, and all that jazz. It’s not necessary to conduct arbitrary, arcane rituals when there are already so many challenges and restrictions on how we get along in this world.
Transparency: Most of the people I know who get married these days do it after they’ve been together for 7-10 years. Usually, that means they’ve been living together for about five years. Of course, these numbers drop in direct connection with how old they were when they started “dating.” There’s also the magic number for what seems like a vast majority of young women: must be engaged (at least) by age 30. I know there is a biological aspect to this. And I know there are reasonable social and economic conclusions about marriage if you want to make a family together. I know. But most of these things have been divorced from marriage for a generation at least, and in some subcultures, never were really present. So what are we spending all this money on, really?
One thing seems to be booze. White people in the Northeast United States apparently plan their social calendars around getting smashed at weddings. Back in my wasted youth, I declared to a friend that rock concerts were the ultimate venue: get as toasted as you want, wear what you like, dance how you please. Nobody expects anything from you other than not dying, ideally. And, in case this is not obvious, the music is mostly pretty good. Weddings? Well, I’ve seen some shit, but it almost always comes with baggage. Severed family ties, ended friendships, years of gossip, and a dress she’ll only ever wear once.