I guess it's safe to say I had a "non-traditional" wedding. I mean, I wore navy (although our son wore white, does that count?). I had lofty plans to buy a super awesome expensive — like, £250 maybe! — dress that I would wear forever, but my favourite one turned out to be £35. Our dear friend who married us may or may not have concluded with, "by the power vested in me by the internets, I now pronounce you married." There was no bridal party, no music, and for the life of me I cannot remember what we had for dessert. We invited our parents and siblings but no friends — apart from the aforementioned Internet Minister Pal, his wife, and a lawyer buddy who moonlights as a photographer. My partner and I spent about £350 on the day, which was also our ninth anniversary and our son's half-birthday.
As far as weddings go, I like to think it was unique? And yet, when it came to the actual ceremony, I googled "wedding vows" — and then I copy-pasted that shit.
I know, I know: Writing one's wedding vows is kind of the whole point of a marriage ceremony. And I am, after all, a writer. The irony! I know I'm technically capable of putting down in words exactly why I've chosen this person and why I want to choose him again and again, every day, forever, yada yada. I know the drill — I've been to 29 weddings. Sometimes people's wedding vows make me cry; sometimes, they make me cringe. But either way, they usually make me uncomfortable.
Weddings in general make me uncomfortable because of the unfathomable spending they often entail (in this global economy?), but also because of what feels, to me, like an exhibitionist gesture: inviting practically everyone you know into one of the most intimate days of your most intimate relationship. I understand the reasons people do this. You want to share this beautiful part of your lives — your relationship with your partner — with all your other favourite people who also contribute to your life in so many ways. I get it. But for many of the introverts among us, dressing up to watch our friends gaze into each other's eyes and read handwritten, tearful vows filled with inside jokes and promises to give each other foot rubs and never hog the blankets is just a few layers of clothing away from watching our friends have sex. Which, hey, if that's your thing, awesome. Different strokes are what make the world go 'round — or something.
These are a few of many reasons why, year after year for nearly a decade, my partner and I just kept on not getting married. Whenever the subject came up, it seemed at best unnecessary and at worst a hugely stressful and expensive day. Now, after the fact, it was still probably all of those things. But it was my son who talked me into it (or rather, cute-faced me into it, since he couldn't talk yet).
For better or worse, in this country at least, marriage gets you the most substantial rights as a family. So I thought, doesn't my kid deserve that protection? Shouldn't I overcome my anxiety about standing up and speaking vows while people looked at me, if it would put an end to carrying my son's birth certificate along with a permission letter from his father and still getting questioned at passport control? The "Acknowledgment of Paternity For a Child Born To An Unmarried Woman" form I had to fill out immediately after giving birth had been just the beginning of the unfortunate bureaucratic hoops our government requires when you don't follow the "love, then marriage, then babies" script.
So, we decided to do it. And so, I copy-pasted. I found the most generic wedding vows I could find, and I made them even more generic. Rather than personalising the words with memories, promises, and details about my partner, I went through and deleted all references to god and also every instance of the word "cherish" (yuck). The closest we got to writing anything ourselves was each choosing a short quotation — mine from Louise Erdrich's memoir, his from The Velveteen Rabbit — to tack on the end. (Neither quote mentioned marriage or commitment, but they did mention courage and understanding. And, yes, we found both quotes on the internet.)
Maybe someday we will move beyond the current model in which marriage is the end-all-be-all of legal partnership rights; though at least now those rights are open to everyone. Still, the laws being what they are, and the sad state of international travel to this once-welcoming country being what it is, I'm not taking any chances where my kid is concerned. I'm glad we made our little family as safe and sound and legally binding as possible — googled vows and all. It may not have been a fairy tale wedding, but I've already been to 29 of those.