Edwin Lyngar says no two marriages are the same, so why do so many people try to practice the same traditions?
When I married my current wife, Joy, more than six years ago, I asked her to take my last name. I imposed despite the fact that she was already an attorney with an established reputation. But, we were in love, and it meant something to me, so she just did it without complaint. Thinking about it over the years, I now wish I could take back the request. I wish I knew then that most of the traditions of marriage are a kind of oppression, especially for women. I love being married, but the process of getting married and so much of the expected roles of wives and husbands is just social control masquerading as tradition.
Before I married Joy, I used to believe that sharing a name meant something. It was a sign of devotion that showed we were on the same team. We were the Reno Lyngars, like the Miami Heat (or something). When I met Joy, I was a divorced man raising two children alone, and I craved the stability of traditional marriage.
Very shortly after we married, I went into the wedding business myself. Joy’s friend, a judge from a neighboring state, needed to become a certified minister to perform our wedding ceremony, and the unnecessary religious hoops bothered me. So I got certified as a secular wedding official in Nevada where I live. Although I expected to only do a few weddings, I ended up performing about a dozen over the past few years, and I had no idea officiating weddings would be so instructive about marriage in general.
I performed several ceremonies for couples who had been together for decades. They were forced to marry late in life only for legal reasons, like insurance and inheritance. These couples were oak trees of dedication. Marriage itself was an imposition on couples who clearly knew what the hell they were doing. They should not have been forced to swap last names or get a state-issued marriage certificate to fulfill some bureaucratic need.
I also did a few traditional-looking weddings. I got to see some overpowering mothers-in-law, and people wearing expensive tuxedos and dresses, and some stress between families. The couples I married were happy and in love, even though it sounds cliché. Yet they subjected themselves to lavish, but painful, rites, often for the sake of others. Some weddings were wonderful, but many were crates filled with hidden baggage.
Even as I witnessed the messy parts, I never stopped feeling that people should have the right to get married if they wanted. Gay marriage is illegal in my state, although we have civil unions. A gay couple asked if I would do a commitment ceremony. I agreed at once, but they called it off before the big date. Perhaps state disapproval didn’t help their relationship. On a side note, this past election offers real hope; three states approved of gay marriage by popular vote.
Despite the difficulty of marriage and the wedding process, I’m still a believer. Marriage is a great thing for many people, and most of all for me and my family, but we need to eliminate the excesses that cause people so much fear and doubt. Marriage isn’t a “sacred institution,” nor is it better than cohabitating. It doesn’t come from god nor does it automatically make dysfunctional relationships work. There are about 330 million people in this country, which means there are at least 165 million ways to be a married couple. I love being married, but I don’t want anyone to ever try to do it like we did it. Nor do I want to impose my beliefs about marriage on anyone else. Lastly, why the hell does everyone have to wear such goofy costumes?
Joy and I got married in Hawaiian print clothes at a park. My son was the best man. The greatest thing about being married more than once is you get to pick how to do it the second time around. We abandoned a lot of the marriage bullshit, although I wasn’t quite as enlightened as I am today. I just wish with desperate sincerity that I would have asked Joy to keep her own name.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.