The hoopla of marriage

Weddings are a special time.

For most people, it is a time of celebration and parties.

The ceremony symbolizing the union may vary in each culture, but the ethos is the same: it’s a time for new beginnings. A time when two families, not just two individuals, join forces.

And society acknowledges, and blesses, the newly weds, congratulating the respective families on this milestone.

But what makes a wedding special for the bride and groom is very different from what makes it special for the parents, relatives and friends.

My wedding was a quick affair.

I had flown in from Iowa City for a weekend…just to hang out; nothing special. We had been having conversations about marriage, living in, social pressure, parental expectations…wondering what the big deal was and why people gave it so much weight.

For the past two years we had discussed the meaning of marriage and concluded that for us the act of getting married by itself didn’t signify a binding contract.

A social ceremony is held to validate the couple’s commitment to each other — but why do we need to publicly show our promise? So we can be held accountable, right? But when the two people who made that agreement don’t want to honor it anymore, can others really hold them to it?

My life partner had decided early on that marriage wasn’t for him. He wanted to spend his life with me, but he didn’t need the stamp of marriage to make him carry on that undertaking.

I, on the other hand, wanted the illusion of security that an official document (but not a social celebration) provides. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him; I was just too entrenched in the socio-cultural value system I had grown up knowing.

We decided to walk the middle road.

So, that Thursday when all we had decided to do was sleep and watch TV, we paid a visit to the local court house.

We hadn’t intended to get married — just get some information, find out the process, etcetera.

Seemed pretty straightforward — fill out some paperwork, present your IDs, pay the 79-dollar fee for a marriage license and decide when you want to have the ceremony. Seeing as Courthouse wedding 749x1024 The hoopla of marriageit was so simple, we did the needful and took an appointment for the next morning.

We arrived at the courthouse at 10 a.m. the following day — me a little giddy; he his usual composed self.

We walked down the steps to the marriage ceremony room, were asked if we had any witnesses, and upon answering in the negative were provided one.

The County Deputy Marriage Commissioner asked if we had rings to exchange. Nope.

“Do you have a necklace for her?” she asked, knowing that in Hindu wedding ceremonies the mangalsutra was more important than the ring.

“No,” he said.

She shrugged and said, “Alright then, this shouldn’t take long.”

Eight minutes and 80 dollars later, she had pronounced us husband and wife.

I don’t even remember those eight minutes — all I remember is feeling oh-so-grown-up.

And special — here I was, standing next to a guy who despite his dismissal of the institution of marriage, had participated in this ceremony to show me he really, truly loved me.

He didn’t have to do it, but he did it anyway.

And for me, the gesture meant more than the piece of paper we walked away with.

No one knew we were getting married.

I didn’t know we would be married by Friday when I flew in the day before.

And we didn’t feel any different. I retained my last name. We told our parents. And that was that.

From our point of view, that is.

Our parents’ perspective was slightly different.

Both sets wanted a public display — mine a little grander than his.

The planning conversations began.

Not with me, but amongst themselves.

For many months prior to my arrival in India, all that mom and dad talked and breathed about were “the arrangements.”

I found this handy visual on Dazediva’s site to demonstrate what their planning must have entailed.weddingbudget52 The hoopla of marriage

My parents were planning a wedding and a reception in my hometown, followed by another reception planned by my in-laws in their hometown.

We were flying to India for 10 days during winter break (I was still in Iowa) and didn’t want a grandiose celebration — after all, we were already married.

Not according to my parents.

My folks didn’t acknowledge the “paper wedding” for the longest time, because they hadn’t “given me away.” And until they did that, I wasn’t “his.” Needless to say, they hadn’t mentioned our clandestine court wedding to anyone.

They wanted to invite immediate and distant relatives, friends, extended social circle acquaintances, colleagues — everyone they knew for their only child’s wedding.

I was treating it only as a symbolic event — so all I wanted was for people I cared about and those who cared about me for the crux of the ceremony.

Eventually, after a lot of heartbreak, crying, and emotional blackmailing, the ceremony took place in my parents’ living room. The wedding venue had been flooded the night before.

Only 12 people were present and the ceremony took all of 90 minutes.

Finally — we had gotten the social validation.

We were done.

The two receptions that ensued allowed for more social acknowledgment — with the guests commenting on the food, our attire, the decorations, and the entertainment.

Of course, they had come to bless us — the rest of it was just social norms.

Despite not wanting to, we did it all. Growing up I’d realized weddings are such a waste of money. Money that could be used to benefit so many people who really need it, but I went along anyway because this was the only way I could show my parents, the same way he did for me, that I really, truly loved them.

And they needed to do the whole jing-bang because of peer pressure. What would their friends say? What rumors would their colleagues float? What would our relatives think?

This was their only child — they had to do right by the society they lived in.

Almost a decade into this relationship, seven of which have been spent as his wife, I can reflect and say we really didn’t need either of those ceremonies for us.

We needed them for the people around us.

Even though we are married, our friends will vouch that ours is not the traditional husband-wife arrangement.

We’ve never been good at playing those roles, and I hope we never learn how to.

For us, being together  is all that matters.

Marriage is just a by-product.

16081BD1A60533E0F1173D28DE4F0D3F The hoopla of marriage

dp seal trans 16x16 The hoopla of marriageCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Mansi Bhatia

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  25 comments for “The hoopla of marriage

  1. BrijeshNo Gravatar
    June 9, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    beautiful memories! :-)

  2. TulikaNo Gravatar
    June 10, 2010 at 3:48 am

    Oh Mansi, this brought tears to my eyes! You guys seem to have the perfect marriage…Touchwood! Cheers to endless years of your togetherness!

    • June 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

      Thank you, Tulika. I am, indeed, blessed.

  3. June 10, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Dear Mansi:

    I loved this post. The last two lines are one of the best original lines:
    “For us, being together is all that matters.

    Marriage is just a by-product.”

    How well you have described the union of hearts. I have always argued with my mother about the kind of wedding I would like to have. Just like yours - simple, no grand ceremony and NO No to hundreds of people.

    I just hope.

    I reread this post to get the feel of it. I loved the picture. A rarity to see Indian couples kiss that way (smiles).

    Joy always,

    • June 10, 2010 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks, Susan :-)

  4. RVNo Gravatar
    June 10, 2010 at 7:40 am

    I am 22 and this debate has been going on in my head. Yes, I totally think that there are so many ways that the money can be better spent. I have years to go before I actually take a decision on this.

    I loved this post :)

    • June 10, 2010 at 11:03 am

      Thanks, Rashi. You do have a long ways to go — just remember what truly matters and what is done just for others. Good luck! And thanks for stopping by.

  5. June 10, 2010 at 7:49 am

    There are a lot of things we do in life that we do for the people we love, more than for ourselves. I applaud you for honoring your parents and allowing them the joy of celebrating your marriage. Even though the actual act of being married is really a private matter between two people, the act of BECOMING married is a more public celebration. I’ve been married almost 20 years and we were committed to each other long before the actual ceremony took place. That was just an outward symbol of what was already there for us for a long time.

    • June 10, 2010 at 11:02 am

      Thanks, Lois. I think a lot of us lose sight of what truly is important…I'm glad that you and your life partner are on the same wavelength :-)

  6. June 11, 2010 at 12:15 am

    In Kerala marriages are/were simple…no fire…no mantras…my marriage ceremony lasted for just 10 minutes and was conducted by my Mom’s Uncle. The expense were kept to minimum by our request. Society needs the validation and so do the couple if something were to go wrong. But is it really necessary?…I think not too.

    • June 11, 2010 at 7:05 am

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Nalini. It is a social construct intended to keep societies functioning well (and monogamously)…we’ve adapted so much since the idea of marriage was first implemented. Some things just become more symbolic with time, and marriage seems to be going down that path.

  7. June 11, 2010 at 3:37 am

    I agree with you, but if you open the wedding album some day, u’ll cherish it… and u’ll look back those events which leads to a smile.. which u’ll never get ….

    • June 11, 2010 at 7:02 am

      What album? ;-)
      Just kidding. I do look at those five photos from the courthouse and my lips curl upwards, because all said and done, that was special for me. And I get why others cherish the more extravagant affairs…it’s just that that’s not for me.
      Thanks for stopping by, Vignesh. :-)

  8. June 11, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Lovely post - kudos to you for choosing to get married the way you did…..the last 2 lines sum up the story beautifully :)

    I got married the traditional way in India….and even though I share the same sentiments as you about all the hoopla, I felt great that day. I had been living in the US for 7 yrs by myself, and had missed out on meeting so much of my family for a long time. The wedding was a very good family gathering…we had kept the guest list limited, and there was no one that I didn't personally know. It's still one of the most memorable days of my life….apart from the ceremonies, just everyone that I love had joined in for the celebration :) .

    • June 14, 2010 at 3:09 am

      Thanks, Shachi. I can see how special your wedding celebration must have been…beautiful memories :-)

  9. June 11, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Lovely post, Mansi. I think where people err is mainly in confusing the Wedding with the Marriage. A Grand Wedding is seen as synonymous with a Happy Marriage. In India there isnt any difference noted in the sea of difference there is in the meaning of both. Some day maybe our society will wisen up to the hoopla.

  10. June 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

    amazing story!!!
    and honestly,I agree with u completely on these lines of marriage being more of a compulsion to be fulfilled for our loved ones,than for our own selves!
    great post :)

    • June 11, 2010 at 11:28 am

      Thanks, Sreyoshi. Appreciate your stopping by. :)

  11. Anon1No Gravatar
    June 15, 2010 at 11:19 am

    I don't get where the "non-traditional" part about your husband-wife relationship is ?

    - You had legal validation of your relationship..
    - You had multiple wedding functions in India..
    - And you are together because you choose to be together..

    Isn't that the definition of any traditional marriage ??!! I read your 'sacred contract' blog post, and it left me as confused…

    • June 16, 2010 at 2:42 am

      Technically, yes. The legal validation and the wedding celebrations in India make it traditional…but marriage isn't about the paperwork or the ceremonies — it's a way of life. And we are surrounded by those who espouse the traditional husband-wife roles, which makes it easy for us to compare and say we aren't that. You'd have to know us to know how :-)

  12. Anon1No Gravatar
    June 17, 2010 at 11:09 am

    So I spent quite some time thinking about this post (and discussing it with my significant other) after I posted my comment, and I kinnnd of think I understand where you were coming from :)
    Like you, maybe my opinions and ideas are based on the people that surround me..
    In my mind there is an entire spectrum of ‘roles’ for husband/wife.. and I don’t think marriage binds one to any fixed set of roles. To ‘diss’ (well not really but..) marriage saying it binds you to the role of caretaker/mother/cook, is maybe selling it a little short!
    (I recognize that my comments really don’t belong under this post, they should have been under your ‘Sacred Contract’ post… This post was more about the “Wedding” than marriage..)

  13. July 7, 2010 at 5:09 am

    Another great post.

  14. AnkurNo Gravatar
    February 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Beautiful post.
    Your marriage is living example of the saying:

    Its very simple to be happy but very difficult to be simple.

    But, I am a bit against the “wastage” of money thing.
    A lot of people are employed in this wedding extravaganza that we have, mostly part time labour. The marriage season is their earning season.
    So, the money is not wasted as such if you look at it from a broader point of view.

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