Nuptials Note:
31 September 2019

Reading Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion over the weekend, I couldn’t stop. And then, like a grand couturier, Tolentino ended the collection with a wedding dress — the dress she swears she’ll never wear. 

The thirty-eighth anniversary of my wedding to Kathleen, and of Kathleen’s to me, is coming up this week, so I would have been thinking of it even if Tolentino didn’t remind me. Nothing could have been less like the weddings that she describes, in all their variety, in that final essay, “I Thee Dread,” than ours. This is not because Kathleen and I discovered some outlandishly bizarro way of tying the knot, but just the opposite: we hardly gave the event much forethought. We left that to Kathleen’s mother, who, Kathleen knew, would have insisted on taking charge anyway. We also knew that our wedding would be absolutely correct, from a nice-people-of-the-Upper-East-Side point of view. There would be no reason to wonder if we’d done it right.

In the event, there were two occasions of dissension between mother and daughter. One was over the wedding march. Kathleen refused to have the Wagner, opting for Purcell instead. Her mother actually asked her: How will people know it’s a wedding? Kathleen took a deep breath. “I think, Mummy, that their having shown up in response to engraved invitations specifying the occasion, watching me walk down the aisle in a long white dress, on Daddy’s arm, with RJ standing by the altar, will give them the clue.” That was the end of that. 

The other disagreement actually boiled over into an argument. If I asked you to guess what the matter was, you simply wouldn’t. You couldn’t even guess, in fewer than a million years, that it was a question of stationery. Kathleen, who was not going to change her name, planned to write thank-you notes for wedding presents on cards marked with her monogram, KHM. (With the big “M” in the middle.) Her mother said that she would “die” if any such thing reached one of her friends in the mail. She insisted on KMK. (How would recipients know that Kathleen was still married?) The two of them fought this out on the phone for nearly an hour, until I leaned in at our end and whispered to Kathleen that she could do both. And that’s what she told her mother she would do. But it isn’t what she did. It was only a year or so ago that we finally tossed an almost completely unused box of the KMK cards. Notwithstanding the disuse of which, we are still married. 

I came away from Trick Mirror suspecting that Jia Tolentino has set her face against marriage in solidarity with, or rather out of respect for, all the many women whose weddings will indeed be a high point followed by the inexorable loss of rights, even though that would be unlikely to be her own lot. I can understand why her friends keep trying to convince her to make it official with a man she clearly loves, and who loves her. I sort of hope that she caves. But I respect her for bearing very much in mind that marriage is a social institution, and that, for all the expensive customizing, we don’t in fact alter any of the vital elements of the ceremony, most of which are pre-empted by the state. Getting married is a public statement very much like the pledge of allegiance: there is only one correct way to do it. If she and her Andrew can be privately happy without it, that’s an importantly different statement. 

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