You Are Cordially Invited

In Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert shared how important having a wedding ceremony was to both her friends and family—particularly to Mimi, her niece. Mimi had a difficult time being told that she now had a new uncle without experiencing it for herself. She needed to witness this new “uncle’s” right of passage from a friend of her Aunt Elizabeth’s to an actual family member.

While weddings will always be significant to the couple they’re often even more operative for the community. The ceremony is what allows the community to process and accept the other person as the newest member of the family.

We’ve all felt it at some point or another, when we go to a wedding and we suddenly feel connected to this greater good that is happening before us. You find yourself not just happy for the bride and groom, but really rooting for them. When before, you barely even knew the soon-to-be spouse; now, you’ve chatted it up with grandma, cried during his dad’s toast and made out with the best man. Somewhere between the sober applause at the church and the slurring of “bye, bye Miss American Pie” while swaying arm in arm with every friend and family member at the wedding; you gave them your blessing.

Historically, the relationship between marriage and community has been equally beneficial. In Committed, Gilbert writes about a conversation she had with a woman named Ting. Ting was from Luang Probang, a city in Laos. She said marriages in her village last forever and divorce was very rare. Gilbert asked what happens then when a couple is struggling. Ting explained that the community pulls together to help the marriage. “Neighbors will toss out ideas and solutions, or even offer relief—such as taking in young children for a week or two while the couple works out their troubles without distractions.”

Perhaps I don’t need my family sitting around throwing out possible solutions to my relationship problems. I can only imagine how well that would go. However, if ever there were a time when it was okay to admit when you were having trouble in your marriage, today would be the antithesis. Most of the time when you hear a marriage is on the rocks, it’s because the couple is getting a divorce. Why do we let our family and friends witness our love on our wedding day, if we hide from them our pain?

Somewhere along the way, community lost its purpose. I think there seems to be a social stigma where talking about our relationship problems has been labled as “airing your dirty laundry”. Are we airing our dirty laundry when we seek emotional support from the closest people in our life? Isn’t that why we choose the friends we have to be a part of our inner circle, or why we have a wedding party?

Today, however, it seems we are less inclined to include our friends and family in our marriage, as we are to include them in our wedding. We continue to have weddings where we invite our loved ones to partake in this traditional ritual, all the while keeping them at bay when the real journey begins; forgetting the tradition of our community, the support of our family and the love of our friends. Even after all the rooting, the dancing and the tears. Even after we get their blessing.

It seems we have created a “reality” within our communities where only happiness is allowed to exist and struggle has been replaced with shame. How can marriage survive today if we only see each other’s marriages as bliss?

Buddha says, “life, by its nature, is difficult, flawed, and imperfect.” Perhaps we would have a lower divorce rate if it were okay to say, “we’re in a tough spot right now” without feeling like we have exposed our marriage to be judged by our friends or even worse that we might look less than perfect.

…and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and its own. It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is…And so here, at the very heart of community life, we find not something to sell as in the public market but this momentous giving. If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing.
Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community


25 thoughts on “You Are Cordially Invited

  1. Beautiful, and so, so true. I am only 31, and I have seen two marriages “fail” in my life. I can’t help but wonder how that might have been different if I had more support. Not that I’m blaming anyone, but yes, we all need to know we are not alone in our struggle.

    • I don’t think it’s an excuse at all. Marriage was once created because of a social-economical need. You had a whole village of people who worked together. There were villages where people would raise everybody’s children. They belonged to everyone. There wasn’t so much pressure on individually making it work. If we are going to continue marrying, then we should use all aspects of the institution and community was a big part. It’s going to take a whole shift in the way we communicate as a culture but, what we are doing isn’t working, we really have nothing to lose at this point. A support network is really needed!

  2. Very well written! I never thought about it before, but it’s very true. How do we break the cycle if the stigma goes both ways though? Both married couples not wanting to “air their dirty laundry” and people not wanting to hear about it?

    • I know what you’re saying. I believe that people want to talk and people want to help. There is, however, a barrier there that I think can only be broken by awareness. If we become more aware that we have the support we need (and it’s going to take some vulnerability, but just might be worth it to save our marriages) then maybe we will turn to our friends more. On the other hand, society needs to be aware of the unrealistic expectations we put on married couples and the judgement that ensues when the expectations aren’t met. I think it has to start with the couple reaching out, because others might see that they can still be happy even after vocally expressing their hardships. You know, maybe lead by example. I’m pretty honest with my friends when they ask how we are doing. We’ve been through a tough year because we moved to a new city. By expressing that “we are insecure right now and are going through a lot of power struggles” so matter of fact, I’m hoping I can open the doors for them if ever they need it. But I also think the communication needs to be there from the beginning. It’s normally when we are too deep in the hole and there’s really no getting out.

  3. A very interesting topic. One of the decisions that I have some regret about is that we opted to skip the wedding with family and friends and went with a handful of loved ones and a justice of the peace. I think that it would have been nice to have more of the people who we care about sharing in the celebration of our union.

    I think that you’re right about how most of us view sharing the negative aspects of married life. It’s uncomfortable to speak of and also uncomfortable to hear. I can’t see “throwing out possible solutions” as being feasible, because when things aren’t going well we are unlikely to be of a the frame of mind to listen to advice — even good advice. But the underlying premise of the community pulling together during times of struggle is one that I can relate to.

    • Isn’t that what anniversaries are for, to have the “wedding” you never got to have? I do understand the reasoning behind a small, quick and simple ceremony. Sometimes I think, maybe we should just go the courthouse. You are right though, it is uncomfortable to hear other people’s marital problems. But, I’m wondering if part of that is because we don’t hear it that often. We don’t say what is really happening because it ruins the ideology on both sides. And there’s no way anyone is going to sit around and listen to people’s suggestions. (But, what if we were forced to do it. Even the crazy off the wall suggestions that were thrown out, maybe it would give some perspective on the scenario.) However, you’re lucky you have a good support system. I almost think you shouldn’t get married if you don’t have one. Thanks for your thoughts. Very interesting.

      • I’ve thought of that — having a real wedding on an anniversary, but the timing never seems right. Either there are better things on which to spend money (usually the case) or things just aren’t going as well as they might. Lot’s of excuses, I know.

        A couple of years ago, I was really frustrated. I know that you weren’t talking about writing a blog post as a way of expressing when things are going badly, but that’s exactly what I did. I had fewer readers back then, but I know that reading that post made them uncomfortable. Two years later, I can’t say what I got out of that experience, other than getting things off of my chest. I’d like to share it with you and your readers: Good Intentions Count For Nothing

        I’m picturing being forced to listen to advice — like an intervention. That could get wild.

      • Thanks for the reply. You are right you can tell you were in an emotionally draining position. However, I do think it’s all about intentions. I’m sure you would not have wanted to hear that at the time. It seems you were more in mourning than in a position of accepting advice. Which was another point you made earlier. It is difficult to accept advice when you are so emotionally invested in something. I guess it’s where you are in the process of it all, how raw it is and how willing you are to want to make it work or to change. Of course, I don’t have those answers either, but at least we are getting a conversation started about it. Thanks again for sharing, your post and your thoughts.

  4. good points. The year my wife and I got married we went to 15 weddings. We were in 7 of those. I thought of some of your points then, long ago. I don’t have the answers but you’ve raised good questions and points.

  5. Excellent article and great discussion, Marry! Of course the support of community will be natural when the members of the community have a relationship of love to each other. The shift that I see happening is that more and more people are becoming interested in love. They want to know what it actually is and how to live it and why they lost it somewhere along the line, not only to their ‘significant other’ but in general.
    I am able to ask friends for support and neither I nor my partner will feel it is an “intervention” if we are already in a relationship with friends that extends into deeper exchange about life’s meaning and purpose etc. We had a community for a few years here in our small town that was like that and that kind of a support dynamic had begun to develop. Then people moved away, got more demanding jobs etc. and now my wife and I do not have many contacts like that at the moment. The experience showed me, however, that many people want something like that nowadays (again). ☼ Tomas

    • I agree. The reason people will forever continue to get married is because of love. It is also the reason divorce became so prevalent. When marriage was no longer about survival but instead became about love, the institution changed altogether. Perhaps that’s why it will always be changing, because it will only evolve as much as our interpretation of love can.

  6. Great blog. I think, in part, it’s because of the social stigma of “failure”. It opens up vulnerabilities that most people, especially today, are terrified of exposing. Because if something is wrong in your relationship, the implication might be “What is wrong with you?” I know that every time a relationship has ended for me, I get at least one person who makes a comment that feels derogatory. It’s not a good trend in our society that we have to appear invincible, infallible and always perfect. Being able to be vulnerable with people we care about is a huge part of our humanity. Thanks for pointing out a cycle of negativity (the fear of disclosing problems) in our marriages and relationships!

  7. Happy Valentine’s Day, MarryMeKnot.

    I married once, at 19, to a man I met at 17. So you could say I have a perspective… Haven’t married again and we’re talking a couple of decades hence…

    I like what you write, it’s grounded.

    • Thank you. I imagine you have a pretty good perspective on a lot of things after marrying at 19. That’s a lot of life at a young age. Appreciate you dropping by. Your comments are always welcome.

  8. Your post made me think a lot, especially about how open most of us have become to announcing every trivial detail of our lives. Yet, as you said so well, we hide our biggest struggles as though they were unique, and a cause for shame. Thank you for writing this.

    • Another good point. We share, it’s just all the stuff that doesn’t really matter. And maybe, by doing that, we add value to the light weight, making it harder to accept when something ‘heavy’ actually comes our way…Thanks for reading.

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