For weeks and months after our wedding, our guests raved about it. They told Eileen and me how much fun it was, and how happy everyone felt. They told us it was full of joy, warmth, meaning and tradition; and that it felt relaxed and unpretentious. One friend, who has attended many, many weddings (in part because her husband is a minister) even said that it was the happiest wedding she’s ever been to. I was touched. And when I sent photos of the ceremony and reception to friends who hadn’t attended, they all (as in 99%) said they’d never seen so much smiling at a wedding. They recounted stories of laughing and crying while looking at the pictures.
I was amazed at the exuberance, the overwhelmingly positive and heartfelt responses. And at friends going out of their way to tell us how wonderful it had been. Which got me wondering… Was our wedding was more spirited, more joyful than most? And if so, why was this? Aren’t most weddings happy? (Okay, I know the answer – life and relationships can be complicated – but let’s not go there now.) What made our wedding so praiseworthy?
Well, it was in a beautiful location – at a mansion at the base of an isolated mountain in Maryland, where we like to hike, and not far from where we live. It was springtime, when trees and shrubs exude green and flowers are brilliant in bloom. While we weren’t able to hold the ceremony outdoors, as planned (it began to rain minutes before starting time), we all felt like we were outside. Our guests could see nature in full force behind us through the wide open door of the tent and the large windows of the mansion’s ballroom. As we had hoped, they appreciated that we were getting married in a natural setting.
Second, we had an amazing rabbi – warm, good-spirited, funny, profound and serious – in an informal way – about Jewish traditions, rituals and the significance of marriage. He’s inclusive, open-minded (obviously!) and intelligent. He set a happy, inviting tone right from the start, encouraging everyone to sing one of many upbeat, wordless Jewish melodies. And, mid-wedding, after providing commentary on the history of May Day (our wedding was May 1st), he got the whole audience singing the old labor song, “We’re Sticking with the Union.” How appropriate and creative is that?
Then, there was us. We were clearly very happy, and very energized. You could see it from the start as we called the guests together and Eileen, in her excitement, clapped her hands loudly, stomped her feet in rhythm and demanded that our guests sing and clap even louder. Like at a concert. We looked beautiful – so we were told – with hairdos, makeup, long white dresses and jewelry. I think no one believed we could clean up so attractively. And, we weren’t anxious, nervous or concerned about how the wedding would turn out. It was out of our hands by that time, and we were ready to let whatever happen.
Sure, there were surprises and not everything went as planned. That was to be expected. But in spite of – or maybe, in part, as a result of – the slip-ups, the mood remained high. No one seemed to be concerned when our wedding bands disappeared during the ceremony or when the wine ran out. Nor that it rained on our party. In fact, our guests quickly forgot about these details, focusing instead on the joy and celebration. Which brings me back to my question of what made everyone so happy?
One observation offered by a friend was that weddings of older couples are often more joyous, especially when it’s the first time they’re getting married. Presumably, the fact that the couple is older and wiser implies that they’ve made the right decision to get married, and that they’ve chosen the right person. And in many cases, including ours, there’s happiness in seeing loved ones find their basherts (Yiddish for soul mates) after so many years of singlehood. The joy may also include relief from friends and family, a lessening of responsibility should we get sick. And, gratitude that spinsters like us can find love.
I think our guests felt comfortable. After all, our ceremony and the reception following were pretty traditional – just what you’d expect a Jewish wedding to look like, with the exception of the absence of a groom. Apropos the topic of expectations, I’ve got another speculation about why people were happy. It’s what I call the “Everyone loves a bride” theory. When you think about weddings, it’s the bride (and how she looks) that’s the major attraction. Well, in this case, our guests got two brides – a bonus. Double their money’s worth!
More to the point, though, is that family and friends were truly happy to see two women marry each other. They recognized that love between two people – no matter what their genders – bestows happiness, and that marriage is an appropriate way to formalize and celebrate that love. My middle brother, in his after-dinner toast, commended us by congratulating us on our courage, but pointing out that the courage exhibited was not only the brides’, but of everyone in the room. We were all making history, standing up for the power of love, as well as for the right of two people of the same sex to marry.
At the same time, the collective sense of excitement may have been heightened by the fact that what we were doing seemed a bit illicit. After all, same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Maryland. It must have felt good for friends and family to demonstrate their openness and support for a rite that’s somewhat revolutionary by participating enthusiastically. Their bounty of positive energy speaks to our guests’ willingness to stand up for what’s fair and good. And, it gratifies me that we have given them the opportunity to feel virtuous about same-sex marriage and to express it through their blessings.
Finally, I think and hope that our wedding guests and other friends were full of joy because they have seen how Eileen and I have grown and profited from our relationship together. Maybe you have additional thoughts and theories as to why our wedding was so full of smiles… If so, do tell.