The pressure is on. Gay couples -- particularly longtime partners -- may be facing new strains (as well as joys) as a result of their newly won freedom to marry. Suddenly parents, who perhaps had given up the hope of ever seeing their children walk down the aisle, are now pushing them to tie the knot. Other family and friends may suddenly be taking a similar position, as well. Now, with the chance to embrace marriage, is the opportunity always welcome? For many of these couples, there may be no natural inclination toward marriage. Maybe the couple prefers just dating -- one or the other might prefer a more open-ended, in some ways less committed relationship and not be so keen to enter into the "prison of bourgeois marriage." In other words, just because you can get married, should you, simply because you're suddenly feeling the pressure to do so?
This new choice may bring new tensions, with risks of stirring still waters, bringing to the surface buried differences in the ways the partnership navigates. Of course, it has always been true that society puts pressures on issues related to marriage, but with many gay and lesbian couples, there is the additional pressure of a deeply felt obligation to mobilize and to promote acceptance of the idea of gay marriage by actually doing it. In essence, every gay marriage can be seen as a show of support to encourage other states to pass similar statutes as well as an implicit demand that the federal government recognize the fairness of same-sex marriage. This is crucial for many couples, as it affects financial equity, taxes, inheritance and gaining citizenship.
But lest we forget, marriage is a celebration. So, politics aside, one of the marvelous opportunities gay marriage presents, one not without its own anxieties, is the chance to give a great party!
The thrilling opportunity of a same-sex marriage, one of the first in human history, gives couples permission to blur the boundaries that constrain a traditional wedding. You are free to create, within or without the lines, whatever your fancy, your wit, or your taste can invent. You can play with all the rules and all the roles, designing a new path or taking one straight down the middle. Some of it has begun already, but in many respects this is virgin territory, and everything is open, available, and beckoning like never before. It's all very exciting!
Whenever I plan an event, the first step is to sit with the host or, in this case, couple and start a dialogue about goals, personal tastes, concerns, etc. The following are a few classic wedding anxieties that present new complexities for same-sex couples during the planning phase:
1. Proposals: Who "pops" the question? It's always been a great Kodak moment -- giddy and scary, at least for the one proposing, but is there a newer, more equal and modern way to propose? Is an equal approach better? Instead of, "Will you marry me?" should it be, "Shall we marry?" If it's a shared question, will it be less romantic, less dangerous, or perhaps more so, given that both parties will be fully engaged? Or does it even matter, given that, by definition, one person has to pose the question -- however it is phrased -- first? The beauty is that there is no wrong answer. The proposal is about creating a moment; it's a gift for your partner that you can relive together for a lifetime.
2. Rings: Does one person wear the engagement ring, or do both wear one? And what do they mean to you -- signs of possession, ownership, or pride? Who gets to give, and who gets to wear the "rock" -- if there is one? Wedding rings pose different issues for men and women, as jewelry plays different roles and has different codes for different genders. Do you want rings to be equal and shared, or would you like to differentiate them? With many same-sex couples, the pair already wears commitment bands. One couple that I worked with took the rings they already had and added stones. The alteration represented the new chapter in their lives, but the jewelry remained familiar and special to the couple.
3. Nomenclature: How do you define your roles? Brides and grooms? How about grides and brooms? Similarly, it is a delightful conundrum figuring out how to include and title those close to you, even if it means rethinking the idea of a best man or a maid of honor to include all persons of honor.
4. Procession: Who gives you away? Is that antiquated, restricting, or liberating? Does only one of you go down the aisle, or both together? I did a wedding where the "brooms" met at the head of the aisle; each walked with his best friend. They paused a moment, saw each other, and then walked together to the altar. It was beautiful and moving, creative and thoughtful, surrounded by their moms and dads who were seated together with all the wedding guests.
5. Bouquets: Should you both have one or none? It's been said that weddings are about flowers. Should your personal flowers be as lavish as your jewelry, or should it be simple and smart, like a boutonnière? Should you have them on your wrist, or maybe a shoulder corsage? I've had clients who fashioned custom muffs and scarves as a creative way to incorporate floral into their weddings. Another client of mine used leis for the wedding party because of the garland's representation of affection.
6. Wedding Dress: For women -- and some men -- do you have to have a version of the dress? For many brides this is the ultimate form of expression; this is the element by which their wedding is defined. But for same-sex couples it can be seen as an afterthought, but should it? In white or not exactly white? Both of you or neither? For some it fulfills a fantasy. Others feel enhanced, perfectly beautiful. Should it be tails or suit, skirts or trousers? Tailored? Matching? I encourage my clients to put as much attention on their attire as they desire.
7. Last Names: This is another issue that heterosexual couples have often debated -- does the woman's name change or not? Should you go with the hyphenate? The beauty of a same-sex wedding is that this is one area where the pressure is off. It is not expected that there will be a name change, although hyphenates are often used. From a purely aesthetic perspective, with regard to invitations, thank-you notes, and wedding favors, a monogram incorporating both last names is common with same-sex couples.
Although these are all issues that will need to be tackled by same-sex couples, the most important thing to remember is that a wedding is a party, maybe the best and most memorable party you'll ever give. Even if it gets very stressful, remember (in the words of one of my clients), "It's a wedding, not a funeral!" The people you love are there with you to celebrate the most thrilling, funny, warm, and beautiful time in your life.
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