Like most brides-to-be, I have a checklist: schedule a tasting with the caterer, review the florist's estimate, carefully word the invitations, find out whether New York is a no-fault state... Now, hang on -- don't panic on my behalf. Even if you're so inclined, don't congratulate me on my prudence. I don't even live in New York State. But as my fiancé and I have been planning our wedding, I've been writing a novel about a crumbling marriage. I couldn't and probably wouldn't have planned it this way, and yet I find I'm thankful for the odd perspective.
I was unprepared for the rushing wave of attention that accompanies an engagement, and still less prepared for the onslaught of wedding-related solicitation that follows. In addition to the congratulations from friends and family, there have been emails from vendors I've never contacted and postcards from total strangers (who creepily somehow obtained my home address) offering their photographic and musical services on our "big day." I am invited to trunk shows and registry events and entreated to subscribe to magazines all centered on the celebration of me in all my bridal glory. Setting aside for a moment that only a tiny fraction of all this white tulle madness even acknowledges the participation of my groom in this event, it's as if an entire industry were raising the aisle up to meet us. I'm not sure I've ever done anything that has universally pleased so many people. And while my innate suspicion of popular opinion offers some protection against frenzied nuptial giddiness, I begin to understand how one could see this single day, this brief ceremony followed by a meal, as an accomplishment, a moment of arrival, rather than as a lovely milestone marking the beginning of a marriage.
Unless, of course, one's days are spent contemplating the end of one. Kate and Martin, the fictional couple in my book-in-progress, have been pushed to the brink by financial ruin, by a bit of well-intentioned spousal deception, by a series of disappointments and slights. I got engaged roughly a hundred pages into the writing, as Kate was just beginning to envision what life might look like on the other side of a divorce and Martin was paralyzed with denial. And so as I search for a photographer, their happy photos mock them. As we register for house wares, even their furniture takes sides. As we plan a honeymoon, they debate the merits of splitting up matching luggage. The juxtaposition is enough to make anyone consider the potential for impermanence, but this is not what the story prompts me to think. (And know that as I write this, I can feel generations of my superstitious ancestors throwing salt over their shoulders.)
What I notice instead is the comparative vacuum that seems to surround divorce, the absence of rice-throwers and well-wishers and all those people telling you what a fine success you're making of your life. As a friend tells me, getting married is like entering a furnished house, holding hands, with a cheering throng behind you, but divorce is more like leaving an empty room with a creaky door and no one waiting on the other side. We work so hard to sanction the start of a marriage; does all that communal good will curdle if it ends? By placing so much value on the act of marrying, do we heap a greater sense of failure on couples who divorce?
Maybe we're going about this all wrong. If we gather as a village to dance at a wedding and stamp our collective endorsement, maybe we ought to be obligated to show up at least if things don't work out. Perhaps the pain of dissolving a partnership could be eased in some small way if the freshly single were greeted with all the attention and wholehearted support usually reserved for a bride and groom. An open bar and a two-week vacation after signing the papers probably wouldn't hurt either, or a registry to replace the flatware and towels the ex got to keep.
It's all conjecture from this end, I realize, an attempt to write thoughtfully what I do not know. And without question, I am only more appreciative of this moment as a result. Between the champagne toasts, perspective is not such a bad thing.