observations and opinion
An old friend came by yesterday. I say “old” but he is in fact a good deal younger than me (although he is in fact one year older today, this being his birthday). But he is an “old soul” though. Whatever that is, he is one. And his beard narrows our age gap a little.
This guy, who we will call Y, is thirtyish and engaged to marry a marvellous woman named X. I’ve written about this duo before (“Little Robots). When I was a few years out of school my gang of friends had a couple like this: adult, observant, generous. Rock-like. Not exactly the mom and dad of our group, but most likely to become “mom and dad” before the rest of us. Which they did.
Y and X will marry this summer and are slowly sinking under the waves of wedding preparation. The venue is one of those small-town historical sites which left to its own devices would collapse into the earth but, with a little capital investment and entrepreneurial energy, has re-emerged as a wedding place. Y, who is so naturally hip that he is both too hip, and too unhip, to be a hipster, cringes a little at the name of the joint, which is named something like “Soulmate Farm.” I laughed when he told me. I’m still laughing.
Soulmate Farm looks nice enough (online I mean, I’m not driving out to see it in January). It will be pretty in the early summer, I am sure. The kitchen offers three choices of meals, with names like “Hearts on Fire”, “Warm Eternity” and “Perfect Bliss.” Perfect Bliss includes three canapés and a couple of entree choices. What’s not to like? Good food, drink and a view of the wide countryside are strong elements in a wedding.
X and Y, on the brink of their nuptials, confront the inevitable and terrible decisions faced by every such couple since the dawn of time: who to invite to the wedding. Or, more accurately, who NOT to invite. For younger couples heavily beholden to parental credit cards, the decision-making power about the guest list rests largely in the laps of those paying the freight. For X and Y, both strong-minded and largely autonomous, this Sophie’s Choice weighs upon them.
Naturally, being older and wiser and more opinionated than my friend, I had advice. For a long time I have espoused what I call “the concentric circle theory of wedding guests” – that you have to draw a target, put yourself at the middle and work outwards. Who is closest to the centre? Who is in the next outer ring (“the B list”) and so forth.
This method works but, on reflection, it strikes me as a little too simplistic. You can go “A, B, C” and so on but it doesn’t really help with the difficult cases. And those hard cases arise because people are not distinct atoms (at least, most of them aren’t) – they travel in packs, connecting and inter-connecting and disconnecting and reconnecting all the time.
You see, a wedding is a solar system.
A solar system of course starts with the sun. At your wedding, that’s you. And then you have the nearest planets (your A list, Mr. Mercury and Ms. Venus, we might call them). And then of course there’s good old Earth and, a ways out from there that hot red planet, Mars. Beyond Mars, in the deep endless black cold of space, is Jupiter. Do you really have room at the wedding for Jupiter?
You might think so – hell, you might even invite Pluto. Sure, he’s not considered much of a planet anymore but that always seemed a little unkind and there’s a table by the swinging door to the kitchen. He was always a good friend and he might be again someday. And Pluto will be happy just to catch a glimpse of the bride and groom across the dark reaches of space (from the door by the kitchen, I mean).
Okay, solar system sorted out. Will it be chicken or beef? But stop – and think. Take another look at the solar system you’re assembling out at Soulmate Farm. Did you forget someone? Think…..oops, you did.
La Luna. You see, in every solar system there’s a star, there’s the planets and then, swirling around those planets, are its moons. Some of your friends may be planets but hell, you’ve been friends with their moons too. You may not even like some these orbiting spheres anymore (that Ganymede, jeez isn’t she a piece of work?) but they are THERE. They’re going to know they didn’t make the “D” list. Ouch. And you don’t just pull a planet into your wedding orbit and leave all its moons hanging out there, do you? They may be pissed.
Yes, every guest is a planet, and every planet has its moons, and every moon – even if it merely reflects the light or casts shadows – can tug at your tides. All that must be considered in deciding who is in, and more difficult, who is OUT of the wedding. For every person you invite, there’s another who thinks she should have been invited. And she will, in fact, be pissed. This is one of the cruelties of adult life – rationing resources. And then explaining it.
Yeah, we can invite Jupiter. But what about Europa, Chaldene and that bitch Ganymede?
Now, that doesn’t mean every floating orb nearby must be invited. Not at all. What it means is that you have to contemplate the expectations of each guest, her nearest orbiting spheres, even those asteroids you used to go to school with. You may decide to hold some cheaper alternative event for those who won’t be making it to Soulmate Farm with you. Meet the meteorites for a drink.
But as you think about making excuses and explanations for not inviting people, there is an opportunity: you get to actually think about why you’re getting married, who this wedding is for. And who it is NOT for.
A wedding, traditionally, is a kind of public ceremony, announcing the linking of two people in hopefully-eternal matrimony. When communities were small with lives overlapping, a wedding was a statement to the village, county or town: “we are together now.” It was the start of things.
But it has changed in the modern western world. Most couples are pretty “together” before they wed – they share history, homes, finances, sometimes children. Indeed, the modern wedding isn’t so much an announcement of having joined up, but of hoping to stay that way: “Not only are we together, we plan on STAYING together.”
So who should be there with you when you say that? Your closest family, sure – that’s a connection that may stretch, bend or even break, but permanent. The friends you share as a couple. The oldest friends who got you over the hard times. the necessary planets. And if you’ve got room and a little extra money, even a few moons. They may not all have been the whole way with you, and they may not be there five or ten years from now (who knows?) but they’re a planet or a moon that fits.
If they fit. It’s understanding what it means to “fit” that makes this work, or not work. What exactly are you trying to “fit” here? If you won’t invite your friends (or worse, you do invite people you don’t like) because you’re trying to fit the expectations of other people, I have a polite question: are you grown up enough to get married?
I found out, to my surprise, that I got it right when I realized just who “fit” and didn’t fit at our wedding, some 16 years ago. The lesson came to me near the end of our reception, when it was my turn to speak. At that moment I knew, by some grace, we had done it right.
I had practised my remarks over and over in the car ride to the country – I was ready for the words that were to come. What I wasn’t prepared for was the galaxy of faces, all the bright beautiful planets, arrayed before me. One way or the other, everyone there knew us well, and we knew them, and it mattered that they had come all that way for us. I wasn’t just ready to speak to them. I wanted to speak to them. That is one of my best memories of the day.
For that’s what a truly wedding is: a performed memory. An occasion not only to celebrate, but in future to re-create, in fragments and wisps, the meaning and sentiment of the day. We all have memories of the weddings we’ve attended but I would guess, none sharper or more intense than the memories of our own day. They belong to us and will remain more important to us, than to anyone else.
So maybe that’s how you plan your wedding: Who do you want to remember, standing with you, looking at you, celebrating you? Whose are the faces which will encircle you not only that day and night, but on all the countless future moments when you turn your mind back and remember? Who do you want to see?
I’ll tell you who it isn’t: cold little Ganymede. Who needs her? Save yourself the note paper and let her find something else to do that night. Fill your wedding with the faces you want to remember.
And if you want to see this mug in your memories, make room for Pluto at Soulmate Farm. Even if it’s just next to the kitchen.
And no, that doesn’t mean Goofy has to come. There’s a limit.