April 14, 2003 02:52 PM

I think we're now of a certain age. What I mean by this is - we're at that age when a fair number our friends are already married, have been married, or have considered marriage. [When I talk about marriage here, I mean the legal marriage between heterosexual couples as well as other ceremonies between couples of any persuasion. Obviously, there's a legal bias inherent in official marriage, but that's a slightly other issue.]

It seems we're going to more weddings, in other words. And talking to more people about having babies, single parenting, white dresses and table arrangements.

Our friends aren't quite the same as, say - people at work. People at work [PAWs] are, for the most part, married with matching set of small children. PAWs tend to talk about furniture and two different sets of china. They don't look as conservative as this! But I think the PAWs are what other people talk about when they say marriage changes you. It can. It can change you into a PAW. But you're hardly powerless against it. None of my recently married friends used the wedding gift process to establish multiple sets of china, for instance.

Each wedding we attend sparks its own discussion of if and how we'd ever get married.

We have theories. One is that it will be fabulous to remain everyone's unmarried couple friends. Perfectly viable. One is to get married only for convenience' sake. Highly unlikely, considering our penchant for the ritual and our respect for community building (which marriage is, to an extent).

The latest idea: 1+1=10. This came from a religious ceremony's (beautiful, but to me untrue) idea of 1+1=1. Religious math. It's a very pretty concept, and if you believe in that idea of marriage, it lends your marriage a clear purpose and serves as a sort of guiding principle.

The theory is that, given our lack of religion and our fundamental belief in the mutabilty of relationships and the tentative nature of commitments, what marriage is really about is joining families. They're the ten. What I call "family", my partner calls "tribe"; what we both mean is the people (family or friends) whom you choose to include in your community. Our friends have comingled, but our families don't even know each other.

So. The ritual I envision going along with this family joining is something facilitated by a very close friend, involving a party (like a reception) with some form of collective hand-fasting - maybe using the ring exchange ceremony, or just something simple like breaking bread or sharing cake. Basically, it would focus on only the community-building aspects of the traditional wedding ceremony and reception; I think we'd pull it off nicely. I don't know if this would go along with a legal wedding, or would serve as a collective commitment ceremony. The latter seems more correct, given the limited rights of other people to legally marry.

What I know I don't want is a wedding with the white dress, the first dance, the giving away of a bride. It's an obvious conflict with my personal ideals - not that I believe marriage is inherently property-focused (i.e. the very romantic "be mind" - ick) or unequal - but I couldn't participate in something of depth (i.e. religious wedding) if whatever I did wasn't true to its form and purpose.

While it's hardly uncommon for feminists to not believe in marriage, I don't have fundamental issues with the concept, though. Just as the meaning of language is fluid, so is the meaning of ceremony. Marriage, particularly, can mean whatever two people decide it means. I like seeing my friends take the marriage ceremony and reception concepts and making these things theirs. I'm proud that our good friends have chosen to get married with an awareness of what that act means for them.

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