See part 1: We disappointed people.
Part 2: Our values were different (from the values of those around us).
I knew this from the moment my sister got misty-eyed as I was drowning in a pile of tulle. In many ways, I'm a placard-waving freak,while my husband sits in the background, commenting on the typography and grammar of my placard. And ultimately, I bought a dress with an emmotionless click on Ebay ("Ooh. Ivory vintage Harry Kaiser cocktail dress that one can actually move in! My measurements! $176 plus shipping! It wasn't made by abused seamstresses in China, and I can actually afford it!").
So, we started planning our wedding in a way that was frugal, respectful of others, and socially/environmentally conscious. This quickly turned into tiptoeing through a minefield. I'll also add that we were paying for this wedding out of savings, primarily funds left to me by my deceased grandmother, so it's not like we were taking other people's money and spending it in ways they disapproved of.
My stepmother latched on to the "informality" of our summer afternoon ceremony, and decided that we needed paper table clothes, plastic plates, plastic flatware,wedding dress cutouts, and goofy plastic bride and groom stick figure picture frames (something like this), all while I strategized about how avoid contributing to the growth of the Pacific Garbage Patch And she was insisting on making Swedish meatballs for the reception ( 1) I've been a vegetarian for 3 years now. 2) I haven't touched anything resembling a Swedish meatball since working at camp summer of 2001...the uneaten freezerburned Swedish meatballs were recycled, causing "Swedish meatball" night to become salad night for all staff). Not cool....not cool at all.
(After weeks of her ignoring my protests, one of my grad school girlfriends got fed up and called her for a "Come to Jesus" meeting. Grad school girlfriends are the bestest.)
Then....there was the Church Organist. I have a feeling he's still off somewhere complaining about how my husband and I ruined his wedding. Well....we initially contacted him 8 weeks out from the wedding. Two weeks later, we still hadn't heard back from him, so with some frantic finagling, I came up with another organist. Church Organist was offended that another organist was playing a wedding at his church, so he called her to cancel (Note to anyone planning a wedding or other event: if you decide NOT to use a musician/vendor, etc, do NOT tell them who you are actually using). What then ensued was a three-week battle over a HYMN we had selected for our ceremony. Church Organist was grieved that our music choice was came from a "revivalist" tradition, and that our wedding would be ruined by including "a Wesleyan altar call." I wish I'd had the presence of mind to point out that the Wesleys were Anglican... Church Organist's passion for Pure Anglican Worship overflowed into everything. I got emails asking who was serving as acolyte, and whether we were going with the English order of attendants (I flew into a panic and told the Bishop "I didn't realize I needed to think about this stuff!" Bishop's response: "You don't"). Before putting together our program, we had a liturgical consult with the Bishop, to be sure everything was going in the appropriate places, and people were sitting/kneeling/standing at appropriate times. After program was drafted, it was emailed to Bishop and Church Organist, so that Bishop could check liturgical elements and Church Organist could check music... Church Organist sent back several scathing critiques of program, including the order of the ceremony, and the explanatory notes. Church Organist prioritized his time and gas above our comfort and refused to come to wedding rehearsal. Which meant that ceremony did not go as expected, but hey! At least Church Organist got his Saturday evening off.
And then, there was communication.
I'm a graduate student, have been for three years now. Maybe it's the roles I've played (be it student/research assistant/instructor/whatever), maybe it's the departments and program I've worked with, but there are some pretty clear expectations around communication. There's some pretty simple rules:
1) Send clear messages
2) If you are confused, ask for clarification
3) Respond quickly
4) If you can't/won't/don't want to do something, say so honestly and as quickly as possible
5) When you take on a task, get it done quickly, and communicate that you have done so.
Part of this is due to being social science/public health researchers/practitioners, I think....we're acutely aware that the "socially desirable" response is NOT the one we actually want. I don't want to know whether you know oral health is important and you really do mean to visit the dentist...I want to know whether you actually went to the dentist. When you tell me that you visited the dentist and you didn't, this is a major problem, so I spend my time trying to figure out ways to make you be honest with me and figure out when you're not.
It's also partly due to deadlines and interdependence. If it's my job to figure out effective ways to recruit participants, and it's not happening and I don't tell my boss about it...well,we won't get participants, data won't get collected, and the next time we try to do this, we probably won't get a grant (never mind the lack of publications craziness that defines academia).
Guess what? This is NOT how my family communicates. I'm not sure why...maybe it's just that they're not social scientists/academics...maybe it's that this blunt, straightforward approach to communication is taboo in the South, maybe it's something else. So "You committed to doing x, how is that coming?" emails/phone calls often received no response (and ended with me frantically trying to figure out how I was going to do x) or a response of "Oh, I don't care about x, but I'm doing y and z." I've learned that the facts that I can write well enough to pass my classes and lecture well enough that my students learn are apparently completely irrelevant to my ability to communicate messages and establish shared meaning outside of the classroom.
Symbols are a particularly challenging part of this "shared meaning" thing. Time and time again, when my husband and I did things our way, we confused others by failing to choose the "right" symbol. There's an emerald on my left hand, for instance....or my dramatic rebellion against "weddings are supposed to be formal and have tuxedos and long dresses." To everyone's credit, most of the time they chose the "if you can't be nice, don't say anything at all" approach. But not infrequently, someone would point out that I'd gotten the symbol wrong. "That's a Fall fabric, not summer", "You need to choose a Theme", "You can't have your siblings stand next to you, you have to have boys and girls separate." I pretended not to hear most of these statements, because I didn't understand (or care about!) these symbols.
That, I think, is the heart of the matter. Communication, and how we hold our symbols, in particular (and, like I often do, I've written myself to the limits of my understanding, and I'm fumbling for words here). I'm not willing to say that symbols are entirely neutral. And it's rare that something is "just" a symbol. But somehow...we all want to be right. Not just to be right, but to be Right in a way that stomps out opposition. It takes a great deal of strength and grace to balance our own thoughts in a way that gives others room for their own. I consider many of the gestures that made up our wedding our own small way of making the world a better place. Perhaps, in some ways they did, but realistically, seven thousand dollars isn't even a drop in the bucket of the wedding industry. I desperately want to live in a way that honors the world I live in and the other lives that are here...for me this meant absolutely not buying a brand new wedding dress off of a rack in a store, not wearing a diamond, choosing wedding party outfits that could be (and have been!) reworn, buying flowers from Ecuador and California (vs Colombia ) and a thousand other things were choices that reflect and display my values. When my father pulled me aside to whisper in horrified shock "One of the tablecloths has a spot on it" and I shrugged saying "Yeah, I expected that. I bought them used on Ebay from a catering company that was going out of business. Just put something on top of the spot" our lapse in communication was based in symbol: my father saw the spot as something sloppy, dirty & inappropriate while I saw it as a natural result of trying to have a responsible wedding. Likewise, when Church Organist fought with me over including a Protestant hymn, it was because my personal desire to acknowledge my spiritual journey and the religious tradition in which my husband and I were raised conflicted with his beliefs about worship that is beautiful, pleasing to God, and reflects Anglo-Catholic heritage. Are these conflicts inevitable? Perhaps. Do they have to become increasingly hostile and devastating? I hope not.
At the end of the day...I am married, to a man who has shared my heart and my journey and watches with enthusiasm as I work out my hopes and values in ways that include gardening, composting,refurbishing furniture, cooking,writing, studying, and more.
(Photo by Daniel Kuykendall)
We're going to communicate poorly in the future- both with each other, and with others. I hope we'll learn to identify inadequate communication and fix it, quickly. I hope that we will learn to hold our symbols a little more loosely, and to give grace to others when they cling tightly to their own symbols.