I accept wedding invitations because of the beauty. No matter how simple or elaborate the ceremony or the reception, it’s always there. It’s in a quick hand squeeze between parents of the bride or groom, or that moment when everyone forgets anyone is watching them dance and just goes for it. It’s in the scent of the flowers and the cautious steps of the ring bearer, wanting to get his role just right. Often, it’s in the look exchanged between the bride and groom as they join hands, a look that seems to encompass the entire road they’ve already traveled, known only to themselves and to God, and the excitement (and perhaps nervousness) that accompanies them as they embark on the next stretch.
At this moment in a wedding, no matter how much I love those involved, or how much or little I know about them, I begin to feel wistful, even sad. I begin to look around in earnest and realize I am one of the few single adults in attendance. I wonder if the couple invited other single people who decided not to come, or if I am one of the few they know. I begin to brace myself for conversations at the reception about whether or not I am married, have kids, or am seeing anyone.
I don’t even have to be at a wedding to experience this wistfulness. At this time of year, I occasionally find myself looking through an entire Facebook album of wedding pictures, possibly belonging to someone I don’t know. I admire the dress and the flowers and take in the carefully staged photos. I think the couple looks happy—or sometimes, relieved.
My great-grandparents married very young during the Great Depression. They didn’t have the money for a wedding, but somehow they got a deal through a local circus. Their wedding would be paid for if they agreed to get married in the lion’s cage. In their wedding picture, my lovely great-grandmother’s face is obscured by a bar of the cage. Though they asked her to shift several times, she was too afraid to move.
Sometimes when I’m frustrated with my singleness amid the blur of wedding season, I think about my great-grandparents. They were uniting against the common enemy of poverty. I wonder if my great-grandmother had a choice about a single detail of her wedding. I doubt they had a registry. Still, I wish I could have been there; I would have liked to pick out the beauty amid the lions, under the Big Top.
I went to a wedding a couple of years ago held on the groom’s family’s property near a small lake. Horses were in a corral, and they had set up a bounce house for the kids. A close friend was cooking large amounts of Korean barbecue. It was the wedding closest to a circus I have ever experienced.
Before the ceremony started, I walked up to visit the horses, in my dress clothes. I fed them treats and spoke gently to them, knowing that the large group of people must be alarming to them. We calmed each other’s nerves in the shade of a hot day. I only wished that I, too, had a tail to fend off the mosquitos.
After the wedding, when more responsible people were helping to clean up, I kicked off my shoes and slid into the bounce house with a few of the kids. As I sailed above the earth, suspended over a primary-colored puffy castle interior, I felt whole, and full-sized. I drove home with hands that had been recently nuzzled by an animal perfectly capable of killing me. I had flown through the air and been caught over and over. Like my great-grandmother, I had defied danger and survived.
I keep going to weddings because I still believe marriage should be celebrated and championed. This goes far beyond wedding season to the everyday homes of my friends and their spouses and kids. It means dinner as a third wheel, and the gentle pain of overheard pet names. I’m leaning into the discomfort of those hard moments because I believe they have something to teach me. I keep going back because I know this pain has beauty buried somewhere inside it.
When I was seven, I started dreaming of my future husband and our eventual wedding. I wondered if we’d meet when I was sixteen (and likely a cool babysitter). I thought he would probably be a lot like Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables, or possibly Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid. I had no doubt he existed and that he would find me.
Sometimes I feel as though I would be such a disappointment to my seven-year-old self. She had high hopes for my love life. But there was a lot she didn’t know. She didn’t know it was possible to be deeply lonely in a relationship, or that people marry for more reasons than love. She had no idea how many hard decisions I’d have to make or how many weddings I would witness. I couldn’t even begin to explain it to her.
I like to think my great-grandmother would be proud of me. For her, marriage was completely necessary, a protection against fearful things. I think she’d be happy to know that her daughter’s daughter’s daughter didn’t have to live her days afraid, lions or no. For her, and for myself, I continue to look for the beauty, even when it’s loud and the colors feel a bit too bright.