Author of Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World and The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in an Age of Constant Connection.
Every morning, Kenny and I talk about our upcoming wedding. And then, every evening, we talk about the end of the world.
In the mornings, we brew too much coffee and buzz with the quotidian concerns that occupy all groom-zillas. Can we at last settle on which rosé to serve? Will our outfits be too matchy-matchy? Do these glass vessels have the right look for the late-night candy bar?
By the time we’re making dinner, though, a day’s worth of news has exacted a psychological whiplash: Did you see Donald Trump’s attacking NATO now? Have you heard the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council? Do you think they’ll reverse Roe v. Wade?
One evening, Kenny came home and found me teary-eyed because I’d been listening to audio of detained children bawling for their mothers at the Mexican border. In a nauseating act of compartmentalization, I scrubbed my face and asked if he remembered to pick up zap straps for the DJ’s cables.
At a time when toxic news dominates not just the media but also our mental states, we’re all left in an absurd position. We may wonder: Does carrying on with my own share of happiness – throwing together a wedding, say – mean I’m numb to the madness?
Cognitive dissonance has always been key to wedding-planning, of course. You slice off this tiny pristine moment in an otherwise mud-splattered life and you tell yourself: Yes, we can have nice things; yes, we’ll believe in happy endings. But to plan a wedding in the age of Mr. Trump is something else – it stretches credulity. You choose a tablecloth and a voice at the back of your head says, “Fuss all you like over the linen – it won’t buoy up all those failing democracies.” There are no bridal blogs that teach me how to shove aside my anxiety about the rise of authoritarianism so that I can focus on choosing between “White O’Hara” roses and “Prince Jardinier.”
So what does it mean, then, to plan a wedding in this climate? Is it a kind of obscenity? A tone-deaf affront to the reality we’re living through? Or can a wedding, suspended within the miasma of Mr. Trump’s presidency, still make sense?
Here’s the thing: I never thought I’d get married at all. I didn’t think I’d be allowed to. As a child, I never saw two men holding hands – let alone utter “I do.” There were no gay images or stories in my school curricula, no gay characters on television except a few neutered clowns. To like boys was to be invisible, and invisible boys don’t register at all – let alone for wedding gifts.
I remember thinking, in my 20s, that my own life was somehow less real – or less substantiated – than the lives of heterosexuals; it seemed as though real (sanctioned) love was for those who held hands without checking who’s coming.
When gay marriage did become legal here in Canada – in 2005 – a full quarter of my fellow Canadians opposed the idea. And so did my boss at the gay bookshop where I worked. For Jim, gay marriage was suspect, even distasteful. For him, gay marriage meant giving up our rebel status, our role as agitators. It meant assimilation. One day, as we stuck price tags on novels and porn mags, he asked me, “Why would fags want to get married? We should be helping straight folk get out of marriage, not falling for the same trap ourselves.”
I saw gay marriage as a good thing, though, because – to me – enfranchisement was what civil rights meant. Access to the club of matrimony seemed intrinsically positive.
Jim died a few years ago – he never saw the rise of Mr. Trump. And I wonder whether his attitude would have changed if he’d witnessed these recent examples of how quickly civil liberties can be undone. How wildly the course of history still veers.
I doubt it. If Jim were here, he’d probably roll his eyes at my fretful wedding preparations. And I wouldn’t blame him. It is ridiculous. What is a wedding trying to prove, anyway? What that six years of laundry and dinners and dog walks hasn’t already proven?
But maybe each marriage seeks to prove something ineffable, atmospheric, beyond our daily, lived experience. History, so much larger than our tiny lives, condenses around us, taking the form of ceremonies. These ceremonies connect us to patterns beyond our private understanding.
Ours is a gay marriage and within our lifetimes, that was unthinkable. Ours is an interracial marriage, too, and that would get you a burning cross on your lawn within living memory. The fact that Kenny and I are mainly worried about whether it’ll rain on July 21st is frankly a triumph of civil liberties.
And yet, I have no illusions about the permanence of our liberty – because I know how much remains subject to change. If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed and joins the U.S. Supreme Court, he may well cast the deciding vote in decisions that overturn not just Roe v. Wade, but also the legalization of gay marriage in the States. And if the rights of my friends in San Francisco can be upended, why not my own? What is a gay marriage in the age of Mr. Trump but a bet against that darker future?
Last summer, after we became engaged, Kenny and I visited friends on Galiano Island, a quick boat ride off Vancouver’s shore. The dogs galumphed into algae-slicked ponds. The humans drank wine and stared at sun-spangled waters. “What you have to know, right off the top,” said our host, “is that this wedding isn’t going to be about you.”
It’d already begun to register that wedding planning is an exercise in managing the expectations of others. Who is invited and who is not? Who is part of the wedding party? Will there be food for the vegans, the gluten-intolerant? Where will babies go, and where will the elderly? Enfranchisement creates a social pressure that queer folk are less used to, a new and stuffy set of expectations. What we’ve learnt over six months of planning is that weddings are, indeed, more about the world a couple lives in than the couple itself.
Our host repeated herself, refilling our glasses, “Nobody’s wedding is about themselves.” Every wedding – beyond petty anxieties about the caterer and the DJ – is a way for society to tell itself what love looks like, what family looks like.
In that light, just carrying on with weddings is a kind of balm after the world’s gone mad. We keep on loving; keep on celebrating; keep on singing karaoke till the last guest leaves. And it’s comforting to note that ours is just one of 4,000 weddings taking place this July in my home province of British Columbia. That feels like a kind of reproach against nihilistic headlines.
One acquaintance helpfully told me that the very act of marriage requires a naiveté we should have outgrown by now. Forty-one per cent of marriages end in divorce before the 30th anniversary rolls around. And it’s an especially audacious thing, plunging toward love, when hate carries the day. But hope, as a different American president once noted, is always audacious – and hope is never false.
For our first dance, Kenny and I chose a 1962 recording of Barbra Streisand singing Happy Days Are Here Again. We cannot believe the lyrics, of course, in any literal sense. Happy days are not here. This is no golden age. And it’s hard, these days, to hold onto that old idea that the moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice. But the music will play all the same; our friends will spin beneath twinkling white lights; and, for a verse or two, we’ll hold onto a thread of history that’s finer than the bloody news.