The avalanche started so quietly I almost didn’t hear it. My friend Phil got married in 2008. He and his college sweetheart tied the knot in a post-Garden State, pre-(500) Days of Summer ceremony soundtracked by the Clientele and stocked generously with imported Belgian beer. It was a blast; he was perhaps 25. Any age older than you is old in that first blush of adult life, so it didn’t seem that strange. The pebble rolled gently down the hill, no louder than Alasdair MacLean’s half-whispered vocals.
The avalanche is in full roar now, the granite victims of the marriage industrial complex tumbling over each other in a race to update their Facebook pages. Phil was just the outlier, the first canary down the mine. I’m 27 now: in the last 18 months, I’ve seen at least as many couples get engaged, married or both. Make that 19: my fiancée and I walked down the aisle, pausing to circle each other in a feminist take on the Jewish tradition, in September. And there are at least another dozen in the anxious stretch of co-habitation where talk of a ring begins to reach the dinner table, or at least neighborhood Jane Austen BBC adaptation-watching parties. I go the gym with my single friend, and occasionally he asks me advice. “You should call her,” I said last time, sweaty and baffled. “Or text? I don’t know what the kids are doing these days.” I’m old.
Some of us are a year or two older, some my age, and all are exiting our years of grad school/early career desert wandering. We’re pragmatic, stable, serious, maybe even employed. The timing is crucial. HBO’s Girls and websites such as Thought Catalog bemoan the state of post-college relationships, and they’re not so wrong: unless you have the iron-clad certainty necessary for long distance, the vagrancy inherent in our grad school/Brooklyn/Africa-aimed mid-20s lives means affairs of the heart are limited to the ticking moments between plane flights and the bar exam. You have to just wait it out.
Our generation is also among the first to grow up in large part as the product of divorce, our hearts bruised and blackened by the Baby Boomers’ failed attempts to replicate Leave It To Beaver. (This is why Mad Men, which outs our grandparents as horny, morally challenged lushes, is our favorite show. I have no explanation for Breaking Bad.) When a romance goes sour, or violent, the social acceptance of divorce is a blessing; in its current quantities, however, we’ve lost far too many to collateral damage. For every friend I have planning groomsmen suits or floral arrangements, there’s another in a long-term relationship idling in Kurt-and-Goldie mode. I would’ve picked Tim and Susan but, you know.
There are certain advantages to putting one’s expected coupling progress on indefinite pause. You can delete “My Fair Wedding” from your Netflix queue. (Hang on to “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta,” it’s the best.) Your parents, rather than torment you with a year of micro-management and family politics, presumably shrug and resume the position of lip-biting indifference they took after you told them you were seriously going to be an English major. There’s no jewelry or legalese or patriarchal tradition tying you to a person, and a home, and an increasingly weighty life.
It doesn’t feel weighty to me. She went to grad school but didn’t have to move for it. I thought about moving to New York for the bagels but couldn’t give up burritos. All our parents are still together. We lie in bed every night and talk about our dreams. When she goes to work, I miss her. We own a cat. When you’re sure, as they say, you actually are. I know I can do so much more with her than I ever could without her, and frankly, we could use the tax breaks. But I can understand the fear. You have a good thing: on a chemical basis alone, our minds aren’t built for change. Our hearts’ capacity for it needs no explanation.
I saw Beth Orton at the El Rey last night. Sam Amidon, her husband, opened the show and joined her on stage for a few songs. She was good by herself, but together, the performance caught fire — her voice strengthened and their guitars danced together like old lovers. They’re newlyweds, or close enough, and their enthusiasm in playing together, in being together, was palpable. Support, understanding, pleasure: that’s what marriage can be, though it often isn’t.
Given the rarity of that bond, the strangest part of the marriage trend is watching it happen everywhere, even when I’m not invited. Especially then. Facebook launched when we were freshman in college; we don’t know how to live any other way. The newsfeed loudly announced to me that my ex had gotten married earlier this summer. I covered my ears and clicked through all the photo galleries. Certainly there is an as-yet untranslated German word that can describe this spread of feelings, smeared like so much artisanal blueberry jelly: relief, judgment, nausea, genuine human empathy. (If you’re reading: your dress looked really cute!)
Mostly, Gen-Y weddings are just hopeful, maybe a little naive: white dresses, suits that don’t fit, lots of smiles. Facebook offers a stirring version of the fairy tale, Instagrammed as it is. But the photos stack up and the smiles start to look strained and I can’t help but feel the fear squirming around my stomach: how long until the Facebook divorces? Will we be 32, 35, 40? How many baby pictures will I click through between now and then? Will the break-ups come one by one, sad pebbles tumbling over forgotten Pinterest boards? Or will they barrel down the hill, thundering into the digital graveyard of our optimism?
Like I said: I just got married. I feel amazing about it. Phil and Jen are doing doing great: they’re in a two-bedroom apartment with a puppy and a pair of guinea pigs. She teaches; Phil is a member of the local beer club. They go to Coachella every year with the enthusiasm of drug-dazed teenagers. We live across the street and cook vegetarian dinners together as Storage Wars blurts “yuuups” in the background. We’re not kids anymore. But I think we’re alright.
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- gallivantingandgrass said: aw, i loved this.
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- thepoetryofnospaces said: this was a lovely read, as someone who is terrible at relationships, this gives me the warm and fuzzies. Also glad to hear Phil and Jen are doing well!
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