Dressing up ordinary love: contemplating the right speech for my sister’s wedding

My sister’s wedding is coming up very soon and I need to prepare a bridesmaid speech.  She and I are so different that it makes the task hard.  My life is an open book.  K’s life, well, it’s not that it’s a secret, but just that she doesn’t think many things are worthy of sharing.  Not that she wouldn’t share them, she just doesn’t think they’re big.

When she applied to college, she had a horrible time writing essays about herself that were more than a few sentences.  This, even though she had won numerous awards in the band, drama, tennis, and forensics.  This, even though she blew our physics teacher’s mind by being the first student in our entire school district to score a 5 on the AP Physics test.  He had her autograph her score report and it was still hanging in the physics room years later.  She was interviewed by the newspaper once, about her academic achievement.  They asked her to attribute her success to something.  She stared at them blankly before finally suggesting that she probably had decent genes.  She is brilliant and a hard worker who distinguishes herself, but she’s also everyone’s favorite because it’s like she doesn’t realize that she’s brilliant or that she’s worked hard.

A and I videochat with her and her fiance every Monday night.  But, really, A and I talk to ourselves and try to draw them out.  After having worked to cultivate this skill for awhile, we have varying degrees of success.  Unlike K, I am overjoyed whenever I do anything well.  Or, adequately, honestly.  I continually remind myself of my achievements, turning them over in my mind, until I am finally satisfied.  My excitement oozes and, although this certainly lacks virtue, I am jabbering a million miles an hour on an excited call to my parents.  Or, for example, posting pictures of my Texas-sized law license to my blog.  K definitely does not.  And her fiance is modest as well.

But, it’s not just success that K deprives of an oozing flourish.  As I look at her wedding website, I notice the description of the proposal.  “On our third anniversary, we decided to go out to dinner.  [Fiance] decided that he was going to propose . . . He set up a camera tripod and focused the camera on where he thought that proposal would take place.  During lunch, he went out and bought batteries for the camera remote so that he could take pictures of the proposal… [Fiance] dropped K off at her car and zoomed home.  He wanted to check the camera exposure now that it was dark, but he got stuck at a light.”  Spoiler alert, I guess he didn’t quite get home in time to check the camera exposure.

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Perfect, adorable proposal in their backyard.  Looks like the batteries and camera exposure cooperated.

 

This description is just like K and her fiance.  It really does give you all the details, but it deprives them of the pageantry.  This is your wedding website description.  This is the place where you describe the cute, sappy brilliance and specialness of your love and exaggerate it to show off to the rest of the planet.  Amiright?  This is where you post pictures, holding hands and walking off in the sunset, past a fence that conveniently has your wedding date splattered in white paint.  Instead, K is talking about buying batteries over lunch and camera exposure.  Can you imagine an “every kiss begins with Kay” television commercial of this proposal description?  No, you can’t.  Because, don’t you know that when you write a proposal section on your wedding website or write a college admissions essay you’re supposed to brag?  And if you did brag, in your proposal, and your college admissions essay, and throughout your life, then I could easily write a speech that caters to whatever you bragged about and we’d all be happy.

Of course, we’d all probably be lying to some extent.  And K is a realist.  She would be confused about that last paragraph that I wrote.  “Why would you be exaggerating and bragging if you’re happy?” she’d respond.  Because, K, PINTEREST.  But, no.  Her fiance’s proposal was special because of all the ways he planned the everyday details, because he went out to buy batteries over lunch to make it work, because he cared about the camera exposure, because those are the things you care about in real life where traffic is bad and it takes 90 minutes to get to the restaurant because you live in Los Angeles.  Because in real life a proposal is great because you love the person and you’re deciding to spend your life together and it’s official, even though it really isn’t that different than any other day because you already knew all of those things.  But, how do you write that on a wedding website?  And how do you put that into a speech?

I do really think K is special.  And I have some things to back that up.  Like, the airplane she built she was in school at MIT that won an award.  But, at the same time, even if she had won a nobel prize already, so have a lot of people.  And maybe she’s right that it’s kind of crazy to think that our stories or our love so supremely special.  Or that we actually make them any more special by exaggerating their significance in order to convey to people the significance of our stories to us.  In reality, by doing that, we’re really suggesting an unhappiness with what we have.  We’re making it less special.

There are lots of people with Ks for sisters and a lot of them have special fiances.  If we’re being honest, maybe K and her fiance don’t have a love that is that different from everyone else’s.  And why should that matter?  Most people are happy.  Maybe trying to pretend that there is something extraordinary to say actually diminishes the wonderfulness of the ordinary that is there.  Why does it need to be anything more than ordinary?  Why do I have this need to convey to everyone how extraordinary I think K and her fiance are?  After all, isn’t there something a bit dishonest in trying to explain that any of us are really that more extraordinary than anyone else.

But, K and her fiance are extraordinary to me.  Just because they are who they are.  And it’s my speech.  So, how to describe that?

 

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Marriage advice: stop trying so hard

I read those articles all the time.  The articles with five tips for a lasting, successful marriage.  I’ve read the blog posts too, including the one with that cute deceptive title about the man who discovered that “marriage was not for him.”  Spoiler alert: it was for his wife.  Haha.

In the traditional post about making a marriage work, you’re basically given a list of ways to be less selfish and there’s a bit of a moral imperative attached.  You’ll have a successful marriage if you realize it’s about her and not about you.  You’ll have a successful marriage if you bite your tongue more and think before you launch into a criticism.  You’ll have a successful marriage if you publicly brag about your spouse.  But, I think in most of these posts, it’s actually the other way around.  You publicly brag about your spouse if you have a successful marriage.  You make your marriage about your wife if you have a successful marriage.  I know you’re skeptical, but hear me out.

If you’re the type of person that enjoys criticizing others, especially those you love, and enjoys being selfish, then, okay most those blog posts will help you.  Maybe if you read about that, you’ll be enlightened, your eyes will open, and you’ll recognize for the first time that it’s not virtuous to be a jerk to your husband.  But, most of us already know we should be selfless in our marriage.  It’s just that we’re selfish and reading a blog post about it really won’t change that.  We might have a little more self-control for a few weeks, but it won’t change us.

The reason the blog post won’t change us is because most of us are already good people.  Good, imperfect, people.  Most people have needs and wants that they think they shouldn’t have.  Most people have traits they think they shouldn’t have.  Most people are more selfish than they think they should be.  And most people spend most of their lives chastising themselves for their imperfections and trying to hide that from the world, themselves, and their spouse. Maybe they are able to focus on being a better person for a little while and go two weeks without criticizing their spouse when they normally would have.

But, to have a lasting great marriage, I think the better route is actually to become comfortable with all your imperfections. Work to improve them, but if you’re feeling selfish, just admit it. I’ll frequently tell A that I’m having a selfish day and I’m going to buy myself a pair of shoes. Or, I’m feeling needy, could you bring home some flowers and chocolate? Yes, I’m willing to ask for that stuff. You know why? Because we all need some irrational things. And if we can’t get comfortable with that, then we spend all our time dropping hints and having passive-aggressive interactions until our partner “figures it out.” We’re upset that our spouse isn’t spending enough time doing things we like, so we cancel on an activity our spouse likes and so on and so on until we all get things figured out and cater to each other’s needs without having to explicitly mention what that need is. But, maybe, if instead of reading relationship posts about how we can be better people, we decided that we’re generally imperfect, but pretty good people, and we became comfortable enough with our idiosyncratic nature that we were able to just communicate it, then we’d get more of what we needed in relationships and that would, in turn, make us less critical spouses.

Let's be real.  Marriage is no lazy stroll in the park.

Let’s be real. Marriage is no perfect stroll in the park.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t constantly try to be a kinder, better person all the time. That strengthens all of our relationships. But, assuming we’re all good people and we’re generally making efforts to be a kind person, I think the real changes in relationships actually come from tearing down all our ideas of moral perfection, accepting the reality that we aren’t perfect spouses, and then working together to navigate a marriage of two admittedly imperfect souls.  Being able to admit and discuss our flaws helps our spouse cater to our irrational quirks and needs (and opens up the door for them to help us better cater to theirs).  This mutual catering to the irrational needs goes so much farther toward improving a relationship than just trying to deny we have those selfish impulses and chastising ourselves for feeling ways that we recognize aren’t perfectly virtuous.

Rather than trying so hard to improve, we could just work on better explaining our shortcomings.  Anxiety provoking, sure.  But, so much easier.

“My my love”

This evening I was trying out a new recipe, slow dancing around the kitchen, and thinking about the best advice I could possibly give to a friend newly diagnosed with cancer. Every time I think about our journey, I feel differently and remember different things. Tonight, for whatever reason, I found myself focusing upon all the romantic moments. You might think those wouldn’t exist, in the bright white lights, with nurses barging in unexpectedly and incessant IV beeping. But, there were so many days and days on end with mainly only each other’s company. And in those days, there were so many moments that were just ours. We probably far more moments together just the two of us than we would have had under normal circumstances. And some of those moments are moments that I would not let go of or trade in. Moments walking around the floor together, IV pole in between us, holding hands. Moments where we successfully took on a doctor who refused to discharge us and managed to win. Moments where we buried ourselves in a fort of hospital sheets to have the pretense of privacy. Moments where we snuck off the wing and danced a few waltz steps and a few spins. So many moments looking into each other’s eyes and knowing that we just loved each other too much to give it up.

Freezing a moment

Freezing a moment

My friend’s wedding pictures came in today. They were so beautiful, full of fun and smiles. IN the middle of all the pictures, I found this little gem. What I like about it is that we’re in the middle of song, floor, and world that are moving, but we’re stopped. We took a tiny moment out of the world and froze it. I’m so glad that we did. This was the last dance, the last week of the freedom before A’s piercing hip pain set in.

Ordinary Love

The weather for my wedding day is now on the 10-day weather.com forecast, meaning that something about that day has been predicted, is in the sights of scientists.  I try to predict how I will feel, yet I know my prediction will be wrong.  I have never felt the overwhelming grief I expect to feel at funerals or the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes with a graduation.  Nothing seems to sink in in the exact moment and I’m sure that getting married will be the same.  

A and I are already civilly married and have fought through a tough year, so I know better than to think that a marriage will change us (and since I like us the way we are, I am grateful for that!)  But even knowing what I know about feelings, I wonder what it will be like.  In quiet moments, I am worried about the hoopla.  Something about me doesn’t feel up to the task of spending a whole day discussing my relationship with A with others.  The thing is, throughout this whole cancer experience, people seem to have developed this image of us as a couple that just isn’t accurate.  People keep telling me that we inspire them, that our love inspires them.  Prior to the cancer, nobody ever said things like that.  In most ways, I am less refined than my friends and my taste in men has always been nerdy.  Because of this, I’ve always been the one my friends felt they needed to “help along” and nobody ever thought A and I were inspirational.  Everyone has always thought we were dorks.  And when it comes down to it, that’s essentially still the truth.  The thing is, cancer didn’t change us.  Yes, it sucks, but it hasn’t provided us with any revolutionary insight or perspective.  We haven’t done anything special.  

We love each other, but our love isn’t objectively special, it’s special to us.  But here is this day devoted to our relationship and our love and I am so bored with it that I’m not sure I can maintain what people want to see the whole day.  Our love is boring and I love that it’s boring.  We don’t live a life of short dresses and cowboy boots, of fences with dates written in chalk, or cute signature cocktails.  I don’t know how to make our love showy or inspirational or worth everyone’s fuss and I’m afraid that will be expected.