Celebrating a Marriage

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(Host) Commentator Helen Labun is getting married this summer, and she’s been thinking lately about the ceremony and what it means today.

(Labun) Like many couples, my fiance and I will have lived together for more than a year before we become officially husband and wife. This form of trial period for marriage is an increasingly standard practice, and the change has been occurring for more than 30 years. My father remembers a moment of panic at his own wedding when the priest proclaimed that the bride and groom knew each other “perhaps a little too well.” Yes, they’d been sharing my mother’s dorm room — but how did the priest know? And why was he announcing it with my grandmother present? Thankfully it soon became clear that the comment wasn’t meant in any
Biblical sense.

Today, what would have caused social scandal seems like simple prudence. My generation openly challenges the traditional meaning of weddings as the start to man and woman living together. An engagement can now blend into actual marriage with few noticeable differences – even health insurance often includes domestic partners along with spouses. And, like other brides, I must decide whether this change in a wedding’s significance changes the relevance of the event itself. After all, my parents’ wedding celebration consisted of cake, a five-foot long hoagie, and a trip to their college’s version of frat row. One would expect the pomp and circumstance to have died out completely by my turn.

And yet pomp and circumstance survive. By August I will have spent the better part of a year planning my wedding. We’ve got an 80-foot tent strung in lights, live band, open bar, and lunch for 150. There are no engraved invitations, no rented reception hall or church, but I’m still making special trips to inspect patterns on flatware, and bridesmaids are flying in four days early to help with preparations.

Close friends have remarked that the scale of this wedding seems a little misplaced. I’ve plopped all the pageantry into the middle of a relationship that is like marriage in every sense but the legal. Our first shared apartment didn’t receive so much as a housewarming.

I agree that a live band is not strictly necessary for a happy marriage. And the finer details of the lunch buffet’s china are probably not crucial either. I disagree with the idea that the planned festivities became somehow superfluous the moment my fiance and I established our home as a couple. A wedding is a time for us to invite our friends, family, and neighbors into the life we are building together. I don’t think it matters what stage we have reached in that life — the cause for celebration remains undiminished.

When my husband and I return from our honeymoon, our days will continue just as they did before. But we will have had a chance to share a celebration of our time together and to build a common memory that, like my parents’ own wedding, can be told to another generation, one which will have its own ideas about the proper way to start a marriage.

This is Helen Labun from Montpelier.

Helen Labun is a graduate student at UVM with an interest in local agriculture and the environment.

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