My friend Mario Joyner has a funny line. It’s not something he does in his act, but he’s a brilliantly funny guy about life. The wedding gown, the celebration, the aggrandizement of the woman in this amazing outfit at the wedding—she’s telling the world “I got one of these motherfuckers to act right.”
“Comedians are known for having long marriages,” he says. Why? “I have to apologise for the self-serving answer I’m going to give you, but: we’re smart. If you’re smart, you stay married if you can. Marriage is hard for everyone – that’s a basic fact – but it’s a better life if you can do it. Very nice. Very relaxing. Very enjoyable.”
To this day, Seinfeld still marks crosses on a calendar, keeping regular hours (albeit relaxed ones: most days, he says, he’ll meet a friend for a two-hour breakfast) and spending 20 minutes a day doing Transcendental Meditation, which is the only topic to jolt him from his default nonchalance into real enthusiasm: “I could do the whole interview about TM, to be honest, but we’d just lose everybody. I’ll describe it very simply: it’s like you have a phone, and somebody gives you a charger for it. And so now you can recover from this exhausting experience of being a human, twice a day. It’s deep rest. Now that’s something that can help people. As opposed to this idiotic calendar thing.”
How did reading poetry become an essential part of so many American wedding ceremonies—and why is it still so hard to choose a wedding poem of one’s own? […] It was around the early 1960s that some Protestant denominations began loosening the strictures of approved readings and music, according to Paula Treckel, a historian at Allegheny College who has written about the history of American weddings. The usual suspects were first to acquiesce: Unitarians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, responding to counterculture couples who wanted to make their wedding ceremonies their own. Suddenly, weddings were taking place in parks, and couples were writing their own vows. As the journalist Rebecca Mead writes in her 2007 book about contemporary weddings, One True Day, the modern idea is that “a wedding ceremony, like a wedding reception, ought to be an expression of the character of the couple who are getting married, rather than an expression of the character of the institution marrying them.”
Despite our best attempts at uniqueness, we have generated a canon (as people do). And so what if the canon shifts over time (as canons do)? If, in 30 or 40 years, Cummings brands an early-21st-century wedding as indelibly as Gibran brands a 1970s wedding, well, so be it. Marriage means stepping into an ancient institution marked by hundreds of temporal particulars—everything from the cut of the bride’s dress to who is legally allowed to marry. We hope the marriage lasts forever, but we have to expect the wedding itself will age. Maybe we’ll all look back on our wedding poetry the same way we’ll look back on our wedding photos: with a fondness for those young, goofy people who had no idea how their tastes would change, or what was to happen to them.
Marriage these days signals that you’ve figured out how to be a grown up. You’ve played the field, backpacked Europe, and held a bartending gig to supplement an unpaid internship. You’ve “arrived,” having finished school, settled into a career path, bought a condo, figured out who you are, and found your soul mate. The fairytale wedding is your gateway into adult life. But in my experience, this idea about marriage as the end of the road is pretty misguided and means couples are missing out on a lot of the fun.
Relationships are complicated, but happiness in a relationship isn’t: It’s just wanting exactly what you have. Wanting something else is dispiriting.
You have to be really clear on what you are not willing to give up—because you’ll probably be giving up everything else.
It’s no coincidence that the number-one woman on the list of self-made millionaires is Oprah. She has no kids and no husband. She’s fascinating, nice, and smart. But few of us would really enjoy her life.
Uncouple your own grief from the hopes you pin on others. All relationships stand alone; there are no replacements.
For a single person, thinking something through marks the end of the reasoning process; it becomes habit. But that gets the married (or life-partnered) person only halfway through at best.
As predicted, I’ve been on a stoicism bender. This was a good one to dive into early, as my recent Heraclitus and Seneca might have tipped you off. This bit on friendship was one of my favorite parts:
Nothing, however, gives the mind so much pleasure as fond and faithful friendship. What a blessing it is to have those to whose waiting hearts every secret may be committed with safety, whose knowledge of you you fear less than your knowledge of yourself, whose conversation soothes your anxiety, whose opinion assists your decision, whose cheerfulness scatters your sorrow, the very sight of whom gives you joy! We shall of course choose those who are free, as far as may be, from selfish desires; for vices spread unnoticed, and quickly pass to those nearest and do harm by their contact.
Eero Saarinen’s list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972. Featured in What we can learn from lists. This reminds me of Charles Darwin trying to decide whether or not to marry Emma Wedgewood. Sounds like a cool list-focused exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum.