Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wedding, or lack thereof.

So yeah, the "wedding" is no longer. Still getting married though, fo sho. I'm pretty sure that part matters more. What we're envisioning now is, basically, exactly what I've been saying I didn't want to do. We'll have a very simple ceremony, probably in the park somewheres (for which you don't need a permit unless it's more than 20 people, which it won't be), and then we'll go to dinner. But - and this is the clincher - we've tacked an extra bit onto the end. The day after the ceremony, we'll leave for a week's vacation. You could call it a honeymoon I suppose, but we're not really thinking of it like that. We'll go somewhere from Sunday to Friday, and that somewhere will likely be Boston. We'll stay in a nice hotel or a bed-and-breakfast, and we'll eat wherever we want to, and we'll shop. We'll spend way more money than we usually would on such a trip. And in the end, we'll still end up spending maybe a fifth to a quarter of what we were going to spend on the original wedding.

Outside of saving a significant amount of money, there are other benefits as well. It shifts the focus away from throwing a big party that's really for other people, and moves it more toward the event of our union. It also removes an immense amount of work and stress from me / us. Starting a marriage by doing something hugely expensive and taxing - where is the wisdom in that? If it wasn't so hard for us to do - for instance, if there was a lovely catering hall that we could walk into, choose a few options for a vegan buffet, pick out two kinds of flowers, and hand over $5k for the whole shebang, well sure. We'd wedding the night away, we'd wedding out little hearts out... maybe. But it just isn't like that. Not only would a catering hall kind of wedding cost way more than that anyway, but it would also just feel like it was for someone else - cookie cutter we ain't. I just can't see it working.

So it really isn't only about the money. Of course it's a huge factor, but if it was the only issue we would figure something out. The fact is that we've both had reservations from the start about the whole thing. There are problems on every level, from timing to social and family relations stuff to having to defend our decisions about what "traditions" to ignore to the hardly anticipated food difficulties to finding appropriate attire for ourselves and the wedding party... It just shouldn't be so hard. It became a question of, what are we fighting for? (Answer: something we don't really want to deal with.) What our we fighting against? (Ourselves, our financial status, and our current living situation.) In the end, I think this is much more realistic, and will be less stressful and as such more enjoyable. Party or not, we will still be married as of March 20th, 2010 - emerging from this little cocoon of engagement as fully formed husband and wife. And without the stress of trying to plan a wedding to get it done, we're pretty psyched about it.

I think the wedding that I was putting together would have been beautiful, and honestly I think I would make a pretty good wedding planner. With the details being less personal, I could be less obsessive - plus I'd be working with other people's money, which is always a plus. I've thought of putting myself out into the world as a strictly vegan wedding planner - as far as I can tell there aren't any, even in New York. I thought my own wedding would be good practice. Ah well, at least in the planning that I did do, I learned a lot. I know, for instance, what venues will allow you to bring in your own caters, and which ones have on site kitchens, and which caterers don't bother to return your emails when you mention "vegan" and "low guest count" in the same request. I know who will and won't attempt to make a vegan cake. At some point, hopefully soon, I'll compile this info into either one post or a collection of posts, for anyone who might want to do this crazy thing called a vegan wedding - and actually has the will and the funds to follow it through. (Well, in New York at least.)

I'll keep posting here as the details of our small ceremony and post-wedding trip come into focus. Who knows, plans may change again - but this is not just another waffle. I've jumped the fence, and I'm not going back. I don't want to work on a wedding. I want to work on a marriage. And now I have the time and energy to do it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boxing Day.

I'm not sure what it is about December 26th. Perhaps it's 'December 26th With Jonathan'. Perhaps it's 'December 26th In Jonathan's Parents' House'. Perhaps it's 'December 26th In the Woods'. But any way about it, two years in a row now, on that day, we've had major relationship blowouts.

Last year, it went something like so. We'd spent days on end hanging out with his immediate and extended family. I'd been baking in the kitchen with his mother. I had essentially been doing whatever I could to carve out a place for myself within his family... and then my brain short-circuited, when I remembered the conversations we'd had in which he'd told me that he wasn't sure if he ever wanted to get married (i.e., actually make me a part of his family). Obviously this little revelation of mine was followed by the knock-down drag-out of the year - the "why the hell are you parading me around like a puppet in front of your whole damn family when you never intend to actually make a commitment to me anyway" argument. Fun times. And we didn't so much resolve that fight as it came to a sudden halt when he had to go with his parents to see his great Aunt Tillie, who had landed herself in the hospital on Christmas night.

I didn't go into town with them; I wasn't really in the mindset to be partaking in "family" events. We told his parents that I wasn't feeling well, and off they sped down the winding country roads in his mother's Lincoln Continental leaving me alone in the big house in the woods. Of course, within twenty minutes I was wracked with guilt about sending him off to the hospital and refusing to accompany him, so I did the only thing I could think of: I cooked. I cooked a huge meal for everybody, and then I scoured the kitchen from top to bottom. They didn't return for many hours, and when they did I learned that Aunt Tillie had passed away before they'd even gotten into town

Well, Jonathan's parents retired to their bedroom to collect themselves, and Jonathan joined me in the living room. I apologized for sending him off to deal with his family without my support, but he wasn't upset. Instead, he laughed. He said, "I've been spending time with my family. And I feel bad for you - I'm gonna make you one of these people." Well then. I looked up at him and told him he shouldn't say things like that; it wasn't fair to tease. And he replied that he wasn't teasing, was perfectly serious; he'd realized that he did want to marry me after all. Eventually, at least. I've been in various stages of wedding-crazy ever since.

This of course was not the engagement moment. That took a while. but it was a major turning point. What we've struggled with all along is his preconceived notions of "marriage" - that somehow the minute we get married we have to move to some awful house in the suburbs, buy a Subaru mini-van (do they even make those?), and start popping out kids. We've had many talks about this. I explain to him that, since neither one of us want that sort of life, it's not very likely that it will happen. It's not as if there's some sort of brainwashing that goes on during the ceremony, some subliminal messaging worked into the minister's spiel indoctrinating the new couple with fixations of white picket fences and 45 minute commutes. Usually by the end of the conversation he understands that "marriage", as seen on TV and elsewheres, has little to no bearing on what a marriage between he and I would be. But, somehow, after a month or so he forgets, and then we have to do it all over again.

As you may imagine, all this wedding stuff has not helped. Each level of expense and complication has pushed us that much further away from a marriage for us, and more toward trying to do things the way other people do. Because even though the wedding and the marriage are two separate animals, one is a sort of symbol of the other. I have a distinct feeling that the wedding has become ever increasingly a symbol for Jonathan of the kind of marriage that he does not want. This has been a major factor in all of my waffling on whether or not to even have a wedding.

But, to the instant event. We went into this long vacation trip with the intention of talking to both sets of parents about the financial standing of the wedding. After discovering that every penny of my parents' funds are invested in the stock market, I have become extremely reluctant to take anything from them until things become more stable in that arena. So we'd resolved to see if his parents wanted to contribute anything, and then see where we stood. We didn't want to bring it up on x-mas day, when we were arriving to their house, so we figured we'd wait for it to come up semi-naturally in the days following.

Well, the first wrench in the works was thrown within two hours of our arrival. We learned that his parents, who are now retired, have planned two rather extravagant vacations to take place within the next six months. Now, these are people who live very frugally, but have done relatively well for themselves and so every now and then like to take off to Europe. They're the kind that have worked for every penny that they have - in a very real way they are living out the classic "American Dream". It's almost spooky. Anyway, knowing that those trips would be a significant outlay for them, I started to have doubts that it was at all an appropriate time to be asking for large sums. My real fear, even, was that they would cancel one of the trips to be able to give us what we needed. It's the sort of thing they'd do, and they'd do it without even telling us that they were doing it. That's just not something that I could stomach, especially not for something that is, let's face it, a party.

OK. So the next night, the 26th. The day. Perhaps some quirk of astronomical alignment? Hard to say. Honestly though, it's not that hard to understand - here we are, sitting in the beautiful retirement home of two happily married people who have, more or less, gotten everything they wanted out of their lives, while we meanwhile are in our 30's, still not yet married, have no idea where we'll actually settle down, don't know when or where or how or if we'll ever raise any kids... Of everything I ever have wanted out of life - partner, career, artistic success, motherhood - I have only begun to achieve the first one. And this partner of mine seems to go through waves of wanting to stay in the exact same place forever, literally and figuratively. And so, this time my frizzling took a different focus, the 'when are we leaving New York City and where are we going when we do' focus.

Now we've had this discussion before. He gets in this "I want to live in New York forever" mindset. And then I have to ask, you want to stand out on exposed subway platforms in the rain forever? You want to throw money into the ever-deepening rent hole forever? You never want to own a house? You never want to have a dog? And, oh yeah, what about the fact that I don't want to live here forever? Shouldn't that be a factor? We talk about owning our own house and having a dog like every day. These are fairly basic things that both of us want, that are all but impossible here (prohibitive cost-wise and space/time-wise, respectively). If we are ever to have them, a change must be made. Shouldn't we go into our marriage with a plan, rather than stumble blindly forward just hoping that we'll figure something out?

Well, this time the conversation went on for hours, and grew into something more. Much, much more. It in fact, after several hours, developed into "you don't actually want to get married". A statement which was ever so terrifyingly verified. Indeed, he ended up admitting that no, he did not actually want to get married. That he had ended up proposing because he knew I wouldn't stay in the relationship any longer unless he did so. Which, of course, was absolutely true. But I never, ever wanted to get married for that. It was "I need us to progress or we're over, because what's the point", not "do something you don't want to do or we're over." Getting married to someone who doesn't want to be married is number one on my list of Top Ten Ways to Ruin Your Life.

So that was it. In the wee hours of the morning of the 27th, Jonathan and I were un-engaged. I gave back the ring. I tried to sleep. It didn't work. I wanted to leave, to drive on to New Orleans without him and send him back to New York on his own. He wouldn't let me go. I tried to sleep some more. I managed about three hours.

By around 9am I couldn't stand it any more. I tried leaving the bedroom, but his parents were in the main part of the house and I couldn't stop crying. So I got in our rental car and listened to my ipod for an hour. Finally I just got tired of it, and went back into the room to make him talk to me some more. And, actually, to explain to him that I couldn't do it. That I couldn't be with him as my "boyfriend", that knowing he didn't want me to have his name made me nauseous, that I couldn't live with the knowledge every day that I just wasn't good enough. I wanted him to fly back to New York as soon as possible so that he could find an apartment.

Well, as you might imagine, he was having none of it. He loved me. He wanted to be with me. But people became something else when they got married, and he didn't want... that whole list of crap that neither one of us has ever wanted, and that I have never suggested that we get anywhere near. So, yes, we had that conversation again. I know you don't want "marriage". That's not the question. The question is, do you what what a marriage would be between you and me? Oddly enough, the answer to that entirely different question seems to be, yes.

And so, game on.

There has been one significant effect of this whole blowout though: the wedding is basically nixed. The feeling that it's insane to spend a year's salary (maybe not mine now, but more than mine was for many years and more than many people's) on one day's celebration has officially won out over the need to have a party. I'm not sure exactly what we will do, but the original plans are out. It makes me a bit sad, but what can be done? If we could do the whole thing for $10k, it would be a different story. With the way our lives are situated though, and with what we have (and don't have) at our disposal, we couldn't do it any more simply than we were doing it, and it was still way, way, way too much. So it goes.

The end product will involve a maximum of ten people we're guessing. And even if it is disappointing not to have a "real" wedding, it's also a world of weight off of my shoulders - putting together a wedding is a huge amount of work, especially when you insist upon being different.

So, marriage: on, wedding: off. And we forge onward.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Back and forth one million times.

So we've been through another "should we even be having this wedding" freakout. It began when we got the initial quote from the caterer, that put our teeny tiny low key event at $260 a head. Uh... and the food will be made of what now? Ohhh, platinum plated tofu? And will be served by an all-star waitstaff of Ton Cruise, Toby Maguire, and Brad Pitt!? Well then! Oh, wait, no. It'll be a self-serve buffet, with food not plated with any precious or even semi-precious metals. Apparently this is just what it costs to have an event catered in this stupid town.

OK. So then we took a good look at everything there was left to spend, based on the smaller number that we'd like to get by with on catering. And all together it looked completely undoable, but when broken down between both sets of parents and us (essentially dividing by three), we thought we could swing it. This is of course making the bold assumption that my parents will ever come up with money that doesn't completely jeopardize the only retirement fund they have - a fund which is ever so brilliantly all invested in that bastion of stability known as the stock market.

But then we realized that we're not gonna get this thing catered with anything other than lukewarm soy nuggets on iceberg lettuce unless we shell out significantly more dough. And we dove right back into "what in god's name is possessing us to spend this much money one one day's worth of celebration anyway?" And that, certainly, is a valid question. Unfortunately it leads to a circular answer, which goes something like this:

We are getting married. And we want to celebrate the event of us getting married with other people, many of whom live out of state, because it's a very important event. And if we're bringing in people from out of state, we need to tell them to go somewhere and it needs to be somewhere relatively large so that they can all go there at once. We don't have any friends with houses or yards of property of any kind, and Central Park is too risky as far as weather and permits, so we'll have to rent or otherwise pay for a place for them to go. And if we're making them fly here and gather (and pay for New York hotel rooms), we have to feed them and give them alcohol. Doing this at a restaurant would feel cheesy, prevent us from having a ceremony with the majority of the people, and would still cost a significant amount of money. Doing it the way we've been planning to do it will let us share the ceremony and be appropriately nice, but will cost enormous amounts of money which frankly, plainly, we don't have. So maybe we shouldn't be trying to have that kind of wedding. But... but... we are getting married. And we want to celebrate...

Have we considered doing it elsewhere? Yes. But we would have to travel which would add to our costs and to our stress. And then, where? New Orleans isn't exactly cheap for events, and just try to find us a vegan or even a vegetarian caterer. Not to mention that, uh, that's where my parents live. So, you know, they'd be all up in my junk? And I'd, um, kill them? Yeah. Pulaski, Virginia - well, as soon as you find it on a map you just let me know. His parents don't even live in the bustling metropolis of Pulaski anymore either; they now live in White Gate. Among the Amish. You think I'm kidding, and I'm so not. Sure the mountains are beautiful, but it becomes quite a logistical problem. As in, no hotels, certainly no way to have it catered, and so on. And as far as doing it where neither one of us have lived nor have kin, well I think that would just be way too effing difficult to arrange.

In the end, I feel like an ass for wanting something I can't figure out how to pay for, and for even considering spending so much on what really is just one day, even if a very important thing happens on that day. I find it frustrating that even while we're cutting so many corners the price tag is still coming out at over $25k. I'm not getting a real dress. Not having any flowers. Not putting centerpieces on the tables. Our wedding bands cost under $200 (and are, incidentally, lost in the mail - but that's another story). There are no professional decorators, I designed all of the stationery and bought the pieces separately and on sale and will be assembling and addressing everything myself. We did splurge on a photographer, but she's not at the top of the pay spectrum by any stretch of the imagination, and we're not paying for videography. We have a guest list of 50, for chrissake. The venue we've rented was the cheapest we found in the whole city, except for a few which seemed cheap until we realized that they had required caterers, who in turn had required minimums of 150 heads... and so on. For the love of all things good in the world, I've even given up on having a cake.

So, ok, sure. It's a big party we're trying to throw. But compared to what's pushed as the "norm", it's barely even a wedding. So how, how, HOW the hell does it cost this freakin much? I've broken it down. I've got my little chart with all the numbers in plain black and white. But it's still just insane. No matter what I do, I can't make it make sense. And yet, we're getting married...

So now we're back to the part in the cycle where we try to make it happen - with every possible bit of extraneous fluff cut out. Not that there's a whole lot of fluff to cut. I'm now cutting things that I'm not even sure are cuttable. Over the extensive Christmas travels we'll be doing, we're going to talk to the parents and see where things stand. Maybe, come January, we'll know whether or not we'll actually be having a wedding that doesn't involve an American Legion hall.