I’m sitting in a room of women at my best friend’s bridal shower. Navy blue, white and gold decorate the tables, napkins, flower arrangements, candle holders and suspend from the ceiling in delicate tissue paper balls. Everything is beautiful and I am jealous of my friend who is about to get married.
From outside the glass house of my best friend’s engagement, I am holding stones feeling overwhelmed by so many contradictory feelings that I start to wonder if all these dress fittings, unnecessary gifts and lingerie are worth it. Wasn’t this all supposed to be about a lifelong commitment? Why is all of this so expensive?
Recent reports indicate that young adults are waiting longer to get married, even longer to have children. Yet even at twenty-something I can’t cruise my Facebook feed without being reminded that nearly all of my friends are married and with children. Huh?! Did I miss something?
Today, Romantic idealism or ‘love’ is the number one factor both married and unmarried adults account for when deciding to get married. Love beats out making a lifelong commitment, companionship, having children and financial stability. This was, of course, not always the case.
Mary of Burgundy, the first recorded female to ever receive a diamond engagement ring, was likely not surprised when the Archduke Maximilian asked for her hand in marriage. Centuries ago, marriage was a way to unite kingdoms, gain property and sustain noble bloodlines. The engagement ring itself stems from crude notions of ownership that date back to Roman antiquity.
Surely, we’re better off today, but ideals are difficult to sustain and apparently super expensive. What’s more symbolic of romantic love than the diamond engagement ring?
In 1947, a young copywriter employed by N.W. Ayer & Son—a prominent U.S. advertising agency—worked late into the night, meticulously searching for just the right words to evoke romance, desire, and eternal love. This project was commissioned by one of the largest monopolies the world has ever known. Her name was Frances Gerety, and she wrote the words that would have an impact on women of future generations the world over. Circa 2000, Advertising Age magazine named De Beers’ “A Diamond is Forever” the best advertising slogan of the 20th century.
The growing importance of romantic love in relationships is relatively new, and to some material degree, a manufactured product that we consume at alarming rates. It’s not something to scoff at, or even disregard, yet it seems important to understand how the mechanics of our traditions interlink with a larger system of social and political norms we so often accept without question—especially when they’re shinny, and pretty, and perfect.
But through all these factoids, critical puns and historical observations, there is something lost in translation—something left that is unexplained. For me, that moment happened when my best friend walked down the aisle. It was then that my research was met with humanity, my judgment with joy and my confusion eased by close company.
Whether or not I believe in marriage, whether or not marriage is passé, broken or just suicidal—whatever marriage fails to accomplish with expectations and promises of forever, it does somehow manage to bring people together (for better or worse) and produce a uniquely human experiences—an experience that makes people remember (if only momentarily) that they’re alive, that they are human.
I don’t understand what makes some marriages last and others end—whether marriage is about forever, religious commitment or a strange way of collecting property. But marriage is something that I can’t imagine our world without—we need reminders of how delicate and precious we are in-between moments where promises are often broken.
And if that’s all it’s good for, I’ll take it.
Image by Sarah Banana, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0