I am actually seated at my computer a little earlier today than usual. I have fallen into the habit of watching Morning Joe which seems less polemic and a bit more even-handed than other cable shows which deal with politics. I cannot stand bumptious rhetoric whether or not I agree with the speaker. I want to hear right wing pundits who will admit that Obama does some things well, and left wing pundits who admit that there is merit in the argument that there are some beneficial programs that we cannot afford, or that conservatives are not just a bunch of crazy people. I usually complete my morning TV viewing with a bit of the Live show with Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa – or more than a bit of it, if the guests look like people I want to hear from. But this morning, there was a guest host in Regis’ place and after a bit of badinage, we were forced to see a video of this man’s marriage proposal.
This trend toward choreographed and over-the-top marriage proposals is one more sign to me of the trivialization of marriage, and of pretty much everything else. Whenever I see a public wedding proposal, I always know that the lady to whom it is aimed would be wise to respond with a resounding, “NO!” A public proposal is manipulative and the men who make them are precisely the kind of man who can and will manipulate friends and family of a woman who is fleeing an abusive situation into disclosing her whereabouts because he is SO sorry and loves her SO much and will never, ever do it again. These women are being placed in a position where saying anything except a happy and thrilled, “Oh, yes!” will publicly humiliate the would-be groom. Despite this being exactly what he deserves for placing her in this position, one assumes that she feels some affection for the poor jerk and doesn’t want to add humiliation to an already hurtful response, if her wish is to refuse or to request more time as a dating couple. These proposals are acts of aggression and I think the smart woman will recognize that. It might ease the lady’s conscience were she to reflect that in these situations, she is not the focus, HE is. In these self-absorbed times, this alone should be enough to give her pause: "What? This is not all about me?".
A columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle during the 70s whom I liked very much named Charles McCabe once wrote that those who can write great love letters are not capable of great love. I have often thought about this, and I am inclined to agree, although I suppose there could be exceptions. A truly great love letter in my mind would not be one which trumpeted great sentiments in beautiful language, but a simple one which spoke in words that meant a great deal only to the recipient. Similarly, is there someone in your circle who constantly takes pictures of every event to which he or she is invited? Regardless of how valued these pictures may be later, isn’t it also true that this person is never really participating in these events, but is far more consumed with recording them? One reason I have much valued and long-lasting friends of whom I now have not a single photograph is that I just cannot step outside happy moments and record them on a camera, and I confess a frisson of irritation passes through me toward those who do so. It makes everything seem not real for that moment, but just a performance. Although I own a camera, I rarely take any pictures with it, and on my three or four week trip to my niece’s wedding on the train, a trip that seguéed into Thanksgiving with my best friend, I took exactly two photos, both of a lake that the train passed by in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (which I took mostly because the some announcer on the train suggested we passengers might like to do so) and I have never looked at these photographs since, nor do believe I ever will bother to do so. If I do see them again, they will mean nothing to me at all.
I am, as usual, straying from my point, which is, insofar as I have a point, that we are moving toward aggrandizing events and rituals at the expense of actually experiencing the human transaction that is taking place. Call me a Romantic, but I think that when two people love each other enough to marry, it should almost go without saying that the marriage will take place. I don’t recall Tumwell and me talking about IF we’d move in together, but only where we’d move (we each had room mates) and how soon we could do it. Now that marriage seems to be just a phase in a life of serial monogamy, or a right to be demanded or defended, all the little rituals seem to have metastasized. It is so often all bark and no bite, smoke without fire.
I have never placed any value on someone making any special effort – or even noticing the date – for St. Valentine’s Day. (Does anyone even acknowledge that it is the feast day of a Catholic saint – one who is probably as fictional as most of them?) And I have cherished forever those little impulsive gifts or gestures that come now and then just because someone has seen something and thought of me. I think that part of any pre-nuptial agreement should be a clause specifying who will get the wedding album. My suggestion is that it go to the one who doesn’t get custody of the kids; this will accord nicely with the current feel-good sentiment in children’s competitions that the loser should also get a trophy. This is a great concept when we are speaking of the Special Olympics – but the benefit of everyone getting a trophy is doubtful when the people involved are not “special” in the sense implied by the term 'Special Olympics'. People of average intelligence or better know when they have lost, however much we pretend otherwise – and they should. It is called “learning” – a concept that has long since departed from anything that we currently term “Education.”
In general people do not think to insist they are telling the truth if, in fact, they are, because it doesn’t occur to people stating a fact that this fact is in question. I have never felt any pressure to make an official show of love toward those whom I actually love, because I am pretty sure we both know it. I need no public demonstration or concrete proofs from those who love me. If I doubt anyone’s sincerity, a public performance will not do anything but increase my doubt. When someone says, “I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” my one sure belief is that he won’t be.
While I am on the topic of overdone and relatively insincere ritualization of life’s little ups and down, I wish to ask the question, why is a wedding day so often referred to as “her day” or “her special day”? Isn’t the event supposed to be a union of two people? Just thought I’d ask.
OK, now I am done.