This weekend I had the pleasure of officiating a wedding ceremony for two beautiful friends of mine, Aslan and Shirley. It wasn’t that hard; I had written a ceremony, rehearsed it, added a few jokes, and tried not to say “Fuck!” really loud when I flubbed a line.
I actually enjoy public speaking, and it all went pretty smooth until the end: “By the power vested in me by the state of California, I know pronounce you husband and wife.” Even though I’d rehearsed the words a hundred times, I choked on them for a second and froze as the bride and groom stared at me, waiting with eager eyes and bated breath for those words that would give them permission to kiss, hear the cheers of their family and friends, and spend the rest of their lives together. After a pause, I finally got the words out, the happy couple was married, and like any good priest, I proceeded to get drunk and molest people.
I think what choked me up was a sudden rush of confusion on exactly what authority I, or anyone, had to grant permission to a couple of humans to love each other for the rest of their lives. Certainly not the online certificate I downloaded from the Universal Life Church, which, after taking three minutes to fill out a form, conferred upon me the power to conduct not only marriages, but also annulments and divorces, as well as hear confession, and even absolve sin (which I have been doing a la carte…cheated on a boyfriend? Fifty bucks, sin absolved. Murder? I can clear that up for two grand. And this week only, get a twelve pack of masturbation absolutions for just $29.99! At these prices, you can’t afford NOT to sin!)
The more official wedding ceremony, of course, comes from signing a piece of paper at City Hall. This is the one with practical ramifications: now you can file tax returns jointly, and tell a doctor to pull the plug on your spouse if they go all Terry Schiavo on you. And of course, the big whopper: legally sharing half of all your shit. At the end of the day, that is what a marriage really is. A big party and a business partnership.
It makes you wonder what love was like 50,000 years ago. I mean, we know ancient humans found ways to meet up, have sex, and reproduce. And we know that, while cavefolks did at times pursue promiscuity, they also engaged in monogamy for the purpose of raising children and protecting one another. But were there weddings? Seems unlikely. Weddings are full of pomp: special clothes, special food, special words. But humans have been pair bonding since before they had access to special food or clothes, since before they even had access to language.
But some aspects of the modern wedding probably did exist, albeit in a less formal manner. Before a man could convince a woman he should have exclusive access to her baby-making facilities, he would need to best all other potential suitors to prove he was the most worthy male available. Chief among the tests was proving he could provide for her. In ancient times, that may have been generously offering a young woman some mammoth meat, giving her shelter, or protecting her from harm. Whatever it was, it must show the man is willing to sacrifice for the lady. Today, when a man wants to sacrifice to show his ability to provide, he does so by taking two months of hard-earned salary and buying a diamond ring, a symbol that accurately reflects both his ability to provide (the bigger the diamond, the better you’ll be eating!) and his commitment to offer those resources not to every girl he meets, but to only one.
But even once you’ve wooed a cave bride-to-be, challenges remain. Cavedude might not have needed permission from a priest or government, but he did need it from someone: the dad. Just like today, pops (and perhaps a few older brothers) didn’t take kindly to some new swingin’ dick making himself at home during family functions. So our young cave groom would need to smooth things over with the in-laws first, making sure he wasn’t going to wind up clubbed to death for smooching the big man’s daughter. If the suitor was worthy, Dad would let the union progress…one less mouth for him to feed, anyway. We see this of course in the modern ritual of asking a girl’s father for permission before proposing, and in the father walking a bride down the aisle to literally give her away to the groom.
Once permission is given, rings offered and accepted, and a commitment made, it was time to make the pair-bond official. This would only work if it was done publicly, so all the other men and women understood that they should keep their hands off of these two. So, the fact that we invite our friends and family to witness the union comes as no surprise. Even when a couple goes to Vegas to elope, at least one witness is required.
And once everyone had seen the happy couple together, they would finally be free to scurry off for the greatest tradition of all…the wedding night trip to Pleasuretown. Here, I believe, is the truly quintessential moment in the relationship. Tonight, for perhaps the first time in their lives, young cavegroom and cavebride will experience the greatest physical pleasure that humans have available to them (especially before the advent of chocolate and ecstasy pills). No secret why sex feels so good…mother nature wants you to do it, a lot. This young couple, compelled by a strange but burning desire to roll around in the bushes together, will soon find a mysterious bump growing within the woman’s belly. For nine and a half months that bulge will grow; the man will help care for the woman as her mobility declines. The woman’s body will change; she will instinctively get sick in the morning, vomiting up any foods that may be dangerous to the child she carries inside her. And then, one day, a little tiny version of the happy couple will emerge in a painful and bloody ordeal, the messy but beautiful byproduct of all the wooing and loving and committing. That baby, that adorable vessel that carries a special mix of the couple’s DNA forward in life, is what makes the whole thing worth it.
The commitment of love is not new. As I was reminded of at Aslan and Shirley’s beautiful wedding, we do well to appreciate the details; the festive clothes, the delicious food, the jubilant music, the heart-felt words. But as the day’s excitement fades, the leftover cake is eaten, and the gifts are all unwrapped, we should all take time to remember what love is really all about. As your ancestors knew, marital commitments and their earliest roots aren’t really about cake, or clothes, or gifts, or fancy place settings. It’s about something more, something pure, something simple. Something beautiful.
It’s about getting laid.