The distance between love and marriage

Buddhism teaches that love is the inherent relationship between any two things. Love is the fundamental currency of our universe; it expresses and represents our interconnectednesses, and all deltas may be expressed in its terms.

But "love", in English, is such a loaded word when taken in this sense. It has the potential to be painted with the biases and preconceptions about love with which our society is rife. Thich Nhat Hanh instead prefers to use the word "interbeing" when discussing this concept.

The state of being that English speakers refer to as "being in love" can be thought of as the mutual recognition of the unusually clear and undisguised state of interbeing between two (or more) souls.

In this state, patients can experience feelings of spontaneous joy and delusions of omnipotence. This is due to each suddenly having access to more than their own physical, emotional, and intellectual resources. They feel themselves plugged into some larger power source, a battery of life bigger than themselves.

The heady disorientation associated with such a quantum shift of perception can cause spiritual discomfort, and even pain. These side effects are most commonly noted in strongly individualistic patients, who often find themselves clinging to old perceptual patterns which make the fundamental interbeing nature of our world much easier to ignore.

But for most patients, the condition of being in love represents a positive lifestyle change. Many of them exist in societies which provide a public stage upon which to demonstrate the capabilities of this newly formed "inter-being". In English, we call this a "wedding", which leads the union into a social contract known as a "marriage".

I have written a little about weddings in the past (poorly), and continuing evidence bears out my hypotheses. Due to the pervasive de-religification of our culture, the modern wedding has much less value as a religious ritual than it did even fifty years ago. But a wedding can actually have more emotional and societal value than in the past, if it is approached correctly.

As I've said above, the point of a wedding is to "announce" that this spiritual partnership has been formed, and to ask the higher powers (Supreme Beings in the past, society at large in the present) for certain benefits. However, the difference is that ritual for its own sake impresses society at lot less than it does God. For a ritual to have meaning to ordinary humans, it must be representative of something non-ritualistic that actually impacts the world.

What a wedding represents, what it stands as a monument to, is the work that the couple has put into it. The wedding is a formal thesis project for the couple, an opportunity to leverage their joint resources to complete a project of their own design. Society and the media provide loose guidelines for how others have interpreted the task, but the couple will gain more direct value from the process and the ceremony if the results of their labor represent who they are as people and as a couple.

The modern wedding would do well to borrow from the strictures and requirements of the Eagle Scout Service Project. A wedding should "demonstrate leadership of others while performing a project". It should be seen as the "culmination" of the couple's experience as an interbeing, and it should require "significant effort" (however defined). It also "cannot be performed for an individual or a business, be solely a fundraising project, or be commercial in nature" if maximum value is to be derived from it.

There is no "wrong answer" here. No couple can "fail" a wedding. They can choose to make it as easy or difficult as they want; all that we as society ask is that they see it through from beginning to end. But make it too easy (that is, eliminate or delegate too much of the physical or emotional effort or sacrifice) and value to the couple is lost. The ceremony starts to drift back towards ritual for its own sake. In some cultures, this is sufficient. But I submit that true value in the modern world is measured in terms of what you are willing to sacrifice for it.

There is also an Eisenhowerian aspect to a wedding in that it forces a couple to talk and compromise and argue and agree. We as a society don't particularly care what you do for your wedding. But it is important to know that you must have had many long discussions about it, and you worked together and stuck with it, and finally decided on something.

I bristle at the media's stereotype of weddings as either a cookie-cutter, throwback, bridezilla-infested, fortune-costing dog-and-pony show, or else a hipster, zombie-cake, Sam Adams, blue-jean, irony-LARP. It is important for those of us in love to keep hold of this tradition as an opportunity to showcase how romance makes us into better, more capable beings, and not to let the inertia of ritual and tradition trample the meaning out of what should be most meaningful.


The Internet is making us patient, and I hate it

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