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By Pamela Ferdinand, journalist and co-author with Carey Goldberg and Beth Jones of “Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood” (Little, Brown & Co.)
I’m 46, a mother of two, and I’m getting married to the father of my children in less than six months. As excited as I am about our upcoming celebration, my life right now is more about preschool and pull-ups than cupcake towers and confetti. And I suspect I’m not alone.
A recently released Pew Research Center study shows that while fewer adults in the United States are getting married overall than in the past, the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides and grooms. Simultaneously, there’s been a record increase in first-time mothers over 40.
A lot of people still want to get married even if a growing number consider matrimony obsolete, and some of us didn’t get around to prioritizing our personal lives until later in life. As a young journalist covering murders and plane crashes, I assumed I would find love and have a family one day, but I did nothing to make it happen until it seemed I would run out of time.
I thought it would be settled by 35. And I tried. I really tried. I tried to marry men who didn’t want to even live with me, in the same apartment, even in the same state.
Mark, on the other hand, surprised me with a “commitment” ring early in our relationship and then an official proposal long after I expected engagement or marriage. By then, we had nearly eight years and one child under our belt. Undeterred by wind and rain, he pulled out a rose gold engagement band on a mountaintop in Wales as our daughter scampered ahead of us. I accepted.
“Out of order” usually describes a broken parking meter, soda machine, public bathroom or ATM. In my case, and that of a lot of other women in their late 30s and 40s, “out of order” can mean something more complicated and often more positive: Living life in a non-linear way. In a way that dispenses with the traditional order of things (deliberately or not) and creates a life out of what is possible and desirable.
For me, strangely enough, my “out of order” life wound up actually kind of mirroring an orderly one. Mom. Wife. What I expected, then didn’t expect, then got. Go figure.
Not only am I getting married in relationship reverse — met a man, moved in together, had children, getting hitched nine years later — but the way I am doing it decidedly does not involve (for better or worse) elaborate orchestrations of bouquets and tulle.
While my longtime married friends took their children to visit college campuses last summer, I tried on wedding dresses in early pregnancy with a second child, bloated and nauseous with morning sickness. I sent out ‘Save the Dates’ months later after cleaning baby bottles and booked a casual beachside inn between preschool and playdates.
Sure, I would love to have met Mark earlier and planned a remote island honeymoon 20 years ago, instead of putting money in education funds today. I wish, too, that I could have had dear family members who’ve died share our walk down the aisle. But what may seem to some people a clumsy and informal route to marriage feels authentic to me.
I’m enough of an adult now to truly appreciate this longed-for love and romantic enough to indulge in the frivolity of a celebration and wedding dress.
To be sure, we could have gone to city hall. (Mark did that for his first marriage.) But we waited a long time for this. Heck, I waited a long time for this. Mark needed time after his divorce to recover before jumping back on the marital bandwagon and, because I felt secure in our relationship, I agreed.
But why now? Why jump? Why get married and have a wedding after we already have most of the trappings of a lifelong commitment and refer to each other as “husband” and “wife”? When we don’t have enough hours in the day to get the most basic things done, much less plan a wedding? For many reasons, it turns out.
I’ve thought about this and realized that, even as a child of divorce and as feminist and progressive as I consider myself, I have been deeply moved by weddings and civil unions – of straight and gay friends – who stood before their communities and asked friends and family implicitly to partake of their vows.
Mark and I also believe in the power of words and the importance of having a community supporting our relationship and keeping us in their lives in sickness and health. We want to commit to each other in the presence of loved ones who celebrate our long, sometimes tumultuous, journey together as much as we do.
As a Jewish woman and journalist, too, bearing witness to the experience of others is one of my core beliefs and missions. Now, as a bride, I am asking others to bear witness for us.
And lastly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our daughters, as little as they are, perhaps remembering a day when their mom and dad had a party to celebrate their love. Even if they recall only dancing in the grass with their grandparents, how I took off my dress to bathe them at the end of the day or how their dad changed diapers all dressed up.
It seems I believe in some traditions despite my untraditional trajectory. As a younger bride, my wedding likely would have been simple. Now it has to be.
I never visualized choosing bridesmaids from among my friends or my fiance and I flashing a registry price wand at Pottery Barn mixers and espresso makers. I am not a girl who dreamed about food stations and first dances, and yet some dreams will come true: While we’ll miss the older relatives, two young ones — my daughters Emma and Anya — will be with us. And my gown might have spit-up on it by the end of the evening.
Clearly, even if I wanted to host elaborate nuptials, it would be difficult to pull off. Wedding planning takes on a whole different meaning when parenthood precedes the proposal, and it’s not necessarily at the top of my To Do List.
I could be cutting-and-pasting homemade wedding invitations of seashells and calligraphy and tasting chiffon cake with raspberry filling and buttercream frosting. Instead, I am wiping fruit-and-vegetable-combination off my zippered hoodie with one hand while tearing a very ripe diaper off a screaming infant.
To be honest, as the mom of two energetic girls, I’d rather catch a few minutes shut-eye or pick up a good book than create a website or explore table centerpieces. Slender orchids in glass vases or sunflowers in rustic urns? I have no clue. The few times I tried to leisurely flip through bridal magazines were interrupted by a toddler in meltdown mode over a lost Buzz Lightyear doll and by the kerplunk of a baby who had fallen off the bed. (She’s fine and can, apparently, roll to the right as well as the left.)
No, to put it mildly, I have not required “The Busy Brides Bible” or “The Everything Wedding Organizer.” Mark and I knew exactly the small venue where we wanted to get married and booked it, selected and ordered invitations online in a few hours, and asked one friend to be our musician and another to be our photographer. Wedding dress, check. Rabbi, check.
Then back to Real Life: Make Emma’s lunch, take her to a birthday party, bring Anya for her check-up, buy wipes, get groceries, do laundry, make meals for a sick friend, return phone calls….and spend time with my girls, just playing.
Like many of my close friends who married later in life, Mark and I have already made significant commitments to each other — including our daughters and a mortgage — so our decision to marry is a happy one and will certainly confer some legal and financial benefits, but it does not make us what we are.
We do not need to marry to love each other, to have sex, live together, be parents or share a lifetime bond of fidelity and partnership. He is my best friend, and I look forward to saying that out loud at our ceremony. But most of the time, I am more preoccupied with what lies ahead for our children than what lies ahead for us.
It may appear that we’ve done things backwards, but for us, this was the perfect order.
Notes for this blog:
Pamela Ferdinand is co-author with Carey Goldberg and Beth Jones of the triple memoir “Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood,” now out in paperback. (Little, Brown & Co.)
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