112 Weddings

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4A07vLA-dI I first read about this relatively recent documentary on A Cup of Jo, and was immediately intrigued.

Filmmaker Doug Block spent the past 20 years shooting wedding videos as a side gig. He realized that even though the filming process was quite intimate -- he spent a lot of time with each couple getting married, as well as their family and friends, catching candid, emotional moments -- the experience was cut off as soon as his job was done. He typically never saw or talked to the diverse couples whose weddings he filmed ever again.

So he decided to change that, and tracked down several of the couples to see what had become of them. Were they still married, and if so, happily married? What had happened in their lives since the wedding day? Block shares footage from the weddings of 11 couples juxtaposed against present-day interviews. The answers he receives to his questions are varied, complex and compelling.

Rachel and Paul have remained fairly happily married for 13, though their focus is entirely on their two small children. Jenn and Augie, married for 8 years, look blissful in their wedding footage, and while there is still a sense of playfulness in their interview, you can see the tension arise as they discuss raising a child, living in a small city apartment and dealing with a lay-off. Yoonhee and Tom, who seem like complete opposites, manage to laugh tenderly toward one another and dole out words of wisdom regarding their ability to stay married.

Olivia and Dennis describe the realities of having a small child with leukemia, and how it has impacted their connection. At one point, Olivia said, "Some days I think he is the biggest jerk, and then he says something to make me laugh, and I think, 'That's it, that's why I married you." I also appreciated what Olivia said when asked if she believed in soulmates; she said, "Nah, I could have had multiple soulmates, each for a different soul." But she picked Dennis, and they seem committed to work out any differences primarily for the sake of caring for their daughter. Jodi and Michael were another favorite couple, whose chemistry was evident 13 years later. They laughed, touched, smiled at each other, but remained quick to acknowledge difficult years in their married life. For example, they have a special needs child which required Jodi to stay at home instead of continuing her career that she loved.

The stories of some couples, and their intense challenges or divorces, are downright heartbreaking. Janet and David, who parted ways after David experienced manic episodes. Sue and Steve, who were in the middle of a divorce after 19 years of marriage at the time of the current filming, and clearly felt very differently about that decision. Danielle and Adam, whose relationship struggles revolve around Danielle's extreme depression (she actually looked like a completely different person from the time of their wedding to the time of their interview).

My favorite couple in 112 weddings? Janice and Alexander. Creative free spirits, they originally discarded the concept of marriage and instead chose to have a partnership ceremony. Flash forward 13 years and two children, they decide it's finally time for practical reasons ("We realized if anything happened to our family, we would need that legal recognition" and so on). Their ceremony is small and intimate, and Block even asks their teenage daughter what she thinks of her parents getting married -- and she immediately smiles and expresses that she's really excited for them. I love that these two showed their commitment over the years in so many ways other than the traditional form of marriage, and their children were able to witness such a positive thing.

Block also intersperses footage with comments from Rabbi Jonathan Blake, whose best line steals the documentary:

"The wedding is day one, and it’s the easiest day to make happy. You’ve just thrown a ton of money at it, and liquor. A marriage is hard to make happy because when you throw a ton of money and liquor at it, it often makes things worse."

The biggest takeaway: Nobody can predict what will happen in a marriage and over the course of a lifetime. All sorts of things happen, and some are awful and unexpected; whatever does happen will threaten to pull your commitment apart within a relationship, and it's up to the individual couple to decide to work it out or cut their losses. I especially liked Block's tone throughout the documentary -- he never seems to suggest judgement on any of the couples (as he shouldn't); instead, he displays these very real, very true life stories with empathy, warmth and kindness.

Oh, 2013.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Zora Neal Huston, who writes in Their Eyes Were Watching God"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." For me, 2013 was a year of asking questions to discern what I "should" do from what felt right. Should I stay in Des Moines? Could I make friends and find community here? Would my relationships continue to grow and deepen? Who should I hang onto, and who did I need to let go of? How much did I miss Chicago? Was I pursuing the right career? What sorts of challenges should I take on? And so on.

I'm a Gemini (yes, I believe in astrology), so I continually bounced back and forth. I thought I knew something, and then I didn't. I made a decision, and then I changed my mind. As Shauna Niequist puts it, "I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me." It was like I saw countless versions of my life playing out in my head, and my heart couldn't figure out which way to turn. I found myself super future-oriented on a daily basis, full of fear and worry about which choice would lead me down which road. It was painful and exhausting.

Then . . . I stopped trying so hard to "figure it all out." I said to myself one day, you can't predict what's to come, so start enjoying what's here now and who you are today. I shut out all the woulda, coulda, shoulda's in my life, and ignored the voices from others or inside myself that said my life had to look a certain way and that I had to be a certain kind of person. I still had to make decisions -- I couldn't always float along in the present moments of la-la land -- and sometimes it hurt. Sometimes I messed up and ignored my integrity. Sometimes I fell down and wanted to hide in a corner. But I still got back up, either literally or figuratively, and gave myself a fresh blank slate to try again.

As a result, I found new, unexpectedly dear friendships with incredible neighbors (who were always up for a drink or an outing or a pool day),  fellow yogis (who showed me lightness and joy and determination), and passionate individuals (who taught me about art and changing the world or shared my love for fashion and wine and sushi).

I discovered an appreciation for the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" (Seriously, that is simultaneously the worst question ever, and the most enlightening to answer for yourself.)

I learned to take on new challenges in a career while staying true to myself, my personality and my interests.

I wrote my first freelance article.

I invested in this community by getting involved as much as possible. I became part of a team that strives to bring more young professionals to the Art Center (because it's awesome). I babysat little kids while their new mamas learned how to be even better mamas amid the struggles and responsibilities of young parenthood. I read to elementary school children, and let them read to me in their beautiful, hesitant new-reader ways.

I completed yoga teacher training, and found a lot of internal peace as well as an overall commitment to health in the process.

I traveled often to nourish my friendships. I spent a week in Charleston visiting my very best friend on the planet. I enjoyed a rainy week in Florida with my family on our annual trip. I went to Chicago often, to see beloved friends and important confidantes. I visited my sisters, to see one's new apartment and watch another cheer at a high school Homecoming game.

I committed to love.

I read at least 16 books (since August, anyway).

I accepted that some of my relationships had changed. I moved on from the connections that no longer served me or ones that I could no longer give 100% to, and I tried to make peace with those realities.

I started this blog, wrote 45 posts and had 1,700 views in five months.

2013 was one hell of a year. As you toast to 2014 later tonight, take a moment to be grateful for all that 2013 brought you, for better or for worse. I know I'll be clanking a glass of red wine with my sister, celebrating the fact that I am alive with family and friends to love, good health and a faithful heart that's open to possibility.


Blogtember: A Mistaken Engagement

Wednesday, September 25: Write about a time you screwed up - a mistake you made. (Deep breath. Gettin' serious over here, folks.)

I dated a man for five years who was pretty much everything I thought I wanted on paper. Smart, hilarious, kind, family-oriented, athletic, thoughtful, adventurous, religious, and most of all, completely crazy about me. My friends and family adored him, and so when he proposed on a beach with a gorgeous ring, I said yes.

And then I spent the next two months feeling like I might throw up every moment.

Everybody in the world and in my life (and on Facebook): OMG YOUR RING IS SO PERFECT AREN'T YOU JUST SO EXCITED WHEN'S THE WEDDING YOU ARE SO LUCKY HE IS JUST THE BEST YOU MUST BE SO HAPPY!!!!!!!!! (cue even more exclamation points)

Me: "Yeah, it's beautiful . . .  sure, of course . . . I mean, well, probably not for a long time, I--I mean, we, aren't in a rush. . . I know, he's really great. . . Okay, so what's new with you?"

You see, I wasn't happy at all. I wanted to be happy; I was trying really hard to be happy; I could list out all kinds of reasons for being happy--but I wasn't actually happy. I had always dreamed of getting and being engaged someday, but all I could think was I should have said no. Shit, I should have said no. 

So, obvious question: why did I say yes? I didn't want to hurt his feelings.  I had no idea he was going to propose (in hindsight, I think he made comments here and there, but it literally wasn't on my emotional radar in a serious way), so when it happened, I felt shocked and confused. I quickly turned away from him, eyes filling up with tears, and ran away a few steps; in the moment, everyone thought I was just overwhelmed with joy. My entire family was there and it was the first day of our vacation. Was I really going to say no and ruin it for everybody? And break his heart? Hell no. It didn't occur to me in the moment that saying yes when I meant no would actually hurt him, and me, much more in the long run.

But I had no idea how to backtrack. Friends threw me an engagement shower that I fake-smiled through. I received wedding magazines and planners and bride-to-be tank tops and sweet cards of congratulations. I went wedding dress shopping (which was so awesome and fun, minus the whole getting married part). I listened to suggestions of venues, flowers, colors. My fiancé boasted about our lengthy love, made me wonderful dinners, and asked me a million questions about our happily-ever-after. Everyone else was so damn thrilled; who I was I to ruin it for them?

And maybe it would be fine. Maybe I was just overanalyzing. Maybe these were just pre-pre-pre-wedding jitters, right? I'd probably come around. The wedding was going to be so fun, and he was so great! God, it makes me wince and laugh to remember that despite my gut feeling of no no no, I naively thought everything might work itself out. I could hardly eat or sleep, and it felt like I was holding my breath underwater nonstop, but at least I wouldn't have to break anybody's heart or be the bad guy.

When I finally told him I didn't want to get married, I felt the most immense relief of my life. (And then I felt terrible for feeling so good, finally). He was a fantastic guy, but not the right guy for me, not for a lifetime, though we had a great deal of fun together and I cared for him very much. I had witnessed the immense joy and satisfaction of other engaged friends, and I knew that was the "should" to aim for. I wasn't ready to get married, even though I wanted to be eventually. I moved out of our apartment, and moved on with my life.

It had been a big mistake to say yes. Not only did I hurt someone I cared about, I wasn't honest with myself. I learned a big lesson that year: it's nice to want to make people happy, but pleasing others can come at your own expense. That experience has served as a yardstick in every relationship I've been in since then, and now I notice when I'm lying to myself a little bit or not staying true to my needs.

Saying no, then, also led me down a different path: exploring and learning from other relationships, spending time alone in Chicago, finishing graduate school on my own, living with my grandparents for a little bit, moving to the middle of Iowa, finding a deeper love, tackling another career path, making friends in a new place, and so on. I know what it feels like to make the mistake of should, and while I'm not perfect, I'm better about it. It was a valuable lesson that came at great cost, but one that has shaped me ever since, and led me to where I am and who I am today. I'm grateful for that.