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Prairie Notes-For Richer and Poorer

Fri, Sep 27th, 2002
Posted in Columnists

It’s been raining wedding invitations lately at our house. There’d been a drought for a few years—just long enough for this guest to gain a few years in age, if not in wisdom. I’m not much on ceremony, but weddings interest me. Like many people, I’ve attended to see what the dresses were like, how the church was decorated, and which songs were sung (anyone remembering the high note in "The Song of Ruth" would know what made that so interesting). Not anymore. These days I can no longer go as a passive guest. How can I possibly focus on the trappings and finery when I can’t take my eyes off the bride and groom? They’re so young! They must be only. . .then the math kicks in and I realize they really are not twelve.

Besides thinking the couple looks too young, I also know the statistics: over 50% of the weddings that took place this year will be overcome by the richer/poorer, sickness/health part of the vows and will not last "till death do us part." Yet the need to have a wedding, or be married is so strong that these odds are ignored as so many couples plan their weddings and "book" a church; (there can be a six-month to a year wait in Rochester or the Twin Cities if you want to get married in a church on a Saturday). Planning the perfect wedding, though, may take that long: the perfect gown, flowers, music, and food don’t just appear in a week. I’ve always appreciated the work that a beautiful wedding entails, but now it seems that the beauty takes a back seat to the enormity of what the couple is truly going to try to do. Maybe the brides and grooms don’t look too young to have a wedding, they just look too young to be married.

When the vows are spoken, they are inclusive, but not overly detailed. You hear "for richer or poorer," but there’s not even fine print that tells you what to do with the unexpected inheritance or holiday bonus, and what’s romantic about financial planning anyway? Couples can busy themselves for hours just comparing how tiny her wrists are compared with his, but talking about salaries and debt seems almost sacrilegious. And do any of us even know how to be poor anymore? One look at the couple’s car(s) makes me wonder whether they think "poorer" means you have to give up satellite TV. What if "poorer" really happens?

You hear "in sickness and in health," but at 19 or 22 what do most of us really know of sickness? Caring for another person completely sounds romantic, but the reality of automobile rides to the emergency room or endless doctor appointments and the bills that come with them (remember the "poorer" part?) can quash any idea of romance pretty quickly. Even good medical insurance can’t completely relieve the bone-tired fatigue a help-mate can feel.

Thia new—or is it old, active guest wonders whether the couple has any idea what they’re really getting themselves into? Shouldn’t somebody tell them what it’s like to be committed forever, no matter what? But what could you say? How could they possibly believe you? How could any old married couple with twenty years’ experience convince these two that they may need to "buckle your seatbelts, you’re in for a bumpy ride."

So we attend these weddings and hope that the "richer" works out and the "health" remains and their love can overcome all of the odds and obstacles right up till the time death does part them. I hope so much that I lean forward in my seat, trying to will my hope forward, pressing it toward the couple, thinking that if they can feel my hope, it will carry them through. Because I know that there is a chance, maybe less than 50%, but still a chance, that these two will breathe, deeply, and pause before they say something hurtful; will consider the other’s needs first; and will give more than they expect to receive.

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