Getting Married, But Without the Wedding

by Sydney Bufkin

We got married in a judge’s private office on a Friday afternoon. Besides my husband, the only other people present were my sister and three close friends. I told my parents a week before we got married what our plans were, and they asked, “Why so quickly? What’s the hurry?” It wasn’t quick or sudden for us; we’d been talking about getting married for months. The major impediment we kept circling around was that we didn’t want a wedding.

There were practical reasons: Neither of us had any desire to plan a wedding, and we’d seen friends’ “simple,” “easy,” “low-key” weddings take up nearly as much energy and planning time as the overblown productions now considered the norm. I was also adamantly opposed to ever being engaged. I had no problems with being married (beyond my general ambivalence about the institution itself), but I didn’t want to spend any time in engagement limbo. I aspired to never have the word “fiancé” pass my lips, and to have exactly zero conversations with friends or strangers about rings, dresses, venues, guest lists, showers, or registries.

There were personal reasons: Our marriage formalized a commitment we’d been living for several years. That formality is far from inconsequential — there are concrete legal and social changes that happen when you go from “cohabiting” to “married.” But rather than marking that formality with a huge break from the everyday, I wanted to fold it into our daily lives, to integrate the act of getting married with the business of being married. For many people, a wedding serves to signify the start of something new, something different. For some people, a wedding declares, “We are adults now.” For others, it announces, “We’re getting serious about this relationship.” And for a lot of folks like us, it says, “Let’s stop what we’re doing for a moment and recognize the relationship we’ve been building.”

Those are all very good statements, but they weren’t what I wanted to say. I wanted the act of getting married to say, “This life we are living is good, and we want to keep living it the way we have been for a very long time. Getting married is special, but so is the daily life we’ve built together.” For me, that meant making getting married fit seamlessly into being married, not because getting married wasn’t important, but because the act, the formality, the commitment had value only in the context of the daily practice of marriage. So we woke up on Friday (just like any other day), went to work, ate lunch, and did all those other mundane things you do on a typical day (note: on Fridays I work from home, so on this particular Friday I slept in a bit and ducked out at lunchtime to get a manicure). And then we met up downtown, and, in the presence of four of the people most involved in our daily lives, repeated the shortest, most streamlined set of vows the judge had. We snapped a few pictures for posterity and then took everybody out for a long and indulgent meal.

When you don’t want a wedding, you risk appearing as if you think marriage is trivial. Weddings, it seems, have become inseparably fused to marriage. And that’s not entirely a bad thing: one of the functions of the over-the-top wedding, in all its ridiculousness, is to force a recognition of the importance of marriage. All these people come to town to see you say a few words and exchange some rings, at huge expense to themselves and to you. There are a lot of things that shout, “Hey, you! The one getting married! Take this seriously!”

Obviously, that doesn’t always work. But I guess if a wedding helps a couple take their marriage more seriously, then it’s a good thing. But — and try not to misunderstand me when I say this — the ceremony itself wasn’t all that important to me. More than that, I didn’t like the idea of ladening it with significance, of insisting that this one moment be perfect, or even immensely memorable. I don’t want to forget it, but I don’t want to reify it, either. If the day fades or changes or hazes in my memory, that’s okay. It was one day. A day when something important happened, sure, but still just one day out of the many that make up our lives together.

Getting married was as simple and unadorned as we could make it. It fit easily into our lives. The celebrating will be more disruptive. We’ll travel to where our families live and have parties and be the center of attention. And that’s fine. Celebrations are meant to disrupt, to distract, to break into our daily lives. Marriages aren’t. And I’m glad mine started the way I want it to continue: with ease, grace and careful attention to the practice of daily life.

But what about the numbers? I promised an accounting, not a long-winded defense of my views on the wedding-industrial complex. If all you want is a marriage certificate and state recognition, that’ll run you about $125 in Texas. Of course, you’ll probably want a few more frills than that. Our wedding-less (but not celebration-less) marriage costs were:

$75: Marriage license. Procured at least three days before the ceremony. In Texas, all you need is a driver’s license and social security number and you’re good to get hitched.

$50: Somebody to marry us. We chose a semi-retired judge with a lovely office. Since we got married during business hours, his fee was very modest.

$594: Rings. We tried to get them from a local jeweler, but nobody stocks plain yellow gold wedding bands. Since any jeweler in town was going to have to order them from a supplier anyway, we went ahead and bought them online, at significant savings.

$440: Dinner for seven on Friday night. We’d been planning on financing the meal, but my parents insisted on footing the bill in absentia.

$160: Drinks for seven before and after dinner, also paid for by my folks.

We’re also having a party at our house for local friends and have budgeted about $350 for beer, wine and pie for 30 or so people.

So there you have it: $1,670, give or take, and worth every penny.

Sydney Bufkin lives in Austin and tries not to let her dissertation take over her life. Sometimes she even finds time to write about other things.

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