by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson
September is our wedding month this year. No, I don’t mean The Husband and I are getting married (we did that almost fifteen wonderful years ago) or that it’s our anniversary, which is in the spring. No, this month is when two of our friends each decided to marry and, as they are dear friends indeed, we are going to the weddings.
Which sounds a lot easier than it actually is. The first is in Boston, which is a looong way from Texas. The second happens on the very next weekend in Alabama, which is also a looong way from Texas. Now you know I love to travel, but I really do like to be able to draw breath between trips! We’ll be home for one day between Boston and Alabama – barely enough time to do laundry and re-pack, as each ceremony will need a different style of wardrobe. We’re flying to Boston and I’m not looking forward to it; flying just isn’t any fun anymore, as I truly dislike being treated like a piece of not-too-intelligent nor valued cargo. We’re driving to Alabama, having rediscovered the pleasures of automobile trips by driving to Denver in June for my appearance at the Historical Novel Society.
But we’re going to both weddings happily, which made me think about what weddings mean. Mainly, I believe, it is because a wedding is a joyous occasion. Two people are promising each other and vowing to God that they will live the rest of their lives together. Yes, I know about the divorce rate and all the uglinesses that can happen, but humans are creatures of hope, therefore weddings are the essence of new starts. The days of the forced marriage are happily over (save in some of our novels, and even those usually work out happily in the end) and to see two people pledge themselves to each other is in its own way a symbol of renewal even in our own lives.
In most romance novels the culminatory wedding – or the promise of the same – is the climax, where the happily-ever-after begins. I have always thought that was a disservice to the idea of romance, symbolizing that the romance ends at the wedding, that magically everything will be sunlight and roses from that moment on. I believe the wedding is where the romance really starts. Falling in love is a magical thing, the blending of two disparate people into a loving couple, but the real magic happens after the wedding, when this couple must live in the world of reality.
I know, reality is what most readers want to escape from when they choose a book, but the best stories are the ones that have some grounding in real-world situations, albeit frosted with the gloss of fantasy. It’s easy to be romantic when everyone is dressed in beautiful clothes and the world is full of rosebuds and sunshine, where the worst that can happen is their lovely picnic is rained out. Now don’t get huffy with me – I know it’s the style in modern romance novels to throw everything at the hero and heroine from spies to pregnancy to abuse to looming apocalypse, but those are just macrocosms of the courtship meme. In real life you get unsympathetic family members, financial problems, differences in background and all other kinds of obstacles. In romance they are replaced with murderers and other figures/problems/obstacles. They’re symbols. At least, I hope so.
After the wedding reality truly does come home – money and pregnancy and jobs and crying children and moves and possible infidelity – all the nasties which flesh is heir to. Keeping romance alive under those situations is difficult, both in fiction and in real life. Is marriage really worth it?
Of course it is. A good marriage is the Holy Grail of relationships, the Valhalla of commitment. It’s why the majority of romance novels lead toward a wedding as the culmination of the story. They just don’t tell you that’s where the real love story begins.