I love weddings; I always have. I like old brides, for their guts, their seasoned optimism, and their fashion sense—a pale pink or navy silk suit is so much more flattering on most of us than Cinderella's clouds of white tulle. I like the young shiny brides who don't know anything about anything, except how much in love they are. I like Great-Aunt Frieda doing the mambo with the groom's recently rehabbed second cousin. I like the depths of gooey sentimentality that otherwise normal accountants, architects and football players reveal when toasting their baby brothers. I like shockingly expensive bouquets, with exotic flowers flown in from tiny countries, and I like—maybe just a little bit more—a big handful of black-eyed Susans stuck in an old blue pitcher. I like Steve and Bruce, abandoning their jeans for matching tuxedos, adjusting each other's bow ties before tying the big knot in the sanctuary of St. Luke's, and I like the rough, tough, crew-cut guy in his Army uniform and gleaming shoes, blinking back tears as he marries his college sweetheart on her parents' lawn.

I like everything about weddings.

And they bear the same relationship to marriage as Fisher-Price ads do to childhood, as a bathtub does to the Atlantic. It takes something to get married: nerve, hope, a strong desire to make a certain statement—and it takes something to stay married: more hope, determination, a sense of humor and needs that are best met by being in a pair. And beyond the idea of marriage, which some of us cannot do and lots would rather not, is the question of partnership. In the old days for middle-class people, partnership meant He went off to work and did Outside Things, and She stayed home and raised children and other Indoor Things. In the even older days, it was Hunting and Gathering on one hand and Nursing and Cooking on the other, but at any point in history up until the very recent past, the meaning of the marital partnership was: The world is divided into two spheres, and I will take one and you will take the other. (I know, I know—a lot of ladies who would have been happy driving trucks or running counters had to darn socks, make dinner for six, and run errands, and the number of gentlemen who gave up Jobs and Outside things in order to accommodate the lady of their choice was notoriously small.) But even in the somewhat skewed nature of those traditional partnerships, there was clarity. Like white-glove etiquette and pinching corsets and dress codes, the world is on the whole a better, fairer, more humane place without them...and yet. And yet, in their absence, there is an awful lot of uncertainty and not a little unattractive behavior. The quid pro quo and you-owe-me of modern marriage, the lists that people make under the worst kind of couples therapists are not partnerships. 

What makes for a true partnership


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