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20 July, 2006

Wedding thought with feeling

I have the opportunity to attend a wedding reception at the end of next week.  My gut feeling, which I've decided to follow, is to not go, but I'm having trouble rationalising that, even to myself.

I'm even a little reluctant to write about it, as there's a risk personally-involved readers might receive two incorrect impressions:
That I inherently dislike such events, and I'd rather not be included in future invitations. Not true. I don't feel that my my instinctive reaction to this one would extend to others.
Therefore, that I'm snubbing this particular couple. Again untrue. We're not as close as we once were, geographically or socially (I don't think we've spoken this year), but J. was my 'evil twin' (or I was his; whatever) in the 1990s & we certainly haven't fallen out. And how could I dislike W.?

It mightn't be precisely the right word, but I 'disapprove' of weddings, intensely but not vociferously. That's not anti-commitment (not something of which I tend to be accused!), it's anti- 'social ritual'. If a couple want to be together, that's great, but exclusively a matter for the couple – it shouldn't be any business of the state or community. The idea that individuals need to obtain ceremonial approval of their private choice offends my individualist values. As an atheist I don't exactly like the religious aspect of church weddings either, but I know that to be empty pantomime, even to most participants, so it doesn't especially bother me.

However, as a good individualist, I acknowledge that others think differently, and if people want the whole marriage certificate, vicar and meringue dress package, it's not for me to impose my negativity on them.
It would be a little too hypocritical of me to attend a church service and nod & smile, but disliking the institution of marriage wouldn't stop me attending a reception.

So it's not that.

I'm a classic introvert, and find most social events hard work. That's not insurmountable, and often I do enjoy myself if I can break the barrier of negative anticipation and force myself to converse. Conversely (heh) it doesn't always work, and empty small-talk with strangers can drive me to inward seething, depression and a swift exit – easy at a College wine party three miles from home, such as last Friday's (I lasted 35 minutes) but difficult when in an unfamiliar city on the wrong side of the Pennines.

That's a risk, but one can't live by fear of what might or might not happen, and on its own, a poor reason not to go. That's not it.

I know almost no-one likely to be attending. I never relish the idea of meeting new people (some thrive on that, but it's just not in my nature), I couldn't cling to the two I definitely know, and the bride & groom would be rather busy. Worse, the remaining people I might recognise would be acquaintances from an earlier phase of my life.
On the whole, it's not those people themselves that I'd rather avoid, it's the associated memories. It'd be all too easy to fall back into the same social roles, especially with dominant personalities, and I don't think I could face that. I didn't like the 1990s me even at the time, and firmly put him aside. That's the acquaintance I wouldn't wish to renew.

That may be the root cause of my instinctive wish to stay away: I don't want to confront myself.
That's not completely it, though – there's a secondary disincentive.

Ordinarily, I'm absolutely fine about Helen & I living in different countries; we're independent people and whilst it's great to exchange e-mails & phone calls almost daily and, er, meet up every couple of months, neither of us would really choose to live as a couple (the fact that I'm uncomfortable about speaking for H. like that merely illustrates our independence). However, for a short period after seeing her, I'm... melancholic (not sure that's the right term), and feel awkward around friends who do live together. I suppose that's to be expected.
As I said, I don't respect formal marriage, and wouldn't remotely wish it for myself. Yet beneath the social artifice, a wedding is a celebration of a relationship (I just don't see why third-parties should be involved) – and a somewhat painful reminder that H. is ~1,800 km (~1,100 miles) away.

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