My friend J got married today. She looked so beautiful. The wedding was held just outside of Manila, at San Antonio de Padua in Silang, Cavite, followed by the reception at Hacienda Isabella, a charming private resort neatly tucked somewhere at the foot of the Tagaytay mountain ridge. I sat with a group of friends from the university and before the night ended, J came over to our table and showed us her ring. She also told us the story of how her husband had proposed—which he did, if I heard correctly (and if I didn’t, blame the vodka), after a hike somewhere in Malaysia, on top of another mountain called Gunung Datuk.
J’s wedding is only the latest in a series of wedding- or engagement-related notifications I have recently received on Facebook. I don’t know how or why exactly these notifications have suddenly come to multiply—is twenty-eight or twenty-nine the new twenty-five, or are couples simply keen to avoid the curse of 2013?—but at least seven other friends (that I know of) who are my age got married or engaged in the last two weeks alone. Seven! (And I don’t even have many friends, which makes the ratio that much more impressive.) To me this feels a lot like three years ago, when wedding albums first began to clutter my Facebook news feed. The difference this time is that I am much closer to being thirty and unmarried, which therefore also means that I am closer to being forty and unmarried.
Not that there’s any, you know, pressure. In fact, don’t mind the gasp; it isn’t meant to be taken seriously. I’m not—or no longer—in a particular hurry to acquire the trappings of maturity, of married life, which everyone will surely tell me cannot be rushed into anyway. But owing perhaps to these recent events and notifications, I have wondered, more so than ever, if among my friends I am one of the remaining few who wake up next to an open book, a bottle of wine, or an ashtray of cigarette butts (I’d have added ‘beautiful stranger’ but unfortunately my romances, if I can be said to have them, are not at all whirlwind); if at this point—at my age—I really ought to have a spouse instead of a pillow. (A second gasp!) This, I like to believe, even if no one else will, is less a case of sentimental imagination than of a sort of tangible stress currently being thrown upon my own personal relations—and stress as in an external force instead of an internal one.
Funnily enough, the stress may have begun to assert itself outside of Facebook, even before I found myself under barrage. A little over two weeks ago, when I was still in the Chilean capital city of Santiago, my dear friend K showed me pictures and videos of his wedding in 2004. I loved the crisp white suit that he wore, loved it more than I had let on. It drew attention to the blue of his eyes, such that I began to secretly wish—as he swiped an index finger across the screen of his iPhone, showing images of the kiss, the ceremony, the signing of papers, the delivery of speeches, the raising of toasts, the opening of gifts, the institutionalization of his love and his right to love—I secretly wished that if and when my own special day came, I would look as handsome, gentle, and pure as he did on his, eight years ago in Hamburg.
The wish was secret because it was also impossible. It was the product of envy: wishing to be what will never be. ‘Gentle’ and ‘pure’? I would definitely be pushing it. (Even more than I would with ‘handsome’.) I am a bigger sinner at twenty-eight than I was at twenty-five, and each year—if not each day—my baggage gets heavier, stuffed increasingly and haphazardly with fresh anxieties, hurts, mistakes, doubts, impurities, phobias. If only one can marry a cardboard cutout! But one can’t. We can only marry people, and when we marry people, we also marry their baggage.
I don’t mean to sound horribly disenchanted; this isn’t my intention. My belief in marriage is actually firmer than ever, and my understanding of love and romance has ceased to be primitive. It has ceased to be romantic. It is governed not by some vague fantasy about meeting the One in a gondola or a dusty library, but by lesser excitements and tamer, yet more enduring, throbs. Like seeing the example of my parents, who have been together for over three decades, through thin more than through thick, through perhaps as much bad as good. Like observing the quiet, unannounced interactions of old lovers who never seem to run out of things to talk about, even after all these years. Like befriending couples who, when they have sex, are not, by arrangement, in the same building—let alone the same room!—but who manage nevertheless to be the most inseparable couples I have met. How much I have been through personally, I do not know, and would much rather not reckon anyway, but it is enough, I think, to part me from certain previous notions. I can see now that, when I was younger, I conformed to the sense one had in those years that a walk in the park with a beautiful stranger was the same as true love; that mountaintop proposals, white-suited fashions, and copious Facebook wishes comprised the fairy tale to which all marrying couples should aspire; that the loveliest unions took place in a church, to the soundtrack of a pipe organ being played by a virginal old maid; that breaking someone’s heart was the worst thing you could do to a person, just as having your heart broken was the worst fate imaginable; that the promise of fidelity was the promise to not sleep with anyone else, ever; that the joys and affections shared by two men or two women were somehow less than that shared by a man and a woman; that marriage bound instead of freed, and marked a single-occasion milestone instead of a happy responsibility that one chose daily to bear.
Why daily? Because married or not, we need reminders. Don’t tell my university friends, but I did shed a little tear at J’s wedding. It was because of the grand fireworks display that her husband had arranged as a surprise. And what a surprise it was: I mean, he lit up the sky for her—literally. The thought of it, along with the vodka, made me reach for my pink hanky. I relayed this information to mother by sending a maudlin text message, to which she replied, perfectly, “Who do you think you are? Julia Roberts?” This was my reminder; there was no need to cry.