This is part of Say Yes to the Mess, a pop-up Slate series on the unsettled state of the American wedding in 2023.
About three weeks ago, I got married—for the second time. Like about 1 in 5 people who will wed this year in the U.S., I legally accepted a second person as my spouse, something I suspected I’d never do. And I have to tell you: It was the absolute best.
This is a surprising development. In my late 20s, I insisted I’d dump anyone who proposed to me. So, there was no proposal from my ex the first time around—more like a dare that stuck. And no engagement ring, which was fine, because I obviously didn’t want one. (I was no one’s property!) I was in opposition to everything, and completely distrustful of anything that whiffed of romance. My stance toward nearly everything wedding-oriented was indifference. You can ask my ex-husband, who basically planned our entire wedding.
This time around, I really didn’t care about much of anything other than being married to Stefan, the man who is now my husband. We had planned to get married at the Brooklyn City Clerk’s office in July, before the two celebratory parties we’ve planned—lunch parties!—were to take place. (My ex was so good at planning my first wedding, I asked him to do the seating arrangements.) But then, in March, I asked Stefan, who is German: “Do you want to get married in April before you go back to Berlin?” “I do,” he said. We made an appointment shortly after, while my daughter was out of school for spring break. It was a breeze—she was there as well as my best friend, who served as our witness. It took two minutes. And poof! I had the second husband of my dreams.
It was easy to be this relaxed about my second time around the block because both Stefan and I had much more traditional first weddings. When I think of my first wedding, I think of an event where my then-husband and I tried hard to find ways to break tradition while still having a wedding. It meant ceding to some of my parents’ wishes (they paid), being annoyed about some required family invites, puzzling over flowers on a budget. We had a ceremony, but made it a standing ceremony so it was less formal and different. We also had SO MANY speeches—at the rehearsal, during the ceremony, then at the dinner. (Oy, our best man’s speech was a nightmare. It sounded like a eulogy for my husband, and I was a footnote.) Don’t get me wrong—we had a blast. But I never wanted to do that again. And after my divorce, it seemed inconceivable to me that I ever would.
Now, at 47, I do not give a shit about anything except what I know will make my partner and I happy. I don’t think I had any idea what would make me happy at 31, when I was married the first time. Everything was wide open, full of potential, just question marks everywhere. In midlife, things can be a lot clearer and everything is less fraught. That means that when Stefan got down on one knee and proposed to me with a ring designed by the woman who made Taylor Swift’s ring on the cover of “Red (Taylor’s Version)”—a little tribute to my Swiftie daughter—I didn’t balk in disgust. I teared up and said yes immediately and put that ring on my finger. I love it!
What I’m trying to say is: Romance isn’t political to me anymore. I don’t have to hate on it or mistrust it because my sense of myself, and the world, is a lot more formed. This is what younger people have to look forward to, or at least younger people who are like I was. It makes a lot of things easier—especially wedding planning.
And we are still doing those lunches. In New York, our lunch will be at the restaurant in Manhattan where we first met; in Berlin, a cool pizza place near Stefan’s apartment. All in all, about 110 people across two cities will celebrate with us. But lunch is all it is—a buffet with fancy pizza and seasonal fare in New York, family-style pizza in Berlin. No dancing. No cake. No speeches. No gifts (we don’t need anything!). No hard alcohol. Not even a playlist! And, nope: no flowers. It’s gonna be a nice lunch with good food. We don’t have to think about anything except showing up and running the credit card at the end. (And yes, thanks to the fact that we are solidly in midlife, we have been able to budget for this ourselves.)
Don’t misunderstand me: I love big traditional weddings, and goth weddings in the woods (I went to one! It was awesome!), destination weddings, and everything in between. I hope I am invited to many of them in this second part of my life. If you invite me, I will buy you a very nice gift (with apologies to my colleagues)! I will dance at your wedding, give a toast if you want me to, or sit next to your estranged aunt. I will have no judgments about anyone’s choices and will devote myself to celebrating and making life easier for the bride and groom. But for me, now, the simplest thing feels right. I look forward to seeing whoever can make it to lunch. I will be having a blast.