A few thoughts on community and rites of passage
Weddings have changed and we need a new ritual for becoming an adult
I’m off to Chicago for the weekend to attend my niece’s wedding. It’s being held at an art gallery that also functions as an event space and is dog-friendly. (Unfortunately, their beloved pup passed at the end of last year.) Guests are encouraged to wear whatever feels comfortable so they can “kill it” on the dance floor and I’ll be wearing wide-legged cotton pants with cowboy boots. I won’t be joining in on the bar crawl after dinner and dancing, but I’m looking forward to the celebration and seeing their unique spin on this important ritual. My niece is a very intelligent and grounded young woman who minored in Religious Studies, so I know their choices were well-considered. Weddings, just like marriages, do not need to follow tradition. But I do believe they shouldn’t be treated lightly. Something profound and mysterious happens when words are considered carefully and witnesses are present. No matter how committed two people are to each other before this ceremony, something changes when vows are made in public. And that is a beautiful thing.
My card for them is simple, with a message that I think is absolutely perfect: Blessings on what you have found in each other. Congratulations on letting the world know. I know I’ve found other great cards in the past but this one feels right not just for their courtship and their love, but also I think for these times.
Twenty-eight years ago when I had a wedding, we asked for no gifts. But, if guests wanted to contribute to the celebration costs, we would gratefully accept. Four and a half years earlier, we had exchanged rings and vows, and begun living together. By the time of the wedding, there was nothing we needed except the commitment of our family and friends to support our union. And what we wanted was to share our joy and celebrate. Still, our very carefully worded request for financial contributions was considered scandalous at the time. Not among our friends as I recall, but our families struggled with it.
These days, it’s pretty common for the bride and groom to ask for money in lieu of gifts. Contributions to a travel fund seem to be the new norm and if you think about it, it makes sense. Does the couple really need a fancy set of china? Probably not. If they’ve already been cohabitating, they probably have all the things they need for a home. And if they don’t have these essential things, well then, a gift registry is definitely in order. But extra funds for experiences can be hard to come by. Money to enjoy an expensive dinner, a vacation of any sort, or even a concert or show is a gift that supports their joy.
Which leads me to…
What if we normalized house blessings? In general, I think house blessings are a wonderful idea. By which I mean something different from house warmings, just as the wedding service is different from the reception and other festivities. But that’s a topic for another time.
What I mean in this instance is the normalization of supporting a young person in setting up their first residence as an adult. Some time back (well, as recently as my mom’s adolescence), young women were given “hope chests” in which they accumulated the things they would need when married: linens, lace, heirlooms, and more. This was basically a hold-over from the idea of a dowry. These days, with folks getting married later, it makes more sense to have a ritual celebrating when they move out of their parent’s home and into their own.
Essentially, a “first house” is a rite of passage that we are failing to acknowledge. Not long ago, college graduation was a rite of passage into adulthood. Now, with so many college graduates moving back home with their folks, the line that delineated responsibility for one’s self has blurred. Boys left home for military service or college and became men while girls lived with their parents until moving in with their new husband. Times have changed. (For the better.)
We need a new popular ritual for celebrating our move into adulthood. Not graduation, not marriage, not even a 21st birthday party. Something different. Something sensible and substantial. A new home, a first home, seems like the most appropriate time to give dishes, cutlery, linens, and even furniture. Pots and pans and plants. The things we actually need when we first set up house. Such a celebration would demonstrate communal support (of family and friends) for our new maturity and the responsibilities we are assuming. And maybe if this kind of celebration became the norm, we’d be better prepared for marriage when – and if – that time comes.
In general, do you think recognizing this life event would be a good idea? Would you have appreciated such a celebration when you moved into your first place as an adult?
What about the name? This event needs a good name. First Home Blessing is precise but maybe a bit clunky. And housewarming can be at any stage of life, so… what do we call this one that makes this rite of passage?
You're now making me think of Kurt Vonnegut, who said frequently in his commencement speeches that we need more ritualized transitions into adulthood. Young people today might have some thoughts on the "house blessing," since many find themselves unable to add a mortgage to other debts. But it's a nice idea. I remember that as a significant milestone. In fact, my wife and I bought our house together before we were even engaged (less than a year after we first met). I'm still impressed that neither of our families gave us too much grief about it, since I would have some strong thoughts and questions if one of my children were to contemplate such a significant financial decision so early in a relationship. But we were both in our 30s, independent career people, and so I suppose we had already been adults for some time before we made that leap.
You're also making me think about how much baggage the word "adult" sometimes carries in the way of gender conventions or other socialized pressures. Men feel the weight of being a provider more as adults than as young people; women have to contend with other gendered expectations or inequities more in adulthood. No wonder some young people try to postpone adulting as long as possible :)
Yes! I agree. I also wrote about this, this week.