If you had asked me several months ago what I thought about marriage, I would have said, “I don’t think about marriage.”
Then my friend John married. I rode in the car with him to the ceremony. When we pulled into the hotel’s parking lot, we were 30 minutes behind schedule. I had been on the phone reassuring his bride, Kate, who was bravely fending off a panic attack.
The valet asked, “You guys here for the wedding?”
Reaching into the back seat I grabbed my suit in its protective sleeve and the black leather folio containing the vows the couple had written, along with the readings and scattered notes for the speech I was to deliver.
“I’ve got the groom right here,” I said. I thumbed at John, who was still in a basketball jersey with all his tattoos showing. One tattoo peaked out the neck of his shirt, a large chest piece depicting the Starship Enterprise cruising at impulse.
“Congratulations,” the valet said to John.
“Thanks,” said John, who threw his car keys at him and rushed toward the building.
“You the best man?” the valet asked me.
“No, the officiant.”
“I’m going to marry them — perform the ceremony.”
“You’re the priest?”
No, I’m not a priest (a disclaimer I never expected to have to make). I’m the friend they asked to marry them in place of a priest.
Kate and John aren’t religious and didn’t want their ceremony to be. They wanted it to be personal, and I, a relatively undistinguished 26-year-old, was to captain the whole affair, to the chagrin of their parents. But I did have at least one thing going for me as an officiant when it came to Kate and John: I had been there from the start.
I love these two. I love them as a couple. I love them individually. They met the summer before senior year of high school at a game of Manhunt that we played in a friend’s suburban neighborhood. I recall that I was pleased with my hiding place, a winner under a bush and next to a concrete staircase, and that I was upset when the glint from my glasses gave me away.
Clearly I was oblivious to the more important games being played around me. Kate and John exchanged numbers that night and got together while still in high school, and they’ve been together more or less for a decade since. After getting engaged in Brooklyn last year, they moved back to Philadelphia and bought a house not far from my apartment.
They asked me to officiate their wedding while we were all attending another friend’s boozy wedding reception, and I said yes without thinking, mostly because I thought it would be a splendid feather in my cap. Most of us get to stand at the altar at some point and say, “I do.” Few are tapped to say, “Dearly beloved.”
To prepare, I searched on Google for how to be a secular wedding officiant. Ideally you are supposed to stand before those gathered and weld two souls together, though with the divorce rate being what it is, “welding” is probably an optimistic metaphor. The traditional metaphor is a knot, which I liked because it gave me more leeway in terms of how surely I would be expected to fasten the souls.
Part of your job in helping tie that knot is to say a few words about the couple you are marrying and their relationship (no problem) as well as saying some positive things about marriage in general (a problem).
I know nothing about marriage. The longest relationship I’ve had lasted four years and ended when I was 23. Not once during its duration did marriage occur to me, though perhaps it should have.
There are two sentiments against marriage you’ll hear from certain 20-something wanderers like me. Either marriage is too serious a proposition for them or they are too cynical about marriage to take it seriously. Either they are afraid of how marriage will limit their options or they think you would be a fool to believe that marriage limits anyone’s options, so why bother?
Ryan Crawford is a writer in Philadelphia