Engagement is a Liminal Period

I’ve been struggling to write lately. Normally I write about my own experiences primarily, as that’s what speaks to me and what I feel familiar with. But for some reason I haven’t felt any particular drive to write about mental illness or autism or any of the other personal topics I tend towards.

I don’t know why it took me this long to realize it, but it’s now super obvious to met hat it’s because all of my emotional thought is going in to my engagement right now. I’ve been trying to limit the amount that I talk about it, because it’s easy to fall into the myth that no one wants to keep hearing about your wedding and it’s obnoxious to only talk about it, blah blah blah. But there’s a reason we have this in between stage, and it’s not just for planning the physical event. It’s so that we can examine ourselves and become more familiar with what the idea of marriage means to us, address our anxieties and fears, find out how this “marriage” business fits into our self identities. It’s to work out some of the kinks before we’ve already said “yes” and signed the document.

In most rituals and rites there is something called a liminal period, a period of separation from what you were before and waiting to become what you will be. It’s the between place. Often it’s represented by a physical separation from the place or people you were with before, or it might be a journey or task to complete. It’s the in between stage, when you are no longer who and what you were before the ritual started, but you have no longer reached the final stage of completion that will be after the ritual takes place. It’s the place where we actually transform. If rituals were butterflies, this would be the cocoon.

Engagement is a liminal period. It’s a long one, granted, but it’s a time of change. I’ve been thinking a lot about those changes recently, and what it means to decide “yes, I’m going to turn into a married person” and “no, I will not be exactly the same person I used to be”. What does it mean to have this ritual?

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I want to get married. For a long time I was stridently against it and I still have a variety of friends who are uninterested in marriage. I feel defensive about the choice in some ways, but I also have a lot of anxiety that I’m only choosing to do it because a lot of other people do it. I have a lot of fear about marriage, not because I’m uncertain of my relationship, but because I’m uncertain of the institution. I find myself asking a lot of questions.

I say that I’m getting married because I care about it. Why do I care about it? I have never felt any need to proclaim my love publicly before. Do I really care about that? Or do I care about appearances?

I’ve tried to focus on the ways in which I can make marriage something that works for my relationship and drop some of the baggage. Is it ever possible to dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools? Who am I fooling?

Am I being selfish and ignoring all the people that marriage hurts by getting married?

What does the public ceremony mean and do? What is it meant to symbolize? What do I want to focus on moving forward in my relationship and how does this ritual play a part in that?

Is there a way to take all of the tiny, internal feelings that create the relationship I have with my fiance and turn them into ritual and ceremony, make them public so that everyone understands why him?

And even deeper down, what will change in our relationship?

I’ve already noticed people giving our relationship more legitimacy, calling us part of each other’s families, making more assumptions about what we mean to each other and who we are as a couple based on their understanding of marriage. I’m glad that I have time before it’s “official” to get used to that, and start preparing responses to assumptions.

For me, this liminal state is less about imagining the future of my relationship than it is reckoning with myself as a privileged, straight, cis individual. It’s about taking the time to think through the ways that I let assumptions live in my relationship, in my gender, in my every day choices, and then trying actively to combat them. It’s why I am so focused on ensuring that my ceremony has elements that make it clear I suppose marriage equality, that show that my fiance and I are equals, that show that I may happen to be cis, but that I fully support my queer friends. Marriage is the most visible I will ever be in relation to sex and gender, and I cannot help but feel that I have a responsibility to use it as a platform. This liminal time is for me a chance to purge myself of unwanted remnants of the patriarchy.

And even more than that, it’s a time where I’m thinking excessively about my identity. Not that this is anything new, but it’s so easy for people to throw out the truism “You want your wedding to reflect YOU!” It’s a lovely thought, but much more challenging when it’s always been difficult to know who “you” are. Do I care more about indulging myself with a gorgeous, over the top dress, or do I care more about ensuring everyone has delicious food and free flowing drink? Do I care if other people think my choices are weird or unorthodox? When my partner and I disagree, how do we prioritize and compromise? The liminal state is made clear by the fact that a ritual has symbols, and I must decide for myself what I want those symbols to be. It’s a rare opportunity that one gets to stand in front of all their family and friends and speak about how you want to behave towards others. Those words and symbols become very important. Perhaps that’s why my mind keeps retreading questions of readings and songs and rituals: I have grown up so much in the past few years and now I get to say “this is who I am. This is what I want.”

How would you answer?

2 thoughts on “Engagement is a Liminal Period

  1. Kasey Weird says:

    I like the framing of engagement as a liminal space – it’s something I’ve been sort of thinking about lately as well, though I’m not as happy about being in this liminal space as you seem to be 😛

    When I got married to my now-ex-spouse, we skipped the engagement part entirely and went straight to getting married pretty much immediately after agreeing we wanted to get married.

    I have a partner right now with whom I am, well, the closest thing to being engaged that I am likely to ever be – we’ve agreed that we’re going to do some sort of commitment ceremony at some point. But to be honest I just want to be committed already – I like having things solid and squared away. And, if I’m really being honest, I think I’m pretty intimidated by the idea of figuring out what I want out of a ceremony anyway, even though I know I want one.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about this!

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