On Thursday evening, I was sitting with a group of friends at the Bedford in Williamsburg discussing the major political issue of the day—the breakup of George Clooney and Elisabetta Canalis and just who dumped whom.
Jane thought he was the dumpee, which seemed like a stretch. After all, if Michael Clayton taught us anything it was that merely being in the presence of George Clooney has the potential to fix your entire life.
“Supposedly she left him because he’s never getting married,” Jane replied. At this point “I’m never getting married” has become George Clooney’s mating call. What was the woman’s problem? She lived the with guy. She went yachting with him. What, the ladies wondered en masse, do you need a label for when you’re already on Clooney’s arm at a red carpet premier?
Soon, the discussion turned to marriage itself. “Really, why would anyone even want to get married?” Jane asked, “It’s not hard to see why some people want to avoid it altogether.”
Points were made about marriage’s difficulties, its dark history. The word chattel was employed with an enthusiastic flourish over lager and watermelon salad.
“Don’t you want to get married?” I asked my more traditional friend Elizabeth.
“Maybe,” she replied, tentatively, chewing on her thumbnail as though I’d asked her to join in a fun game of chess with my cool bald friend, Death. “You know,” she replied after some hesitation, “bastard children do have a unique ruffian glamour.”
“No,” I told her, “I’ve been saving Monique Lhullier champagne flutes for your wedding for years. You’re getting married one day, because they’re fucking beautiful.”
Of course, she could always get divorced. We’re the 50 percent divorce rate generation, after all.
And if that weren’t enough, we grew up watching television shows devoted to brides flinging cutlery at guests like 13th century barbarian warlords because the bouquet is crimson not mauve (these are words brides know). Seemingly every Hollywood star in the world is cheating on their spouse, and bitter divorcees are lifecasting every second of their marital meltdowns while staring into the screen with a unmoving, brutally botoxed faces they once thought would make their ex-husbands love them.
Young women and men don’t greet marriage with fantasies of bridal trousseaus and golden wedding anniversaries. We greet it with a near certainty that 10 years from now, we’ll be drawing a line of tape down the center of our apartments. On the altar, some of us will be wondering, right then, as we slip the ring onto our beloved’s finger, how we can make sure that the bathroom will be on our side of the tape.
On Thursday, young people knew, they knew, that marriage was for the reckless or the unobservant or those easily bribed by stemware.
That was Thursday. And then it was Friday.
Around 11 p.m., I found myself out at the SoHo Grand listening to Ted Gushue—a DJ so urbane he was once asked “but in real life, you’re like, an investment banker, right? A dapper man in a Turnbull and Asser suit wearing a pocket square pulled out his iPhone and said, “Something great just happened.” Gay marriage was the law of the land.
Then there was a hush, and then there was champagne, and ultra-tanned, lithe 21 year old girls wearing bandage dresses murmuring and clinking glasses and someone said, “To marriage,” and we toasted.
That was the conservative crowd. In the West Village, everyone was dancing, and people were kissing and everyone was so happy. There was a straight couple kissing right next to a gay couple and everyone—gay, straight, bisexual, undecided—everyone was saying “I love you.”
“City Hall is going to be clogged tomorrow” my best friend Seth said.
“Oh, with gay couples?” someone asked.
“With everyone,” he replied.
He’s got a point. Just like that, marriage was cool again.
Because it wasn’t just the homosexual community that won. Love and faith and optimism won.
Oh, sure, young heterosexual New Yorkers are happy about the news, because we’re always happy about fairness and equality. But they’re also happy because deep down they’re still romantics and want desperately to believe in love.
And gayness aside, what all this dancing in the streets proves is that in spite of everything—the custody battles and the throwing of cutlery—marriage is still a desirable institution. That the ability to stand before your loved ones and say that there is one person whose needs you can put before your own is still a great and valuable aspect of the human experience. That the notion that love can withstand life’s myriad of obstacles and endure is something that people still feel, and need the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate.
Gay marriage is actually a big win for the traditionalists.
And for the gay couples out there? You’re lucky. Because gay marriage is fresh and new, you’ve actually got the chance to do this thing right.
Please, be better at this than so many of your straight counterparts have been. Don’t marry your back-up dancers in drive-throughs in Las Vegas. Likewise, don’t marry anyone to advance your country music career. Remember birthdays and anniversaries, and bring home flowers for no reason. Or if it’s your thing, remember no dates, fill your homes with Astroturf. Die in each others’ arms at 101, clutching one another like spider monkeys.
As for you George Clooney, watch and learn.