Last Sunday night, Barbara Walters named Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin) the most fascinating person of 2014.
Amal wasn’t given this honour because, you know, she’s an activist, author and lawyer whose client list has included WikiLeaks founder/sketchbag Julian Assange and former Ukraine PM Yulia Tymoshenko.
No, she is 2014’s most fascinating person according to Baba Wawa because she married a famous actor.
Encouragingly, when the couple announced their engagement in April, more than a few riffs on the script-flipping Accomplished Lawyer Amal Alamuddin Engaged to Actor headline appeared on various blogs and progressive news sites. Still, the narrative in mainstream media was overwhelmingly that Amal somehow ‘snared’ — that word was used A LOT — the world’s most eligible, and untameable, bachelor. Amal’s engagement was framed as a success — or, if we’re indulging in Walters’ brand of unhinged hyberbole, one of the “greatest achievements in human history” (HER ACTUAL WORDS). A victory where so many women had failed.
(I sort of wish the Cloonz had, at some point, pitched a Level-10 Princess Jasmine and bellowed: “I AM NOT A PRIZE TO BE WON.” Besides, maybe some George Clooneys aren’t meant to be tamed. Maybe some George Clooneys just need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them.)
ANYWAY. According to Babs, Amal now belongs in the “stratosphere that we reserve for the Jackie Os, Princess Dis and Kate Middletons” (?) because “everything she does, says or wears is officially fascinating.”
ICYMI: Getting married is still the most important (or, apparently, fascinating, depending on who’s involved) thing a woman can do.
I know this because, like Amal and several thousand other women, I also got engaged this year. That’s right: in just 10 short months I will be Mrs. Jen Zoratti! It’s very exciting.
In the weeks following the engagement, I received more attention than I ever have… ever. When I changed my marital status on Facebook, I got an unprecedented amount of ‘likes.’
“I wish I got that many likes for anything I’ve ever written,” I remarked to my fiancé (or my Beyoncé, as he is known in our house). He wrote about that very same thing in a column of his own because HE IS THE BEST. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not telling people to take their well wishes and congratulations and GTFO. We’re happy that so many people are happy for us. It’s just that neither of us subscribe to the idea that a wedding is the Biggest Day Of Our Lives TM or that getting engaged is some kind of achievement or accomplishment or victory or status symbol (she wrote, whilst wearing a princess-cut diamond solitaire). It’s a step. And we’ve taken many over our almost eight years together. (OMG FINALLY AMIRITE?)
We got engaged in September, in Minneapolis, during a lovely dinner before a Dandy Warhols concert. I was asked an important question by a man who I love more than I’ll ever feel comfortable expressing in public and then I laughed too much and too loudly and then I nervously ate an entire pizza before retiring to the ladies room to wrack up the most expensive cell phone bill of my life because HI, I AM A CLICHE. It was the most perfect night, although I would have been just as delighted if he had decided to ask me to marry him the night before, when we watched Uncle Buck and ate room service in bed.
Being engaged is something I feel complicated about. Don’t get me wrong: getting married, to this man, is something that I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s something I still want. I feel great about this decision. I sleep at night. My reasons for getting married are mine (I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE, JUST LIKE YOU). And yet, because of my feminist politics, I feel like I need to justify them or defend them (I don’t). Because I understand that marriage is a patriarchal institution and I certainly understand the long list of very good reasons many women reject it. And yet. It’s still something I am buying into because deep down, getting married, to this man, is something I want very much.
I also understand that while getting married is a concession to the patriarchy, feminism is not a monolith and feminists can make unfeminist decisions. I know that I don’t need to turn in my feminist badge as soon as I tie the knot. Many of my feminist friends are married, to men and women. Many changed their names. I don’t think of them as being “less feminist.” And yet. While I believe we can write our own rules — BECAUSE WE ARE SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES — I will never, ever claim that getting married, of all things, is a particularly feminist act. It’s just not.
Then there’s the wedding. I tolerate-to-enjoy weddings but I loathe the wedding industrial complex. I hate how weddings have been turned into competitions and I hate how much pressure is put on what is, really, a very fancy party.
Because my wedding day was not a lifelong dream and I have no princess fantasies to fulfill, the pressure, in a lot of ways, is off. I think we’re planning what will be a fun day for everyone involved. We’re omitting a bunch of traditions. I am not changing my name, being given away, throwing a garter or making the women in attendance fight over my wilted, browning cabbage roses to Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. My bridesmaids are picking their own dresses because I AM A BENEVOLENT BRIDE. I’m not participating in the illustrious modern tradition of buying a too-small dress and dieting into it. My dress isn’t white, for the record, but rather a shade called ‘Natural’ — an important distinction, as I haven’t “earned my white” as they say on those bridal shows. Also, my ass looks fantastic.
But I’ve also found that when you take a more hey whatever man approach to your wedding day, being engaged suddenly becomes this weird act of performance art (SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS ARE REAL, YA’LL). When I interact with people I haven’t seen for a long time/strangers who pay attention to women’s left hands, the first topic of conversation is invariably my wedding (because of course it is). “ARE YOU SO EXCITED!?” they ask. And then they wait. And my reaction is probably disappointing.
Yes. I am so excited. But I am also not an Excited Person. In addition to being blessed with a fairly intimidating resting bitch face, I have a hard time with Public Displays of Joy. (Related: I actually really hate being the centre of attention. In photos of birthdays from ages 2 through 6, I’m either about to cry, face down on the floor crying, or puffing out freshly tear-stained cheeks to blow out my candles. The tragedy? PEOPLE I LOVE SANG/ARE ABOUT TO SING HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.)
So, for the first two months of being engaged, I felt like I had to really overcompensate mostly because I didn’t want people to think that I wasn’t excited about marrying the person I love. To two separate people, I announced my engagement by extending my left hand and wiggling my fingers like the bitch you hate from every rom-com, you know, just to try it out. I’ve never felt so alien in my own body as I did in those moments. THIS IS THE WEDDING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AT WORK, PEOPLE.
But there’s something else at play here, too.
Years ago, a close friend told me I wasn’t romantic and it really hurt my feelings. I don’t know why it hurt my feelings; I think I was still internalizing the idea that it was better to be a Carrie than the staunch Miranda that I am (this is the second SATC reference in this post for those keeping score at home). The thing is, I wasn’t NOT romantic — I just had a hard time reconciling that part of my personality with the Don’t Fuck With Me I Am An Independent Woman part. For me, ‘romantic’ evoked weak. Romantics made bad decisions. Romantics were flakes. All throughout high school and college, I was firmly Does before Bros. I was never The Boyfriend Girl. Losing myself in a relationship seemed like the very worst thing that could possibly happen because that meant I didn’t know my own mind. I was better than that. I was a complete circle on my own. A smug, superior complete circle. (And also kind of an asshole.)
That old familiar anxiety hummed in the back of my mind when I got engaged. I will be no one’s wifey. But when I found the right person — my person — I didn’t lose myself. I became a better version of myself. We are complete circles on our own. Together we make kind of a pleasing Venn diagram. We have lives that are independent from each other, but he also knows me better than anyone.
I’m learning, slowly, that indulging in some light wedding frivolity — and feeling excitement about it — doesn’t make me weak or dumb.
Still, the act of getting married will never feel like an achievement or an accomplishment or a victory. My wedding day will not be THE biggest day of my life. But when I look back on the pastel Polaroid highlight reel of my life, it will be there. I will be in love, and I will be surrounded by the people who matter most to me. And my ass will look great.
Edited: Dec. 21 — adds missing link.