Sara Faith Alterman (the author of this piece) and her husband, Sam Hawes, on their windy wedding day.
Sara Faith Alterman (the author of this piece) and her husband, Sam Hawes, on their windy wedding day.
Christopher Padgett/Little Monkeys Photo Company

Wedding season is upon us, friends, and that means quirky cuteness aplenty: letterpress place cards, cake pop stations, brass birdcages galore. Now’s a great time to start growing that mustache.

We’ve been invited to 12 weddings this year — “we” as in my new husband and I. It was only last autumn that I was freaking out over which shade of turquoise tablecloths would look best with which cherry-red lantern centerpieces. It’s astounding how easy it is to get sucked into trite minutiae like that.

“Oh God, ice!” I found myself screaming one morning about a week before our DIY wedding, at breakfast with my poor mother. “Where are we going to get ice? And how? And where the hell are we going to keep it? OH GOD, EVERYTHING IS
TERRIBLE!”

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Not my finest moment.

However, having come out on the other side of a wedding with my relationships — and my sanity — intact, I’m able to see this mania for what it really was: a coping mechanism.

Maybe you already know this, but getting married is kind of terrifying. I don’t mean the wedding part — all the pomp and poof — but the “spend the rest of your life sitting next to the same person on the couch while you eat takeout and watch reruns of ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives’ ” part. Not to trivialize the celebratory aspect of this commitment. I’m well aware that throwing a wedding is an exhausting financial and emotional undertaking. But nine months after my own wedding, it seems plain to me that all of the obsessing over candy-colored whimsy was a distraction from the anxiety I felt about taking this grown-up step.

The experience of attending weddings as a married person has so far surprised me with its profundity. Watching another couple as they speak sometimes uncomfortably personal words in front of family and friends and friends’ unfamiliar plus-ones is a reminder of both the scripted and unspoken promises that I have made to my husband.

I watch the nearly nuptial’d clasp hands and wipe tears and I think: Oh yeah. This is what weddings are about.

Still, standing up there at the mercy of an officiant, waiting for 1 Corinthians/the a cappella group/the sea shanty trio to wrap up so you can go hit the taco bar/cotton candy machine/high-end tequila tasting bar, surely you’re not thinking too far into the future. I mean, are you? Kudos if you’re that grounded. I certainly wasn’t. I was gazing at the man I’d resolved to wake up next to every day forever and thinking only: Is this actually happening? I hope the photographer can airbrush the stress rash that’s eating my face. Crap. We’re really doing this. This is so awesome. This is so terrifying.

And it is.

Marriage seems lovely and scary and exhilarating and comforting all at once. I’m finding that there’s no better place to reflect on this than while on the arm of my spouse at someone else’s wedding, waiting in line for the Mason jars of lemonade or the cobbler buffet or the bathroom, so that we can co-scrub the red wine stain we co-created on my sundress when we collided in surprise during the unexpected flute/trumpet duet of “The Rose.”

So far, every time I’ve stolen a meaningful glance at my husband during one of these weddings we’ve attended together, I’m reminded that it all seems so hilarious now: the party-planning frenzy, the scramble to be as unique as possible, the crying over ice, the crying over anything at all.

The Great Wedding Season of 2012 is proving to be great for my young marriage. These occasions offer more than just a chance to experiment with photo booth props or the gluten-free diets of my marrying friends. They provide a platform for reviewing, even renewing, my own commitment, as I celebrate the commitment of others.

Yes, this means that if I attend your wedding, I’m kind of making it all about me. But that’s OK. Weddings are supposed to be about love — not only the love that flows between a bride and groom or bride and bride or groom and groom, but the love that flows toward and from and around them.

It’s all very powerful stuff.

I’m not any kind of relationship genius, so maybe this revelation about wedding as philosophical device is unremarkable. But it’s part of my journey, as I discover that other peoples’ weddings are just as important to my marriage as my own wedding was.

Maybe even more so.

I’ve discovered that my wedding day was the easiest day of our marriage. We got a party! And presents! And our loved ones were all together in the same room, eating pulled chicken and macaroni and cheese! If every day of marriage were just like the first, divorce rates would plummet. But marriage isn’t a party. I try to look at it as an active choice, one that I make every day as I roll over to sleepily greet the man who somehow manages to snore and drool and clear his throat all at the same time.

That man squeezes my hand as we sit side by side, watching our friends embark on this same adventure. It’s a silent, soft reminder, a little, “Hey — remember when we did that?” And it’s that simple. I watch a couple make earnest declarations, and I think of how beautiful it is that people can love each other so much that it makes them cry. I think of how lucky I am to have found a partner who thinks I’m the best, and who tolerates it when I’m being the worst.

Forget the tiny jars of local honey or the chocolate monocles on sticks. Evoking appreciation for spouses and partners and lifelong commitment — the best wedding favor you can give to your guests.