Memoir: why one anti-marriage crusader decided to take the plunge
By Courtney Jane Walker | Photograph by Jo-Anne McArthur
In the early weeks of 2005, I attended a tsunami relief fundraiser at a vegetarian co-op in the Annex, where I met a cute guy named Andrew wearing hemp necklaces and a Burton Cummings T-shirt. Andrew and I both left with other people, but we ran into each other a few months later and fell into conversation like old friends, talking for hours on the sidewalk. We were both still in undergrad at U of T when we started dating, and it got serious fast. After just a few months, we moved in together, occupying a bedroom in a shared house on Borden Street that should have been condemned, especially given the size and frequency of our parties. We weren’t thinking about marriage, and that was fine by me. But I knew early on that I wanted to hang on to this guy who always called me when he said he would and loved to travel as much as I did and tolerated my incessant renditions of scenes from Les Miz. We fell into a natural rhythm and time flew by, as it does when you find someone who fits. We graduated from university, acquired a couple of cats and abandoned our Annex slum for a cozy one-bedroom in Cabbagetown. Before we knew it, we were grown-ups—kind of.
I had never wanted to get married. Ever. I wanted to get married less than Taylor Swift wants to get back together. There was a lot about marriage that didn’t sit well with me, and weddings typified everything that was wrong with the institution—astronomical debt in exchange for the perfect centrepiece, for example, not to mention the feminist red flags (the bride being given away, merging identities, virginal white meringue dresses). I read up on the benefits of common-law relationships in Ontario, and they seemed good enough for me.
I probably inherited my anti-marriage bias from my parents. They always claimed they only got married for their parents’ sake. My father, a playwright, and my mother, a music teacher, were products of the ’60s, convinced that marriage was a harmful, misogynistic institution. When they did marry, my mother wore a grey skirt suit and the reception was a lobster boil at the cottage. Throughout my childhood, they were constantly threatening divorce. They didn’t want to break up—just destroy the contract in a ceremonial act of defiance. They were chagrined to see marriage make a comeback among people my age. “I thought we’d gotten rid of all that bullshit,” my dad grumbled.
Yet, somehow, six years into our relationship, Andrew and I found ourselves talking about marriage. Gently at first, like the idea was a baby bird we were trying not to scare away. As I got used to the idea, marriage began to feel less like an evil institution and more like an adult choice. I wish I could give a definitive reason for the shift—that I’d had an epiphany in which all my conflicts were resolved—but it just happened, much like my decision to start eating meat again after eight years of vegetarianism. When Andrew spontaneously got down on one knee and proposed to me on a Blue Ridge mountaintop, I said yes immediately (I’d figure out how to break it to my folks later). He didn’t have a ring, but it didn’t matter—I didn’t want a blood diamond anyway.
Yes, I was getting married, but I still didn’t want a traditional wedding. We wanted an amazing party—the kind of wedding where people walked away waxing poetic about the cheese boards, and where we ate butter tarts instead of cake. I happened upon a cache of blue French lace at Designer Fabrics in Parkdale and bought it up for my dress, and we picked the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse for the venue—a sturdy old place with soaring green beams and lots of character. For our officiant, we chose a non-denominational humanist chaplain who had once studied with Kurt Vonnegut at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop before fleeing to Canada with her draft-dodging husband—perfect.
Despite all our attempts at tradition bucking, we learned that when it comes to weddings, there’s no such thing as being a true original. There was one night when I began to question every decision I’d ever made in my life that brought me to this moment—it was 1 a.m., and I was drowning in 100 feet of hand-sewn vintage bunting banner, tying sisal twine around hurricane vases and fretting about finding candles that would fit in 500-millilitre Mason jars. What had this wedding become? More importantly, what had I become? The only thing missing from my reclaimed-urban-rustic wedding was fake moustaches on sticks.
Plenty of things went wrong on my wedding day in September 2012, but I don’t even remember what they were. What I do remember is dancing with all my friends and my new husband to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” (he knows all the words). I remember the rap video one friend made in our honour. I remember the surprise burlesque dance from two of our other friends.
In the end, Andrew and I were married by the draft-dodging writer, our loved ones stood around us in a circle, and my best friend read a Vonnegut quote. Our wedding was exactly what we wanted it to be: a celebration of the fact that we’d both found someone who made life better and easier. I’m never doing