- There are Norway maples in Norway, but they're called "Spisslønn" (lit. pointy maple).
- There are danishes in Denmark, but they're called "Wienerbrød " (lit. Viennese bread).
- There are swedish fish in Sweden, but they're called "Pastellfisk" (lit. pastel fish).
Good evening, and welcome to the wedding of Robert Kenneth Hay and Lauren Anne Feldman. I am Robert Hay. If there be anyone here tonight who objects to our union, you are already too late. According to the laws of the City of New York and the Honorable Mayor Michael R Bloomberg, this is not our wedding. Lauren and I were married on Wednesday in a private ceremony at the Office of the City Clerk, so we have technically been husband and wife for three days now. This is a sham wedding.
You may ask yourself: what are we doing here then? Why the sham wedding? What is all this for? These are natural questions.
Lauren and I have been friends for twelve years, we’ve been dating for five, we’ve been engaged for two, and we’ve been married for three days. So we ourselves are faced with the question: How do we decide when to celebrate our love? We met on August 26th, 1996; we began dating on July 7th, 2003, we became engaged January 24th, 2006, and we were married on May 21st, 2008. Each of these dates holds significance to us. But it is today, May 24th, that will be our anniversary. What, then, makes this day special?
We should start with a look into our history. I’d like to be able to tell you a story here, a romantic story about the birth of our love, about our chance encounter, guided by the hand of Fate, on a starry moonlit night on a boat on a river in Paris or Venice or Pittsburgh, an encounter that left us speechless and breathless and madly, madly in love. But I’m afraid that’s not exactly how our story goes.
Lauren and I met on our first day of school at Columbia University in August of 1996. We were both assigned to the same floor of the same dorm. I remember distinctly the first time we met, in a freshman advising group, sitting on the grass in front of the library. Lauren was one of the first students I met at Columbia, and certainly one of the most beautiful, second only to Malcolm. And so, it was in college, while living on the 11th floor of Carman Hall, that I first got to know Lauren, by dating her roommate for two years. Thankfully, that relationship dissolved, and while it may have taken ten years, I finally pulled off the roommate switch. However, I do freely admit and vividly remember: I was attracted to Lauren from the very first day we met. (Lauren, on the other hand, has never been attracted to me.)
For seven years we remained friends and nothing more. Until one day in mid-2003, on the eve of the smoking ban in New York City bars, we realized that we might have feelings for each other. Lauren courageously asked me if I would be interested in starting a relationship, and I said no. It’s not that I didn’t have feelings for her—I certainly did—but I was uneasy about starting a relationship with someone with whom I was already friends. Years of trite pop culture had warned me that such relationships are doomed to failure and deepest, deepest awkwardness.
After a few weeks, however, the thought germinated inside me: why shouldn’t we be dating? I like her, she’s beautiful and fun to be around, I’d be foolish to deny myself this opportunity. So one Friday evening, we went to a Fourth of July party and afterwards we sat around her apartment watching Legally Blonde on television. I was terrified, but I courageously told her that I want to give a relationship a try after all, and she promptly rejected me.
I don’t know what exactly made her reject me that night. I haven’t asked because I’m afraid that if I bring it up, she’ll remember why she rejected me, and reject me again. So please don’t bring it up.
(On second thought, bring it up all you want. We’re already married; there’s nothing she can do about it now.)
So. I went home disappointed and slightly embarrassed, but I comforted myself in thinking that this was what I had wanted in the first place. But then unexpectedly, she called back that Sunday and said she wasn’t sure anymore, and she might be amenable to considering it after all. I suggested we meet to discuss it. We went out for dinner in the Lower East Side. We made small talk for a while. Eventually I asked, “So. Are you up for it?” She said she was. We high-fived in celebration, and finished dinner.
While the origin of our relationship may be a bit awkward and halting, its development was not. I had originally been concerned that our having been friends for so long would make the transition into a relationship awkward, but I was exactly wrong. Having known each other for so long, we were able to bypass the awkwardness that comes with a nascent relationship. After a few months, it had already felt as if we’d been together for years, and our love grew exponentially stronger as we spent the next few months and years together. It was somewhat frightening and exhilarating.
The idea for marriage came to me as abruptly as the idea to start dating. I was tutoring a student and mentioned Lauren in an anecdote. The student asked about us.
“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend!” she said. “How long have you been together?”
“Two and a half years,” I replied.
“That’s a long time. Are you going to get married?”
Why not, indeed? The thought hadn’t occurred to me, but the more I dwelt on it, the more the idea appealed to me. (As you can tell by now, this is how my decision-making occurs.) After some deliberation, I decided the move was right. On my 27th birthday, she took me out to dinner at Barbetta on 46th street. We were each living off 105th street at the time, so I made a point of requesting that after dinner we take a walk by the small pond in Central Park near our apartments. Lauren was not terribly amenable to this idea, as it was January, it was cold and windy, and she was wearing uncomfortable shoes. But it was my birthday and I insisted. We walked a bit before her feet got tired so we sat on a bench. There in the darkness by the water, with the same trepidation I’d felt in her apartment years earlier, I gave her a ring. This time she accepted.
The love that we share is the strongest emotion that I have ever known. But we are not here to celebrate our love, we are here to celebrate our marriage. There is an important difference. We do not spend thousands of dollars on ceremony every time a person falls in love, else we’d all be broke and cake designers would be kings. Love can be a wonderful state, if all goes well, but it is still an emotion, ungoverned by reason. As such, it occurs outside the bounds of our control; it is not something we choose, it is not something we do, it is something that is done to us. It can creep up on us slowly or it can strike us suddenly and without warning, forcing us do things we would not rightly otherwise do. It can be a beautiful ecstasy or a terrible affliction, bringing us the purest joy or the greatest despair imaginable. But no matter how we experience it, it is a something that is thrust upon us.
Marriage, on the other hand, is an act we choose for ourselves. It is love shaped and shackled by the expression of human Will. Some pessimistically view marriage as a cell, as an enclosure that we trap ourselves in, unnaturally binding us to a single person for the rest of our lives. But it is our emotions that bind us, that control us beyond our reason. Marriage is a way to free ourselves from those emotions, and actively commit ourselves to each other, thereby both endorsing the emotions that we feel and protecting against their inherent capriciousness. Too many times we’ve heard people talk about marriage being serendipitous, guided or determined by Fate or by Chance or by Divine Hand. We reject that idea, as it diminished the importance of our own agency, of our own power to determine our lives and our families.
The Will has always played a central role in a marriage, as every marriage begins with a literal assertion of complicity, “I do”. The act of speaking these words aloud tonight is the act of creating of a family. Marriage is the only time we have the ability to shape our family. Our spouses are chosen by heart and mind, a chance to create a family in our image. That choice is what we celebrate here tonight. Yes, my love for Lauren is greater than any love I’ve ever felt, but that love is not what we are celebrating here tonight. We are celebrating the transformation of a love into a marriage.
So. If marriage is what we celebrate, again, why the sham wedding? If marriage is the choice to ratify our love, then a wedding is the pronouncement of that choice to the public. If a wedding is the pronouncement of our choice to be together for the rest of our lives, we don’t want it to be overseen by some stranger we’ve never met before, assigned randomly by the city or plucked from an internet search. What gives that officiant the power to marry? We do not recognize that power. If marriage is about choice, we want to choose its terms. We want our ceremony to be for the benefit of our friends and family, nor for the state. A legal ceremony is just paperwork. It’s a loan application or a driver’s license. Ceremonies that we choose for ourselves are the most powerful.
The love we feel is real. The bond we have chosen for ourselves is real. The wedding may be a sham, but the marriage will be real.
And now, the Honorable Alan Duke will preside over the ceremonial reading of vows. I must remind you that this is a purely ceremonial sham wedding; Mr. Duke does not actually possess the power to marry people. However, he has said that tonight after this ceremony he would be more than willing to sham-marry anyone who asks.
And now, the Honorable Alan Duke.
DUKE: Thank you.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the sham wedding of Lauren Anne Feldman to Robert Kenneth Hay.
Lauren, do you take Robert to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, in richness and in poorness, in sickness and health, until death do you part?
LAUREN: I do.
DUKE: Robert, do you take Lauren to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, in richness and in poorness, in sickness and health, until death do you part?
ROBERT: I do.
DUKE: Lauren, as a token of your promise, please place the ring on the third finger of Robert’s left hand.
DUKE: Robert, as a token of your promise, please place the ring on the third finger of Lauren’s left hand.
DUKE: By the power that I do not possess, granted to me by Robert and Lauren, I now declare you to be husband and wife. You may kiss.
DUKE: Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Robert and Lauren Hay.