Right now, I’m in the middle of three weekends straight of weddings; two down, one to go. The first was a classic Catholic mass with a country club reception in a Massachusetts waterfront town, and the second was officiated by a recently-internet-ordained landlord and took place in a sunny backyard in one of the most isolated places I’ve ever visited (the tiny finger of West Virginia between Ohio and Pennsylvania). Next Saturday is just a barbecue reception; the couple married two weeks ago, and went on their honeymoon first before celebrating with friends. I’ve been to maybe twenty weddings in my life, and they’ve all had their quirks, some explicable, some not. I’m not one to tell anybody how to celebrate their love, especially since my own marriage ended fifteen months ago in divorce. I had a break from weddings last summer for the most part, so I wondered how I’d do this summer in my first real “wedding season” since separating from my husband. Would I feel bitter? Nostalgic? Angry? Jaded?
None of these, it turns out. I actually can’t clearly explain at all how I feel as a recently divorced woman, now in a new relationship, attending a wedding. It’s not bitter. It’s not sweet. It’s not the combo. It’s something more ambiguous, distant, and recent. It’s like that new “basic taste” they just added called umami. Umami is loosely defined as a “savoriness,” which Wikipedia, in its infinite folkloric contradictions and wizardry, says constitutes a “brothy” or “meaty” taste, but then goes on to argue that tomatoes, that acidic fruit-vegetable, have umami components. Umami doesn’t make sense, but everyone knows it’s there; that’s how I feel at weddings.
I spend some minutes being that acidic tomato, thinking, this couple didn’t invent love. What do they have figured out that I don’t have figured out? Then, I have brothy moments, like when the bride’s mom gets teary, or the groom’s kids from a previous marriage sing at the reception; I cry broth all over my stupid face. I have painful, stabbing, meaty moments, when I realize how bouncing out of a marriage childless in my early thirties has left me far away from having the family I dream of. I have that pervasive shiitake mushroom feeling, as in, holy shiitake, I’d better figure out what happens next for me, or I’ll be left behind. But I also have a tongue-coating hopefulness; I’m genuinely happy for the bride and groom and genuinely hopeful that they’ll be happy together. I can also look with hope upon my new love, who has accompanied me to every wedding I’ve been to since my divorce, and be grateful for his love. If there is one thing that divorce has taught me, it’s that old saw about not taking for granted the love people offer (and watch out: old saws can still be sharp).
If there’s another thing divorce has taught me, it’s that certainty can’t exist; we’re never going to be able to fully understand or explain why we do what we do or feel what we feel. In this way, umami’s a good concept to get used to; we have to trust that we’ll know it when we see it (taste it?), and that our mutually exclusive, paradoxical, unclear explanations will simply have to do. So I go to weddings and wait for the umami broth to wash over me; it’s comforting, in a way.