the impetus for this little musing was an interview with kamy wicoff, author of i do but i don’t: walking down the aisle without losing your mind. i highly, highly, highly recommend that you read the whole thing, because the woman is just firing on all cylinders here. as i was explaining it to BoyCat on the metro ride home last night, ‘it’s like, she takes all these ideas and qualms and confusing contradictions that normally make me go ‘but...um...uh... you know...it’s like ...um...ahhhhh?’ and just nails them.”
so, anyway, it’s good. but this particular part really struck me:
One of the things I came to see is that there's a reason why society, at these watershed moments, steps in with a program. On the one hand it's because people want it and need it and ask for it and on the other hand it's because it's the ideal time to impose a set of values on people.
Society always steps in when people feel insecure or under pressure and says: "This is how you do it. This is who you are. This is what we expect you to be." I felt [during my engagement] I needed that guidance and support and I was willing to take it under any conditions. I was unable to say: "Do I believe this?"
This makes social progress hard. It is asking the individual to take on a real revolt alone and that's very difficult. One of the things that my generation struggles with is tearing down old rules without coming up with a new system of traditions and rituals that really describes our experience.
this is what i was talking about in the comment thread where i noted that rituals are a two way street: they provide people with a sense of security, comfort, understanding and belonging, but they also exact a price for that comfort in return. as twisty noted recently, “customs are the currency of culture: the more you absorb, the greater the rewards.” (that post, by the way? also fantastic. also worth reading. like right now.) i think it’s entirely fair – nay, entirely necessary – to try to understand the full weight of the cultural transactions in which you take part. i say this not just to be a cynical sourpuss, but in the hope that big life decisions can start to be based less in glorified peer pressure and fear of non-conformity, and more in a confidence that whatever we are giving up is worth what we are gaining.
hey, that doesn’t seem so contrarian at all, does it?
thoughts (on this, or any aspect of the wicoff interview, because seriously people, it is good stuff) most welcome.