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The Marrying Kind

This is a new kind of post than we have ever done. We’re starting to do a series of essays around entertaining. I’m happy to introduce one of my favorite people ever, Evany Thomas, who is an author and currently a wordsmith at Pinterest. xo Jordan


A year ago last Christmastime, egged on by the spirit of more than my fair share of nog, I cheerfully offered to officiate the upcoming nuptials of one of my greatest, way-backest friends, Maggie Mason. I flung one arm around her neck, another round the shoulders of her beloved Brad Ellis, and clonked them together into a clumsy, three-way be-bourboned hug, yelling at top party volume, “I’m gonna marry the living hell out these two!”

In the gray next morning light, my enthusiasm for the idea wobbled as notorious-nervous-public-speaker me started to soberly consider the many family and friends, and photographers, that typically play witness at such knot-tyings. And my stomach tied itself in knots.

“Please don’t do it if it’s going to ruin the whole day for you,” Maggie soothed later. “But! You were the first person we thought of, and it would make both Brad and me so happy if you could talk yourself into doing it.”

“Of course I’ll do it,” I said, breathing in bravely. “I’ll do you your I-do’s.” My love for these two wonderful people, and my enthusiasm over their union, was worth suffering past some heart-palpitations, and a few sleepless nights, and all the sweatiness.

I just need to get lawfully legalized to do the deed…

The Marrying Kind | Oh Happy Day!

First to get vested with the power

There are many different routes a person can take to become empowered to lawfully wed. You can spend lots of years of study and devoted devoutness on becoming a rabbi, imam, priest, minister, pastor, chaplain, bishop or vicar. You can become a justice of the peace—a super-heroic-sounding role that harks back to the days of knights—provided you live in one of the 15 or so countries or 8 American states that embrace them, and you’re willing to go through getting elected, or appointed, or at the very least endorsed. Or you can lawyer up and become a judge. Becoming mayor also works. (But not, it should be noted, becoming the captain of a boat. Contrary to popular lore and also many episodes of Love Boat, ship captains can’t legally marry anyone {{{sad foghorn}}}.)

But really, you don’t even need an officiant to get married. When my great friends Jill and Gus, both professors at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, got married three years ago, they ratified their union with a Quaker-inspired “self-uniting” ceremony. “We thought that having an officiant would basically mean having a stranger at the wedding,” Jill said. “Quaker ceremonies don’t have officiants because of the belief that each person has access to their own inner light… We really like the idea that a small community of people who care about each other could form the support system for a big commitment—that we would all be called on to be the authority for that.”

So a small group of us gathered in Gus and Jill’s lush, rabbit-overrun backyard, sat in a circle, and took turns declaring, toasting and telling stories of our love for the couple. When we were done, all of us circle speakers signed our names to the marriage certificate, which, per Quaker tradition, was beautifully hand-illustrated and all swirled up with impressive calligraphy. The happy couple now has it framed and hanging on their wall at home. Jill: “Having that thing—with a record of our vows and all the signatures—is really nice. I look at it more often than you’d think!”

There are even those who have opted to self-marry. As in fly completely solo. Party of one. “Now that people are delaying marriage or choosing not to marry at all, more people are hungering for the coming-of-age ritual that marriage has become,” wrote Sasha Cagen in her 2004 manifesto, Quirkyalone, a vintage copy of which I myself own. “For some people that’s a bigger thirtieth or fortieth birthday party. For others it’s the decision to buy a home by oneself. Small but growing numbers of single women are signing up for registries (formerly known as bridal registries) to signify that they, too, would like their share of the flatware, crystal and Crock-Pots.”

Sculpture artist and self-matrimonialist Remi Rubel chose to register for a 10-piece combination wrench set and Leatherman original pocket tool. Another young sologamist, Erika Anderson, scored herself a cutting board, colander and pair of ice cube trays. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” she inscribed on her wedding invitations. “I had cold feet for 35 years. But then I decided it was time to settle down. To get myself a whole damn apartment. To celebrate birthday #36 by wearing an engagement ring and saying: YES TO ME.” After she finished her self vows and tossed the bouquet, she did two shots of whiskey: one for each of her. “For so many years, people had been telling me I was a great catch,” she told Cosmo. “I caught myself.”

“The thing about marrying yourself, it’s not just about cohabitating,” warns Minneapolis’s Tracy McMillan in her TEDx talk on self marrying. “You’re not just going to date for awhile and see how it turns out. You are going to do this till death do you part.”

But as committed and nicely life-affirming as these self-love affairs may be, Brad and Maggie had opted to couple up instead. And if I was to be their nervous officiant, really my cheapest and fastest option was to become a minister of the Universal Life Church.

The Marrying Kind | Oh Happy Day!

From civilian to minister in 30 seconds

The Universal Life Church has quite a history. Reverend Kirby “freedom, food and sex” Hensley started the church out of his Modesto garage way back in 1959, inspired by his belief that everyone should be allowed to hold their own unique views on god and religion. Hensley was also a lifelong illiterate, ran for president on the platform of “civil treatment for visitors from other worlds,” and late in life crowned himself King of the undersea realm “Aqualandia.”

Since those first early beginnings, the church has split into gently bickering factions—I myself got my license through the Universal Life Church Monastery, to be easily confused with, both of which offer more or less the same services and low, low prices: Free to join the ministry, $8.99 for a frame-worthy certificate ($13.99 wallet sized).

Over the years, together the various offshoots of the ULC have ordained well over 20 million people, from NPR poets to marijuanists, derby girls to nudists, Conan O’Brien to Carrie Brownstein. My own husband, Marco, and I were also married by a ULC minister: Adam Savage of longtime-Evany-friend and Mythbuster fame, whose own wedding was where Marco and I first met. So.

The beauty of going the nondenomitraditional route of the ULC is you get to personalize your ceremony based on what you know and love about the two people you’re marrying. “I wore lobster pants at my first wedding, which took place in Maine,” so said Eric Rewitzer, a San Francisco printmaker and ULC-ordained officiant who’s already joined seven couples and counting. “I cut [the lobster pants] up and had them made into pillows, which I presented to them on their 5th anniversary. I also married my brother (that sounds weird) on a dirt road in Sonoma, after driving around looking for the perfect location at sunset. I read the ceremony from my iPad.”

Staring down the barrel of my first wedding as I was, I asked Eric if there were any rules I should follow. According to him, the cardinal rules of the casual officiant are: “Only marry people you know and love. Wear something nice because you are in all the goddamn pictures. Don’t forget to tell people to sit down.” And most important of all, “Hold shit together. You are there to keep the ceremony going, and feed the lines to the folks up there doing the deed in their time of need. I’ve had more than a few occasions when emotion got the best of the bride or groom, and I was there, smiling and letting them know it was OK as we made our way through the ceremony.”

The Marrying Kind | Oh Happy Day!

Pry, plan and practice

A few months before the big day, I started taking notes. I wrote down everything I loved about Brad and Maggie, then I tapped their friends, pumping everyone for details about all the many splendored stories and details that make our favorite couple so great. The soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. and I went out to lunch and I peppered them with questions about what they wanted to happen, and what they didn’t. I followed up with an email to each of them, asking them to share a sampling of what they loved most about each other.

Armed with all that great romantic goodness, I started piecing together what I was going to say, literally cutting up the quotes and ideas into little slips of paper and moving them around until everything made sense.

Then I practiced, out loud in my room, over and over. I practiced my welcome. I practiced my Maggie ode and my Brad ode. I practiced my vow promptings, from to have and to hold to in sickness and in health. I practiced telling everyone to take their seats.

On this day I thee two wed

On the sunny July day I married Brad and Maggie, right there in the middle of the impossibly pink Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California, I most definitely did not—as friend-marrying expert Eric had so wisely advised—hold shit together. I happy-cried in the middle of things and cracked into that high-cry voice. I completely missed my confetti cue. I got so confused when people started sitting down before I told them to that I made everyone stand up again and do a do-over.

But I got some things right. I made it personal. I wore something nice (accented with the custom enamel Brad and Maggie pins they sent out with their invite). I surprised them with choice bits of each of their “why I love you”s. I wove Brad’s famous generosity, his talent at whistling, his winning dad moves together with Maggie’s unparalleled shoe smarts, her lifelong work as a collector of wonderful people, her fierce motherly love. I talked Maggie through putting the ring on Brad, and Brad through putting the ring on Maggie and strapping his family wristwatch on Hank, Maggie’s son.

I poured my love for those two people and their little family into every word of the ceremony. Then I pronounced them husband and wife, followed by the traditional giving of permission for the kissing. The pianist launched into a lurching rendition of the medal ceremony song from Star Wars, and Brad and Maggie smiled their way back up the aisle, officially bound together in Evanyly matrimony.


Illustrations by Jordan Sondler

  1. Heather

    February 10, 2017

    This essay is so fun! Will this be a regular column? I hope so!

  2. Bryon

    February 10, 2017

    This is a great read! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Robin K

    February 10, 2017

    Love this post!

  4. Maggie Mason

    February 10, 2017

    You totally held your shit together. And Evanly matrimony is my new favorite thing. Thanks, you sweet person who I love very much.

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