Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Silver Lining

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day my wife and I got married.

25 years. 9,130 days. 219,120 hours. 13,147,200 minutes.

All in a row.

That's pretty impressive, eh? Evidently, it is, as we've been greeted by a plethora of reactions, ranging from hearty congratulations to jaw-dragging-on-the-ground disbelief. Then there were the few cases of outright anger. At first, we thought this might stem from jealousy, but it turned out that these were merely people who'd lost in the betting pool. Nobody will tell me how many people have predicted the demise of our marriage or when. Their main reason for this is that they don't want me "throwing the game" at just the wrong moment and secretly collecting all the money.

It isn't that I wouldn't like to have large sums of cash, it's just that you can't put that kind of price tag on some things. Besides, I don't secretly have any money in the betting pool, and inflation having been what it has over the last 25 years, however much is in there won't buy nearly as much as it once would have. Betting pool money doesn't earn any interest, either. I wonder who it is that's actually holding the money? Traditionally, it's the minister that married you, but in our case, he's a rather serious fellow who would fail to appreciate the humor. I suspect that it's my best man, since it's been terribly hard to keep track of him. Even now, I know not where he's gotten himself to. He, in fact, is on his second marriage; even so, I did badly in the pool by having picked "15 minutes". Now, in my defense, you haven't met the man, and it was my feeling that once his bride thought about it seriously, she have realized that she could've had a V8. She might've happily spent the rest of the reception sucking down Bloody Marys, but she stuck with it for a while. Too bad it didn't last, I kind of liked her. However, these things happen, betting pools or not.

In the bigger picture, marriage isn't a money-making prospect, anyway. Oh, sure, it used to be, back in more ancient days. Depending on the culture, someone would make a profit right off the bat. Most people are familiar with the process of giving a "dowry" with the bride. The word "dowry" comes from the same root word as "endowment". The bride may or may not have been well-endowed, but you hoped that her father would be. The dowry was essentially a "Here, take this money if you'll only take this girl off my hands so I can have some peace around here!" payment. The conundrum was, the higher the dowry, the worse the potential bride was. In simple economic terms, this makes perfect sense. Nobody's likely to volunteer to take that shrew home with them for less than 20,000 crowns and a lot of land. Not unless they're some testosterone-pumped cad from Verona who thinks it won't matter.

In other cultures, it was exactly the opposite; the prospective groom had to pay the "bride-price". This was his way of proving to the girl's father that he had lots of money with which to support his daughter. This proof came in the form of handing a large portion of that money over to the father for the privilege of having the bride's hand (and the rest of her, which is what the prospective groom was chiefly interested in) in marriage. Once again, simple economics ruled: The more desirable the prospective bride, the higher the bride-price was.

In our "modern" way of thinking, this is a pretty awful way to behave, because it treats women as if they're property and something to be merely bartered over, and denies the concept of true love. However, we still symbolically follow these practices; the wedding itself is by custom paid for by the bride's family. Thus we have the "dowry". The rehearsal dinner is customarily paid for by the groom's family, thus rendering a watered-down version of the "bride-price". Naturally, there's a large difference between the dollar amounts in most cases because the guy is usually getting someone who's far too good for him in the first place. The "dowry" of a really nice wedding is often much more than the slob in question deserves.

That's not to say that it doesn't go the other way, too. Some of the most astonishingly elaborate weddings I've ever been to have been to marry off a young woman to what we all agreed was a naive and unsuspecting young man. These young men make a common, yet fatal, mistake: Take a good look at the bride's mother. If she's a whining, shrill fishwife, then chances are good that the young man is going to wind up with a carbon copy before he knows what's hit him. The "fishwife" effect is what gave rise to the idiom of a woman "hooking herself a man".

The bait, of course, is the money.

However, here's where romantic love does swoop back into the picture. This young man will have friends, good and wise ones, who can see what's coming. They'll desperately try to talk him out of this crazy commitment while he can still escape relatively unharmed. Nothing for it, though; he'll steadfastly refuse, saying that it doesn't matter because he's in love with her. He's also being sucked in by the ornate ceremony replete with a string quartet; if the bride's father is going to sling around so many bucks just on the ceremony, well then, he's sure to keep giving lots of it to daddy's little girl afterwards. But I wouldn't bet on it.

This doesn't mean that nice, wonderful girls are all married in the run-down bait shop at the end of the street. Of course not; many weddings are happy, sincere, and every dollar is lovingly spent on two wonderful young people starting a life together. Such was the case with us; well, one of us was wonderful, anyway. I'm still working on it.

However, these modernized versions of the dowry and the bride-price are exactly what caused the rise of the now-ubiquitous existence of betting pools on the marriage. Both sides have a potential interest in the marriage breaking up at some point in the future. Oddly, it's the families themselves that find the greatest motivation. The groom's family, having gotten off comparatively cheaply, will invest heavily, figuring that they can make a killing and come out smelling like a wedding bouquet. The bride's family is looking to recoup the dowry-esque cost of the wedding. Most of the other bettors are people hoping to make back the cost of the wedding gift that they gave. Others are mere cynical observers who derive sadistic pleasure at the idea of peoples' most important relationships falling apart.

And it is this, this that gave rise to the tradition of unpleasant in-laws; each side is hoping to bust the marriage at just the right moment to collect the pot. The worse their behavior towards their child-in-law, the closer it is to the time they picked in the pool. It's as transparent as can be. Sisters and brothers-in-law are in on this game, usually in league with their parents. They, being younger, are more impetuous and impatient, so they start acting out much sooner because they picked an earlier date, not wanting to wait to cash in and get a piece of revenge for the incident involving their just-married sibling and the night of their own senior prom. Few things will enrage a a sibling like another sibling ratting them out to their parents about the fact that the prom couple secretly booked a hotel room for after the prom. Siblings don't forget that kind of stuff.

Who really gets the upper hand in all of this? Well, call me a romantic fool, but I'd have to go with the newly-married couple. They have the opportunity to make nearly everyone suck cheese and lose their wagers by defying them, and staying married after all. Happiness turns out to be the best revenge. No, it won't mean that the couple themselves will win the betting pool by default; that isn't the way it works. However, sometimes, they do wind up eventually collecting those bucks.

This most often comes in the form of a doting aunt, who always had faith in the couple, and took the risk of betting "Never" when asked when the marriage would go south. If you hit your golden wedding anniversary, all "Never" bets are honored by default. Thus, it is a happy occasion when an elderly aunt passes away and leaves a sudden boon of cash to the now long-lived couple. Where did the money suddenly come from? Why, it's been around for 50 years, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Tough cookies to everyone who bet against such a couple; they'll have lost their "investment", and the statute of limitations means that they won't be able to write it off on their taxes (besides, they probably long since lost their receipt).

As for me and my spouse, having made it halfway, we intend to go the distance. We love the idea of being spoilers, and collecting the spoils for ourselves. Heck, we only have to make it another 25 years.

If we haven't killed one another by now, I think our chances are pretty good. Besides, one of the best ways to screw up an entire complicated scenario such as this is to throw an unexpected monkey wrench into the works, to introduce something so illogical as to defy the very basis upon which the scenario was founded.

We call it "being in love". That's our game, and we're sticking with it. So there!

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