The Second Cousin Once-Removed
Is Asked to Give a Wedding Toast

John and Jane: During most of this wonderful day I know you have only been able to gaze at each other, and since you look so lovely, that is understandable. At other times you have basked in the glow of being surrounded by those whose love has supported you thus far—your friends, old and new, the family members you have known forever, and your parents. But now and then you must have looked around the church or this banquet hall and asked yourselves, “Who are these people? Are they really related to me? How did that happen?”

Those must have been unsettling moments, and I trust they have passed quickly. But it is important to have all the uncles, aunts, cousins, and other connections here. For what you have done today is transform a perfectly good friend into a relative.

You have doubtless heard that your spouse should be your best friend. And I hope you will very often be friends and always be on friendly terms. I love the old movies where husbands and wives act like best friends—especially if they have a dog named Asta and solve murders on the side. In getting a husband or wife, however, you have not upgraded a friend. You have acquired something completely different. You will find many people who do believe in the spouse-as-friend theory. We even have a name for its long-term adherents: we call them divorcés.

Friendship is one of the great delights of life. It is not, however, essential to human life. (As C.S. Lewis said, “it has no survival value; it is one of those things that gives value to survival.”) What is vital to survival is not having friends, but having allies. And if human life is to continue, you don’t need friends. You need relatives.

Some gathered here are now thinking that that may have been true in the Paleolithic age, but things have changed. Others are thinking that, the truth is that they love their friends more than they love their families. And that second part may be true. But whatever your BFF’s tell you, the main characteristic of friendship is that it rarely lasts through the trials of life. Even some of the people who have stood up with you today may not be speaking to you in a few years—though I hope you will all truly be friends forever.

Who will always be there? Your relatives. We are all used to people having “former friends.” With complicated varieties of coupling that have arisen over the last century we all know—and probably all have—plenty of “exes.” But who ever heard of someone’s “former mother”? or “ex-brother”? or “starter uncle”? Friends come and go—but relatives, even second cousins, are forever.

It is important to remember that, if you meant what you said when you took your vows, your spouse is a relative. You will have to put up with things that would make you de-friend anyone else. Even if you both behave perfectly every moment of every day—and you won’t—you will inevitably sometimes become tiresome, annoying, or just plain boring to the person who sees you most often when you don’t have your public face on. You have not picked a new friend, since friends are always “on approval” and returnable; you have signed on a relative, who will be yours even if the item turns out not to work exactly as you hoped.

Indeed, just as you asked about the odd people at the back tables, “Who are these people? Are they really related to me? How did that happen?” you will find yourself looking across your own kitchen and asking, “Who
is this person? Am I really related to him? How did that happen?” And should you have children, you will ask the same question again and again.

I understand why the brides’ magazines present weddings as the union of a princess with her best friend, since I doubt stories about people voluntarily getting a new relative would serve the advertisers’ purposes. But that is the truth of what a Christian marriage is. And let me suggest that this view is not as grim as it seems.

For your relatives, your connection is a fact, not a choice. We can’t drop you even if we want to: we will still be relatives even if we never see each other. And unless we are dead to all duty, our love for you is also a fact. We will all act on it even if seeing one another very often isn’t a top priority. In the same way, your vows have made your connection with each other an unchangeable fact. And your love for each other is also a fact, beside which all fantasies must pale. If bad times come, that will be a comfort. And in good times, you will be secure in the knowledge that you will be loved even when you are not as happy and charming as you are now. And as a bonus, you have a larger pool of people whom you can at least ask for help moving, or for a loan, or for kidney. (Be prepared for stories about bad backs, assets tied up in inaccessible trusts, and hitherto undiscovered blood disorders: I know what we’re like.)

And now, I ask everyone—both the friends I have slighted and the relatives who now rejoice in a larger, more interesting family—to raise their glasses as I give the new relatives one piece of advice: Always try to be friends—it makes family life go much more smoothly.