When my good friend from Yangzhou sent an email saying she was married, I thought, “What??” She had told me months ago that she had broken up with her boyfriend, and though we had talked several times since then, she never mentioned getting back together with him or that she was thinking about getting married. It's funny the things Chinese people sometimes don't tell you. In her email, my friend said she wanted to explain it all but thought it would be hard over the phone. Besides, she was only “technically” married.
In China there are two phases to getting married. The first is the legal marriage, getting the actual wedding certificate. The second is the big ceremony/banquet celebrating the wedding. These two events can take place close together or may be months, sometimes even years apart. The families must find an auspicious day for the celebration, based on the birthdays of the bride and groom, and sometimes must save money for the elaborate banquet.
When I talked to my friend a few days later, she said the wedding celebration is more important and when people are socially considered to be married. Therefore, she celebrated this Spring Festival with her family instead of her husband's. Once a woman is married, she is considered to have joined her husband's family. While this doesn't have all the ramifications of the past, it does mean that she will spend holidays with her husband's family.
One of our tutors got married last year and this was her first year to spend Spring Festival with her husband's family. Since her own family lives elsewhere and she doesn't get to see them often, she was missing them. She was glad to see her husband, however, because he lives in Beijing, 700 miles away. Even though they have been married for a year, they only see each other every few months. The last time she went to spend the weekend with him, as soon as they met up in the train station he was called away for work, so she didn't get to see him after all. Once my tutor finishes graduate school in a year and a half, she will move to join her husband.
My Yangzhou friend is hoping to find a job in the same town as her husband, but she's not sure if it will happen. Right now, her quasi-husband comes to visit her most weekends. He and another man he works with make the several hour drive together to see their wives. My friend is a high-school teacher, however, which means she is incredibly busy and barely has time to see her husband when he's there. In addition to teaching classes and overseeing study times, she is responsible for a group of boarding students. She often works from 7am-10pm with a brief mid-day rest. She told me that next month she will be even busier than before. Her students are studying for exams so they will only be allowed to go home once a month. Thus she will also have only one day off a month.
She was originally thinking of having the wedding ceremony this summer, but now she said it will probably be next New Years. “I can't even find time to take the pre-wedding pictures!” she said. She is hoping that once they are married-married, they will be able to live in the same city.