For decades, documentary filmmaker Doug Block has supplemented his income with wedding-video gigs — and he’s now combined the two to make a documentary, 112 Weddings, which is out in the UK today and premieres in the U.S. on HBO on June 30. In the film, Block revisits several of the couples whose weddings he filmed to see how their marriages have worked out. The couples are divorced and still together, childless and with children, happy and not so much, but they all open up about what’s caused their marriages to work out the way they have.
“People conflate the wedding with the marriage and the getting married with the being married,” Block explains. “That’s really what the film is: so many movies end at the wedding day with the happy ending being the wedding, and I thought what an interesting place to start.”
And, it turned out, Block wasn’t the only one who wanted to know what would happen. He says that interest in 112 Weddings was probably the highest of any project he’s worked on — though he’s not sure whether people were more interested in finding the secret to happiness or just getting in a little schadenfreude. If it was the former, viewers are in luck: Block, who’s been married 28 years himself, says he learned something from all of the couples with whom he reconnected. He jokes that now he knows enough to become a love consultant to the stars and charge exorbitant fees for his advice, but he was willing to share a little knowledge with TIME pro bono.
So, after more than 100 weddings filmed and about a dozen revisited, what’s Block’s top advice about marriage?
“Pick wisely is the best advice,” he says. “You’d better find somebody who feels like your jokes are funny.”
Beyond that, it’s important to stay flexible and accept imperfections. After all, he says, you can’t prepare for marriage because it’s a lifelong commitment and there’s no way to know what will happen in your life. It’s more important to be ready to face what you don’t expect than to think hard about your expectations.
Block also says that one of his favorite parts of the film is a discussion of the concept of “soulmates,” something he and at least one interviewee agree is pretty weird, the idea that there’s one person out there who you’ll be happy with forever. In reality, he’s noticed, love and affection come in waves, and a couple can want nothing to do with each other and then feel great about their marriage all within a short period of time.
“A lot of marriage is coming to terms with who is this imperfect person you’re living with, and acknowledging that you’re not exactly a perfect person either,” he says. “The ideal to me of marriage is you’re both growing as individuals but you’re not growing apart. You’re supporting each other in your growth. That’s what keeps the bond tight, because you’re not stagnating, you’re not getting dull.”
It’s clear from the film that the storybook idea of marriage is unrealistic — but that a wedding can be worthwhile anyway. “As I say in the film,” Block says, “happy ever after is complicated.”