The Wedding Paradox

“How much does this cost?” I asked as we stood waiting for the cashier to find Josh’s file in the tuxedo rental store. “Too much,” Josh replied. He went into the fitting room, which is the point where I wished I had brought a book. The shop was quite large and full of headless manikins dressed in tuxedos with vests and bow ties colored various shades of shimmering pastel. Three women with manicured fingers and floofy hair stood silent at the cash register. They reminded me of something out of the Stepford Wives. I eyed the bridal magazines lying on the coffee table and wondered how nauseated I would feel if I looked at one. I noticed a different magazine hidden amongst them and got excited, that is until I discovered it was a catalogue for snow mobiles. I didn’t know snow mobiles were a big thing in northwest Indiana, but I figured groomsmen would much rather read about boy toys than weddings when waiting in a shop. After perusing the pictures of the pretty snow mobiles, I got up to look around the shop. Through an open door at the far end of the shop I could see into an enormous room full of hundreds tuxedos on hangers and several men organizing them. I looked at several photos on the wall, each a portrait of a wedding party which, I assume, had patronized this establishment. The similarity between the portraits was stark: all of them looked exactly the same. The bride and groom stood at the highest stair in front of the alter, with the bridesmaids filing down by the bride’s side, the groomsmen at the groom’s. Why, I wondered, do so many people put so much money, time, and effort into weddings that look exactly like each other?

I recently heard that the average engagement period in America is sixteen months. Sixteen months!?! How can a couple bare it? Not only is this an absurd amount of emphasis put into a single day, but how trying it must be to families and couples to endure such a period! And this is only the average! It seems to me that if you decide to marry someone you have already given it a great deal of thought and would very much like to do it soon. I guess I am wrong. But sixteen months poured into a single party that frequently looks and feels the same as everybody else’s party? I don’t get it. How can a couple’s special day be truly special if it looks like everyone else’s special day?

Of course, I mustn’t overlook an important fact: though every wedding may look similar to the next, each couple is surrounded by their closest family and friends and such a day is more than worthy of a gathering, no matter what it looks like or what format it follows. The day still marks the commitments a bride and groom make to each other and to God and God certainly does not care what color the invitations are. I don’t mean to demean the day, the marriage or the joy that comes from the wedding and the union. My complaint is one of aesthetics and symbolism. If a couple chooses fashion over personality for their wedding, I feel like they missed an opportunity to express themselves and their love to their guests.

Weddings tend to follow a similar format, and perhaps the greatest evidence for this is that we all expect weddings to have certain attributes.   We expect that the bridesmaids’ dresses will look compromising on the bridesmaids.  We expect the bride to be in white, for her father to give her away, and for her to throw the bouquet after the wedding.  We expect to dance the electric slide at the reception.  If we apply methods of induction, we may assume that our expectation that future weddings will follow suit with these patters is a result of our experiencing so many similar weddings in the past.  If you drop a glass on the floor a hundred times and it breaks every time, you may assume that the 101st glass will similarly shatter.  But it is when the wedding does something different that it suddenly becomes more memorable.  Hopefully these differences come in the form of creative touches instead of family feuds.  Here is an example.  Last week I attended a wedding where the bride and groom refused to kiss no matter how many people tinkled their glasses with their forks.  They would only kiss if all the guests from each table collectively stood up and sang any song that had the word ‘love’ in it.  I thought this was brilliant, because not only was it a brainstorming exercise, but it also served as an ice breaker for the tables where the guests did not know each other.  It was a small gesture on the part of the happy couple that made the wedding way more memorable and instantly more fun, and all this precisely because they did their own thing and did not follow suit.  In general, I would love to see more wedding traditions traded in for more personal and creative embellishments.

I brought this idea to the table the other day at lunch with friends. “Yea, but, isn’t it all about tradition anyway?” they argued. “All of that stuff is part of the traditional American wedding experience, and it is very important to lots of people.” I guess they must be right. Traditions are wonderful, and I don’t mean to dock them, especially when they are of a spiritual nature, so I will modify my argument. I do tend to neglect tradition, especially when I either don’t enjoy it or never had anything to do with it in my family. When it comes to wedding traditions, my immediate family has always resisted. I’m proud of my parents for many, many reasons, and one of these is the story of their wedding. My mother, like me, never really wanted one. She had no need of dressing up like a princess for a day. She hated the idea of having people stare at her, of seeking approval from so many people with the show that an American wedding typically becomes. Most of all she hated the idea of being given away like a piece of property. When she broke the news to her parents of her intention to elope, or at least to have a very small wedding, she expected my grandmother to erupt in protest. Most unexpectedly, it was my grandfather who broke into tears. Apparently, he loved weddings, he loved everything about them. He went to every single wedding to which he had ever been invited. I look forward to when I can ask him in heaven why this was. In addition to his passion for weddings, he also was the CEO of his company by that point, which meant that his daughter’s wedding could not simply be a wedding but also a grand business function. This made my mother feel like a sacrificial lamb, having to give up what should have been a holy and joyous day for the benefit of schmoozers. But, as anyone who has seen his or her father cry knows, we all would do anything to make the crying stop. So my mother struck a series of compromises. First, if she had to be given away, then so did my father. That way they were given to each other, which makes much more sense anyway. Second, she would not stand to have my grandfather’s business colleagues come to the ceremony, but they were welcome to the reception. What ended up happening was the following: an intimate ceremony took place in Evanston at my parents’ church, and then everyone travelled north to Kenosha (about an hour) where they held a big reception. This way only the people who really loved my parents came to the ceremony. Lastly, my mother really wanted to have a dress suit and look more like Katherine Hepburn than Cinderella, but my Grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. They settled on a lovely evening gown with no bell poof.

A genuine concern in this wedding business is that so many weddings occur because of the desire for a wedding instead of the desire for marriage. Too much hype is given to the parties and not enough to the seriousness, nor the joys, of the mystery of marriage itself. I wonder if it is healthy to let little girls tie sheets to their heads and have imaginary weddings, or dress up their Barbie dolls in white and smoosh Barbie’s face into Ken’s. I am equally as guilty of this childhood behavior, but I get the idea that other women carry this obsession with weddings into adulthood. The number of bride magazines, for example, is a testament to this obsession. Movies like Bride Wars, part of which I watched on a plane out of boredom, illustrate women destroying each other in search of the perfect wedding, whatever that is. I would like stats on how many millions or billions of dollars go into the wedding industry annually. Then again, maybe I don’t want to know. My dad’s bible study had two guys with daughters getting married this year. Dad told me they were both holding their heads in their hands and wondering how on earth parsley could cost $200. Dad tried to lighten the mood, “Hey, why not give the couple 2000 bucks and send them to Vegas? Bada Bing Bada boom!” He didn’t help, apparently.

My argument is that if you have to have a wedding, make it personal. Keep the traditions if you want them, but don’t succumb to fashion. Make it about the love you share with your future spouse. I am sure this will make the wedding not only more beautiful, but much more fun and memorable. I went to the most beautiful and fun wedding of my life this summer. Cheese was shipped from the Chicago cheese company where both the bride and groom worked as cheese mongers. The cakes were made by the bride’s best friend. The couple cut and served the cakes themselves. The ceremony took place in a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church where they had recently become members. They had a Dixieland swing band come to the reception which, as two nature lovers would have it, took place at the Audubon Society. They had badminton racquets and birdies set up on the back lawn. Waiters offered Georgian wine, as in wine from the Republic of Georgia, where the couple had travelled the year before. It was the personal touches like these that made the wedding so far from typical it made me want to cheer. It was the originality and the thoughtfulness put into the wedding and its significance that made it by far the most elegant event I have ever attended.

A few months ago, my sister and I were watching Globe Trekker (only the greatest TV show ever). On that episode, Ian Wright, the lead guide, managed to make himself the best man at an underwater wedding. Bride, Groom, Priest, and Ian all plunged into the turquoise Indian Ocean wearing breathing apparatuses and the ceremony commenced. It was perhaps one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on TV. But in the time it took me to think, man, I would love to do that, but my grandmother would kill me…my sister shouted, “Dibs!” She says that if I beat her too it she simply won’t come. Great. I am still trying to think of something to bribe her into giving up her claim.

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