On The Wedding-Industrial Complex, And Remembering What You Really Want

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If you are a woman in your mid-20s and are at least mildly social, chances are you are feeling one of your first real waves of “Oh, shit, everyone is getting married around me.” If you are in a long-term relationship — and therefore have accumulated a second set of friends, along with a healthy group of the mid-20s luxury item Couple Friends — this number basically doubles. One day you look around, and everyone from your hometown bestie to your work buddy to your annoying neighbor is getting married. For me, there are seven weddings in various stages of early-planning to just-happened going on around me, and everyone from ex-boyfriends to close friends seems to be tying the knot.

And I am lucky, in the sense that this great surge of marital bliss is not coming at a time when I am single, and therefore the indirect object of pity. Having a long-term boyfriend is something of a buffer, where even if you are not getting married in the year to come, you are at least on some kind of invisible track, and aren’t going to have to scramble to find any plus-ones. Amongst all the talk of dresses and cake tastings and location scoutings, I’ve found myself empathizing with the single girls who must hear these same speeches, accompanied by the slight wink of sadness in everyone’s eyes. That look of “Don’t worry, sweetie, it’ll happen for you some day, too.”

As long as I can remember, I’ve thought about weddings. Even as a little girl, my favorite Disney Princesses’ stories were not complete until they put on that obligatory white version of their regular princess dress, and walked down the aisle with some interchangeable man with good hair. And while my feelings on weddings have gone back and forth over the years — with my tragic three-year period in which I thought I was a Charlotte, when I am clearly a Miranda, being the height of my white-dress fervor — they have always remained a presence in my vague planning for the future. It didn’t seem to even be a question — of course I would have a wedding some day, and of course it would be the big, beautiful party everyone dreams of.

But now that I am closer to it all — with friends around me taking the plunge, and a boyfriend who I have been with for four years, and who makes my heart stop every day — I feel less and less enticed by the whole ordeal with every passing moment. What once felt like the magical trimmings of a spontaneous, romantic celebration (white dresses, huge cakes, elegant ballrooms) have now revealed themselves to be the logistical and financial nightmares that they actually are in real life. Every element of the grandiose wedding requires enormous planning, trying, searching, negotiating, and spending. Nothing just sort of comes together in the Disney-like way I had always assumed it would. Just getting a contact high from all of the fervent planning around me has made me exhausted.

Some brides, of course, can’t get enough of it all. Even in my increasing frostiness towards the whole thing, I can see that there are certain girls who revel in every moment of restricting themselves for their Wedding Diet, or hunting for the perfect silk charmeuse gown, or negotiating with a caterer on the perfect price for 250 shrimp cocktails. And as a feminist who believes that the grand spectrum of womanhood has plenty of room for Charlotte Yorks, I am honestly happy for them. I see them being thrilled with the busy-bee-nees of it all in a way little else in their life seems to, taking on the projects of wedding planning after long hours at work with a renewed and joyous force.

But I also know many brides who seem, to varying degrees, not that into it, but who have found themselves inching closer to the grandiose wedding all the same. Sometimes it’s the pressures of old-school families who want their Big Day. Sometimes it’s the snowball effect of finding the one perfect element, then needing to fit everything else to accommodate it. Sometimes it’s the pressures of friends, and a discerning social group who expects every inch of luxury in the weddings they attend as they spent on in their own. Sometimes it’s just that overwhelming feeling of “Hey, I’m a woman. This is what I’m supposed to want, right?,” ingrained in us since birth.

know how that can be, because I feel it every day. Marc and I get asked on a regular basis — by everyone from family to well-meaning hairdressers — when we are going to tie the knot. We have considered the logistics of flying people to one continent or the other many times, becoming exhausted at the thought and giving up without exception. I have become unable to differentiate between the things I truly desire (like a beautiful ring, which I will wear and look at to think of him every day of my life) with things that don’t interest me at all, like a bridal party or a live band or a three-course meal served on tables sprinkled with rose petals. I am pushed in waves towards the things that I don’t really want, but which seem to be the markers of True Love. “If you really loved him,” the world teaches women to think, “Wouldn’t you want to show the whole world in the most beautiful way possible?”

But I don’t! I don’t want to be whisked off to Rome and proposed to in front of a crumbling monument. I don’t want to spend a year agonizing over caterers, and getting my dress altered and re-altered because I’m losing and gaining tiny increments of weight. I don’t want to have wedding hashtags, or Facebook photos, and the pressure of my celebration being out of the domain of the people who are there, and into the hands of anyone who can see us on social media. The idea of big, romantic gestures tends to turn my stomach like a piece of bad fish, and I simply don’t want any of the trappings of a capital-W Wedding. But with every decision, it feels like I am disappointing.

My mother will want the big dress, and the decor. My father will want the special dance, and hundreds of photos. My closest girlfriends will want the bachelorette weekend and the group manicures. My extended relatives who are frankly not close enough to warrant an invite are going to raise absolute hell if they don’t receive one. And in all of this, I am left wondering if I will be like one of my many current-bride friends, who is each day sucked further and further into a celebration that looks little like the one in their head.

I truly believe that each person’s happiness is unique and, as long as its not hurting anyone, totally fine. We should do our best to indulge our friends and loved ones in exactly the Big Day that they want, but we must not lose ourselves in the idea that they all should follow the same template. Particularly when these celebrations are such financial commitments (and even the most pragmatic couples I know are getting into mid-five digits, which seems… insane?), it’s incredibly important to remember that no one is obligated to do anything for anyone else’s benefit. The fact that women are still taught to regard this day as the apex of their beauty, validation, and ability to plan is frankly criminal. Women should have many Big Days in her life, days where she feels like a princess because she achieved something great, or tried something new and wonderful for the first time. Telling her that her wedding should be the happiest day of her life comes with the unspoken follow-up that the rest of it will be something of a downhill slope. And maybe I’m being optimistic in the face of our Disney Princess-ideals, but I think we deserve much, much better than that.

Feel like you’ll never save enough money to be a real person? So did Steph Georgopulos. Read about it in Some Things I Did for Money

Image: Julian Wylegly

  • Lizzie

    I thought we would have the big wedding, but I’m so so happy with the little one we had. We didn’t have much time to plan, which also resulted in being unable to invite everyone we wanted but all the important people were there, we had a proper venue, a real wedding dress, a lovely lunch, an awesome party that evening, and it was just a blast. It was also so personal. I feel like the wedding industry can be so generic because people just wanted pretty and fluffy and white and red instead of a wedding that actually represents both the bride and groom. And having only two months to plan makes you realise what people will remember and what they don’t give a sh*t about. We’re talking about having a 2nd celebration in the US (we got married in the UK) for my friends and family who couldn’t make it but I hate the thought of planning another one. 😛

  • I cannot CANNOT agree more with this essay. Four year with my bf and I’m constantly dodging questions. Right now, it’s not for us and for some reason people don’t respect that.
    This line is so important. “I truly believe that each person’s happiness is unique and, as long as its not hurting anyone, totally fine.”

    We are all different and require different things to be happy and we should respect that. I’m happy for all of my friends and their giant weddings, but I hope that when the time comes and mine doesn’t look the same, they will also be there for me.

  • Caitlin

    The WIC is one tricky beast. I just got married in December. We wanted to have a big-ish wedding (100 people) that still felt very uniquely us. We live in a different place than any of our relatives, and I was (absurdly) stressed about the fact that we had to ask them to travel. I finally realized that if they could be there and wanted to be there, they would. No matter where we’d gotten married it would have been a huge inconvenience for some of our guests (and/or for us) and we had to just let it roll.

    I was lucky to discover A Practical Wedding pretty early in my planning process, and that made a huge difference for me. APW and /r/weddingplanning were my go-to sources. Much more realistic than sites like Style Me Pretty and its ilk. Wedding planning was basically everything I feel I am terrible at rolled into one: keeping track of tiny details, being the center of attention, having to ask for things from people, etc. So for me, a wedding planner was an entirely worthwhile expense. It meant we had to cut other places, but I also made it through the wedding with far fewer sobbing meltdowns than I would have otherwise 🙂

    My husband and I both have small, very relaxed families, so we had a much easier time of it than a lot of people. We ended up having a beautiful wedding with our friends and family that felt entirely “us” and fit into our budget. I wasn’t sure about having a big wedding, and there were (many) days during the planning process where I wanted to elope, but it ended up being undoubtedly every cent and every frustration along the way.

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      Thank you for sharing your story here Caitlin! I am in the midst of planning my own wedding at the moment and i’ve found decision making between 2 families to be a hard balance to strike. Between wanting to please those around you and trying to maintain the ~vision~ that you and your partner desire, it’s overwhelming because it can feel like no one is ever 100% happy. But I remind myself not to sweat tiny details that no one will remember in 10 years and to always do my best to listen with an open mind to what people have to say. I’m glad your day worked out so well!