Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why are Weddings such a Big Deal?

Pinterest has a whole section devoted to weddings. Women not even engaged yet (sometimes not even with a partner!) pin their dream weddings. Why so much investment in this ideal? Why is it so pervasive and so overblown?

I have two theories: singularity and identity.

By singularity I mean that for most women, this is the biggest party they will ever throw in their lives, and for many women this is the first party they will throw. For some it will be the only one. At least it seems this way. Both tradition and the wedding market encourage this. Traditionally, getting married is a major milestone. This was when you not only committed yourself to a person for eternity, but also became an adult and moved out of your parents' house and started having sex.

The singularity of the event means that women will pour in a lot of effort to make sure that this day is the perfect day. They will muse about the menu, cogitate about flowers, and agonize over the dress, because there's only one chance that they can get this right--and it will be photographed and filmed for future posterity and facebook.

I found that it takes a lot of pressure off to not think about the wedding as the only party I will ever plan. If something doesn't make the cut or is too prohibitively expensive, I can file it away for some future party, such as an anniversary, my bridal shower, or a friend's wedding (at the risk of becoming a bridemaidzilla). Bacon-wrapped canapes don't fit the theme? I can make them for a dinner party. Peonies too expensive? Hint to husband that they would make a nice anniversary gift. Tulle canopy held aloft by balloons not appropriate for an indoor wedding? Save it for a friend's bridal shower (or birthday).

It's very liberating. Instead of agonizing over whether or not I'm making the best choice, I can put it down to deliberating about the right choice, and comfort myself with the idea that I can still experience all those other photo-worthy displays some other time in my life (if I still care).

What about identity? After all, a wedding is now less of a community event and more of an expression of the bridal couple (or at least the bride). It could express how they have money, or it could express that the couple enjoy the irony of wearing expensive outfits and drinking fancy signature cocktails out of mason jars in a barn. Seeing that this is a large gathering of realtime people, the couple probably want to represent themselves well. It's an expression of what they value, calculated by what they choose to spend their money on.

Offbeat bride celebrates this. The introduction to the book talks about how it was important for the wedding to convey how the bridal couple were, instead of going through the motions of wearing a veil and walking down an aisle to appease family and community. One Perfect Day warns that this is not only a marketing tactic, but a harbinger of a breakdown of community. An Atlantic article warns that just because your wedding isn't unique, doesn't mean you aren't getting married.

My take aligns more with offbeat bride. Even though a wedding is in some ways more about the people invited than the bridal couple, if the community didn't accept the couple for who they were, I don't think they would go. Also, a lot of the hipster ideas regarding rented barns and mason jars are, in fact, ways of saving money, though the wedding industry has proprietized those practices. As for the Atlantic article--isn't that the point? To express oneself while still participating in something that, even 50 years from now, you can point to in your outdated video to your grandchildren and still have them recognize it as a wedding?

Anyway, I wanted a lot of things for my wedding, not out of practicality, but because I had an idea of it in my head or because I thought it went with a theme I liked. I spent a lot of money on flowers because I wanted a bouquet (as did my bridesmaids). I didn't want all-Asian catering, even though it would have been cheaper. I am going to get married in an Asian-American Museum, not only because it's relatively cheap and the right size and I'm afraid of getting married outside because of the weather, but because I thought it was appropriate for my identity. That's why I stuck with those choices even when costs and hidden charges got racked up.

Vera Wang's 2013 red bridal collection. To aim at the Chinese market?
I also considered wearing a red dress (one part practicality, one part tradition, two parts because it matches the venue). My friend asked me, why not get married at city hall if I'm not going to wear a white dress? Why have any of it? Why invite people from both sides of the Pacific to this thing where we pay for them to eat fancy food and unlimited wine and beer, in the process coordinating headache-inducing schematics including timelines, spreadsheets, websites, and $200 worth of flowers, for the love of all that is good and holy? (My fiance wonders this whenever I try to coordinate with him.)

Well, because I still wanted a wedding, even if it's not completely traditional. To say that a different colored dress would invalidate that was pretty insulting.

It will be (I swear) the most expensive party I will ever throw in my life. It will have the largest number of guests (that I personally invite and know of). It is the only time I will ever rent out a venue or hire a caterer. It is (hopefully) the only time I will ever get married.

It is also a chance to express myself, my culture, and my love for my husband-to-be.

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