I have become a wedding curmudgeon. I used to think it was just because I don’t like getting dressed up and going to church. While that is true, it sounds like a very weak excuse - not a reason to avoid a wedding. Another excuse is the idea that it’s boring. Weddings today are anything but boring. The ways to prolong and over-complicate the joining of two people into one social and financial unit are awe-inspiring. Consider this menu that I found online.
Lighting candles, mixing sand, throwing rocks, and filling a bowl with colored glass are all tributes to the uniting of people and families. The rock-throwing thing is not as transparent as the rest; the idea is that the stones sink into an eternal ocean where they will remain unchanged forever. I think this is laughably wishful thinking. Even stones change eventually. Besides, how often do people get married next to a body of water?
More alarming are the practices of releasing butterflies or doves. Forcing winged creatures to sit in a box for hours and then fly out in a display of ecstatic levity is not only ridiculous, it’s cruel. Having the couple face each other and wrapping a chord around their clasped hands is too close to bondage for my taste. A variant is looking at each others’ hands while saying that these are the hands that will help, and comfort and work for each other. I am pretty sure I would giggle if I saw that. Doing any two of these things in the same ceremony would be downright annoying.
The only idea I really liked on this list of possibilities was the children’s ceremony. I saw that done, recently. It seemed lost on the children, but it was a great reminder to everyone else that it isn’t all about the happy couple in blended marriages. Stepchildren are being married, too. At the same wedding, the couple walked in together and sat down at the front of the church instead of doing the grand procession of the bride. That set the right tone, for me. Marriage shouldn’t be about the dress and the makeup and the graceful (yeah?) walk of the bride. In fact, I was happy to be at that wedding.
So – weddings are not by their nature boring. I still don’t like going. I have considered the idea that I am envious of the two people starting a new life together. I can dismiss that quickly by noting that I think they are in for a rocky road to comfortable cohabitation. And in spite of that, I am really very happy for people who are willing to try to love each other for life. After all, I was foolish enough to think a ceremony solidified true love. My love is true, but rarely solid. It waxes and wanes, flies and slogs along by turns. Fortunately, my husband is still willing to love me.
The kind of wedding I would really enjoy attending is one that is simple, on the short side, and emphasizes the personal transitions of these two humans. This woman will be putting her maiden self aside. She will rely more on wisdom and patience than on beauty. She may need help to keep from losing her self hood in this relationship. And probably she will become a mother – the most profound transition in a woman’s life. This man will let go of selfish activities. He will mature to the point that his family’s welfare will be as important to him as his own. He will learn to defend his values, not his abilities. And he will multiply his inner strength and sense of responsibility by two or three or more in the years to come.
Why don’t we say these things? Why do we cling to the notion of miraculous and effortless happiness right down to the moment when that fantasy ends? We could acknowledge the magnitude of this moment. We might make this a rite of passage as well as a celebration. It would bring a sense of reality and profound importance to a personal transformation that throwing rocks and releasing birds and lighting candles cannot pretend to signify. I would be much happier to attend an nontraditional but truthful kind of wedding. Even though I still don’t like to dress up and go to church.
Lari Jo Walker
May 31, 2012