"The mere thought of inviting friends to the marriage service makes my hair stand on end in horror."
- Jules Verne, before his 1857 wedding.
Comedian Billy Connolly, in a discussion on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect about why women want to get married more than men do, made the observation that women don't really want to get married so much as they want a wedding. He is absolutely right.
Weddings in our culture have become so completely blown out of proportion that a lot of girls no longer dream about the man they'll marry, but rather what color their bridesmaids' dresses will be, where the photographs will be taken, and whether they should wear their hair up or down. They dedicate enormous amounts of time and energy, and a great deal of money, to one day out of their lives, the only day, it seems, when they feel special. They subscribe to the "Insert Groom Here" theory of getting married - it doesn't matter who you marry, as long as he doesn't choose a really bad tux.
They are aided in this folly by the multi-billion dollar wedding industry, a monstrous, nebulous group of organizations, magazines, websites and wedding co-ordinators who feed on every fairy tale fantasy a girl ever had by selling every conceivable wedding related product or service at outrageous prices, and cloaking it all in a nauseating blend of sentimentality, sanctity and pure tear-jerking melodrama. Release doves as you say your vows, distribute gold leaf invitations, buy sterling silver wedding cake charms to dangle from white ribbons at your bridesmaids' pre-wedding luncheon. If it is even remotely connected to marriage or love, you can bet somebody has twirled baby's breath around it and taken out an ad for it in the back of Bride magazine.
Most wedding periodicals are as thick as a New York phone book, and all of them have an online version to offer prospective brides advice on how to plan their day. Everything costs an absolute fortune and takes months, sometimes years to pull together, all to make a woman feel like a princess for twenty minutes as she floats down a rose petal-strewn aisle.
Of course, your special day really isn't all that special given that most people rehearse it, as though staging a play, the night before. You go through all the motions in your jeans and ball caps, right up to the part about saying your vows, and then do it all again for real the next day. This is to make sure your spectacle goes off without a hitch, of course, because you wouldn't want to disappoint your audience.
I wouldn't mind all this fuss so much, I suppose, if all the effort was worth it. But along with all the dewy eyed poems to your mother and precious figurines with your names carved into them are are articles on how to help the bride "get through" this experience, and how bridesmaids should be there for "support". Stress seems to play a major role in these big affairs, and more often than not, the bride is so worried about everything coming off well that she doesn't have time to enjoy herself. She needs a videographer to prove she actually got married, since the ceremony itself is a blur.
No one seems to mind this. As long as the photographer wrangles everybody into ridiculous and uncomfortable poses so that they look like this is the happiest day of everyone's life, as long as Aunt Verna gets to put on her sequined cocktail gown and avail of the free bar, as long as the bride makes sure to greet every single guest, including her mother-in-law's former boss and four third cousins she hasn't seen since she was five, well that's all that matters, right? This is a wedding after all; it's no time for the couple to think of themselves.
This attitude stems from the steadfast belief that marriage is a family concern, and public one at that. These two fallacies are responsible for all the stress and unhappiness many couples go through, and probably a good reason why many couples, and men in particular, would rather just elope. Many people believe that they are "owed" a wedding for the sacrifices they made in raising their child, or that whether their relatives feel snubbed or not is more important than the couple's wishes. Family becomes everything, even among families who don't even speak to each other during the year and bitch about each other behind their backs when they do.
Contrary to what the majority of people believe, marriage is not a family affair. It is a private and personal ceremony of love and commitment that two people who love each other undertake. It is as personal as making love, or should be. In many ways, it is sex symbolized, the official sanction we give the most precious sexual relationship of our lives. Why anyone would want four hundred people watching them do this is beyond me. It is a shame that there even needs to be witnesses to this private moment. As much as you love your family, as dear to you as your friends are, if you wouldn't want them standing at the foot of your bed when you make love then neither should you want them sitting in the audience watching as you solemnize your sexual union in marriage.
While it is true that a married couple do technically become members of each others' families, there is no reason anyone should watch this transformation take place. That's like saying that since your husband's parents and siblings will be family to your unborn child, they should all be there in the delivery room when you're up there in the stirrups giving birth. We understand that there is a time and place to show off the newest member of the family when it comes to childbirth, but somehow don't see how that applies to marriage.
Have a party afterwards if you like. Throw a celebratory bash to introduce yourselves as husband and wife. Invite anyone special to you and let them give speeches if they like, let them wish you well and welcome you into your family if that's what pleases you. Any family member who truly loves you will understand that you want your marriage ceremony to be private and sacred, and your celebration party to be warm and open to whoever wishes to celebrate with you. Anyone who balks at this is more concerned with their feelings and desires, and isn't taking your wishes into account at all.
Your wedding, whether performed by an Elvis impersonator at a Las Vegas chapel or whether solemnized in a cathedral, will always be special to you as the day you began your marriage. Don't forget why you are having a wedding in the first place. Make it is as beautiful and meaningful as you like, but don't let the wedding itself become more important that the private words of love you whisper to each other, both at the ceremony, and under the covers when you get home.
And don't believe the wedding industry. It doesn't take thousands of dollars to get married, or a year and a half of planning. Use that money towards your future, or towards a fabulous honeymoon. Or don't worry about money at all. Run down to City Hall, just the two of you, strip away the trappings and the expectations and just tie the knot. Whatever you choose to do, remember that it isn't just "your day" - it is your dream, your marriage, your life.