Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Reflection on the Cultural Traditions and Realities of a Wedding in the Midwest

After fourteen months of planning, I got married on August 12th, 2017. Before, during, and now after, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my culture has to say about weddings, and how that compared to what actually happened. Because this is the internet, I’ve decided to inflict those thoughts on anyone who reads past this introduction.

It is, without a doubt, not your special day. It’s a regular day, probably in the summer, when you happen to be getting married. There will be people saying it’s your special day and it should be exactly how you envision it. There will also be people saying that things will go wrong and you just have to roll with it. It’s this second group you should be listening to; the first is probably trying to sell you something. Once you abandon the notion that everything has to be just so, the planning process will get much easier. Accept that perfection is a range, not a single point. And in most cases, good enough is perfect.

The notion that your wedding must have all the spectacle of a Disney castle is absolutely false. Having attended much fancier weddings than my own, as well as more complex ones, I would recommend against either for their own sake. I would actually encourage you to abandoning as many wedding conventions as possible. For example, the parts we were most excited about were the dancing and the speeches. To allow more time for those, the ceremony was as short as possible and dinner was buffet style. This made more time for more dancing and ensured anyone who wanted to say something had the opportunity.

Audience participation in weddings, paranymphs, flower girls, ring bearers, etc. mostly confuses me. Unless you’re having someone else organize things for you, it just seems like extra work in a minefield of family politics. That said, I would recommend having someone fulfill the backstage duties of the best man and maid of honor. It was invaluable on the day of the wedding to have someone to help me open doors when I was carrying things, drive when I needed to be on the phone, and just generally act as a second pair of hands. And if one member of the couple is… high strung, their companion can help keep them isolated from the any issues that crop up before the ceremony.

Related to audience participation, everyone you could possibly come into contact with has an opinion on how things should be. Imagine you are in charge of a year-long project at work and people from different departments occasionally pop in and insist that you should use their less-logical and more expensive solution to a problem you’ve encountered. Learn to say no. Or better yet, learn to say, “I’ll do that if you organize and pay for it.” You’ll find that stops most people in their tracks.

“If you can survive planning a wedding, you’ll survive anything.” This feels accurate, to date. The skillset required to plan a wedding is extremely broad. In general, you’ll need to be able to do long-term planning, short-term planning, take a high-level view, be detail-oriented, problem-solve on the fly, persevere when things don’t work out, etc. Curiously, these are also essential for the survival of any long-term endeavor. If between the two of you there’s a skill gap, you need to figure out how to fill it in. And better to work out how to do that before the marriage than in the midst of some crisis.

So is it worth having a wedding? That depends. It sure would’ve been nice to roll up to the courthouse, get married, and take all the money we saved on vacation, but I think there’s something to the ritual of it all. Similar to things like college graduation ceremonies, it’s the recognition of the culmination of considerable effort, the planning in this case, and, presumably, the end of your search for a life partner. Unlike your college graduation, which you probably just showed up to, you planned your wedding. You stressed over things like tablecloth colors and who would sit next to whom. Then, once the ceremony started and everything came together, your stress level collapsed; it was a relief. At the same time, you received a massive injection of positive emotion because:

You’d done it; you found your spouse. You navigated all the problems the planning process could throw at you. All of a sudden you’re surrounded by your best friends and family, you’re probably a bit sleep-deprived, maybe a little drunk. There’s a ceremony that highlights each of your best qualities and waxes on all the things necessary for a successful partnership. Then you get blotto and fed, a simple way to get people to bond, (that’s why your job does it every time there is a new-hire), and then you dance to your favorite music, entering an altered state of consciousness. Presumably, when you think of your wedding down the road it will dreg up those positive associations. Hopefully the same thing happens when you think about your spouse and it helps you live happily ever after.

After the wedding, and continuing into the first month of marriage (so far), I’ve noticed we are better at conflict resolution and seem to have a stronger commitment to the idea of us as a unit. I’m not sure if that is because there’s no more wedding planning stress or if the marriage ritual itself had something to do with it. I’m not sure if there’s a way to figure that out. And I don’t particularly care what the reason for it is.


TL;DR Don’t get caught up in the bullshit surrounding weddings. Use tradition where is serves you; discard it where it doesn’t. Being married is awesome so far.