My youngest daughter, Ashley, was married last month. This followed my oldest daughter Rachel’s wedding seven months earlier. A wedding ceremony springs from a simple concept: two people publically profess their love and announce their intention to spend the rest of their lives together. It occurs to me, however, that intention is fulfilled by the invitation, which seems in my mind to nullify the need for the wedding itself—but that fact is rendered academic to the blushing bride. Somehow the wedding ceremony has evolved into something so elaborate it is terrifying to the average American male.
Now to be fair, weddings have been lavish occasions throughout recorded history in every culture. Intellectually, I understand why, but it seems today they are not merely elaborate. They have become exorbitant spectacles in which the bride must be appeased like some sort of volcano goddess who makes demands at the point of an emotional gun. I think the term in pop culture is bridezilla.
The obsession does not end with the bride, however. I recall the latest British royal wedding for Kate and William. By the way, is it appropriate to call them by their first names? I digress. The word recall is a bit of an overstatement because I never saw the wedding so I don’t actually recall any of it. I do, however, remember that a lot of people on this side of the pond (as they say) set their alarms to be awakened at an hour that should be reserved for other events. Things like your wife going into labor, for example.
Sorry for the aside, but I am suddenly compelled to ask a rhetorical question: why is it that women tend to go into labor when you’re supposed to be doing something really critical—like sleeping? I think it might have something to do with God needing to be entertained. To me it’s no different than creating two creatures seemingly from different planets and then programming them to seek each other out to live together in something called marital bliss. I think he just kind of gets a kick out of watching the aftermath.
So what exactly is the appeal of royal weddings specifically and wedding events more generally? What would motivate my wife and ex-wife to invest so much time and effort into months of planning, whole families to temporarily relocate, and for otherwise rational people to get up for the 4:00 a.m. pre-game royal wedding show?
In the case of my ex and my wife it could be argued that they simply love my daughters and want to give them what makes them happy. Fair enough—but that begs the question: why would this particular thing make a person happy? Further, it certainly doesn’t explain why someone would go out of her way to watch a wedding between two people who are quite literally strangers to her. No; there’s certainly more to the appeal than a simple act of loving kindness or latent voyeurism.
I asked a friend of mine about that out of mere curiosity—just a sort of passing question. At the time we were walking to a diner to have lunch and she suddenly stopped and looked at me as if I had asked about why we need air and replied with something akin to “Because we’re not fish you moron.”
She then went on to describe the importance of publicly declaring your vows to love honor and cherish another human being and celebrating a Holy union in a world devoid of moral integrity. “Besides,” she continued “what’s wrong with doing something nice for your daughters? Did either of those weddings really disrupt your routine so much that you were significantly put out by spending an afternoon and two evenings to be there for each of them on their special day?” Feeling the need to disarm her I simply capitulated: “No. Do you want the bar or a booth?”
For the next week I spent a lot of time just wondering about the whole notion of weddings and what it means to decide to marry. I finally arrived at the conclusion that it means something entirely different to women than it does to men, and it’s something we’re not really going to understand—ever. For one thing I think the event has a significance for women most men can’t possibly understand.
I have another good friend who was married about a year ago, and planning the event was as important to her fiancé as it was to her—but that’s an anomaly in my experience. My oldest daughter Rachel’s best friend was married a couple of years ago, and there were two things important to the groom in that case: he wanted a lot of Sinatra at the reception and he wanted a personalized beer stein for each of the groomsmen. For the record I put that sort of planning squarely in the category of First Class, but that’s not the point.
The point is that the former is the exception and the latter is the rule in my experience. I think that’s because the groom is celebrating because he decided to get married, he got the girl, convinced her to marry him, and now he’s done. He can stop looking. It’s sort of like taking down that first deer. Mission accomplished right?
I think women see the entire affair differently in a way that makes the ceremony more typically important to her than it is to him. I offer that for a number of reasons. Part of it was my friend’s reaction when I wondered aloud about why these things become so big so fast. I also noticed that both my sons in law had a few very brief vows they had prepared for the bride, which can essentially be summarized as “I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Both my daughters approached the altar with near-tomes that rivaled the Bible.
These vows were offered with intense emotion and great passion. There were confessions of how their lives had been changed by their betrothed and why they were taking this step. What it meant to be standing at the altar with this person they loved and respected.
And I guess that’s the essence of the difference. They had a sense of what that moment at the altar means that eludes most men. I think most men see the ceremony as a formality. I think most women see the ceremony as a defining moment in which bride and groom publicly declare that they are from that point forward entwined in a Union that bears declaring.
That doesn’t make it any less meaningful to a guy, but the ceremony doesn’t seem to carry the same emotional weight that it does for a girl. Like most things, the experience just seems different for each, and the desire on the part of the bride for the ceremony to be “perfect” can make it kind of brutal on the groom.
Case in point: I was standing in for one of the groomsman at Ashley’s wedding rehearsal. My dad was performing the ceremony and he said “This is the point at which communion will be offered.” The groom (also named William by the way) inquired “So how will we do that?” I thought he meant “Will wedding attendees be participating?” but it turned out to be a deeper question. “What do you mean?” Ashley replied. “Well we’re Catholic, so can you provide some details about this particular part of the service?”
I was raised Baptist but have attended Catholic services including a Catholic wedding. I knew exactly where this was going and I was pretty sure Ashley did not. I looked on as Ashley attempted to answer William’s question as William continued to repeat it, each weighing in with greater and greater verbal force.
I winced a little and then squirmed involuntarily, causing the flask of Johnny Walker in my vest pocket to rattle against the pistol on my hip concealed by my blazer, which was a little embarrassing. I was meeting the groom’s family for the first time and I wasn’t certain how they felt about either of those things. Of course in addition to being Catholic, they were also from Louisiana so I was guessing they were OK with the whiskey. What gave me pause is having both. In church. At the same time. Some people are funny about things like that.
Frankly this only reinforced my confusion about wedding events and the importance the bride places on everything being just so. Here’s what I did figure out: it’s really important to have friends like Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels to confide in when you’re dealing with wedding “situations”—whether you’re the groom or the father of the bride.