Note: Portions of this post were previously written on Safa’s other blog, Naked Lady in a White Silk Dress.
It’s been said that all great stories end in death or marriage. It’s true if you think about it. The happy ending of marriage, the sad ending of death — they’re both treated as end results, oppositional when we attach our own feelings to them, but endings nonetheless.
Rarely do you see a film go beyond the wedding and explore the day after the first day of being a married couple. Many romantic films end with the implied magical day, as if falling in love is an end result we need to get to, and if we make it to that finish line, we’ve gotten closer to the algebraic equation of supposed lifelong happiness.
The problem here is, you can’t live life in an end result. When you’ve decided to spend the rest of your life with someone, the rest of your life has already happened, and no wedding, no matter how big and lavish, is going to suspend the rest of your life from happening.
We need an incubation period to prepare for it, even though that period, (otherwise known as the engagement) is really just a set amount of time you’re giving yourself to realize a decision you made during an unexpected moment. A wedding makes that decision legitimate.
Or, in the case of Kate Middleton, it makes the rest of the world legitimate because a royal fell for a commoner, which makes it perversely possible that anyone on the street can be part of a dying, powerless, tax-consuming system. Forget all the ridicule the tabloids gave Miss “Waity-Kaitie” when she was one of us. That was just a prologue for “Princess Katherine,” who sounds all the more exotic because she is now one of them.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
I remember the day I started wondering if the story arc was already over for me when I was engaged. One of my bridesmaids was getting ready for her own wedding, and she happened to visit the same weekend my fiance proposed. She had a copy of In Style Weddings with her, and I remember glancing at it without much care or thought. Of course I cared about her wedding, but in some respect, I think I felt a certain level of detachment from all her planning because I had nothing in my life to apply it to.
I was still living the story of single-girl-in-love-in-the-city. When I took her to her train at Penn Station, I passed an entire rack of wedding magazines at a Hudson Booksellers. Still, nothing. My eyes gravitated away from them almost immediately, like a repellant, and I dove straight for a New Yorker instead. I found myself back at the same Hudson stand several weeks later, newly engaged, with about twenty minutes to kill. This time, my first line of focus wasn’t on New Yorker or even Atlantic Monthly. It was on Modern Bride.
And then suddenly it started jumping, from Modern Bride to Brides to The Knot to Martha Stewart Weddings to Real Simple Weddings to the very same In Style Weddings issue that I ignored when my friend brought it with her from Boston. I ended up buying Modern Bride, Brides and In Style Weddings –- the three cheapest on the rack. And with that, I, who usually eschews anything standard or conventional, spent the next year-and-a-half dabbling in tradition like it was a new-found religious cult.
I read those three magazines almost religiously over the next week, and it’s true — bridal magazines are the first point of entry into the world of weddings. Lots of brides call them “wedding porn,” but I liken the magazines to 24-hour news media.
As you read them, you get bombarded with so much information, you begin to tune out and forget the points that really matter. They’re a great first chapter, because they really are an invitation into this fantasy world where you can realize a certain unalienable right to create the party or event of your dreams. And yet the editorial tone is one of absolute practicality, as if this right has to be balanced with some measure of sensibility, as long as it doesn’t keep you from spending more money.
It’s almost like they’re textbooks for an unwritten post-grad course in becoming a bride, which started to feel more like a full-time occupation than a temporary identity. If that’s the case, how many extra credit points does the Rocky Mountain Bridal Show get me?
If bridal magazines are the engagement story’s intro, then the closest thing I can find to an outline would be the wedding timeline. Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Bridal Show and registering at Macy’s, I found myself with more bridal magazines and wedding timelines than I knew what to do with. They came in the mail every month, and there will be a night, usually Fridays while watching The Bill Moyers Journal, I’d sit down with them, tear out what catches my eye and stick those articles into a growing (pink) binder that I very originally called “The Wedding Binder.”
I wondered if this is what the story arc will be for me. Instead of experiencing this remarkable transformation of being the wife I already felt I had become, I wondered if my rite of passage was to transcend into becoming a new kind of consumer that buys things in order to make what’s now floating around in her imagination a new piece of tangible reality. And were the plot points of the wedding timeline really a story arc to fully realizing that type of consumer who is inside me, just dormant right now and waiting to come out in the debutante ball that is my wedding?
A “perfect” wedding may look pretty, but it’s formulaic, sterile and clichéd. It may photograph well, but usually the perfection of it isn’t really your image, but someone else’s, just manipulated into looking like your own so that you could buy a new self-image for a day. Because amidst all the romanticized tradition, we tend to forget that perfection isn’t free.
Depending on your quest, it comes at various costs, and it sickens me to hear about couples starting their marriages in debt because the wedding cost enough to max out their credit cards. I met one woman in New York who had a $250,000 wedding, a good $30,000 more than the average home price in America. Crate & Barrel and Daily Candy co-sponsored a $100,000 dream wedding giveaway. I have no idea where to begin spending that much money for something that feels like the opening night performance of an indefinite Broadway run.
The beauty of celebrity culture, and particularly with royals, is that it’s the closest thing we have to teetering the line between what is and what can be, this fantasized Horatio Alger story of rags-to-riches that encompasses the American Dream.
Yet the danger comes when we get so engrossed, we begin to lose ourselves in expectations that are completely unrealistic in the real world. Mr. Big doesn’t exist, as Candace Bushnell has said multiple times, and neither do Prince Charming and other fantasies that look great in theory, or on the TV screen, where we have enough voyeuristic distance to take in what we like and leave out what we don’t. It’s easier to escape into a fantasy than to deal with reality, and Hollywood created a perfect refuge of that.
I think that for a lot of brides, the pressure and expectation of creating a perfect day impose themselves as convenient distractions to deter a woman from examining the deeper, more complex ways that marriage is implicating and manifesting in her life.
Wedding planning is basically retail therapy with a court license thrown in. It’s really quite masochistic. We ridicule and scour away from this idea of a Bridezilla who’s obsessed with every planning detail, but I think some level of her exists in every bride, because she was created and perpetuated by our culture.
I saw it in myself sometimes, this need to create an unforgettable day, because so many women have been conditioned to believe that the success of their wedding day sets the course for the rest of their marriage. For Prince William and Kate Middleton, does the fate of the British monarchy rest on their (relatively speaking) non-traditional wedding? That’s a lot of weight to put on two people who haven’t yet hit 30.
It certainly feels like that in all the royal watches and recent media, and all that is teaching us is that perfection is really a distraction from the fear of not having a good marriage. Kate Middleton may no longer be a “commoner” as of Friday, but her life will go on, and guess what? So will ours.
And so, as I see my Twitter and Facebook feeds and even PBS fill up with inside looks and live coverage plugs for the royal wedding, I can’t help but feel a bit embarrassed, like I’m an uninvited guest.
Honestly, it feels almost like the American public is more obsessed with this wedding than the actual bride and groom. While I wish Wills and Kate well, this is their day, not ours, and in our celebrity-obsessed society, I really think that we need to remember that even though tradition makes their wedding an international affair, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world gets to crash in on what should be an intimate exchange between the two of them.
Photo courtesy of nothingtoomuch1 via Flickr