CAMBRIDGE, U.K.–Regular readers of this blog know that one of my bugaboos is the Bridezilla wedding, the super-extravagant, multiple-bridesmaide rituals that plunge the couple into a decade of debt, require perfectly attractive female relatives to don hideous dresses, and turn the bride into a termagant of tense overplanning–or else bizarre “runaway” stunts like those of Jennifer Wilbanks. Generally I’m in accord with our IWF regular Cathy Seipp, who deems hyped-up nuptials to be just plain low class:
“Bridezilla weddings are also generally lower, even if the happy couple has money, and especially if they’ve gone into hock to pay for the thing. Available cash does not equal class. The more removed the wedding trappings are from the bride and groom’s normal life, the lower the class; that is, if you normally travel by limo, a string of stretch limos transporting the bridal party to the picture-taking session won’t necessarily signal to observers that they’ve entered Tobacco Road territory.”
Although I’d add that the rich have their own Bridezilla equivalents: The oh-so-elegant nuptials in a hyper-expensive resort that can be reached only by private jet and requires their friends to forgo vacations for five years in order to attend.
So it was interesting to read a persuasive defense of the big wedding today by the U.K. Guardian’s Mary Kenny (it seems that Bridezilla extravaganzas are as big with the Brits as they are with us. Kenny writes:
“Sociologically, though, it is surprising that, in an era when sex is regarded as no big deal, and having children within or without wedlock is just another choice, the rite of wedlock remains so valued. Little perks of married life, such as taking your spouse at a reduced price on holidays, have dissolved into the vagueness of “partnership”. It is a perennial complaint of social conservatives (and of political Conservatives) that taxation and welfare can disfavour marriage.”
Yet the weddings go on, Kenny notes, and it’s not just because they’re big parties for the bride but because young people seem to want a ritual in which society recognizes–in a big way–the importance of their commitment to each other. Kenny writes:
“Because of the modernisation of mores, surely the rituals of the ceremony are obsolete? The white veil signifies the bride’s virginity, yet there aren’t many virgin brides going about today. The confetti is an emblem of fertility, which, for most couples, is suppressed through birth control. The notion of a woman being ‘given’ in marriage is strikingly archaic: not all wedding ceremonies invoke it, but the bride often walks down the aisle, or enters a civil wedding location, on the arm of her father.
“The entire set-up is really very old-fashioned, but this is just what these young brides and bridegrooms like about it. In a fast-moving world, it is the continuity of a traditional rite of passage which provides a steadying and reassuring anchor. These lavish weddings seem to satisfy the need for rites of passage, and, for those of a spiritual cast of mind, sacrilise a union.”
“The magnificence of the modern wedding is stressful for all parties. Yet being part of a wedding is rather wonderful: it makes you think both about life’s passing and its continuity, about family, friends and the significance of a ritual experienced together. And it’s touching how the young people all cheer in chorus when the groom first uses the word:”My wife and I …’ Yes: marriages, let’s have more of them.”
Yes, perhaps the one thing that can be said about big weddings is that two people are actually getting married. They want to be more than “partners,” the word that seems to have officially replaced “spouse” wherever I’ve been in the U.K. And wanting to be part of something larger than oneself–even if the desire sometimes isn’t expressed in the classiest way–that is something of lasting value.