I took dance class for years as a kid. I loved being up on stage, dancing my ass off in front of an auditorium full of strangers. As an adult, I performed stand-up comedy. Loved it. Loved making a bunch of people I’d never met laugh.
But performing my latest dance routine in the living room in front of my parents? A circle of hell I didn’t like to think about, even as a kindergardener. Telling my parents about some jokes I’m working on for a stand-up show? A circle of hell that doesn’t actually exist, because it is so bad that the devil is, like, “No, seriously, Andrea, nothing you could ever do would cause you to deserve this.”
Of course, my parents came to my dance recitals and they’ve even seen some of my stand-up. When they melt into the crowd, it’s not so bad. I like knowing I have their support, even if we’re coming down on opposite sides of the “How many f-bombs is too many f-bombs?” issue. (My side, for the record: there’s no such thing as too many f-bombs.)
Having my parents attend my wedding is simultaneously the best and the worst thing I can think of. It combines something I really love and appreciate —having the support and blessing of my wonderful and caring mom and dad — with something I absolutely loathe — letting them know I have actual, earnest feelings about things, particularly love- and sex-related things. It’s a dance recital in the living room. It’s a stand-up show in the kitchen. And it’s all centered on something I have never felt comfortable talking to them about: romantic relationships.
Now suddenly because I’m getting married, I am culturally obligated to perform “being in love” in front of people I will have to see again for the rest of my life, and if I don’t perform “being in love” in a way that pleases them, there’s nothing I can do about it. If I perform it wrongly for strangers, then I’m just the bride at that one weird wedding. If I do it wrong in front of my family, I’m the forever disappointment over turkey twice a year, plus Easter.
So, you’d think I wouldn’t give a fuck about being asked to invite virtual strangers to our wedding, which Patrick and I have been asked to do now that it is getting to be invitation crunch time. Why the hell have I started caring so much about inviting sixth-somebodies-once-removed, old-whatsit-buddies and sometimes, people everybody knows are absolutely, positively, in no way going to attend my wedding no matter what? I should totally want strangers to be invited my wedding, since I am so scared of being sincere in front of my family! But our ever-growing guest list has become one of my least favorite parts of wedding planning. And that is saying a lot, since I hate wedding planning.
Here’s what’s happened: Patrick and I made a list of about 100 people, approximately 50 apiece, who we thought we’d like to attend our wedding. People we knew and people who knew us right back. People that Patrick and I could afford to throw a party for, and who we thought would be great fun at said party. We wanted to try and pay for most of the thing ourselves, that way we could have what we wanted, when we wanted, with the people we wanted, and nobody had to be accountable to anyone with a checkbook.
Guess what? That didn’t work.
Both of us have been asked to invite people we’ve never met, not seen in years or who we aren’t particularly friendly with. We’ve even been asked to invite people who are definitely not ever going to come to the wedding and everybody, including the invitees, knows it, which I cannot believe people don’t find downright offensive and/or a thinly veiled ploy for more gifts. (It isn’t! I promise! Strangers, I don’t necessarily want your attendance or your toaster, and I mean that in the kindest possible way!)
But apparently all this is standard wedding practice. Sometimes we’re asked nicely to do these things. Sometimes we’re pressured. Sometimes it’s a fight, and sometimes it isn’t. But it’s there: the insistence that our wedding is not only our wedding, but other people’s, no matter who’s signing the checks. Sure, we’re talking about other people we love dearly, but other people nonetheless.
Figuring out who to invite to our wedding forced me to ask myself a fundamental question that is, perhaps, not as obvious as it should be: Who am I having a wedding for? Not “Who am I getting married for?” because I knew the answer to that — me and Patrick, that’s who — but “Who am I having a wedding for?”
Despite the fact that I’m still occasionally paralyzed by fear at the thought of saying vows in front of my parents — the whole dance recital in the living room thing, again — I know that Patrick really wants the wedding itself, and I think it’s important to make some kind of performative statement about a relationship you hope to be committed to for the foreseeable forever. (I also think it’s important for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, to be able to make that performative statement legally in the eyes of the state!) I think communities help relationships grow and remain strong, and for me that community is made up of friends and family, however nervous that might make me in the moment.
Do I find it strange, sending out invitations to people we’ve never met, who we know can’t afford to travel, who are too old to do so or who barely know either one of us? Yes. A not-small part of me dislikes feeling obligated to put on a show to make other people happy — or at least, to make them not angry — when in fact I would probably prefer to be doing this in front of no one but an internet-ordained Elvis impersonator.
But if I’m real with myself, I have to admit: if I’m going to have a wedding, and I am, dammit, I have to be okay with that wedding not being only about me and my relationship. It is also about what our relationship will mean to our families. And our families have little tendrils that reach out to places we can’t see and have never been, and it’s not for us to say what is or isn’t important to other people.
As the hosts of this party, we have a responsibility to accommodate those little far-reaching branches of family wherever we can, not as a concession but because we are a little community, maybe an imperfect one, but a community nonetheless. Despite my performance anxiety, I am having a wedding in part because I want everyone to know how excited I am about this wonderful thing I have with Patrick, and I want the most supportive community I can get around me to help make my marriage strong.
So welcome, strangers, to our wedding. And don’t cut out after the ceremony — stay and sign up for karaoke. Drink too much. Knock over a Tiki torch or two. It’s the least you can do to take the pressure off an emotionally bashful bride.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter at @AndreaGrimes.