When Patrick and I got drunk at the lake and decided to get married, we announced it to our friends a couple days later like the classy, plugged-in media power couple we are: via mass text message. Exclamation points. That kind of thing.
The congratulations came flooding in. A couple folks even called. It made me feel like the most important person doing something totally boring and normal in the whole wide world.
But the response I was really worried about getting, and the response that kept me glancing at my phone for validation, was one from my best ladyfriend Susan. I didn’t know what to expect, because I knew Susan hated weddings and wedding-related culture and generally always has a shitty time at weddings. How would she react to me, her best friend, shoving her into the center of a swirling, twirling wedding maelstrom?
“Awwww!” she exclaimed. “Awwww!”
Susan’s been to four weddings in her life and she’s been in two of them. Neither were especially positive experiences — we’re talking bridal freak-outs, awkward confrontations, ugly dresses and everything every bride thinks her wedding is totally not going to be but sometimes is.
I wanted to have a sweet, fun, low-pressure wedding for my sake, and for Patrick’s sake, but also for Susan’s sake. And I was really scared that no matter what I did, she was going to hate it, and be mad at me, and we’d never get past the fact that I had a wedding and asked her to be my maid of honor. I didn’t want one relationship to fall apart just because another one was throwing a big party for itself.
My first order of business was to throw out terminology that didn’t fit our wedding party. Patrick and I both have mixed-gender attendants, so “bridesmaids” and “groomsmen” were out. Instead, we’ve got persons of honor and distinction.
Lucky for me, Susan had “grandfathered” me in to her no-wedding policy, signed into lady-law after those disastrous past weddings. “I told you yours was the last one I would ever be in,” Susan told me over beers last week. “When you told me you were engaged, I knew it was part of the deal.”
Romantic, no? Are you waiting for the part where we got together and had cosmos and jumped up and down and squealed for like 45 minutes and drowned ourselves in taffeta and made special wedding tampons from back issues of Modern Bride? Keep waiting. Because when I asked Susan how she felt when I told her I was engaged, she said, “I don’t remember there being any sort of like, uuuugh. It was just sort of, it was fine.”
At this point, maybe you guys are thinking, Wow, Andrea, your best friend is kind of a buzzkill. Shouldn’t she be more excited? That “shouldn’t” is precisely what Susan hates about weddings. And I hate it, too. Which is why I love Susan. In a world of oh-mah-god-squeee-wedding-enthusiasm, it’s not a bad thing to have a reliable skeptic around.
As a single person, Susan told me she has a problem with the obligatory happiness that comes with the public emotion of weddingness.
“You have to feel what you’re scripted to feel,” she told me. “So even if I’m standing there thinking how maybe I’m never going to be able to do this, I have to smile and be happy for being there.”
Let’s be real, y’all: not everyone at a wedding is happy to be there or really should be happy to be there. There are moments of real sadness and confusion and despair that come out of the performance of ultimate coupledom. Marriage, or at least long-term partnership, is both culturally mandated (single women are so pitiful, why don’t they just settle down!?!) and a total crap shoot. It shouldn’t be hard for us to accept that really complicated feelings about weddings are not only okay, but normal.
Let me tell you a story about a single woman named Andrea. Andrea was 25 years old, and Andrea had just broken up with her boyfriend — for the, what, sixth, seventh time? Something like that. Andrea got invited to an old friend’s wedding, and Andrea went, without a date. Andrea sat around and watched the old friend get married and talked to all her other old friends who were either married or getting to be that way shortly.
Andrea drank A LOT of blush wine. And when the deejay played “All The Single Ladies,” Andrea danced, but inside, Andrea was crying. Because all she could think was, why didn’t my ex-boyfriend put a ring on it?
Andrea totally and completely misinterpreted a lady-power anthem and then started crying on the outside, too. She found herself crying in the bathroom of a really fancily decorated barn. She got back together with a boyfriend who would never make her happy. Because being at a wedding, and feeling obligated to obey a script, was more emotionally powerful to her at that time than doing what was right and true for her.
So when Susan says weddings are kind of bullshit, especially if you’re a single woman, I am right there with her. But it’s not just single people who have to deal with a case of the wedding crazies.
“I have a lot of problems with the state of mind that [weddings] put my friends into,” Susan told me. “It’s about me caring a lot about people that I love, and watching them do something to themselves that makes them go nuts.”
Part of the nuts-making comes from the bizarre phenomenon that is people who are neither bride nor groom telling the bride and groom, with abandon, all kinds of things about what they “should” do, what the “tradition says,” and what it’s “right” to do. And part of the nuts-making comes from the wedding industrial complex, which makes weddings into a buy-fest instead of a love-fest. And part of the nuts-making comes from feeling pressured to please a lot of people all at once, some of whom you barely know.
Which is why I love that my persons of honor and distinction are a really fantastic mix of traditional and eclectic and conservative and social and anti-social guys and girls. I love having my married persons of distinction, who know so much about the wedding process and who give wonderful advice and who are excited and enthused about weddings. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have people I could call up and be like, “When you did this, what happened, and ohmygod, uh, what do I do about forks?” And I love having my single person of honor who is open about her wedding-related philosophy: “I’m like, ‘Fuck structures.’”
Do you know why people have wedding parties at all? If you’re like me and you can use Google and you’ve Googled “bridesmaid history,” then you probably do know. If not, I’ll just tell you: back in the olden days, all the way from Rome to the Victorian era, the thing was to have a bunch of people surrounding the bride and groom who were kind of vaguely dressed like them, so that the evil spirits that were sure to attend your wedding would get confused about who to harass.
I really, really fucking love the presumption that obviously there are going to be evil spirits at what is meant to be the happiest day of your life. It works literally, and it works metaphorically. Second, how badass is it that today’s evil spirits — pressure to conform, pressure to non-conform, pressure to invite that stranger you’ve never met, pressure to spend all your money on an open bar — actually are warded off with the help of a wedding party that loves and supports you.
And I know I have Susan’s love and support not only because she’s told me so, but because she spent five straight hours shopping for a person-of-honor outfit with me last weekend. Five. Straight. Hours. Getting all dressing-room sweaty. Trying things on just because I wanted to see what it would be like. Driving to two different malls. And at long last, we succeeded: our very last stop, White House Black Market, turned up a sparkly gold pencil-miniskirt.
Everybody wins: Susan gets a hot outfit, and I get a supportive but honest person of honor. My favorite thing Susan has told me throughout this whole process of dissecting our feelings about person-of-honorhood and bridedom is this: “Let’s just have a party that makes you happy. You figure out a way to do it that makes you happy, and if you can’t, you don’t do it.”
A person of honor who gives me enthusiastic permission to just bail out of the whole wedding ordeal is worth her weight in a million gold miniskirts.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter at @AndreaGrimes.