[Editor’s note: While this posting is not directly related to the odyssey of summer 2013, it is a reminder that as we travel through life, we’re better off if we find joy in the journey.]
Ah, June. The magical month that kicks off the nuptial season. Truth be told, I’m actually so beyond the wedding season of life that I’ve even passed the baby shower cluster, quickly approaching the “first born high school graduation onslaught.” Nevertheless, though I find weddings just plain fun, too often for the bride, it can be a day of grand disappointment wrought from unrealistic expectations.
We’ve all heard horror stories of weddings gone awry–raging bridezillas, meddling mothers, overbearing mothers-in-law. While all these things might be simple annoyances on any other day, they reach fiasco proportions on one’s wedding day, tarnishing the “this is the happiest day of my life” image that so many brides feel to be their right and privilege. How do things become so warped, how do nerves become so raw, and how do otherwise rational women morph into raging lunatics?
It’s called conditioning.
It’s because we as women, from the time we get our first Bride Barbie, dream of the moment when we will be belle of the ball, queen of our own prom, princess for our Prince Charming. So we spend hours planning for our wedding day. Savings, which could perhaps be better spent toward a down payment on a house, are instead invested in creating an unforgettable moment in time.
Unfortunately, this obsessive preparedness for a single day often curtails appropriate preparation for the emotional, financial, spiritual, and just plain logistical parameters of marriage—simple questions are left unresolved. How many hours of TV is OK? Will we hire a housekeeper? Whose family will we spend holidays with? To unmarried couples, these seem like small issues. But as anyone married for more than a few hours knows, these seemingly minor concerns can quickly balloon into large issues. These questions are much easier settled, or at least carefully discussed, before couples exchange vows. But premarital counseling, if couples participate in it at all, is often just one more item to check off the ‘to do’ list and usually completed in a few hours.
I don’t think I’m being unnecessarily alarmist to suggest that most brides spend more time shopping for their dresses than they do participating in premarital counseling or practical planning for the realities of married life. And even though its effectiveness is backed by empirical and anecdotal evidence, counseling is often neglected completely or conducted with someone who may have mediocre training or experience.
A friend of mine who was married in Colorado less than two years ago recalls her disappointing premarital counseling. The facilitator scoffed at her concerns about their credit card debt—instead telling her to focus on the strengths in her relationships with her fiancé. Needless to say, the couple is now in the unfortunate situation of being maxed out on their credit cards, and money is a huge issue in the marriage, erasing their ability to focus on the “strengths” of their relationship.
So how many brides actually end up with that ‘happy ever after’ vision they have in their heads? Very few. We all know the divorce statistics in this country. And despite all the work, the wedding day is hardly ever perfect. I’ve been to two weddings where the brides had such big arguments with their future husbands on the day of the big event that they told me later they seriously considered scrapping the walk down the aisle.
In the movies, jittery brides and grooms ditch their intendeds at the altar all the time, but in real life, couples would rather take a chance and spare embarrassment before friends and family, knowing they can get a no-fault divorce later if it just ‘doesn’t work out.’ By taking this lackadaisical view, we are scoffing at the institution of marriage.
So if the day’s not going to be perfect, and the marriage is inevitably going to be more work than you bargained for, here’s what you disillusioned women who’ve tied the knot need to know, along with you soon-to-be brides crash dieting and waking in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. over concerns about the hue of ribbon in the toss-away garter.
First of all, your wedding day is no longer about you and your spouse becoming one beautiful and perfectly harmonized partnership for all eternity.
Instead, here’s what a wedding has become: a wedding is a party for your parents, their friends, and your friends. It’s a multi-billion dollar business. It’s a time to impress. It’s so your niece can be the flower girl in a frilly dress. And your nephew will change out of his soccer jersey for a few hours. It’s so your parents have a formal picture of everyone together. It’s a day that you are giving to honor your parents because you know it would break your mother’s heart if you eloped. It’s a day that recognizes that as much of a liberated woman as you have become, you will still give a nod to tradition and let your father walk you down the aisle.
These elements are all important to your family and to you and your future spouse for varied and often complicated reasons. And I’m all for weddings, and flowers, and cake, and pink Chuck Taylors peeking out from under a pile of silk and tulle. The problem arises when we expend all our energy trying to create the “best day of our life.”
Brides, when anyone tells you that your wedding day will be the best day of your life, examine their motives. More likely than not, it’s an unmarried bridesmaid or a vendor trying to upsell you a dress that’s too expensive and requires $400 foundation garments to make it all hold together or is trying to convince you to upgrade the menu to include a caviar appetizer.
The Perfect Day myth is an emotional and fiscal crime setting up brides for heartbreaking disappointment. Instead of spending months preparing for a single day, engaged couples need to invest their time and energy in preparing for a lifetime together.
And that lifetime, if prepared for properly, could be full of many “Best Days.”
Here’s what I’ve found after 15 years of marriage, acknowledging the stark reality that I’ve threatened to leave my husband at least as many times . I still love him like crazy. I admire him and appreciate him more than I did on our wedding day. I wonder on a regular basis how it was that I got him (and why he sticks around). My life as it is today is certainly not the result of my feeble efforts, luck, or some twisted favoritism people refer to as being ‘blessed.’ It’s been the result of a lot of work and forbearance.
Maybe it’s that I knew from the outset that plenty of perfect $45,000 wedding days end in divorce while plenty of potluck picnic shelter events garner years of contentment.
I did have a beautiful wedding day, but it was by no means the highlight of my life. It was merely the kick-off. Here’s how my wedding day stacks up against the last 15 years: Our honeymoon in New Zealand was everything I dreamed of, but visions of my kids pole boating in the rain at Tuileries Gardens, hiking with my husband through the cool dark caverns that burst open to illuminate the library in Petra, sleeping under the almost blindingly bright stars in the dessert at Siwa, desperately hitchhiking for the first time in a blizzard in Iceland, breathing in the timeless dust at the Wailing Wall as I felt my husband’s hand resting on my back, and reclining against my suitcase on a rocky beach, exhausted and waiting with my kids for the next train in Italy all compete for “best of my life” moments when my husband and I reminisce.
Though I will never forget seeing my husband’s face at the front of the church as I shakily held my father’s arm as he walked me down the aisle, recalling the first moment my daughter’s round little arms reached for me is a memory that conjures up deeper emotions.
I’ll also have to admit that although there was no videographer to capture the moment, the promise of life imparted when I heard my son say “Mama” for the first time still outranks how I felt when I heard my husband promise, “I do.”
In fact, even my husband saying I looked beautiful on our wedding day doesn’t mean as much as when he casually remarked a few months ago, as I was folding laundry while wearing yoga pants, that he thinks I look better than I did when he met me.
And then there was a Saturday last month when my entire family, kids included, worked to clean the house while we alternately listened to Taylor Swift and Joe Jackson. That day was better than my wedding day. We did some yard work and got a dozen donuts. I think we played a game that afternoon, but I don’t really even remember. We just hung out. We were a family. Jorge probably paid some bills, and I may have threatened the kids once or twice to stop bickering or I’d dock their allowance. We put the kids to bed early, letting them sleep in our room. All four of us rested there together, and most likely Jorge was snoring before the kids were asleep. When they were good and asleep, I nudged him awake, and we slipped out of the bedroom to the sofa. I rested my head on his chest, without a thought that this had been the best day of my life. Instead, I dozed off with the secure promise of knowing that there would be many more, just like this.
Yeah, I think that was the best day of my life.
And it didn’t cost much. And it will happen again and again. And there weren’t months of anxiety or planning, and my husband didn’t need to buy me diamonds, or make brunch plans, and I didn’t have to go on a crash diet, or worry that my eyebrows were not perfectly shaped or that I had a blemish on my cheek. I didn’t worry about a menu or linen colors or a perfectly clean house. I just woke up and went to bed, but I did it with the best people in my life.
That’s why we have weddings for a day, but live marriages for a lifetime.