What’s With Weddings? The Good, The Bad… The Wonderful

Daniela & Frank's Gorgeous Cambridge Mill Wedding, Anne Edgar Photography

Spent a recent weekend immersed in the buzzing activity of a big family wedding and, as I always do, made note of the event not only as a participant but a sort of anthropological observer. There’s always been something about weddings that’s fascinated me: why little girls dream of them from childhood on, why parents both dread and glorify them; why – unlike most other cultural traditions – they seem fraught with the potential to either explode into drama or transcend to magic.

I haven’t quite figured it out, probably because my experience has been a mixed bag throughout my wedding-attending life. There was one earlier on – that of my best friend from childhood – which was an extravaganza we all still talk about today. Between hay-rides, singalongs, strange motel proprietors and Bloody Marys, I was able to thoroughly enjoy my role as a catered-to participant. It was such a wild affair that it gave me a rather Gatsbyesque sense of what grand parties can be and that was worth noting. But after that one golden experience, the downhill trajectory on the topic did much to sour my taste for the tradition.

I became a long-running wedding band singer and I worked in the catering industry for years, so I not only know all kinds of popular food usually ordered, but even can give the best tips for your winter wedding in Tahoe. Right there, you’ve got a view from several angles, all with the capacity to blow the lid off. Or at least blow away the smoke and mirrors of the often less-than-magical behind-the-scenes madness.

Being in a wedding band offers an interesting perspective on the event. You’ve got the family insistent upon certain songs (fair enough), certain times (goes with the territory) and certain rhythms (“and don’t play disco during dinner”… as if we didn’t know!). You’ve got the bride arguing with the mother over what should be played during the Father/Daughter dance (yes, you’d think they would’ve worked that out earlier), a groom digging (and MIL hating) “The Stripper” during the garter bit; you got a father so insistent upon enough time for every single person in the wedding to participate in the “money dance” (yes, just like The Godfather) that you end up playing “Let’s Stay Together” for over an hour and a half (true story), while the bride’s bulging bag grows buldgier (shut up, I know that’s not a word!), and a certain lead singer vows to never again sing Al Green.

But whatever light a wedding band may shine upon the proceedings, nothing can quite demystify weddings as much as being the caterer. I worked for over four years with one of the premier catering companies in Los Angeles and when you are pulling the levers of the machinery that manufactures marital bliss… wow. You see it all. If you’ve seen any episode of Bridezillas, you’ve got the gist. I personally dealt with the following:

  1. A bride-to-be and mother coming to almost-blows about the head-count and “why the fuck they need to be there!!”
  2. A mother screaming at me about delivered napkins that were the “all wrong shade of purple!!”
  3. A bride screaming at me that the band didn’t know her “signature song” (of which they had not been informed prior).
  4. An entire family having a knock-down blow-out in the ante-room before the ceremony because someone’s ex had shown up.
  5. A coordinator screaming at me because the marzipan frosting on the cake did not “cut well.”
  6. A bride and groom screaming at each other over… I dunno, something.

The list could go on but you get the picture. Lots of screaming. And, of course, as every reception came to its close I’d be approached by the heretofore screamers, now oozing “thank you so much… it was SUCH a great day,” as if, like childbirth, the pain of labor had been all but forgotten.

Frankly, I grew to hate weddings. I’d watch as the actual ceremony, the hopefully touching public exchange of vows, become an after-thought to a big bash meant to impress, and there became something corrupt and meaningless about the whole affair. When it came time for my own wedding, my husband-to-be and I actually started putting the pieces together but, before long, realized the Beast That Is A Wedding almost can’t be contained, as various parents began twitching over this element or that, and the logistics of gathering the right group without going bankrupt became more of a challenge than we could stomach. After a few weeks of this number-crunching, we pulled the plug. A month later we drove to a judge’s chamber in a small town in Washington state, and with a bailiff and courtroom secretary as our witnesses, exchanged our vows in front of a properly respectful judge who made it all feel as special as a wedding is supposed to be. I felt the electrical charge of new connection as the man beside me became my husband and there has not been one moment since that I regretted the choice to elope.

But I am in the minority. Weddings remain not only the dream of many (most?) women, but are an industry poised to participate in rescuing the economy. From an April piece in The Huffington Post:

If you’re planning on tying the knot in the next five years, you’ll be doing a lot to boost the economy.

Industry research group IBIS World reported Tuesday that thanks to an improving economy and an increase in disposable incomes, the $50.6 billion wedding industry is expected to grow 2.3 percent over the next five years. IBIS identified five sub-industries that will see a particular increase in profits.

Love in the billions!

So if it’s an industry – and a tradition – that’s here to stay, how does a wedding-hater reconcile with the weddings in their own family? One must attend, one must do so with a positive, embracing attitude, but how does one do that when every bone in their body screams, “this is NUTS!!”

One must be lucky enough to have family members who find the exact right mix between the pomp and splendor of the circumstance, and the spirituality of its meaning. I’m that lucky person.

My stepdaughter’s wedding a few years ago looked to have the potential, from the outside, to be one of those über-weddings of cacophony and chaos: it was a several-day event with hundreds of participants, many locations, and lots of logistics. Instead, because my stepdaughter is anything but a bridezilla, has an extended family of remarkably amenable and generous people, and is herself such an efficient, smart and creative “producer,” this extravaganza, the kind I would have cringed at years ago, became a truly magical, mystical example of what a big wedding can be if all the right elements are prioritized. It was unforgettable, fun and deeply moving. And I’m not aware that any screaming occurred… unless you count that cousin who got excited during the bouquet toss!

Then there was my niece in New York. I dearly love my niece, as I love any excuse to go to New York, so we looked at the event as a family vacation, embracing the logistics accordingly. Like my stepdaughter, Lovely Niece was set on creating an event that would be both meaningful and fun, and with her imaginative, artistic heart, and wonderful circle of family on both sides, accomplished her goal… and then some. There was fabulous music (of both the performing and listening variety), brilliant comedy (there were Brits involved…), fabulous food, a beautiful setting and a ceremony that encompassed the poetry and traditions of love expressed. And, of course, there was dancing. Dancing the night away. Did I mention I was not aware of any screaming?

This most recent wedding was for another beloved niece. Like her cousin and my stepdaughter, she is a woman of fierce creativity, warm logic, and an abiding sense of what works, what’s manageable, and what would keep the proceedings… FUN!! Again, it was a several day affair, lots of traveling relatives and transportation wrangling, but there was a blessed absence of insanity, of expectations THAT MUST BE MET. Instead, shoulders were relaxed, ease was encouraged, and by the time we all gathered in the very well-chosen hall for both the ceremony and reception, the focus was properly placed on the tender, heartfelt vows; the funny, very touching officiating of the “cousin-preacher”; the sweet songs of a father and mother; the sass of a sister, and the warmth of uncles, aunts, a brother, and the many cousins and friends who filled the room. The party that followed was the kind of party we all hope for when we gather: great food, fabulous music, a hilarious photo booth, and, once again, dancing the night away. As the evening wound down, my niece stood with her new husband in the circle of remaining celebrants and said something lovely along the lines of, “This was the best wedding I could have possibly imagined,” and I’m sure it was. Because she did it right… and there was no screaming.

So I’m a believer. Not necessarily in the big wedding per se, but in the fact that a big wedding can be done without the insanity of misguided priorities and the pressure of performance. I’m still so grateful for my own very private, very sweet, very emotional elopement with my husband of 23 years, but if you’re going to do it big, let me know; I’ll put you in touch with my nieces or my stepdaughter. They’re some women who know how to do it right!

Wedding photo by Anne Edgar @ Unsplash

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