Marriage. It’s the magical union of two twin flames, the serendipitous soul chaining of emotional counterparts, an emotive, extrasensory adventure that tugs on your heartstrings – but for most millennials, it’s just another institution to avoid. Almost exactly three years ago, my fiance proposed to me – it wasn’t planned, there wasn’t anyone to capture it on candid camera – or even just candidly, hell – he didn’t even have a ring, but we had each other, we had the moment. The minimalists, pragmatists, and the hopeless romantics will all echo the sentiment that those things are far more than enough. But one thing I’ve learned by simply entertaining a wedding, is that everyone’s got their something about them: traditions, advice, warnings, must-dos, and the like – so while you’re busy saying ‘I Do’, don’t forget the most important tradition of all: doing you.
Traditions, by in large, are important familial and social constructs with a bevvy of history, and from what it sounds like: wedding traditions, doubly so. Unfortunately, every time I see the word tradition, my mind instantly jumps to the opening scene of Fiddler on the Roof and nothing that’s actually useful for my big day. With the big day inching closer and closer, I’ve found myself reaching out to family and friends to find out what the hell one is actually supposed to do at their wedding, and what traditions people threw to the wind in lieu of making their own. And I’ve discovered this: weddings aren’t where you’re forced to embrace past traditions, but where you can forge new rituals – with your new family. I’m not saying don’t listen to your parents, siblings, grandparents, best friends, Starbucks barista, gas station attendant or bartender – but what I’m saying is that what they want, for their special day, should have no reflection on what you choose to do.
Three years ago when Danny proposed to me, he had no ring, and no pomp – just serendipitous circumstance in the Canadian forest. It was our first trip out of the country together. After a thousand miles in the car, a sketchy border crossing and being inducted into Shamb-fam – deciding to spend forever together seemed as natural as breathing. Merely hours later, as we danced under the full moonlight with new friends – a carpenter named Bruce reached into his pocket, toying around with a string. A twinkle flashed in his eyes as he explained he only made five, was down to his last one and was hoping it would fit me. Giddy to be receiving anything at all, I didn’t bother asking what, instead I put out my hand like a seven year old trick-or-treating through their first Halloween. It was a ring; a wooden ring that only fit my ring finger; a wooden ring that then became my engagement ring, which got me to thinking: why are there engagement rings and wedding rings? The answer: De Beers.
It used to be customary to only have one ring, the wedding ring, that is – at least, until De Beers came into the picture. From the early 19th Century, De Beers has a monopolized control over the diamond mines of South Africa – creating illusions of scarcity to drive sales. Once our Great Depression of the 1920’s and 30’s hit, De Beers believed it had a genius marketing plan to get our consumer nation back on spending track: telling us that diamonds are forever; marketing the idea of love, not a brand – not a product – but the idea. Fast forward to now, and engagement rings are a booming industry, accounting for almost 20% of total diamond sales in the US, and bringing in a whopping $7 billion annually. Roughly a quarter of all purchases at Tiffany’s + Co are derived from wedding bands and engagement rings, while almost half the sales at Sterling Jewlers’ retailers like Jared and Kay are derived from engagement rings. Overall, engagement rings actually represent about 20% of US diamond sales. All in all, those statistics speak more to a corporate level greed and an ostentatious, ego-maniacal society than they do a forever type of love, but that’s just my opinion.
The wedding registry happens to be another trend that I’m all too ready to put to rest. Yes, everyone loves presents – but, weddings are about presence, not presents. As opposed to only 35% 15 years ago, almost half of all married couples in 2017 have previously cohabitated for an average of 22 months, or almost two years. Let me put it bluntly: you can accumulate a lot of shit in two years. What was once just “my shit” and “your shit” has now collectively become “our shit”, and “our shit” comes with a lot of redundancy, and no one needs redundant redundancy. Though wedding dowries have been of historical cultural significance for centuries, a registry and a dowry are two horses of completely different colors. Much like the De Beers Diamond plot of the 1920’s, up until the Great Depression there was no such thing as a wedding registry – until Macy‘s came along, and other department stores were all too eager to jump on board.
Now, how about the wedding party? Though some people elope, and many do keep it small – it also feels like some people invite everyone to the West of the Mississippi to their big day. Obviously, the more the merrier and who doesn’t love love, but at a certain level it becomes all sorts of impersonal and not meaningful; almost like you’re getting married for show, not for yourself. A large party, now sure – count me the fuck in; but a wedding, the bonding of two souls and binding of two lives is such an intimate idea that to me, it begets an intimate ceremony. In my seemingly biased opinion, large weddings more than force you into employing a bridal party – of elevating those closest to you, and imposing stratified levels of closeness. On the other hand, at a small wedding – you can flip the script. Our wedding, a destination wedding of sorts, will be small, the kind of small where I have to use small as an adjective to emphasize an adjective – but that’s just the way I like it. One of my favorite perks to having a small ceremony, is that everyone at the wedding is part of the bridal party; everyone is a groomsman or a bridesmaid, because everyone there is equally important to us. But, do you know the history of bridesmaids and groomsmen? Confarreatio, a form of wedding from the Ancient Romans, required 10 witnesses for the ceremony to legally binding; these witnesses evolved into the modern bridal party. The groomsmen and bridal party were also tasked with warding off evil spirits. Back in antiquity, the maid of honor and bridesmaids wore identical outfits to trick the spirits out of targeting the bride, while the best man was a literal wingman – warding off other potential suitors while the groom whisked away the bride-to-be.
Last, but certainly not least: the wedding dress. Growing up, I was taught that the white in a wedding dress was a symbol of purity – but as it turns out, because of the (a) lack of soap and (b) levels of general filth, up until the 18th century there weren’t many white wedding gowns. In fact, the white aspect of the wedding dress is primarily associated with well to do Western culture, where many Eastern traditions actually involve a red dress in lieu of the white. In all honesty, the white wedding dress is one of the few wedding traditions I’ll keep, though it’s definitely not for the sake of my purity. However, what I find do find ridiculous are people that think a wedding dress is anything other than just a white dress, worn on the wedding. Some dresses range into the thousands, others into the tens of thousands…and to wear…once? Dios mio! I would rather get a down payment on a house or a car. After spending a day at the mall struggling with the idea of a “wedding” dress, I found the perfect white dress in under ten minutes once I got out of the mindset that it had to come from a “bridal” store. So, now you might be asking – are there any other traditions that you’re keeping? Yes, duh. We’re getting married, exchanging vows and rings – and that’s as much of a tradition as I need.
Love isn’t just an idea, it’s an action – it’s a verb, it’s something you do. Despite what Department Stores want you to believe, your love isn’t a commodity and your marriage doesn’t need to be monitized. Your wedding is a collection of beautiful moments rolled into one glorious day, celebrating with those you hold nearest and dearest to your heart – don’t sell yourself short, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do because fingers crossed, this is the only one you get. So enjoy, indulge, drink champagne and get excited; say Yes, say I do but most importantly – do you.