As an unmarried woman in my thirties, I realize that I am in an ever-shrinking minority. The number of weddings I’ve attended is probably higher than my math SAT score. I’ve even been a bridesmaid in a few. But the more weddings I go to, the more I listen to people around me talk, the more surprised I am at how many people get completely caught up in the wedding instead of thinking about the marriage. I’ve watched wedding fever transform normally sane, level-headed women into raging lunatics.
When I was about 22, fresh out of college and looking to start a new life with my then-boyfriend, weddings were all I could think about. I made lists of who I would invite, lists of songs I wanted played at my reception. I imagined what my dress would look like, what my bridesmaids would wear, where the reception would be held. I had it all planned, in my head. But when my fairy-tale college romance ended, all my plans came crashing down around me. What am I supposed to do now, I wondered. I’d had it all planned out. I’d be married by 25, have a couple of kids (a boy and a girl) by the time I was 30. We’d have a house and great careers, and of course, we’d live happily-ever-after. My heart was broken; my dreams shattered. He was supposed to be The One. My Soulmate. My One True Love.
For the next couple of years, every wedding I went to (and I went to a lot) was like a knife in my heart. I cried at a lot of them…not out of joy for what the bride and groom were sharing, but for what I was missing. At the same time, I was working part time for a wedding photographer. I became more and more bitter with every wedding album I assembled. Some days, it would be too much, and I would sit in the back room and cry.
Eventually, I started dating again, and became even more discouraged. Maybe, I thought, I was doomed to be alone forever. Maybe K was my only chance at happiness and he was gone. I obsessed over my two conflicting fears–the fear of settling vs. the fear of being alone…forever.
After a while, I moved away from home and moved on. I met someone and fell in love again. X started talking about marriage pretty early on in the relationship, and because he talked about it, I thought about it. I started looking at engagement rings, and dresses, and wondering what my bridesmaids would wear to match his kilt. Unlike with K’s family, I got along fantastically with his family and would have been happy to have them as in-laws. But the closer these things got to reality, the more X pulled away.
I so desperately wanted X to be the one. I wanted to be done. No more looking. No more wondering. No more waiting. I wanted to be safe in the arms of the one who was going to hold me for the rest of our lives.
Shortly after the disastrous breakup, my younger cousin got married. I remember thinking about how unfair it was…I think it was then that I realized that it wasn’t her wedding that I was jealous of. It wasn’t the church or the white dress or the flowers or anything else. It was the fact that this man had asked my cousin to share his life with him. It was the fact that he had been sure enough to want to promise to always love and cherish her.
That was what I was longing for. Someone to be with me, to love me, to promise to grow old with me. I wanted a partner. I wanted someone to say “I choose you.”
Over the years, as I watched both friends and strangers get married, I started to realize how important the details are to some people. The size of the diamond. Where (and how) he proposed. The number of bridesmaids. The cost per head. The need to be a “princess” on Your Big Day.
The older I get, the less important these things are to me. Maybe, when I was 22, they were important. But last year, at one of the weddings I went to, I said I wanted to run away and get married on a beach somewhere, and I was only half-kidding.
I have no interest in registering for fine china or silver. I think bridal showers are boring and silly (the games. the bow bouquets. the door prizes. the watching the bride open gifts for two hours). I really don’t want the spectacle. Give me a small gathering of friends and family, if you must
I know I couldn’t ever really elope…too many people would be hurt, and that’s not what I want. But I expect that my compromise will be to keep it simple. Low-key. Because when it comes right down to it, none of it matters that much. What really matters is me and him, together, loving each other.
I couldn’t care less about being a princess for a day. What I do care about is being his wife…his love…his partner…for a lifetime.