Each week, we debate a question in conjunction with the Washington Post Magazine . This week: Which wedding tradition do you wish were abolished?
Hanna Rosin : I would definitely say the throwing of the bouquet. In the last few weddings I’ve been to-even the ones for more conservative friends-there is a strong ambivalence hanging over this moment. The ladies gather shame-faced in the corner and the bride gives a limp, embarrassed toss. In each case the flowers landed on the floor, as the women were too embarrassed to catch them. The age when women want to get married is not over. But the age when women proudly display a grasping eagerness to do so is long past.
Jenny Rogers : I’d abolish wedding favors. Pointless and expensive. No one needs a little box of chocolates with the couple’s name on it.
Nina Rastogi : Extensive hors d’oeuvre spreads followed by massive, plated meals. Your guests just feel guilty about the wasted food, and then they’re too bloated to dance.
Torie Bosch : I’m at the point in life where my refrigerator is cluttered with “save the date” magnets and I seem to attend a wedding every six weeks, so I’ve spent a lot of time recently considering which traditions are archaic but sweet and which are just wasteful. The one I hate most is a relatively new invention: the unity candle. It’s meant to symbolize the joining of two families, but isn’t that what the wedding itself is? Really, these elaborate, pricey candles just add to the cost of the event and make the ceremony longer.
Lauren Bans : First and foremost, I’d equalize the division of pre-wedding labor-no one should have to give up her life for a year to plan an entire wedding by herself. Then, of course, bad DJs.
June Thomas : The disposable cameras scattered around for spontaneous art shots. True, this is the least offensive and potentially most creative of the wedding “bits,” but are the resulting photos ever more than drunken shots of guests’ junk?
Anne Applebaum : Bridesmaids’ dresses. I went along with them because I knew my mother couldn’t imagine a wedding without them, but to this day I feel bad about making my high-school best friend wear an ill-fitting pink dress for an entire evening. Then I had to wear equally awful dresses for my sisters’ weddings too.
Jessica Lambertson : AH! Me too! I was actually in a bridal party last year where the bride only stipulated we wear a black cocktail dress. That was the best idea any bride ever had. Finally, a bridesmaid dress that I can wear again and I know looks good on me. I have a decade’s worth of ridiculous, unflattering, poofy, oddly colored and shaped dresses in the back of my closet.
KJ Dell’Antonia : I would be happy to never again watch a panicked couple be hoisted aloft on wobbly chairs and danced around while everyone beneath them pretends not to be secretly waiting for disaster. But generally, doesn’t everyone just do whatever they want anymore? Does anybody still feel bound by “tradition”?
Ellen Tarlin : I am actually almost completely anti-wedding and not so keen on the “institution” of marriage either. I did get married, at City Hall no less, and I only got married because my then-boyfriend kept asking me and I thought it would be easier to get a mortgage if we were married, but I was perfectly happy and fully committed just living with him (I am still perfectly happy and fully committed). What I hate about weddings is the patriarchalism. I hate the surprise proposal. Why does the man get to decide when the couple marries? Shouldn’t marriage be something that both adults discuss together? I hate the getting down on one knee. The idea that it is the woman who has to be wooed and it is the man’s responsibility to do so. I hate the engagement ring. Aside from the fact that buying diamonds supports an evil, destructive “business,” I hate the idea that the woman needs to be “bought” with a diamond and that putting a diamond on her finger suggests some sort of ownership on the man’s part. I hate that the father walks the bride down the aisle and “gives her away.” I find the whole thing to be sexist pageantry and a needless expense. I hate the conformity of the whole thing. I think the best reason to get married is if you are gay. Then it really means something valuable.
Dana Stevens : I feel almost exactly like Ellen, and have never really seen the point of getting married for myself. Though I did reluctantly allow myself to be frog-marched to City Hall after I got pregnant and my partner convinced me that it might be smart down the line for tax or insurance reasons. But I will say that I enjoy a lot of the pageantry at other people’s weddings and seeing how their personal style gets expressed (or, more often, crushed beneath conformity and family pressure). But would never, never want to be in one myself.
As for KJ’s assertion that people just do what they want and don’t feel bound by tradition: How many weddings have you been to were you were shocked that your most unconventional feminist friend wore a long white dress and had Jordan almonds in little net bags?
If I had to go with one tradition to abolish, it would probably be self-written, cutesy vows that the couple write themselves and mumble inaudibly. One tradition I love: rehearsal-dinner toasts, especially when they get kind of roast-y. I think it’s a great literary genre, and sometimes a hilarious and touching tribute comes from the last guest you’d expect it to.
: This is so interesting to read as I am planning my own wedding. Luckily, I am including not a single thing that was mentioned here. First let’s dispense with the actual question: I am not a fan of long, indulgent ceremonies. If you’re following religious tradition, then it’s wonderful and could be a learning experience for guests. If it’s 45 minutes spent extolling the virtues of the couple at hand in a new-age love fest, it’s just tedious.
As for Lauren’s request, no bride who needs a year to plan a wedding WANTS her fiance’s help. It doesn’t take that long to plan a wedding, even a big one, unless you’re a perfectionist control freak who wants everything just so. Trust me. It’s actually not that fraught, time-consuming, or difficult if you’re organized and share tasks.
Dana, do I have to hand in my unconventional feminist card because I am going to wear a white dress? I think you can like and want to be part of a tradition even if you know that the roots of that tradition are less than savory. Of course some people are forced into doing things they don’t want because of family. But lots of people are not.
And June, I want to see your wedding photo collection.
Ellen Tarlin : I guess I should add that no, I don’t condemn anyone for wanting to have/do all the things I hate. It’s your life, your wedding, do what you want. (But I don’t have to come, do I? And really, who would want me there?) If you want a big honking diamond, that’s your decision-I wish you wouldn’t, but I recognize that most people do want a diamond ring and it’s none of my business. And I wear leather and eat meat, so I am certainly a single-issue political-correctness hypocrite. I should also add that I spent about four years working at Martha Stewart Weddings magazine in some sort of exercise in self-torture, so my general lack of interest in weddings really did flower into outright disdain there. However, I suppose I am glad I got married, simply so that I can provide my husband with health insurance and have all those other rights that gay couples don’t get but also should.
Kerry Howley : Obvious, perhaps, but the father/husband hand-off kills me.
Rachael Larimore : The traditions are what you make of them, or can be. My boyfriend and I owned a home together, had decided where to have the wedding, and looked at rings long before he booked the weekend trip to the San Juan Islands, allegedly “out of the blue.” (I knew-I even had an engagement present for him tucked away in my luggage.) But that didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the “surprise” proposal. It was touching and romantic and not at all patriarchal to see the lengths he went to to make it special-the hotel room with a view, the mad dash to get to just the right spot on the side of the mountain so he could propose at sunset, etc. And instead of having my father “give me away,” I had both my parents walk down the aisle with me. It wasn’t a “passing off,” but symbolized, at least to us, the journey they had guided me on from my birth up to that point, and how they were there for me at the biggest moment of my life and always would be.
Dana Stevens : Jess, of course you can be a feminist and wear a white dress, and I’m sorry now that I said such a churlish and unintentionally mean-sounding thing! I’m one to talk, as I love fashion of all kinds, including a well-made wedding dress. The particular traditions of the Victorian-style, Western ceremony (diamond rings, white dresses, being given away) don’t speak to me, and I’ve been to weddings where people who don’t love them get steamrolled or guilted into enacting them (this is how my parents always describe their own wedding, which perhaps explains my aversion). But the idea of picking and choosing the cultural traditions that do speak to you is totally beautiful and moving. Also, for what it is worth, I often cry at good friends’ weddings, and have already made some mental notes for a toast for my now 4-year-old daughter’s rehearsal dinner.
Ellen Tarlin : I think Dana does make a good point, though, that sometimes perfectly reasonable people lose their minds when it comes to having a wedding. I worked with one woman who planned to wear a white dress but said there was no way it was going to be sleeveless, since she hated her upper arms, and she didn’t want it to be poofy, because it would make her look like a marshmallow since she was short. Guess what the two distinguishing characteristics of her wedding dress were?