I never dreamed that planning a wedding would be such an uphill battle against what I not-so-affectionately call the “Wedding Industrial Complex.” Part of this is my own fault because I had never paid attention to the world of weddings and had no clue what I was diving into. I never wanted to get married, never daydreamed about my color schemes or first dance songs. I could care less about designer dresses, don’t believe in high heels or make-up, and think that traditions such as “giving away the bride” that hearken back to misogynistic practices are annoying. There are all kinds of terms for people like me, but the most common seems to be “anti-bride,” a title which doesn’t come close to capturing the reasons for my resistance.
As a minimalist in the making, I resent the implication that weddings should be elaborate (read: expensive) affairs. In this day and age, even people who tell you that they are planning a “small wedding” are still looking at paying thousands of dollars. I stand here before you guilty as charged, but I also admit that I have been conscious of this paradox from the beginning and struggle with it each day. Ironically, while anti-brides may have presented an initial obstacle to the Wedding Industrial Complex, the industry quickly adapted. Today, you can find all kinds of services offered to the anti-bride, designed to make the process more bearable, or at the very least, more unique and indie. Ah, Adam Smith. Your invisible hand is still alive and well in the world of wedding planning.
My anti-bride stance is aided and abetted by my feminist roots. Even as a kid, I liked to walk around telling people I was a feminist. No doubt I terrified a lot of boys in the third-grade who had no concept of what that meant, but who were convinced that it meant trouble for them. Honestly? At my core I resent the term anti-bride. Why not path breaker or modern woman? The “anti,” by its very nature, implies something negative, a sense of opposition and struggle. This doesn’t have to be the case. After all, folks, it’s 2013, not 1600. Many of the traditions that people consider to be a regular part of weddings today only date back to the rigid and restrictive Victorian era. I find it so odd that on one hand, people wholeheartedly decry the evil of objectifying women (hello, human rights), while on the other hand, they feel offended or, at the very least, non-plussed when someone suggests modernizing traditions that for hundreds of years have been doing precisely that.
Engagement rings are a great example of the Wedding Industrial Complex at work. It’s common today for men to give women engagement rings. I get it. Some women are practically raised knowing what this ring will be like. I knew one woman who had set a “minimum carat” limit for herself – she wouldn’t dream of accepting a proposal from someone who offered anything less than her bottom line. Then there’s me. I don’t wear jewelry and my mother never had an engagement ring. It doesn’t make much sense that my partner should need to give me a ring in order to seal the deal. Isn’t the fact that we are getting married symbol enough? Also, you have to admit that there’s some serious inequity here. Bride gets expensive engagement ring and groom gets? What? A new shaving kit? A game for his Playstation? A fancy business card holder? You get my point. This is even assuming that there is an exchange of gifts, which doesn’t seem to be the norm.
But back to me. I told my partner from the get-go that I didn’t want a ring. So he complied. No ring. And we were happy, thrilled to tell our families and friends that we were getting married. End of story. Or maybe not. You would be amazed at how trained we’ve all become. The instant that you, as a woman, tell someone you are engaged, their first reaction is to look down at your hands for an engagement ring, at which point, you have to awkwardly explain yourself. Most people will politely smile and pretend to understand. Some women will say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And a few honest ones, like a particular cousin of mine, will point-blank tell you that you’re crazy.
This leads to my mother-in-law, who is more traditional, and who, when she discovered that my partner had failed to buy me an engagement ring, launched a full-out campaign. After failing to directly convince him, she turned to recruited my father-in-law, who told my partner, “Sometimes women want things, even if they don’t say so.” This tactic also failed, so my mother-in-law turned to me. Our conversation went something like this: (MIL) “Oh, I’m so happy for you! But don’t you want a ring?” (Me) Nope. I don’t wear jewelry and I told your son I didn’t want one. (MIL) “But really? There are so many nice ones! I can speak to him for you if you want.” (Me) “No, really, I don’t want a ring.” Picture this conversation on repeat for about 20 minutes and you’ll get the gist. We thought we’d finally conveyed the message, but then Christmas came around. As she shopped in department stores, my partner would receive phone calls along the lines of: (MIL) “Hi Honey. I’m at Macys. They are having a great sale on rings. Should I buy one for you to give her?” (My partner) “No, Ma. We went over this. No ring.” And so on, so forth.
I should add here that I love my in-laws-to-be. The reason I share this story, however, is to give a sense of the uphill battle involved in fighting off the Wedding Industrial Complex. Our families and friends are happy for us, to be sure. But would they feel more comfortable, more at ease, if we were to conform to the expected wedding conventions? My guess is probably so, but I’m not particularly worried about all of that. I’m more concerned about spending time with my partner and our families, and building happiness in our everyday lives.
I mentioned at the outset that I never really wanted to get married. That is true. As a feminist and non-traditionalist, it was never something I would do for myself. It’s important to my partner, though, and so we’re working together to build a new tradition for ourselves, one that embraces a more modern, equitable perspective. Will I succeed in squashing out every vestige of past inequities? Probably not. I will feel better, though, for having tried. There is much truth in the saying that the greatest happiness comes from the journey, not the arriving at one’s destination.
I’m interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on how to address these kinds of situations, not limited to wedding stuff. This is just one example of the kind of ingrained beliefs and complexes that we encounter each and every day.