Weddings are not all they are cracked up to be

Published 9:05 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

“I must dance barefoot on her wedding day,

“And for your love to her, lead apes in hell.” —William Shakespeare, “The Taming of the Shrew” (1593)

It’s almost the middle of June, and weekend after weekend is set aside for weddings and the attendant receptions and dances. Getting married is an important step, and so it’s usually a good sign when a marriage starts with a celebration filled with music, laughter and dancing.

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And yet … and yet, leading apes in hell is sometimes the way weddings end up feeling like for the participants.

You can’t be married to a pastor and not become intimately acquainted with weddings. Only when my clergy spouse is involved in these special occasions, she does not come home walking on air, filled with romantic anticipation. Oh no, she comes home grumpy. She grinds her teeth. She says things like “if I had it to do over, we would have eloped” or “I wish we had gotten married during the worship service on Sunday morning.” After planning ceremonies with exceptionally obnoxious families, she mutters about asking for a thousand dollars next time. Paid up front.

Yes, she has enjoyed working with couples over the years, but the positive experiences are few and far between. She tells me that most of her colleagues feel the same way.

As a clergy spouse, what I’ve noticed is that weddings can bring joy and good wishes; they can be fun for participants and witnesses. But somehow weddings also often become sources of tension. People refer to “bridezillas” and laugh, but those peculiar beasties are only one of the potential problems. Many times the wedding divas are other family members — parents, siblings, well-intentioned friends — who are determined to create “queen for a day” or “Academy Awards” events, whether or not the couple (or their families) can afford that sort of thing. Every extravagance from attire to gourmet meals is justified on the grounds that it’s a “once in a lifetime” experience (which it often is not, a depressing disconnect between weddings and marriages).

It’s going to make me sound like a cave-dwelling curmudgeon, but I think what has happened to weddings today has nothing to do with their intrinsic “specialness” and everything to do with the fact that weddings have become an industry.

The elaborate, expensive ceremonies that were once reserved for the very rich are now an expectation for everyone except for the very poor. We listen to the marketers and advertisers and our weddings have become very complicated, orchestrated by professional organizers who keep track of fittings for garments, photographers, reception locations, showers, bridesmaids, groomsmen, caterers, florists — and the pastor. And all of this for an event that will last about an hour.

One of my spouse’s pet peeves is working with couples or parents who pick the church for the wedding because it makes an attractive stage for the event and commemorative photos. They’re not members of the church; they’re not even religious. Many of those couples look elsewhere when told about the required pre-marital sessions or that they can’t use the latest hit song from Lady Gaga as the processional.

Then there are the requests for weddings in interesting places — my spouse has performed them in public parks under overcast skies and a pig farm (with the wedding scheduled for a time after the old hogs have been sold and the piglets haven’t yet arrived). I’ve witnessed or heard of other weddings under the arms of a sheltering saguaro and so deep within the walls of a canyon in northern Arizona that the couple and guests had to change into fresh “wedding” attire after a sweaty two-hour hike.

What I wonder about most of all is why people don’t ask more hard questions on their way to losing control of the celebration. And the most disturbing part of the story, or perhaps it’s more ironic, is how so many of these complications, so much unnecessary tension and heartache, arises out of attempts to “preserve” the event for the future. Who cares how much we despised each other on the great day or how often good taste was ignored or our feelings were trampled, so long as it makes a good photo album or DVD.

Marriage is important and wonderful and magical (at least it has been for me), and I want my children to get married. I want to be there to celebrate the occasion. But I sure hope they don’t allow their weddings to become elaborate, expensive circuses.

Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.