One of my favorite authors is an evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He wrote a letter to his young daughter on exactly how people should challenge the notions of what is true and untrue. For the sake of this post, I want to recall what he says about tradition not being a great reason to do something. He writes:
The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story was. If you make up a story that isn't true, handing it down over a number of centuries doesn't make it any truer!
A perfect example of this is the white wedding dress. People had been getting married for a century, even a millennia, without wearing white. Suddenly Queen Victoria sashayed down the aisle in dazzling white to prove her worth in wealth, and the white-dress-as-tradition took hold. If you ask most brides why they'd wear white, it's typically because this is what's done. It's rarely questioned, because you hardly ever see a wedding that strays from this black and white picture.
Has our collective notion of what defines a wedding gone this far off the rails?
The wedding ceremony and the following reception seem to be the last social events in our country to change even in the slightest. If you dare to ask what the big deal is about a white dress, people will ask you why you'd want to look like a harlot. If you suggest having canolis for dessert and skipping the cake-cutting ceremony, people will balk as if you've just asked your guests to eat their own toenails. You don't want a bridal party either? Well apparently you have no friends and no respect for tradition. It's clear that when you deviate from the preordained structure of a “classic” wedding, you're a rebel, a renegade, an outlaw.
I didn't wear a white wedding dress and people begged to know why. What did I have against white? Did I have to make a statement at my wedding? Was my husband OK with this? Well, he married me with my obsessive compulsive tendencies, my micromanaging money habits, my complete inability to shut a cupboard door, and yet somehow there's this notion that the color of a dress I'd wear for a few hours would overshadow all of that. That it would make him run for the hills, or at least the nearest David's Bridal, where surely he could find something more appropriate. Well, my husband was at first taken aback. But that isn't surprising because he'd never been to a wedding that featured any other option. Now that you've seen the picture that accompanies this story, you know he must've made peace with my blue dress.
If you want to serve Hot Pockets, does that mean your union is doomed? Of course not. I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.
A pirate outfit. Vows said while dangling from a tree branch. A bridal party wearing kilts. There are so many ways to customize the event. If your mother-in-law is pressuring you to have a white, three-tiered wedding cake, well, it's your wedding. However, if you want to serve Hot Pockets, does that mean your union is doomed, your love isn't genuine, and your future is bleak? Of course not. I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.
If you really want the engagement photo shoot with the vintage luggage because you're into time period pictorials, go for it. If you want to twirl a baton because you met at band camp while your man straps on his large tuba, do it with smiles! Really big smiles that say, “I love who I am and my partner too, but I hope that tuba doesn't come into bed with us!” Don't be anything else but yourself.
Marriage is going to be hard. It's going to require the strength to know yourself and your values. It's not going to be decided by the number of guests at your wedding, the color of someone's shoes, or the flavor of a cake. If you can both be yourself on that one day and proudly boast about your puppy coming down the aisle, you're on the path to self-acceptance.
Eventually those streamers will be in the garbage, and your new dishes will be put away, and many of the wedding details will fade. You'll find yourself late for an event because your husband was in the bathroom for two hours with the sports section. At that moment you'll discover what your marriage really looks like.