Everything I need to know about weddings I learned from The Worst Wedding Ever. This wedding was one of a string of weddings to which I’ve been invited since I turned 25 and everyone around me started tying the knot (or, in many cases, smashing the glass). It was in Orange County. In a fundamentalist church. And it was awful.
The church looked more like a community center than a house of worship. The music was a bad recording of someone on an out-of-tune organ playing the “Wedding March” poorly. The vows were openly chauvinistic. The table decorations were cheap. The food was bland. And the wedding DJ, who didn’t play anything newer than Devo, would’ve even embarrassed other wedding DJs with his level of cheesiness.
Most weddings I’d attended before this shared something in common with my own wedding fantasies: the Juliette-sytle dress, perhaps, or the charmingly personal photo montage showing the bride and groom growing up. At other weddings, the choice of “At Last” for the first dance would make me cry or the gorgeous view from the mountaintop reception would make me jealous. And all of these things would lead me directly into my own fantasy world, where I’d continue making plans for the fantasy wedding I started inventing at age 6.
But this one was just too awful. There was no room for my fantasy in it. In fact, my fantasy was blown apart, dried in the smoggy air, and then scattered across the barren parking lot while bridesmaids were announced like Star Search contestants. And that left all sorts of room in my brain for thinking about what a wedding really is supposed to be.
That’s when I came up with this: It’s an expression of love between two adult individuals. As such, it should reflect the individuals’ unique personalities and the one-of-a-kind personality that characterizes their union. Which means just about everything that tells us what a wedding is supposed to be — e.g., family expectations, childhood dreams, and bridal magazines — is pretty much useless. How can you know what your wedding should be like until you know whom it is you’re going to marry? And how can anyone else know how to express your relationship when only you and your spouse-to-be truly understand it (if even you do)?
At this horrific wedding, I began to fantasize about what kind of event Molly the Grownup (not Molly the First-Grade Fairy Princess) would want. There would be red velvet and flickering candles. Music that makes your hips move and sensuous, sweet foods that make you smile. Bridesmaids would wear what they wanted. The Rolling Stones would play at the reception . . . or maybe Radiohead. But I could only get so far. After all, I’m not engaged yet, and I needed to leave room in my planning for the groom. So I kept these ideas in mind, and started doing research at the weddings I attended after the Orange County disaster even when they were good enough to let me disappear into my dream world.
It turns out that a lot of couples do have this thing right. I watched one couple marry on a trapeze wearing red and orange costumes they’d designed themselves, with friends in black and white watching from below. I saw a cowboy wedding where a five-minute Garth Brooks song played in the middle of the ceremony. And one of my favorites replaced the wedding party with friends reading the couple’s favorite poetry, including Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places We’ll Go.
These were fantastic not because they were eccentric, but because they authentically represented the people involved. The trapeze wedding made sense because the bride and groom are circus performers. The cowboy wedding, with its bridesmaids in gingham and groomsmen in Wranglers, would’ve been cheesy for anyone who wasn’t brought up on a ranch—but these people were. And the non-traditional riff on a traditional ceremony suited my progressive, well-educated, Dr. Seuss-loving friends perfectly.
I don’t have anything against traditional weddings, per se. It’s more that it seems many of us forget that everything in our wedding should be meaningful to the people actually getting married. If the religious Catholic ceremony or the bouquet-throwing tradition resonates with you, then by all means use them.
My childhood best friend did, when she got married at a country club, but it suited both her and the sweet, genuine man she was marrying. But if you’re a pink-haired performance artist marrying an atheist fire performer, you’ll just look silly wearing a white Laura Ashley dress and giving out bags of M&Ms tied with fake wedding rings as party favors.
Of course, this is all easy for me to say now, before the pressures of my parents’ wishes, my cultural traditions, and my budget start clashing with my methods of self-expression—not to mention the same for my groom-to-be. But I’d like to think that when I get to the point where I’m ready to take that step, I’ll remember that my girlhood fantasies are just that: dreams. Sure, when I was a little girl I wanted to wear a tiara at my wedding. But I also always wanted to be Rainbow Brite when I grew up. Both are perfectly acceptable fantasies. Both may need to be given up in order to be a full and healthy adult.
And as for the groom? I know that some men simply back out of wedding planning, letting the ceremony and reception be the bride’s — and hers alone — as a kind of first wedding gift to her. But I’d rather plan mine with the person it’s supposed to celebrate, instead of considering him the way I did as a child: an accessory, like the flowers or the forks.
Unless, of course, the groom wants bad organ music and a fundamentalist church. Then I’m going back to my childhood fantasy: me and the white flowers and the Juliette dress and the outdoor ceremony. And, oh yeah. I guess the groom is invited too.