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On Getting Married, Part 1

November 15th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m a married man!

And I’m delighted about the whole thing.  The future that I get to create and live out with my beloved the next seven decades or so is quite exciting, and I shall have much to share on the matter as time goes by.

But for now, speaking as a newly vetted participant in the whole “planning a wedding and getting married” thing, I have a few reflections to share on the matter.  Depending on your own marital status, what follows may either read as one man’s [highly abridged] guide to how to do it, or one man’s [vaguely entertaining] recounting of going through it.  In this part I want to discuss what strangely turned out to be a pivotal concept on our road to wedding day:

Defying expectations without dissing them.

The phrase “defying expectations” is usually used in, say, popular media, to connote things along the lines of “mystical”, “magical”, “delightfully surprising”: something that goes beyond the ordinary, predictable ho-hum.  In this case I use “defying” more in the spirit of a petulant child that doesn’t want to do as told, and “expectations” to refer to fast held notions of WHAT SHOULD BE.

I gather that, for a great many couples (Tracy & I included), the act of getting married/planning a wedding comes ready-made with strong sense of urgency to do things in accordance with a certain established way.  (Contrast this against the process being a blank canvas, with bride and groom having full freedom to do whatever is within their own style and self expression.)

No, by default a couple seldom has the luxury of that proverbial blank canvas upon which to create and plan their nuptials, but rather inherits a big ball of expectations that said nuptials should live up to.  It’s not surprising nor unreasonable that a feeling of pressure is there: it’s simply the sum total of various ideas and ideals that come from surrounding culture, friends, and family.  I mean, everyone knows a wedding is a big deal. And the bride and groom are generally in on it too: just by carrying a desire to have the wedding be pleasing and memorable for all involved, even the unspoken (or imagined and non-existent) expectations of others get added in.

So, when it came to Tracy and I (Tracy especially, from her experience as a wedding photographer), we realized that this sense of pressure would be there.  And we felt it.  And we occasionally got carried away or stressed by it until remembering that our wedding was in fact ours to create.  And we subsequently forgot that wisdom and went back to step one, and repeated as necessary.

Like everyone else, we really wanted to be sure we were planning our wedding to be the way we wanted it.  Perhaps less like everyone else, we were prepared and willing to say “no” to things that are highly anticipated or expected.  We were even excited to do so, to be so defiant and say to the world “we’re not gonna do X, Y or Z because everyone else does… this will be OURS!”.  It was the active resistance to doing any particular thing because it was simply expected of us: expectation without a matching desire on our part wasn’t sufficient.  Anytime we felt ourselves going through the motions of the “getting married” script and/or letting that script make our decisions for us, we came back to the question “How would John and Tracy get married?” and resumed thought from there.

It’s harder to do than it looks. :)  To be crystal clear: we didn’t even have any overzealous parents who were going zilla-style controlling on the situation.  Rather, all three were the epitome of being laid back, hands off, and keen to root us on.  Like I said before, the weight of it comes from the sum many [even humble] opinions and ideals.

But we got through to the blessed day and stayed reasonably true to our intentions, and the result was darn good.  I of course cannot be trusted to not be biased, but I will put in nonetheless that it was the best wedding I’ve ever been to.

So what did we say “no” to during our crusade for wedding individuality, and how did it fare?  Here’s the list of things that are super common in American weddings, about which were greeted by at least some form of suspicion by our non-adherence:

  • Save the Dates and RSVPs. Our save the date notice went out as an email notice leading our people to a website where we hit them up for their mailing address (electronically).  We still sent the RSVP by conventional mail, but it sure was nice to have the replies come back via the internet.  The site for both was pretty spiffy, too.
  • Bride’s maids and groom’s men. Just a Maid of Honor and a Best Man filled out our wedding party.  For my sake with groom’s men, I love my brothers and there are a few other friends who would’ve fit the bill, but I preferred to kept it simple.  Tracy’s been a bride’s maid 3 times already and is clear she did her friends a huge favor by not subjecting them to the cost and rigmarole.
  • Bachelor party. It’s supposed to be just the groom with his dude friends, I’m told, but I was quite content to have some of my near and dear girl friends be there to celebrate the occasion.  I had no interest in going to a strip club anyway.
  • Diamond ring. Tracy and I are both underwhelmed by diamond craze and think it’s only by a massive marketing campaign that rock size is somehow indicative of how much we love each other.  Nothing against anyone who chose and loves their diamonds, went simply opted for topaz instead.
  • Groom in a tuxedo. A rental would only fit so well, and a purchase would just collect dust afterward. It’s just not my style.  A three-piece suit, however, is.  Not only that, but it’s a fine piece of formal wear that I shall enjoy to wear out again.
  • Bride’s bouquet. We wanted to chuck the whole thing, but were ruled by reason that it’s an important ornament/something to do with the hands for the bride, during ceremony and pictures.  Jury’s still out on how grateful we are for caving on that one: Tracy couldn’t get rid of it fast enough and who can really say if it would have been all that awkward without it?
  • Religious ceremony. It turns out a Celtic knot tying ceremony spoke to us more genuinely than any particular religious doctrine on the subject of marriage, so that’s what we went with.  (My sister had the best reaction when I told her in advance of this: “So is that like, your religion now?” as if I’d just turned 2 shades weirder on her.)
  • Specially colored slip covers for the ceremony chairs. We were thinking it a superfluous detail that would only last about 30 minutes, but we did back down from our “no” on this one.  I will admit, they looked pretty darn good in a way that white or black wouldn’t have.
  • Elaborate decoration. We got by with adding very minimal decorations to the space in which we were married and had our reception, the space as it came needed so little else to have the ambiance we were looking for.  We even passed on having some sort of height-building elements (floral or otherwise) to demarcate our “alter” for the ceremony: we figured the 3 of us standing front and center would make it a focal point enough.
  • Sit-down dinner. We opted instead for heavy passed appetizers, spiffy spreads of various foods, a whipped potato martini bar, and carving station.
  • 10-top round tables for the reception. In our experience, people only talk with their dates and those seated to the left and the right under that setup.  We wanted more intermingling among our peeps, and so opted for a scattered assortment of high tops and 4-tops, all unreserved.  Worked great for coming and going with our alternative catering option.
  • Wedding cake. In our experience it’s overpriced, generally not as great as it’s cracked up to be, and three’s usually a ton left over and thrown away.  So we skipped entirely.  Instead we had a gelato cart with four fab flavors to choose from.

To be clear, I’m not saying that anything we did was revolutionary: a lot of these variations on the theme have either been around a long time or are coming more and more into vogue.  But every item on that list was a point of contention, met with some sort of surprise, misgivings, distaste or reservation by at least one person who is important to us.  It is these things that we stood for, the things that needed to be stood for because they don’t garnish immediate universal acceptance, which made our wedding ours.  Simply put, with no disrespect to the standard formula of weddings (ok, except perhaps wedding cake: I blasted that pretty hard) we sought to have ours a different way.  And from my vantage point, it totally worked.

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