May 4, 2005

My controversial etiquette tip.

These people are getting awfully excited about my wedding taste tips. This person too -- and I've got to give her credit for the phrase "Ann's ideal of the wedding as vicarious Tantric sexplay."

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for linking. Boy, the phrase "vicarious Tantric sexplay" sure encourages a lot of click-through! The author of that phrase, Lindsay Beyerstein, stops by the comments here and writes:
Thanks for the link, Ann. I did get a bit overexcited. About etiquette, of all things.

I wish there were fewer long, boring, conventionally extravagant weddings. But that goes for everyone, not just weddings after cohabitation.

The real problem is that our culture encourages couples to set aside the norms of hospitality because it's Their Day. This norm encourages people to add a lot of extraneous self-indulgent stuff because they see the guests as a captive audience.

I think it's really sad when the bridal industrial complex turns what should be a fun occasion into an onerous display of conspicuous consumption.
Yes, "Their Day." This is my day, this is your day, this is our day. Should we not be sick of that banal phrase, which is used to fog over and justify anything the couple decides to inflict on everyone else, from ugly but expensive bridesmaids' dresses on down?

ANOTHER UPDATE, written March 25, 2007: I've been getting some traffic to this post today and was rereading it. Checking the first link, I got to an error page at Pandagon. A little search there got me a workable URL, and I reread the post, which is by Amanda Marcotte (whom I'd never heard of at the time). The second paragraph is written by me, though it is not now set off either by quotation marks or a block and indent.


leeontheroad said...

I like "bridal-industrial complex," so much that it offsets the runaway bride blogging. (I've already heard chapter and verse via LWCN (local water cooler network).)

Freeman Hunt said...

Unless you are an immediate family member (and maybe even then) weddings are an awful bore. All of the very slow walking, all of the posing for pictures, all of the obligatory attentive watching of the bride and groom while they waltz, eat cake, throw flowers, etc.

If any of this is going to be exciting at all, it has to mark the beginning of the people's lives together. If not, it all seems a little silly.

When my husband and I tied the knot, we chose not to have a wedding. It was just the two of us on the steps of an insurance company where the justice of the peace worked. It was great!

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Freeman. Yeah, "slow walking" -- what a crazy way to put on a show! I think a lot of the flak I'm getting is from people who did put on that show (or who plan to) and can't bear to hear what a bad show it was.

Starless said...

Funny how many people reacted so strongly to that post of yours.

I took what you were saying to mean that the Obscenely Huge White Wedding is often a shared cultural fallacy. Traditionally the "white" part of the wedding symbolizes the virginity of the couple (or, at least, the bride) and a new phase of the relationship wherein they start living together. Additionally, the "huge" part was a reflection of the family's real wealth, not a reflection of how far into debt they could go to show off. Therefore, the Obscenely Huge White Wedding for two people who have been living together is a self-delusional act and a tacky one at that.

Unfortunately, all some people seem to have heard in your post was, "sex, sex, together...white wedding, sex, sex". Then again, people often hear what they want to hear, not what's been said.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

Thanks for the link, Ann. I did get a bit overexcited. About etiquette, of all things.

I wish there were fewer long, boring, conventionally extravagant weddings. But that goes for everyone, not just weddings after cohabitation.

The real problem is that our culture encourages couples to set aside the norms of hospitality because it's Their Day. This norm encourages people to add a lot of extraneous self-indulgent stuff because they see the guests as a captive audience.

I think it's really sad when the bridal industrial complex turns what should be a fun occaision into an onerous display of conspicuous consumption.

robert said...

As a fan of Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), I have to say that what seems to "make sense" isn't always right. After reading all the comments I have to side with Ann. The big show, the self-absorption... sigh, it's all a bit tiring.

I was invited recently to the wedding of two friends and I missed it. I had the wrong Saturday. I felt so bad, until I got the skinny: Turns out they were already married, and had the wedding anyway.

I had quite the negative view, with thoughts of "payday" and "dog and pony show" running through my head. I wish them well, of course, but I don't feel as bad for missing the show.

Used to be that those attending a wedding were witnessing something. Without anything to witness, attendants seem to be nothing more than role players in someone's stage show.

Jib said...

I've always viewed weddings as a trade. For putting up with the boring show, the bride, groom & family plies you with food, drinks, and music later. For my own wedding, which came after a long courtship and period of cohabitation, we put a lot thought into the reception. It wasn't extravagant, but the love was in the details, and the good time had by all cancelled out most of the negatives like the boring ceremony.

John Burgess said...

I've always considered that the wedding and reception were more for the couple's parents and family than for the couple themselves. We had a biggish wedding, about 500, that was elegant. That was what was expected in my bride's social milieu, thus it happened.

But we got chased out of the reception after barely an hour; that wasn't our party. It was a party for the guests and family. And it was a damn fine party, too... we both hated to leave!

Amber said...

I'd say a lot of the flak you're getting is from people who think "promises matter" and who believe that no matter what the living arrangements of the couple, a wedding is about a public celebration of that commitment.

In my opinion, making the choice to wed after you live together proves that you value marriage qua marriage and are not just some kids who want a socially sanctioned way of getting sex. I'd venture to guess that most of the same-sex couples we saw get married last year lived together, but the act of marrying changed something significant for them. Some of us think that that specific change is exciting, important, and worthy of recognition for straights and gays alike.

Judith said...

"Unless you are an immediate family member (and maybe even then) weddings are an awful bore."

Oh I don't know. I have been to a few weddings that were marvelous ritual theater, and very moving. (Always older couples who designed the experience down to the last minute.)

My favorite was the 40-somethings who had a thoroughly traditional yet semi-egalitarian Jewish wedding at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, with everyone from black hats to hippies in attendance, a great klezmer band, a huge excellent milchig meal including an ice-cream bar, and a beautifully designed 3 pg. program which described everything that was done and why.

Ann Althouse said...

Amber: you should see the flak I got for this post where I took the marriage vows seriously in the context of criticizing Russ Feingold for making a big deal about his oath of office when he'd just announced that he was getting his second divorce. Read some of the comments over there. Many people said the marriage oath isn't real or somehow doesn't count or that it's just a private exchange between the man and woman. (Or same-sex couple -- not meaning to leave them out. I think some of this sanctimony about weddings is an offshoot of the current gay marriage debate. Oh, weddings must be important because it's a big deal to deny them to gay persons. Note: I support gay marriage -- I just don't support gloppy sentimentality and willful blindness about weddings... and marriage.)

Amber said...

I'm glad you previously stated that marriage vows themselves were important. But if the vows have some intrinsic importance and meaning, cohabitation shouldn't matter. In all cases, the wedding is a public recognition and celebration of a promise that differentiates married couples from unmarried couples (why we feel a need for public recognition and support can be a separate question). Sure, any wedding can be long and boring, but that's an independent variable.

EddieP said...

Only a Playful Primate could conjure up the phrase "vicarious Tantric sexplay"

Vicky said...

Amber: I agree with you. :)

CM said...

I'm with Hatcher: the big wedding isn't always about the bride and groom and "their day." It's just as much about their parents' and families' expectations. Nearly everyone I know has had a much larger wedding than they wanted because their parents insisted they invite third cousins and friends from work.

I had the wedding I wanted, with close friends and family members (even though it still added up to a lot of people), by getting married in my current hometown instead of my parents' hometown. And the 200 family friends who would have moaned and grumbled about having to come just grumbled that they weren't invited. Even though big weddings may be a bore, I think they're often more about other people's expectations than the couple's egos.

NotClauswitz said...

Are any of these Silly Wedding people over 35? Because if they are, they shouldn't be having a big damn to-do, and especially not if they're over 40.
We got married on the Big Island while on vacation, in a grassy traffic-circle - only one witness required: a friend who lives there brought us flowers from her garden. No relatives. After a nice lunch we went snorkling.

Kathleen B. said...

Prof. Althouse - I think some of the reaction to your comments is because you think there is a difference between a big gaudy wedding for virgins and a big gaudy wedding for non-virgins. I admit I don't really see the difference myself. Especially since you subsequently stated that big gaudy weddings aren't "traditional" anyway. I think that each situation is different, and certainly it seems to me like The Big Wedding is just another example of out-of-control, rampant consumerism in America. But I don't really see how living together previously affects that. (great blog!)

Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Freeman Hunt said...

Going to wedding where couple has not previously lived together: "Wow, off they go into their new life together."

Going to wedding where couple has been living together: "Off they go. . . back to their home to continue their life together."

In the first one, the people's lives are actually changing--it's the opening of a new chapter. The second one just doesn't seem like a very big deal. It seems more like a formality. They are just continuing what they were already doing except they are making you go to a long ceremony to pretend that it is a momentous event. In the second case it seems like a small, private wedding (or simple elopement) would be more in order. Maybe a great dinner with friends to "celebate the relationship."

Of course, that's just my opinion, and I don't usually go to weddings unless it is the wedding of an immediate family member.

Ernst Blofeld said...

The major problem with weddings is that chicks are in charge of them. Most weddings are hideous displays of pink and white bows and flowers. They'd be much more interesting if men ran them. Here's my scenario for a manly wedding:

The bride and groom are dropped separately in the woods with a knife and a loincloth 15 miles from the wedding site. The bride may optionally wear a chain mail bikini if she so wishes. The bride and groom have to each make their way, on their own, to the wedding altar. Along the way they have to slay a forest beast with their knife and bring it as an offering to their partner. Killing a large carnivore scores extra style points. I think it says something if your future wife kills a bear in hand-to-hand combat and brings the carcass to the altar. Ditto if the groom brings a small squirrel, slug, or Holstein.

Instead of the wedding march there are drums and a torch-lit ceremony. There's a bonfire, and mead. I'm not clear on what mead is but there should be some. Several drunken brawls are required, along with prayers and sacrifice to Odin. Instead of a white limo, there's a viking longboat. When the happy couple row off into the sunset, there's celebratory AK-47 gunfire.

Men will stop complaining about beign dragged to weddings after a few of these.

Ron said...

blofeld has a good idea! "Why no, Mr. Best Man, I want you to die!"

Oh, wait, that's Goldfinger...whatever.

Maybe we should have more martial weddings; Multiple-Gun Salutes, Fighter Plane Flyovers, perhaps a cake shaped like a country we want to take over...that sort of thing.

Uncle Sam could perform the ceremony, and the bride and groom could get various medals for exceptional traits: The Good Income Combat Ribbon, The Silver Stud, The Will-Wash-The-Dishes medal,

As they leave the church, they could be followed by clouds of chaff and flares, which will disuade bad luck...

The Food? MRE's of course!

At the main dance, the happy couple could be pointed out by laser designator...

and the sign on the wedding Hummer?

"Short -- for Life"

Ron said...

Oh, and needless to say, of course, instead saying "I do", the couple says

"Semper Fi"


Ann Althouse said...

Okay, you guys, let's see you step up to the plate and plan the whole big wedding show. Stop being passive onlookers in rented formalwear. You're right. The wedding is way too conventionally feminine. It's too conventionally feminine for me. So I welcome the male influence on the wedding ceremony. Great!

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

"Their Day" should have been in scare quotes. Our society's wedding rituals are shot through with narcissism, and that's too bad. Some of the best damn parties I've ever been to have been weddings: brief ceremonies, good food, good music, and excellent company.

It's not how much you spend on your wedding or how many people you invite. It's whether you plan the party so that people will enjoy themselves. The whole point is to celebrate, not to stage a command performance.

It's not like the ritually pure couples don't have any special right to bore their friends and impoverish their families.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

Sorry, an extra "don't" slipped into the last sentence which should have read:

It's not like the ritually pure couples have any special right to bore their friends and impoverish their families.

Ann Althouse said...

Lindsay: we mostly agree. I'm willing to tolerate more ridiculous fantasy from a couple in a very old-fashioned situation. As I've been saying all along, I don't care whether or not people are virgins when they marry, but I give virgins more slack as they impose boring rituals on the guests. And I mostly have a point about taste that draws a line not between virgins and non-virgins but between people who are already a household and people who are about to form a household. A living-together couple that comes out for a big do and goes back home to the same life they had before ought to do something more attentive to the happiness of the guests.

Ron said...

Lindsay: I like all those things you mentioned, but shouldn't a wedding be a bit MORE than a good party? How do we define more? Ah, the rub..

Ann: Shouldn't the energy of a wedding be both a masculine and a feminine energy? And perhaps it should be associated with those aspects of our selves that we define as such? In other words, however a man defines himself as 'masculine' (or how a woman defines herself as 'feminine') should be reflected in the ceremony! Forgive the vagueness, but as an ordering principle how's that?

I am specifically aiming for something extra-ordinary; an event/ritual/happening that we just don't normally do. It's what makes it special!

Thinking out loud Ron

Ernst Blofeld said...

those are all excellent ideas for weddings, Ron. You'll do serious bank as a wedding planner under my new regime.

One possiblity in the military motif is to have the bride & groom pop smoke & exit the AO via a helicopter pickup.

David Aitken said...

Ernst Blofeld didn't know what mead was. Here's what M-W says:
Main Entry: 1mead
Pronunciation: 'mEd
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English mede, from Old English medu; akin to Old High German metu mead, Greek methy wine
: a fermented beverage made of water and honey, malt, and yeast.

It sounds like mead is the direct cause of the drunken debauchery so desired.

MT said...

"I give virgins more slack as they impose boring rituals on the guests."

Oh, for the days when we could throw a virgin into the volcano when we felt like a show. Who's dumb idea was it to put the virgins in charge!?

paintedgoat said...

Large weddings for people who have been previously cohabitating are tacky. This is because couples who've lived together on a contingency basis for a few months or years have already shown their contempt for marriage in particular and society in general.

To all greedy wedding guests: The point of a wedding is not to get drunk on free beer at the reception and gripe if there's a cash bar. That is even tackier than throwing a huge wedding after you've been living together.

The point of a wedding is to vow before God (or whatever other authority if you don't believe in God) and everyone else to be faithful to your spouse and support them through the rest of their life. Has anyone else noticed that the wedding has become much more important in our culture than the marriage? No wonder we have a 50% divorce rate!

Ron said...

This is because couples who've lived together on a contingency basis for a few months or years have already shown their contempt for marriage in particular and society in general.

Yes, Julie they've shown such contempt for marriage that they've chosen to get married at this particular time and are having a large party to show everyone how contemptous of them they are!

Don't readily ascribe the contempt you have to others whose approach to marriage may be different than your own.

Ron said...

Herr Blofeld: Thanks for the praise, I hope to be the Bridal Albert Speer in the thousand years of your reign.

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't like big weddings because I think that they give the wrong message. My ex's youngest brother's first wife had the wedding of her dreams to him. She had been fantisizing for years about what she wanted to do, and then was able to do it.

Problem was that after that, what? Married life can be much more boring than single life.

The marriage lasted less than six months. He ended up with all the debt for it, and spent the next year or so working double shifts as a NJ State Trooper to pay it off.

The problem is that this is supposed to be the biggest day of a girl's life. And then what? Downhill for the next 70 years?

Maybe it made sense 100 years ago, when she often had a life expectancy of a decade or two, probably dying in childbirth. Might as well do something nice to make all that worth it for her.

But today, women are not likely to die in childbirth. Very unlikely. They are also unlikely to spend much of their adult life pregnet.

Maybe if these women weren't so fixated on their weddings, they would take a bit more time objectively looking at the guy they are marrying and see if that is how they want to spend the rest of their lives.

Quasi-girlfriend and her ex paid a lot for her daughter's wedding. She wanted so badly to have a big wedding, get married, and have a couple of kids. Well, she got all that. She has two young boys. And her husband is a tweaker. He took off again last week after getting their income tax refund. May see him in a couple of months when the money runs out. Meanwhile, she is struggling to work and raise those boys alone, without a college education.

She should have listened to everyone who told her before she got married that her intended had an addictive personality, and was already drinking too much and doing drugs. But she wanted that big wedding so badly, that she ended up screwing up both her own life, but also that of her two small boys for this.

So, no, I don't think big weddings are a good thing anymore.