I was going to save this post for a month from now when my husband and I celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary, but since my feelings of nostalgia strike at rather random times I figured I would write about our wedding now while the iron is hot. That era of our life is something I enjoy reflecting on from time to time and some of my culturally conservative readers may wonder what a feminist wedding looks like. Not that there is any one way that a feminist wedding should look . . . but, as in all areas of my life, I am generally conscious of the gender implications of what I do.
Introducing my husband to the family: My husband and I agreed to marry fairly early on in our relationship, 2 1/2 years before the actual wedding date. But I didn't want to tell my parents until the time was exactly right. Mainly I wanted to tell them closer to the time when I would actually get married in order to reduce any negative reactions they might have. So for a long time, they just knew I had a close friend from law school who taught me how to drive and with whom I spent a lot of time. When we were getting to the point of setting an actual date, I told my parents that I thought it would be nice if they met my friend and took us out to dinner. My "friend" couldn't come to my parents' house for dinner because their house wasn't wheelchair accessible, but my parents graciously treated us to dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in their town. My thought was that the first meeting between my fiance and my parents would be less awkward if they weren't meeting him for the first time AFTER getting the news. After the dinner, my fiance left and I stayed over for the weekend with my parents. We had after-dinner-drinks on the deck and my dad said, "Well, are you ever going to see this guy again now that he's graduating from law school?" And I said, "Actually, we're getting married."
My parents, to their credit, only allowed a very short stunned silence to elapse before they both said, "Wow. That's great." My mother leapt up to open a bottle of champagne and my father clapped me on the back and gave me a big cigar. It was very big of them because I am positive they were secretly concerned about me marrying a paraplegic. However, they had vowed all my life to accept my choice with open arms no matter what.
My mother never hinted at having any reservations about my husband whatsoever. My father, however, asked me several times later whether I was sure about my choice. He opined that I was setting myself up for a "hard life."
Large wedding or small? I will admit that I had a rather negative attitude to start off with about having a large wedding. We don't have large weddings in my family. My grandparents got married in my great-grandfather's parsonage with only about five or six people present. My other grandparents were married in a civil registry office. My parents were married in a civil registry office. But my husband comes from a large Irish Catholic family, and nothing less than a large wedding of at least 100 guests would do.
I was terribly worried about how to finance it and whether it would turn into a big production that would all fall on my shoulders while I was studying for the Bar Exam. But it all turned out fine, and my husband was just as involved as I was in doing the work to put this thing together.
Location, location, location: We initially chose a charming country inn for our wedding and were all set to sign a contract when BAM -- the charming country inn pulled a bait-and-switch on us. They had given us one price but then at the eleventh hour said that it would be an additional $2500 if we wanted to use their dining room tables and chairs, which of course I had assumed were part of the original price. I think they figured we were sentimentalists who now had our heart set on their place.
Instead we walked away and settled for the country club where everyone in my husband's home town gets married. It was better that way, because it was cheap and they did all the catering on site. It was also gorgeous. We got married on the patio before a vista of fields and mountains.
I skimped on costs by buying no flowers or decorations whatsoever. Fortunately, we married on a Sunday so we were able to use the outdoor canopy left behind by the couple who married the day before.
The food was unfortunately mediocre (except for the cake), but I was glad to dispense with the hassle of dealing with an outside caterer. The one expense that I insisted on for the comfort of our guests was an open bar. The bar bill only turned out to be $350 for 100 people, however. I was expecting it to be five times as much but I guess I have very sober guests or else people don't like drinking on a Sunday afternoon.
Looking your best? I will admit that I succombed to a desire to look my very best for the occasion. It is not often that one is the center of attention or that all of one's friends and family are gathered together at once. I cultivated a tan all summer and I kept my weight down to its lower natural limit. Despite being 26, I had never worn make-up before, but I got a makeover, some tips, and a bag of basic make-up from the Estee Lauder counter.
Finding the dress was the toughest part. I wanted something white that was not too obviously bridal. I envisioned a white daytime dress evocative of a 1920s or 1930s garden party. In fact, there are virtually no such dresses in regular dress stores. Finally, my mother and I went to an actual bridal store. I broke down and tried on a couple of big wedding dresses. The ladies who ran the store fussed and fawned over me. They kept telling me I looked just "like a little princess," while my mother tried to keep a straight face. Finally, I was about to give up when I saw it -- the perfect dress, categorized by the bridal store as a "going away dress."
It had a V-neck with with a white flower at the bottom of the V, and a loose empire line at the top with lots of little seed pearls around the top. It was loose but narrow around down the body until it flounced outward subtly just above the ankles. The sleeves were slightly more than a capped sleeve. The dress cost only $75 (I paid another $100 for alterations) -- as compared to, say $1750, for a bona fide wedding dress. The ladies in the store kept telling me, "You can't use that for your wedding dress. It's not a wedding dress." But I was delighted.
I wore the wedding dress with white stockings and 1920s style low-heeled white shoes with straps. I had a large boquet of red, purple, and white flowers and a barrette in the back of my hair with some little purple flowers. My husband wore a business suit, a tie carefully vetted by me, and a carnation. I think we did indeed look our best.
Ceremony: I didn't feel comfortable making a grand entrance so I showed up early for my wedding and greeted guests as they arrived. In retrospect maybe that wasn't the greatest choice, because some people seemed really disconcerted to see me right away. On the other hand, neither my husband nor I are walking-down-the-aisle people, and our ceremony was so short that it would have been anti-climactinc after a dramatic walk down the aisle.
Our ceremony was conducted by a female justice-of-the-peace who was a friend of my sister-in-law. We had people gather round on foot to watch the ceremony. My mother stood up for me and my husband's sister stood up for him. Our neice and nephew were flower girl and ring-bearer respectively. Although I didn't plan it that way, I liked the symbolism of my husband being surrounded by women as he got married. While he is certainly your typical American male in most respects, I think his upbringing by a single mother and close relationship with his older sister have made him who he is and have contributed to his ability to relate to and respect women better than a lot of men.
The actual ceremony was a reading of the traditional marriage ceremony by our JP, updated slighly for feminist purposes ("husband and wife" instead of "man and wife," and no references to "obey"). My husband also requested that we take out "in sickness and in health" as it made him slightly self-conscious. We were under no pressure to say anything except "I do," at the right time and to put the rings on each other's fingers. Although we both thought we were very calm, we both found that our fingers were trembling when it came time to put the rings on each other -- a fact that I tease my husband about constantly to this day.
The ceremony ended after just a couple of minutes and we immediately turned around for the hugs and congratulations from everyone gathered around. The waitstaff started bringing around drinks and hors d'oevres, and we took some pictures. There was a meal and then dancing. Our music (via DJ) was Ella Fitzgerald and some other "soft" jazz during the cocktail hour, Mozart's Horn Concertos during dinner, and then dance music that we specifically requested beforehand or that was requested by our guests during the event.
Road bumps? Yep, we had 'em.
Probably my biggest mistake was doing a seating chart. I wanted to do one because I always prefer to be told where to sit at weddings than having to worry about where to sit. But man, it was a huge nightmare trying to figure who would want to sit with whom and trying to make the numbers work out. And then, my uncle and aunt canceled four days before, throwing the whole thing out of whack and forcing us to redo it. No sooner had we redone our seating chart, then a death in the legal community forced some of my husband's colleagues to cancel in order to attend the funeral. And we had to redo the whole chart again. And in the end, my husband's grumpy aunt was so offended by where we placed her that she refused to hug me or even shake my hand at my own wedding.
The other road bump was an obstreperous DJ. We had told the company two months in advance and even confirmed in writing that we ONLY wanted him to play music. We didn't want him to say anything, announce anything, or do a comedy routine. But two days before the wedding, during my final consultation with the DJ, he threw a fit. He was upset that we were limiting his artistic license and he felt that people would think he was falling down on the job if he didn't at least announce us as "Mr. and Mrs. Husband." He wasn't swayed by my protestations that I was never going to be "Mrs. Husband" or that my friends or family wouldn't expect such a thing. Finally, he said, "You know, I'm not an amoeba. I have a brain. I can do more than just stand there and play records." I felt kind of bad that he felt I was impugning his vocation but it was too late to switch to a company that was more compatible with what we wanted. I had to force him to be an amoeba.
I was none too pleased, however, when I arrived at the wedding to find advertising placards for the DJ on every table. I was prepared to do battle in my little white dress and all, but my dad persuaded me to let the guy keep them. "Give the guy I break," he said. So I did. Grudgingly. And I could tell the guy was pouting during the whole wedding.
Finances: It was very important to me that my husband and I pay for the wedding ourselves, rather than rely on parental support. This was mostly due to my father's controlling nature and the fact that whoever pays gets to call the shots. My parents were cool with that although he was a little discomfited at the notion that my husband's family might think he's a cheapskate. So I told them all that my dad was really upset not to be able to pay but it was very important to me to things for myself. I think it worked out well because we didn't have to deal with any of the classic wedding nightmares involving clashes with overly involved parents.
We financed the wedding by my husband's savings from his first year of work, and my savings from cutting back on my living expenses during my last year of law school. My parents insisted on paying for some very expensive, very traditional engraved invitations and my sister-in-law insisted on hiring a photographer (which we were going to do without). And we put the rest (ahem) on our credit cards.
As it turned out, we needn't have worried. You see, we didn't sign up for a bridal registry (as I grew up abroad and was unfamiliar with the concept) so a lot of people didn't know what to get us. I never expected that people would actually give us money -- but a lot of people did. Our parents gave sizeable monetary gifts and a lot of other people wrote checks of $50 or $100. So I wound up feeling somewhat embarrassed that I had scrimped on wedding expenses as much as I did; it seemed wrong to make a profit on our own wedding. Of course, to this day, we still don't have fabulous matching china sets, but that's okay.
I'd do it again! I went into the wedding planning process with some reluctance, but both the planning and the event itself were a very positive experience. It is a good exercise for couples to work together to come up with an event that reflects their values and to have to compromise and negotiate their respective wishes under the constraints of time, space, and money.
And it was fun and got us thinking about who we are and how we wanted to present ourselves as a couple. I have gone from someone who never fantasized about weddings as a little girl to being something of a wedding junkie in my adulthood. I love going to weddings now and observing how these events reflect the individuality of the couples involved. The best compliment we got on our wedding was from several people who said: "That was SO you!"
If I have the chance to throw a big party again for my nearest and dearest around the country, I would do it again in a heartbeat -- and perhaps splurge a little more this time. It was wonderful to gather together everyone we knew and the aspect of the wedding of which I am proudest was that we actually spent some significant time with each and every one of our wedding guests both at the event itself and over the course of the weekend.