Saturday, October 23, 2010

(Insert Gagging Noise Here)

After my realization that the MOTG is saddled with some rather arcane rules, I decided to see what I could dig up on the MOTB's rules and regulations. Now, I did this thinking it would be fairly straightforward; note, however, the recurring trend of me starting out, blissfully thinking "Oh, this shouldn't be too bad," and then being cosmically bitchslapped back to reality by the machinations of the MIC.


Anyways, at first it all seemed pretty tame. Help with the planning, lead the receiving line, help the bride pick out a dress, yadda yadda yadda. In the words of Dr. Evil, "pretty standard, really."

But then it jumped out at me. Amidst all the "help your daughter choose her flowers..." and the "help the bride choose the venue..." bullet points, there it was. The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad task.

The MOTB is supposed to buy wedding night and honeymoon lingerie for the bride, and then present her with these offerings at the bridal shower.

I nearly projectile vomited on my computer.

How the hell could this possibly be a good idea?! I mean, I'm close with my mom. After all, she's the woman who, when I developed a raging case of colic a few days after I was born, somehow loved me enough to not drive back to the hospital, hand me to the maternity nurses, and say "This product is defective. I'd like to exchange it for one that works." Once I outgrew the colic, she dealt with my refusal to take naps and my invention of an imaginary little brother named Richard on whom I blamed any and all of my bad behavior. Including my lipstick art on the bathroom mirror. But I don't want to talk about that.

The bottom line is: my mom has put up with a lot from me over the last (almost) 30 years, and we're pretty damn close. The least I can do is involve her in this process as much as possible. However, I'd rather take a road trip across Iran with an Israeli flag attached to my car than follow through on this shit-sorry tradition.

Thankfully, she's totally on the same page, and she informed me that she'll buy me flannel PJs and socks instead. So as far as I'm concerned, all is well.

However, I still wonder who came up with this wretched idea. I hadn't heard of this before (obviously), so I wonder if it's something that pre-dates me. Is it some weird hold-over from the days of yore? Or, alternatively, was it thought up by the Real Housewives of New Jersey?

I'm sufficiently horrified by it that I want to know why it exists at all, but none of the wedding websites provided any backstory. But I still want to make sense of this, even if it's just to reassure myself that this is a weird custom from some bygone era when it was socially acceptable -- and neither the mother of the bride nor the bride herself would literally die from sheer humiliation.

I'm also left to wonder who actually abides this tradition. Is it common, and I've just been unaware of it? Do people routinely survive bridal showers at which they're presented with lacy undergarments and "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" comments about the wedding night? From their mom? And are the moms who follow through on this tradition the same women who subsidize their daughters' boob jobs as 16th birthday gifts?

And, most importantly, am I the only one who's totally grossed out by this shit?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Four Weddings and an Epiphany

This past weekend, my Betrothed and I went to Texas -- where he was born and raised -- for a wedding.

My Betrothed was one of the groomsmen, so the night before the wedding, he and the other dudes in the wedding party went out for a beer. Now, I'm a big believer in the theory that dude time is sacred, so I was happy to veg out in the hotel room while all the menfolk bonded. Since it was a Friday night, I knew What Not to Wear would be on, and I love What Not to Wear. I was a happy camper. (Seriously, why can't Stacy and Clinton come to DC? Half this town is in desperate need of their services. I'm not kidding. People here wear suits that are either way too big or way too small; they use mid-90s era scrunchies copiously, and there are entirely too many Washingtonians walking around in terribly misguided colors, cuts and patterns. But I digress.)

However, my plans to commune with Stacy and Clinton were thwarted when I realized that What Not to Wear was over. Instead, a show called Four Weddings was on. I was intrigued.

Now, the premise of Four Weddings is that four brides, all strangers, attend each others' weddings and judge them according to the venue, the dress, the food, and the overall experience. Whoever gets the highest overall rating grabs her husband and goes on an all-expense-paid trip to some heinously luxurious, jaw-dropping location for the honeymoon.

When I realized that each wedding was going to be judged and ranked, my stomach started to churn --and I knew it wasn't the Mexican food I'd just eaten. It was, instead, that fearsome word: judged.

This, I think, strikes fear into the heart of every bride. The more ensconced I become in wedding planning, the more I realize that judgment is a constant theme behind almost every facet of this event. Everyone is judging you. I've never heard this explicitly stated on a website, show or any other spokesmedia for the MIC. However, it's stated in much more covert, but no less intimidating, ways.

"You don't want to leave your guests disappointed."

"People will notice if you don't have a beautiful cake."

"But what will people say?!"

"Everyone will think you're cheap and trying to cut corners."

No one ever comes right out and says it, but it's always there: the event must live up to everyone's expectations, because all those in attendance are judging you. (Also, BTW, the fate of the free world rests on your shoulders. But hey, no pressure.)

So, the fact that Four Weddings is based on judgment hit a nerve with me. How the hell is this supposed to make any bride feel even a little bit better about her impending nuptials when she sees people fucking rating the food, her dress, and the always-nebulous "overall experience"? Gak. My stomach churned on.

My initial intrigue turned to horror, though, when I saw the absurd extravagance of the four featured weddings. The brides' respective budgets never got lower than $50,000. For some, the reception budget alone was over $50,000.

Holy shit.

Let me tell you what I could do with $50,000. I could make a significant dent in my student loans. My Betrothed and I could eventually use it as a down payment on a house. We could put it towards college funds for the kids we'll have someday. I could pillage Target and lay waste to their accessories and small appliances sections. There's a veritable cornucopia of options, and they all strike me as better uses of 50 grand than a wedding reception.

But no. Each event cost at least 50K, and they were lavish. The just-wed couple left their respective churches not in any nice car, but in uber-vintage limos -- one of which had been used in The Godfather. Each wedding was followed by a cocktail hour at a country club, or some equally posh location, that resembled the lair of Greek gods. There were 20-foot long buffets at said cocktail hours, followed by rich three-course sit-down dinners at the formal reception. There were open bars capable of accommodating 300 guests. 6-foot tall centerpieces, each exploding with perfectly-arranged and obnoxiously fancy flowers, adorned each table. The dance floor was enormous. A pack of woolly mammoths could've done the Macarena on those dance floors, and they still wouldn't have gotten in the way of the other guests.

And yet, none of these brides, nor their extravagant receptions, got high scores. The fillet mignon was too salty. The music was too loud. There wasn't enough dancing. There was always something wrong. At that point, I found myself thinking, "My God. No wonder brides are scared shitless of being judged! This is irrefutable proof that everyone is, in fact, judging us, and nothing is ever good enough to escape that judgment."

This led me to an epiphany: this show was also irrefutable proof that, no matter how much money you spend on your wedding day, you can't please everyone. Having a lavish reception, replete with expensive steak and ice sculptures, isn't going to prevent some people from being less than thrilled. Your great-uncle twice-removed will think the expensive steak is salty. Another person will be find the music too loud, while someone else will think it's not loud enough. It simply isn't possible to throw money at The Big Day and, voila, thus ensure that everyone will think it's perfect.

Then I had another epiphany: I've never felt comfortable at lavish weddings. I've been to a lot of weddings at this point in my life, and I can compare the laid-back events to the extravagant fetes I've attended -- and the laid-back, non-extravagant events win hands-down. Every time. Those weddings are the fun ones. There isn't an ounce of pretension, and the bride and groom are there to get married, not impress people. When people abandon the need to show what they're capable of spending on a wedding, the whole experience magically transforms into a ridiculously fun, meaningful day that the vast majority of guests (not to mention the bride and groom) genuinely enjoy.

At that point, the Four Weddings-induced rebellion that had been brewing in my estomago began to abate. "Ok," I thought, "there's no need to hyperventilate. No one needs an astronomically expensive and luxurious wedding to have fun or avoid being judged." A lot of people think it's necessary to emulate the type of events shown on Four Weddings, but I'm convinced that it's not. To use terribly nerdy scientific terms, there just might be an inverse correlation between a wedding's lavishness, especially when it's in response to the fear of judgment, and how much fun people actually have attending it.

After watching the bulk of the show and having realized its sheer absurdity, I knew without a doubt that a wedding doesn't have to be extravagant to be extraordinary. What makes a wedding extraordinary are the people, not the venue, the dress, or the food.

This was reinforced the next day, when I went to the wedding that my Betrothed was in. It was lovely. It was small and totally unpretentious. The flowers were gorgeous, and they weren't extravagant. The whole thing was beautiful. The people -- bride and groom, wedding party, other guests -- were fantastic. It was meaningful for everyone there, totally unique to the couple getting married, and genuinely enjoyable. Everyone relaxed and had a great time. In fact, it's one of the most enjoyable weddings I've ever attended.

And so, brides of the world, rest assured: you don't have to have a wedding so lavish it could be confused with the coronation of an 18th-century monarch. Doing so won't ensure that everyone loves it. It won't spare you from judgment. It won't cement your place in the Greatest Weddings of All Time list. (Besides, Charles and Di's wedding pretty much has that covered, and none of us mere mortals can compete with it.)

However, if you let go of the fear of judgment -- no, seriously, drop kick that shit off your balcony -- chances are, you'll have a lovely wedding that both you and your guests will enjoy. You'll have more fun if you're not overcome by palpitations at the thought of some little detail being less than perfect. Your guests will be able to relax and have a good time. And, in the end, your stomach lining, bank account, family, and friends will all thank you for telling that fear of judgment to sod off. Trust me: you're better off without it, no matter what Four Weddings or the MIC make you think.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Archaic Dress Rules

I've heard women lament that raising boys is hard. They're rambunctious, they consume unfathomable volumes of food, and then there's that bit about snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. (Relatedly: the snakes and snails I can understand, but who the hell brings home a puppy's tail? Would you not be more than a bit disturbed if your child, regardless of gender, brought home a disembodied tail? Ten bucks says that whoever wrote that verse turned into a serial killer. But I digress.)

Anyways, I was confronted by a new reason for women to lament: when one's son gets married, apparently the mother of the groom (MOTG) is supposed to sit down, be quiet, and do everything the bride and her mom tell her to do.

I learned this when my future mother-in-law asked if I'd given any thought to what sort of dress I want her to wear. Truth be told, I hadn't. What I want, though, is for everyone in the wedding party to wear something that makes them feel comfortable and happy.

The purpose of this event, after all, is a happy one -- so I see no reason to impose wardrobe rules that lead to a day of discomfort and misery. Who wants to spend the day thinking "these pantyhose are cutting off my circulation," or "oh shit, my boobs are about to fall out of my bridesmaid's dress," or "this tux, while avant-garde and ludicrously trendy, is also made of wool and is therefore scratchy and UNBEARABLY HOT" before passing out due to lack of blood flow, humiliation, or heat stroke? Seriously, people: no good can come of this.

This is my future mother-in-law's first time being an MOTG, so, much like me, she's doing lots of online research to figure out what she's supposed to do. It turns out that the Interwebz are chock full of etiquette guidelines for MOTGs, and they're all fairly intimidating. The MOTG's instructions on how to purchase a dress that matches the mother of the bride's (MOTB) sounded particularly bad.

Now, before you go wondering why I don't care about such things, let me just say that I know there are plenty of people who want to make sure the moms don't clash. It might not be an issue for me -- my future mother-in law has good taste, and I trust her to find something nice -- but it sure doesn't strike me as ridiculous.

However, coordinating the moms' dresses is one thing. Coordination entails two or more competent adults and, hopefully, mutual respect. In coordination, those adults talk to each other; they discuss their respective needs and preferences. They find dresses that go well together, but that still account for personal taste. It's a group effort. It seems like a pretty reasonable way to do things.

However, the various MIC-based internet fora have different ideas. To quote one column (which shall be henceforth referred to as "the archaic dress rules"):

"It is the bride's mother who will first select a dress for her daughter's wedding. A gown of complimentary style and color is then chosen by the groom's mother. She must wear long if the bride's mother wears long and short if she wears short. The color should not match the bridesmaids' dresses, nor the mother of the bride's, but should be a complimentary color."

If one wants the dresses to match, coordination is ok. The archaic dress rules, by contrast, are totally absurd.

First, asking the the mother of the bride (MOTB) to unilaterally dictate the parameters within which the MOTG will choose her dress seems...not particularly nice. I know, from my one year of Catholic school -- during which time I absolutely loathed and felt totally oppressed by the dress code -- that I wouldn't be excited about an outside party dictating the terms of the dress I wear to my kid's wedding. Ergo, I can't imagine that anyone else would be too stoked by this idea either.

Secondly, these instructions seem to have an insidious subtext: "You, MOTG, have little to no input here. Do as the MOTB says. Don't even try to get something you genuinely like, because the world will stop spinning on its axis if your dress is the same color as the bridesmaids' or, worse, has a longer hemline than the MOTB's. If you do, the apocalypse will be upon us and it will be all your fault."

Call me lackadaisical, but I can't bring myself to be aggrieved by the idea that my mom's dress might be of a different length than my future mother-in-law's. Moreover, though, I'm certainly not about to have my mom issue a proclamation on dresses.

Thankfully, my mom isn't the sort of person who's into unilateral edict-issuing (with the exception of "please, for the love of God, don't elope"), and particularly not when it comes to clothes. Also, because both my mom and my future mother-in-law are go-with-the-flow types, I won't have to deal with proclamations or arcane rules.

But humor me, if you will, as I rant about why it could be bad when people do have to deal with it.

My big issue with this is that the archaic dress rules seem to create an unhealthy balance of power between two groups of people. Even worse, these are two groups of people who are about to be legally bound to each other. Think about it: it sets up one family as the people in control, while the other family is just there to do as they're told.

In my experience, once someone has power and control, they reaaaaallllly don't want to let it go. Also in my experience, when someone is forced to be subordinate to a person of equal status -- especially for some totally arbitrary and absurd reason -- they reaaaaalllly don't want to remain subordinate.

This doesn't exactly seem conducive to healthy in-law relations, does it? Furthermore, does it not sound like the beginnings of the stereotypical decades-long showdown between a bride and groom's respective families? I hear people talk about these prolonged, acrimonious power struggles and I feel bewildered. Well, no, bewildered doesn't really cut it. A prolonged, acrimonious power struggle strikes me as the interpersonal equivalent of The Blair Witch Project: scary as hell, and quite possibly bad enough to make people cry, piss themselves, or not sleep for weeks on end.

Now, I have no proof (or evidence, really) of any causative relationship between the archaic dress rules and family power struggles. For all I know, MOTBs routinely determine the terms of the MOTG's dress and the two go on to have perfectly happy relationships with each other.

But I still wonder: is it worth doing something that could be the opening salvo in a long, taxing, and generally asinine battle to be the preeminent set of parents? Weddings tap into a deep well of emotion, and as a result, the emotional wounds sustained during wedding planning could take years to heal. If one issues a strict set of rules for the MOTG, does one risk creating resentment in the name of matchy-matchy dresses?

My father, who has been grooming me for a management job since I was able to walk, taught me about cost-benefit analyses when I was in junior high. I might be the only one who thinks this, but a cost-benefit analysis of the archaic dress rules seems to come out solidly on the side of cost. A person's wedding day is precisely that: one day. The marriage, and all the extra relationships that come with it, are intended to last a lifetime. Why mess with that? (And again, if someone wants the dresses to be complimentary, why not coordinate it as opposed to unilaterally deciding?)

I could be wrong on all of this, but the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that the archaic dress rules could potentially damage long-term family relations -- and all for the short-term goal of perfectly complimentary dresses. Granted, each situation is different. But is it really worth it?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have dress edicts to write. Obviously the rough drafts will be written in blood, and the final copy shall be carved in stone.