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.
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.