THE BLOG
12/13/2011 11:25 am ET | Updated Feb 12, 2012

Focused On The Wedding, Rather Than The Marriage

A version of this column first appeared at Daily Plate of Crazy.

Like most women, I love a good wedding. It's a moment for celebration and sentimentality. Often, it's something of a spectacle. But if it's your wedding, it may also entail planning nightmares, significant debt, and battles over niggling details that will not matter just days after the fact.

And that's a problem.

The wedding is the briefest of opening acts. Marriage is the main event.

In my experience - yes, as a divorced woman -- marriage is an unknowable journey of joys and sorrows, and compromises. We romanticize the concept of commitment (we learn it at the movies), our parents may be divorced (or their marriages, rocky), and we embark on our amped-up amorous adventure assuming an out-clause (divorce).

We haven't considered the elements of viable partnership in any pragmatic fashion: two people ideally bound by common beliefs, two people with similar approaches to money, two people who plan to parent cooperatively, two people who share mutual attraction and sexual compatibility.

Love?

We place All Good Feelings into that fragile vessel, insisting it will hold whatever it must bear, high on its own euphoria.

As to weddings, most men I've known yield to their woman (and her mother), as they're swept up in the event machinery and reassuring themselves that everything that follows will be fine. After all, weddings generally meet or exceed expectations.

Marriage?

That's another story, or more precisely a blank page, especially in contrast to the meticulous content of the wedding plan.

Recently, I caught an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in which the engagement of Pandora Vanderpump plays into the storyline. In one scene, a lavish array of invitation prototypes is presented to the family, with some priced upwards of $100 each. The final selection (reportedly $150 per unit) includes a custom gift box adorned in white flowers with a pink ribbon and sparkling accessory. Inside is the petal-covered invitation.

While this sort of expenditure is extravagant by most standards, the Vanderpump-Todds can afford it. The difficulty -- as I see it -- is that young women of all socioeconomic backgrounds opt for their day of pseudo-royalty and desire exactly this sort of fairy tale splendor -- whether they have the means or not.

Worse, they convince themselves they deserve it, simply by virtue of tying the knot.

We reinforce this sense of entitlement with horror shows like Bridalplasty (thankfully, short-lived) and Bridezilla (longer-lived). They reflect just how crazy women can get as they spend and misbehave over one single day.

Where are the carefully considered conversations about how the relationship will change? Where is the discussion of how the couple will manage in case of career disruption or the arrival of twins, much less anything more dire?

And now we're entering proposal season. As Christmas approaches, how many young women are hoping for their guy on bended knee? For the surprise reveal of a glittering rock, whether or not either of them are ready for marriage? How many women feel pressured by friends and family, and therefore press the man they're seeing to pop the question?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of committed relationships and the family unit. But fantasy belongs on the big screen (or small). Perfection does not exist. Women would be wise to infuse romance with a healthy dose of reality.

Speaking of romance and reality, as for Pandora and Jason (the Beverly Hills couple I mentioned), it appears they took their time before saying "I do." Television viewers (at least) sense they have a shot at getting the elements of an enduring marriage right, and not only because of their relationship, but by parental example. In fact, they wed at the family home in late August of this year.

And I find their story lovely. But here are my concerns for the rest of us.

We suffer from a distorted emphasis on marital status over marital responsibilities and weddings over marriage itself. Splashy parties and honeymoons give way to everyday life as a couple, as media, pop culture, and well-meaning friends encourage us to walk through marital doors unprepared for what lies ahead.

  • If you're married, has it been what you expected?
  • If you chose cohabitation over marriage, why?
  • If you're remarried, what makes it more satisfying the second time around?
  • What advice would you give to those who choose to marry?