To me there is no vision more awe-inspiring than that of a smiling bride walking toward the altar -- awe-inspiring mostly because I have no idea how any human (or team of humans) can pull off a production as massive as a wedding and still appear so blissful.
I'm familiar with the planning an event like this calls for because at my first book launch party I actually confused myself, a virgin memoirist, for Kate Middleton on the day she became the Duchess. "I was thinking a limo could drop you off and you could walk the red carpet all by yourself!" my mom cried, and I was just about to clap in consent when my father put his foot down.
In the end I arrived late -- in my own car -- and flustered. When the moment came to address my public (okay, 400 family and friends), I'd spiraled into downright cynicism. "A lot of you who read "How to Love an American Man" have asked when my wedding will be," I jibed. "To which I can only reply: you're looking at it."
Saving face, my father gave a heartfelt, witty speech from the banquet hall's podium. When he gestured teary-eyed toward me, I was amazed at these 400 faces so happy to see me so happy.
Except... the party details hadn't turned out so happy. The hydrangeas had arrived in periwinkle, which was just the first catastrophe -- "antique blue" might as well have meant "radioactive hot pink" when I'd had my heart set on the shade of a quiet lake, the same color as my book jacket. The ribbons on the vases were chenille, not satin; the tablecloths were satin, not linen. The catering staff had set up the martini bar on the exact opposite side of the veranda from where their manager and I had planned. My best friend had decided to skip making the seven-hour trip because her baby was sick, and that only reminded me that I'd dreamed of having this celebration in New York, where most of my friends now lived... not Pennsylvania, which my parents still call home.
On what was supposed to be the biggest day of my life, none of this was what I wanted -- especially, it's worth noting, my own brattiness. It was here, at my first book launch party, that I determined that the only thing worse than writing a memoir titled "How to Love an American Man" and then staying single for life would actually be to have a wedding. Now that I was realizing how demanding I could be about a party I wasn't even paying for, the idea of subjecting the person I waited my whole life to meet to my perfectionism in its most uncontrollable state was unthinkable.
No wonder weddings heighten our most charged emotions. A statistic from the Bridal Association of America suggests that Americans spent more than $70 billion on wedding costs in 2009. The dresses, flowers, open bar, the shrimp-on-cucumber passed hors d'oeuvres, photofetti (admittedly supercool), table covers, favors and multitude of other hosting must-haves puts serious stress on Western wallets, not to mention our psyches.
My parents, like many, had dreamed of the chance to celebrate their child's life before everyone we knew. But as pressure-cooked as their planning felt to me, it took a longer-term weight off: this party marking a major career milestone gave me freedom to bargain for whatever kind of wedding I want to have, instead of what others might expect me to have. In my early thirties I'd even begun to romanticize the idea of being someone's second wife just so I could arguelessly opt out of wearing a white gown as wide as a church aisle... but now that I'd done the whole cut-the-cake-and-toast thing, I could have as free-spirited a wedding as my one-day partner and I would like.
With the burgeoning budget wedding trend, it may be that more Western couples see the importance of focusing on the uniqueness of their love instead of the extravagance of their nuptials. Since 2008, Los Angeles-based blogger Dana LaRue has built a brand on what started as a blog documenting how she and her husband chopped costs and highlighted their relationship's personality through planning their wedding. Now renowned in the bridal market as the founder and CEO at BrokeAssBride.com, LaRue recently struck a deal with power-publisher Random House for a wedding-planning guidebook that aims to empower brides who aren't up to taking on what seems to be society's assertion of "the perfect wedding."
So to the man I marry: unless you've always dreamed of a reception so big we'll have to split up to thank our guests for coming, I like to imagine the two of us exchanging spur-of-the-moment vows on a Friday afternoon inside some obscure church in Rome, or sitting next to each other with our parents at a little restaurant in the Village after our stop at the City Clerk's Office. Nothing could make me feel closer to you than a wedding day that's easy -- and all ours. There's something very real and permanent about a big day that's actually small, where what's most memorable about the celebration is not the fancy menu or the decor... but the love.