When we observe a ritual, we think of it as something real, undeniable, concrete. In order to feel this way, we must be sufficiently convinced by the purpose of the ritual. For instance, a birthday is an opportunity to value an individual. Christmas (sorry, Jesus) brings people together and it is a time of organised indulgence and nostalgia. Though I don’t necessarily need these rituals, I recognise that their respective purposes are worthwhile and it is quite convenient to be given the excuse or annual prompt. Whether or not I do anything to mark my birthday/Christmas, I know that it is my birthday/Christmas. These events become a matter of fact.
I really don’t mind going to weddings and I’ll be your bridesmaid or whatever you want, but I’m afraid the awkward truth is that they don’t mean much to me. Other than being an opportunity for a knees-up, the ritual purpose of a wedding seems to be a) the bride getting to have her special day to look beautiful and be admired, and b) the act of marriage as a demonstration of ‘true love’. Both are discussed below.
1. The bride (and to some extent, the groom) gets to have her special day to look beautiful and be admired
It’s nice to dress up but a bride is the centre of attention, adored, like a pretty dolly; a beautiful creature.
The fact that women dream of this day their whole lives suggests that they have this deep yearning, lying dormant and unfulfilled, to feel beautiful. But the thing they want to feel is an imagined feeling of beauty concocted from their own sense of inadequacy and from beauty observed. And it’s not real. It simply does not exist. I’ll elaborate…
Let’s consider what it feels like to be beautiful. If a beautiful person tries to feel good because of their looks – tries to ride the thrill of people’s admiration, like a wild animal, magnificent – they will find that it brings no comfort. Narcissism is ultimately a cold and empty experience. It is by nature insatiable, bottomless. While they get the highs, it will also make them feel awkward, vulnerable, competitive, insecure. Besides, there is a limit to how much anyone can ever feel beautiful because people generally just feel like people. They have a head full of daily preoccupations and chatter.
A sensible beautiful person feels perhaps blessed, but also something verging on indifference. It is still their body and part of who they are so they must be glad of it and they can adorn it as they wish. But being beautiful in itself does not bring happiness. Gaining attention for beauty certainly will not.
Yet this idea of beauty among brides-to-be, so longed for, is potent. Perhaps gained from countless observations – photographs of beautiful celebrities, colleagues at work, stunning people spotted on the bus, street, holiday. The experience of these beautiful Others is imagined and idealised. It is believed that the beauty of the Other must make that person so happy and feel so great. It reminds me of nostalgia – so enticing but made powerful because it is something we can never attain. It is fantasy epitomised – a product of our wildest imaginings and fundamentally, something artificial.
And so, I cannot support a bride in her desire for admiration. It is not a healthy or wholesome endeavour. And anyway, however many times she looks over the photographs, however much weight she lost to fit in that dress, she will never satisfy her hunger for the unreal.
2. The act of marriage is a demonstration of ‘true love’
You can definitely be happy for someone you care about that they found a companion. But that’s kind of ancient history by the time two people are having a wedding.
Love is a funny thing because I think it’s something felt most deeply when a relationship is in jeopardy or something that needs to be said in the early stages of a relationship, to establish it. I think I say it most when I know someone is struggling and I want them to know that they matter to me. Or if you had a fall-out and you want to re-establish security and trust. I never saw the point of routinely telling people that I love them. The expression seems either to lose its meaning, or worse still, denotes ongoing neediness – a request for reassurance.
If a bride and groom truly believe that their public proclamation of love is meaningful or is going to make things better somehow or more exciting, they could be setting themselves up for a fall. Unrealistic expectations about a relationship can cause disappointment, frustration or self-doubt.
Let’s face it, what they have ahead of them is not head-over-heels, excitement, awe and wonder. When a relationship becomes long-term you are just two people who need to make sure that you’re behaving well, trying to see and nurture the good in the other person and giving each other lots of space.
I must say, I am surprised that weddings still have such appeal. Some people do it to keep their relatives happy, which is most laudable. But I do think it would do everyone a lot of good to be honest about what they’re trying to achieve and focus their efforts on the things that really matter. Long-term relationships can be tricky enough to master as it is; we don’t need to be confused further.