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Wedding blossoms

Angie from Sawara, Chiba-ken, Japan

In spite of the blossoming spring, I hadn’t remembered that it was wedding season until I went into a photographic studio on quite a different errand. There I found myself surrounded by dozens of glossy pictures of glowing brides, and some shadowy looking husbands, kissing under the blossoms (of course), beside the lake, on the picturesque bridge, walking hand in hand through the woods, sprinkled with artificial stardust, and in every romantic setting that the photographer could contrive. We live near a spot much favored for wedding photographs and, each weekend for the next few weeks, you can guarantee that the white stretch limos will be lined up like jets waiting to land.

These formal wedding photographs are rather like the pictures of food that appear on restaurant web pages. They show how the product ought to look. But a wedding, like a dinner plate, is only perfect until it turns into something else — into a marriage or a meal as the case may be. Perfection doesn’t last long, and some degree of disappointment is inevitable. But, whatever happens in the next 30 or 40 years, the happy couple will always have their pictures, and perhaps the pictures will help them to remember why they did this.

Weddings are big business, to the tune of about $70 billion a year, although the industry has been slowing down recently. The average full-scale wedding costs almost $30,000. Now that people marry for life, not just once but several times, the wedding industry’s turnover has increased in proportion. Gay marriage is yet another source of economic good news. Six million new couples will potentially qualify for the full wedding industry treatment, and the profits will be vast. That should end the argument about gay marriage. Hen parties and bachelor parties provide yet more profits for bars and restaurants that they don’t destroy in the frenzy of celebration. Photographers and videographers do very well out of it too, not to mention the stretch limousine companies, the airlines and the honeymoon hotels.

It is a reassuring, highly regulated world, though strangely lopsided. The wedding will last for only a few hours, and the marriage might last for years. Eight years is the average. But most of us live our lives, as it were, offstage, and a wedding is a rare moment of theater, which is why we need those photographs and videos.

These are very ancient rituals. The wedding represents the public commitment of the couple to each other, so everybody knows that it’s not just naughtiness. The honeymoon originated with the old Norse practice of kidnapping a bride from the neighboring village. The result, then as now, was that she left her family and got to travel a bit. Both rituals function as a kind of test, an ordeal designed to sort out the winners from the losers, genetically speaking.

The wedding may seem like an old-fashioned ritual, and many young people skip it these days. But, when it comes to creating stable families, marriage is just about the only thing that works, in spite of all its problems. Those who can survive a traditional wedding and a traditional honeymoon in some place like Bora Bora or Venice should find marriage comparatively easy. Good luck to them.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.