David Bouchier: Big Wedding, Small Wedding

Jun 10, 2019

The sight of the first bride in springtime always brings tears to my eyes. It must be some kind of allergy. She was climbing into a block-long white limousine outside a big church in a very expensive area. The bride and guests were all beautifully dressed. The bridegroom though paid no attention to his new wife as she struggled to get her billowing white gown into the limo. He was more interested in the elaborate video camera being used by the photographer to record the moment for posterity.

It must be quite a moment. I’ve never been a bride, but it must be as good as a starring role on Broadway, with the added advantage that she doesn’t have to repeat the performance every evening, plus matinées.

Big weddings, like exotic vacations, exist primarily to be photographed. They also provide an opportunity for the two families to get together and take the measure of each other’s weaknesses. Divorced parents can square off for another round, and the members of different religions can confirm all their favorite prejudices. Wedding receptions end with fights so often that some wedding planners routinely hire security guards. It’s a high-risk event for all concerned. But nobody seems deterred by that, or by the divorce rate, or by popular television programs that show family life as a battleground. Nor do the brides seem worried by the fact that everyone says that the wedding will be the high point of their lives. Who wants to hit the high point so soon? I’m still looking forward to mine. 

I always feel sorry for the bridegroom. He is symbolically necessary, of course, but functionally useless. The bridegroom is an extra, in the Hollywood sense, and I think a lot of them feel this rather painfully. Men shouldn’t be required to go to their own weddings. They’d be happy just to get a note in the mail after the event.

A wedding is an important ritual, of course, but rituals easily degenerate into mere performances. In a big wedding production, something profoundly personal becomes showily public, and even theatrical. The main performers are helpless in the grip of the wedding machine, so carried along by the script and the staging that they can scarcely resist.

I can’t produce any statistics to prove it, but I suspect that small, intimate weddings, where the bride and groom invite only those people they really want to see (which may be nobody) give couples a better start than big staged events that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and set up impossible expectations. The most spectacular example was the multi-million dollar nuptial extravaganza of Charles and Diana in 1981, which led to nothing but misery.

The small wedding fits with the nature of modern marriage, which is more personal and less social than it used to be – and shorter. 

Men, with their less developed social brains, can understand and participate in a small wedding in ordinary clothes. It takes the pressure off both parties, and allows them to think about each other. If they do divorce soon afterwards, it's much less embarrassing. Our wedding was very small, and I couldn’t be happier with the resulting marriage, now heading for its fortieth year. If anyone had proposed a white limousine, a tuxedo, and a catering hall, I’d still be a bachelor.

Copyright: David Bouchier