David Bouchier: Marriage à la Mode

May 3, 2021

Spring is here: the trees are leafing out, the flowers are springing up, taxes are falling due and the first air conditioning service vans are circulating coolly through the suburbs. This is the season of romance and it is, or should be, the time for spring weddings.

Wedding season has been a little subdued this year. Long white limousines may be the perfect vehicles for social distancing, but they have not been much in evidence up to now. The Wall Street Journal reports that many couples are thinking twice about that big expensive events they had planned, or postponing the date until an extravaganza with hundreds of guests will be less risky. So the epidemic has affected everything, everywhere, including the traditional rituals of love. In China one provincial government is offering 100 free weddings, gowns, receptions, and red flags included, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party and to encourage young people towards marriage and, presumably, the production of little communists.

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.

Big weddings, like exotic vacations, exist primarily to be photographed. They are high-stress occasions, when emotions tend to run high along with the alcohol consumption. Wedding receptions end with fights so surprisingly often that some wedding planners hire security guards. It’s a risky event for all concerned. But, until now, nobody has been deterred by that, or by the divorce rate, or by popular television programs that show domestic life as a war zone. Nor do most brides seem worried by being told that the wedding will be the high point of their lives. Who wants to hit the high point so soon? Some brides do realize this, after a long look at the man behind the mask, and run away before the ceremony to look for their high point elsewhere.

The pandemic has inserted a pause for reflection. How big, and therefore how risky, does a wedding need to be? It’s hard to prove, 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 those big staged events that cost on average $30,000, and set up impossible expectations. An expensive wedding with hundreds of guests does not necessarily guarantee happiness ever after. The most spectacular example of this was the multi-million dollar nuptial extravaganza of Charles and Diana in 1981, which led to nothing but misery. Almost any Hollywood wedding tells the same story.

The slimmed-down, COVID-conscious wedding fits with the nature of modern marriage, which is more personal and less social than it used to be — and usually shorter. Men, with their less developed social brains, can understand and participate in a small wedding in ordinary clothes. A quick and modest ceremony, religious or non-religious, takes the pressure off both parties. It’s not much worse than going to the DMV. In a small gathering masks can be taken off, so there’s less danger of marrying the wrong person, and security guards are not necessary.

Our wedding decades ago was as small and simple as it could be, and I couldn’t be happier with the resulting marriage. If anyone had suggested a white limousine, a tuxedo and a catering hall, I’d still be a bachelor.

Copyright: David Bouchier