I had promised myself I wouldn’t become one of “those” brides. The ones on the TV shows that my mom calls me to complain about.
Then I found myself trying on Dress #42 at our fourth or fifth bridal salon and quickly rejecting the short in front, longer in back ruffle trim on the bottom that reminded me of a mullet. In spite of all my passionate speeches about how this was not going to be a “princess wedding,” that was all about me, there I was standing in a poufy ruffled ball gown on a pedestal saying “This just won’t do.”
So by the time I read the piece written by a bride who was perplexed that 1/3 of her wedding guests didn’t get her so much as a card, I was so enmeshed in the throes of the Wedding Industrial Complex that I found myself largely agreeing with her. Before you write me off as a bridezilla, let me give you a glimpse into the bizarro universe one enters when planning a wedding.
First there is the wedding markup. I used to run events semi-professionally so I thought I knew what I was getting into in terms of logistics and costs, but it turns out that the same band that will play a club gig for $200 wants over $2,000 to play a wedding.
Then there’s dress shopping -- I figured I’d go to the bridal equivalent of TJ Maxx, only to find out that all of those dresses were all either damaged, samples sized for a runway model, or made out of some terribly itchy fabric.
Then there was the hunt for an affordable venue that wasn’t a generic catering hall -- one historic venue’s quote for just site rental and catering was more than our entire budget. It’s not our preference to have a big wedding that requires all these things, but the fact of the matter is that my father has 10 brothers and sisters (shout out to old school Irish Catholics!) so our guest list is hovering around 150.
If we didn’t actually like all those people, we’d probably just keep it simple and elope to the courthouse. But we realized that it was hard to envision a celebration of our marriage without guests to celebrate with.
I have come to realize that despite the impression that it’s all about saying “yes” to your dress and everything else, it is really about saying “no.” Things my fiance and I have declined include but are not limited to: a church ceremony, fabric chair covers, having more than one shower, matching bridal party outfits, flowers as decor, wedding favors, official wedding “colors,” ice sculptures, and bachelor/bachelorette parties (ew to the whole “last night of freedom” idea).
Yet despite all attempts to be a modern, sensible, non-traditional bride, I have found it hard to not sometimes feel like I’m slogging through a quagmire of expectations, pressures, and etiquette. Once you choose to have a Wedding, and not an elopement, commitment ceremony, handfasting, or other event not bound by traditional etiquette, you become part of something culturally institutionalized with rules many people consider non-negotiable.
I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how non-wedding-ey you try to make your wedding -- people will perceive it as a wedding and act accordingly.
You will be asked repeatedly about your wedding colors and get incredulous looks when you say you’re not having any. You will encounter all sorts of tricky rules, like everyone you invite to your shower needs to be invited to the wedding. Or the double edged sword of the wedding registry -- if you don’t have one people think you are tackily hinting for cash gifts, but if you put one together with too much stuff people think is expensive or frivolous then you are being gift grabby.
Oh, and it’s also considered an imposition by many to request donations to charity in lieu of a gift (what if Uncle Albert hates bunnies and is offended you want him to donate his hard earned money to Save the Bunnies?)There’s a large degree of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” and at the end of the day you have to try to decide what works for you as a couple and ignore all the haters.
When it comes to receiving gifts, I personally don’t care about material things nor do I expect our guests to somehow compensate for the cost of our wedding with their gifts.
That said,I know that because of the obligation to write individualized thank you notes, we will have to keep track of who gave us what. And since we’re having a big(ish) white wedding on a budget, my head is full of price comparisons of vendors and names of people on our guest list, and I can see how the same mental calculus that helps you comparison shop for a good deal on linen rentals could translate into a destructive mental comparison of who gave gifts and who didn’t.
We are spending over a year and basically all our disposable income putting together an event that we hope our guests will enjoy. The pressures and obligations of being a good host can devolve into a misguided sense that you are owed something in return.
The Wedding Industrial Complex is an insidious machine that can creep into all your thoughts and turn even the most well intended bride a little ‘zilla.
So why am I defending caring about gifts? It’s because of the gesture that giving a gift represents. If 1/3 of my guests did nothing to formally acknowledge their support and congratulations at the wedding, I would admittedly be disappointed.
We have agreed from Day 1 that this event is not just about us as a couple (or me as a pretty pretty princess, ruffle tantrum notwithstanding), but a celebration of the joining of our families and their love and support for us. And the social construct for demonstrating that love and support happens to involve gifts.
As Miss Manners so eloquently puts it, “There is no such thing as an invoice for a wedding present. Neither a wedding invitation nor a formal announcement constitutes that. You give a wedding present because you want to indicate symbolically that you care about the couple. Yes, there is a catch. That is that you should not be attending a wedding if you do not care about the couple (either truly, or because they are relatives and you are supposed to care), and therefore wedding guests give wedding presents.”
In the end, if any guests of ours can’t afford a present, I would more than cherish a card with a heartfelt note of congratulations -- which the bride in the original piece said she did as well.
Other affordable gift options that I’d love more than all the spatulas at Bed Bath and Beyond include helping set up or clean up after the wedding, an IOU for pet sitting, a piece of original art work, or a promise for the delicious baked goods of my choosing after the honeymoon.
I don’t feel entitled to anything material, but I do think that if you are invited to my wedding, you are on my list of people who I hope will love and support me and my fiance. For nearly every person who we’re inviting, there’s someone else we couldn’t, and the process of deciding who rates as “important” enough to us to invite has been somewhat brutal.
For the invited guests to treat the whole thing as not worth acknowledging (while still being willing to eat and drink for free) would definitely sting. I know that plane fare, hotel fare, and formal clothes can be expensive, but if you could afford all that and not throw a buck or two at a card, yes I’m going to question your priorities.
Am I going to give you the side eye when I see you at my cousin’s wedding writing them a big fat check? Nah, that’s not my style -- but I won’t pretend that when I get your wedding invite in the mail, I won’t decline due to a prior obligation. After all, I hear they’re running a "Say Yes to the Dress" marathon that day and those episodes aren’t going to watch themselves.