More than once I have wondered, as a 21st-century bride who lived the first third of my life in the 20th-century, what it would have been like to plan a wedding before the advent of the internet.
Easier in some ways, no doubt. For one thing, the sheer volume of wedding ideas on Pinterest alone is near-paralyzing. The more choices you have, the harder it is to make a decision. Malcolm Gladwell illustrates this phenomenon in his bestseller Blink when he describes psychologist Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment: consumers who had 24 jams to choose from purchased one 3% of the time, but when offered only 6 choices, 30% bought a jar. Other studies have shown how people get caught in an endless loop of serial online dating, seduced by a sense of endless possibilities. The same phenomenon occurs when faced with an apparently endless array of wedding dress or bouquet styles.
And then there’s the creepy factor: as soon as I search for, say, “jewelry with blue stones” on Etsy, the ads running down the side of my Facebook feed are filled with…jewelry featuring blue stones. Shortly thereafter, I receive an email on the same subject. I don’t know how much direct (paper) marketing wedding vendors did before the web, but my email inbox overflows with all things bridal. The internet brought with it more items on the bride’s to-do list: TheKnot.com’s recently updated checklists added “Search for (flowers, dresses, centerpieces, etc).” And most couples these days create and maintain the near-requisite wedding website.
And then there are the social media pre-nuptial agreements.
You read that right.
With this Post, I Thee Contract
Shortly after Steve and I got engaged last year, ABC News and Time magazine reported on the rise of social media pre-nuptial agreements. Apparently couples are increasingly creating and signing on to contracts that detail “what they can and can’t post online” and, in many cases, imposing monetary fines for violations (more on that in a moment). Charlotte Alter captured the absurdity of this phenomenon nicely, I thought: “Dating a jerk who cares more about his Facebook than your feelings? Don’t worry! You can get a social media pre-nup to protect your online reputation while you continue to sleep with the callous twit of your dreams.”
Um, why would you want to do either of those things?
I know from experience a person’s online behavior offers considerable insight. I once dated a man whose political and religious beliefs contrasted mine. In person, he discussed those differences rationally, and indicated respect for my point of view. He also had an online avatar he thought was anonymous (not so much) which he used for commenting on articles and websites. Online, when he thought no one was looking, he was irrational, disrespectful, and full of vitriol. Hello—and good-bye—Mr. Hyde.
I’ve also lived the “don’t post any pictures of us together” relationship. A person who won’t claim you as a partner publicly is not a partner you want.
It’s a no-brainer. If you don’t like how your partner treats or represents you on social media while you’re dating or engaged, and you strongly suspect he or she would misrepresent or mistreat you online if the marriage dissolved, maybe you shouldn’t marry that person.
And then there’s those monetary fines: pay your partner $50,000 (choke) if you post an “unflattering photo.” Unless all your finances are completely separate, how is one spouse paying another not the equivalent of playing with Monopoly money? If you later draw upon that money for a mutual expense, haven’t you just created ill-will for no good reason?
Healthy couples don’t contract; they communicate. “Hey honey,” I said to Steve, when I got online to post some photos from one of our beach trips. “I’m going to post some pictures. Which ones do you like? Is this one okay? What about this one?” I thought he looked handsome in all of them, of course. But when he said yes to the first and frowned at the second, I respected his choice.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Most people know airing dirty laundry or making passive-aggressive comments about a partner is a bad idea in any public forum, be it social media or a backyard social. If it’s an issue, instead of visiting a lawyer for a pre-nup, you might want to see a counselor for professional relationship guidance. Research has shown that couples who offer five positive statements—compliments, expressions of thanks, etc.—for every one critical piece of feedback are more likely to stay together.
World Wired Weird
Everything has its flip side. Planning a wedding sans the web would also be harder in some ways. There would be no wedding website, which–though time-consuming initially–allowed us to streamline our invitations, and relieved some pressure when they were slightly delayed. I’m a bit phone-phobic, so I’m thrilled to be able to communicate with vendors via email. I would miss having access to online craft tutorials and Etsy. And obviously, without the web, I wouldn’t have the opportunity or joy of chronicling this journey on a blog.
We’re gonna skip the social media pre-nup.
Yes, everything has its flip side. For many years I struggled to appreciate the boons of being single. My schedule was my own, I could decorate my home any way I liked, and adopt as many cats as I pleased. 🙂 But I was lonely (cats notwithstanding), and I wanted someone to laugh with, someone to hold me, someone to share my thoughts with, to ask, “How was your day?”
Steve and I haven’t yet walked down the aisle, but one of the gifts our almost-marriage has already granted is perspective: the understanding it’s all a trade-off. I can more fully appreciate the gifts of the life I’ve led up to now, even as I thrill to the prospect of exchanging those gifts for others. I now, finally, see the whole of my life, as, well, whole.
Here at the crossroads, I look back and I look forward. And everything I see is a brave new world.