Twenty Things I Wouldn’t Be Thinking About If I’d Been a Twenty-Something Bride

I don't have photogrpahic evidence of the chintz dress, but it looked a lot like the the one the bride wore to this college dance...


The first time I served as a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding was in 1992. We wore pink floral chintz dresses with dyed-to-match peau de soie pumps (they were so uncomfortable, I took them off halfway through the reception). I don’t possess any photographic evidence of the chintz, though it resembled this one worn by the bride to a college dance.

Mauve lace

Mauve lace

My second time as a bridesmaid, I wore a mauve dress with a lace-up back and caught the bouquet—though it’s taken me twenty years to realize the promise of that ritual.

I’ve watched many friends marry over the last two decades. In that time I’ve changed, the world has changed, and weddings have definitely changed.

Here’s a list of a few things I’ve found myself thinking about as a forty-something first-time bride that would probably not have been on my radar as a fresh-faced twenty-something in the 1990s:

1)  Weird wedding photos getting posted on social media.
2)  Whether we’ll get an errant cell phone serenade during the ceremony.
3)  The risk of any mishaps going viral.
4)  Pinterest.
5)  Burlap. (Why?)
6)  Mason jars. (Why again? Oh wait: see #4.)
7)  Two wedding dresses. Choosing just one is hard, but double dresses means double decisions–and dollars. No thanks!
8)  Reassuring bridesmaids their visible tattoos are okay.
9)  What the Pantone color of the year is. (Marsala.)
10)  What information to include on the wedding website.
11)  Whether or not to have a drone film part of our wedding. Seriously.
12)  Being mistaken for the mother of the bride. Repeatedly.
13)  What size Spanx I wear.
14)  Where to stash my reading glasses if we read our vows.
15)  The environmental impact of wedding favors. (We should have been thinking about this in the nineties, but I don’t think anyone was, much.)
16)  What Steve thinks about the wedding colors. Or centerpieces. Or anything wedding-related. (Ditto: the groom’s tastes should be considered, but usually they weren’t.)
17)  What to serve as our signature cocktail.
18)  Just how creative my college-age stepsons might get with their toasts.
19)  Whether we’ll be able to stay awake through a reception lasting past our bedtime.
20)  What wedding details to share on my blog this week. 🙂

Oh, and how could I forget?
21) Unity sand.

Not then, not now...

Not then, not now…


FsFTB Has a New Gig!

I’m thrilled to announce Forty-Something First-Time Bride is now a Real Bride Blogger for bridebook magazine!

Bridebook is a great resource for Virginia brides, and they highlight real weddings in every issue. I’m excited to share more stories about marrying at mid-life with their readers.

I’ll be writing for bridebook once a month, in addition to my regular posts here. My first piece went up on their site yesterday–click on the title below to check it out!

It’s hard to believe that our wedding is just four months away. Read on for a tale of some serious (and not-so-serious) mother-daughter bonding.

MomandMeMothers, Daughters, and Wedding Dresses:

A Middle-Aged Bride Shops for “the One.”

 ♥ ♥ ♥

If you missed my first dress adventure, check out Funny Story About My Dress… here on Forty-Something First-time Bride. And for a bit more backstory on my mom–that lovely lady in the photo above–try A Mother’s Dream in honor of the wedding that wasn’t.


Here Comes the Bridal Show

Brideness earns you entrée into a strange world you never had access to before and (god, spouse, and lawyers willing) never will need access to again. Witness: the bridal show.

Technically, I suppose, anyone could go to a bridal show. For the disinterested, it would be a strange and uneasy universe. When I was younger I considered crashing just to see what magic lay behind the lacy white curtains. But I suspected the free cupcakes wouldn’t compensate for the sting of being surrounded by members of a club I wanted to belong to but hadn’t been asked to join.

Now I’ve got my credentials and the club is open. But I’ll be darned if they still don’t look at me funny when I come knocking on the door.

Bride’s Night: Boa Contradicter

Back in the fall, I invited my girlfriend Melissa to join me at Bride’s Night, a biannual event put on by Caroline LaRocca Event Design that travels to different wedding venues around town. It’s marketed as a girl’s night out, with a fashion show, stylists on hand doing quick up-dos, an on-site mobile spray-tanning booth. I’d modeled for a previous incarnation, but I’d never attended as a bride.

Melissa and I met at the venue, the beautiful Corinthian Ballroom. At the door, Melissa saw someone she knew and stopped to say hello, so I went ahead to the check-in table.

The greeter’s eyes slid across my face then quickly flicked to either side of me, checking for companions. She hesitated and said, “You’re not…are you…a bride?” Continue reading


The Wedding Present

Steve and I received our first wedding present shortly before Christmas. Steve’s mother Judy, a widow who lives in a retirement community outside DC, asked us to visit so she could give us a special wedding gift, a crystal wine decanter. The decanter had been a present to her and her husband Jack, Steve’s father, when they were married in Tampa in 1954.

In a note she sent to Steve, she indicated she wanted to give us the decanter now while she still felt in reasonable control of her health. Her vision is failing, as is her memory, and she’s aware of her fading faculties. We’d wanted to make a visit anyway, as her 85th birthday fell in early December, and we knew we’d be away for the holidays. So we drove up to take her out to dinner and sit for a while.

Steve and his mom Judy

Steve and his mom Judy

Petite, with short gray hair, Judy welcomed us warmly with hugs when we arrived. Despite her frailty, she carries herself with poise. After dinner at an Italian restaurant, she gave us the decanter, wrapped carefully in a towel and tucked into a handled shopping bag. It is a striking piece with family history, and I felt honored she wanted to pass it on to us. As we chatted, her frustration with her increasing limitations became evident. She struggled to see the particulars of the engagement photos we’d brought her as a gift, and when she’d begin to tell a family story she would often frown and pause a few sentences in, shaking her head. “Now, where was I going with that?” she’d say, and give a rueful laugh. She held significant events fairly clearly in her mind: she knew we were soon headed to England, and that she would be spending Christmas day with her daughter’s family. But the finer details frayed at the edges, and sometimes the thread was lost altogether. Continue reading


Facing Up to Fears, 1

What does Renee Zellweger’s face have to do with my getting married?

Nothing. And everything.

On the off chance you’ve missed the approximately 24,372 (make that 24,373 now) articles, blogs, and tweets on the subject, actress Renee Zellweger made the news recently when photos of her taken at the ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards revealed some changes to the 45-year-old’s visage. Zellweger, most famous for her turn as the title character in the Bridget Jones movies (personally, I thought her most fabulous in Chicago), has been out of the public eye for much of the last four years, and her recent appearance–in all senses of the word–has lit up the internet for days with speculation (and castigation) about the reasons behind her altered look. I’ve hesitated to throw my hat in the ring (it protects against sun-damage, you know), but this FsFTB is ready to lay a few things bare.

Two thoughts. The first (A) is about perspective, in a fairly literal sense. As someone who has been in front of a camera a fair amount, having performed for much of my life and taken up modeling in my later years, I can see that some of the apparent differences in Zellweger’s appearance are quirks of lighting and angle, combined with the fact she’s wearing minimal makeup. The one shot that is getting the most airtime, the one in which folks are exclaiming she looks “unrecognizable,” is simply an unflattering picture. In other recent photos, some taken at the same event, she is recognizable. Yes, her eyes appear a bit wider, her brows less sculpted, and there are some crow’s feet in evidence, but she looks fine.

As a photographer friend of mine has pointed out, our bodies are living matter in motion, our faces and expressions dynamic and ever-changing. A photograph, in contrast, captures an isolated moment, one second of stillness in a lifetime of movement. Sometimes the result is an accurate reflection of reality; sometimes it is idealized; and sometimes it’s just…not. Most of us have had a picture taken that surprises us, and whether you love or hate that photo depends on the nature of the surprise: did the photographer catch a moment of heightened beauty–a just-right tilt of the head, a bold, happy laugh–or click the shutter the second your lip curled sideways and your left eyelid twitched shut? Even stunningly beautiful people take ugly pictures. Ask someone to follow you around and take 50 random photos as you walk, laugh, sing, etc., and see if there isn’t at least one that makes you say, “I don’t look like that!”

Yes, you do.  Or at least you did during the split second the camera caught your mouth half-open and that weird shadow bisected your face, making one nostril look like a black hole.

Not to mention that so many of the “It’s so shocking!” comparisons show Zellweger’s recent photo next to ones taken of her six and eight and ten years ago. Seriously, do you look the same as you did ten years ago?  If I put a picture of myself from ten years ago next to a current photo, my first thought is, “Hey, gravity works.” My second is, “I look happier.”  Most days I consider that more than a fair trade.

So that’s (A). (B) is more complicated, and more important.

(B): It’s her face.

It’s nobody else’s business what Renee Zellweger does or doesn’t do with her face. If she wants to get a 3-D tattoo of a monarch butterfly appearing to land on the end of her nose for all of eternity, she can. I can’t say I, personally, would find it an attractive choice. But it’s her face.

Why am I obsessing about this? Because gravity does work, and quite well, in fact, as I can scarcely forget when every bridal magazine and wedding website flaunts the smiling faces of blushing young brides, with their taut, smooth skin and well-defined chins. I’ve been toying with the idea of whether–before we pay lots of money for lots of wedding pictures–I might want to do a little something to counteract its forces. I’d like to think that if I decided I wanted a little Juvederm or a laser peel or some other cosmetic boost to my forty-something face (and confidence) before my wedding day, my friends would shrug and say: it’s her face. But I’ve heard people not only express shock and anger at the pressures society places on women like Zellweger to maintain an impossible ideal of eternal youth and beauty–a fair target of their wrath, and a concern I share. I’ve heard just as many criticize and judge Zellweger herself for, as they see it, caving to those pressures. It makes me wonder what kind of censure or disappointment I–whose ability to be competitive in my profession does not, thank god, depend on the definition of my jawline–might engender were I to make a similar choice.

Why can’t I–she–we–just grow old gracefully? Believe me, I want to. I want to accept my aging self with all its puzzles, pleasures, and idiosyncrasies, physical and otherwise. But what do we mean by “growing old gracefully,” anyway? Does working out regularly fall within the parameters of “graceful”? What about hiring a trainer? If your motivation to get fit is as much about maintaining your youthful figure as it is maintaining your health, is that a little less than graceful? What about wearing sunscreen, or dyeing your hair? Using anti-wrinkle cream? Getting a chemical peel?  An injection? Liposuction? An eyebrow lift or a tummy tuck?  Where exactly does one cross the line from aging gracefully, to tripping up occasionally, to full-on fisticuffs minus concern for health or dignity?

I’m not considering going under the knife, and honestly, even the idea of Botox freaks me out a little. I’ve never had anything beyond a basic facial, and I’m still debating whether I ever will. But I was deeply disturbed by the responses to Zellweger’s photos. In her profession–as saddening and maddening as it is–getting work done is often a savvy business decision. The fact I hate that does not make it any less true, and condemning her for “selling out” doesn’t solve the real problem. It’s particularly distressing to me that some of the same women who fight for a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her uterus are equally quick to tell her what she can and can’t do with her face. I know the anger comes from a good place–a desire for a better world, a world in which  women are treated as whole humans.  And it’s true that when women like Zellweger take dramatic measures to prolong the appearance of youth, they perpetuate unattainable and unrealistic ideals of beauty and perfection, distorting our idea of what a real woman’s body or aging face looks like. Those distorted ideals are genuinely damaging, and I, too, have wished more celebrities would allow themselves to age naturally, be role models, and reduce the pressures on us all. Perhaps if they did, eventually, we’d rid ourselves of those unattainable standards altogether.

It’s a beautiful dream. And it is a lot to ask.

Yes, women in the public eye are role models, whether they like it or not. They have power to inspire change. AND they are also individuals with agency, and if I’m going to argue that a woman’s body is her domain, then her face is in country, too. On the one hand, I would love it if women in the business of beauty would take a stand to create a world where real, natural beauty was accepted and admired, aging faces and bodies respected and revered. On the other hand, I don’t think I get to insist that Zellweger sacrifice her right to make choices that might extend her career or bring her more confidence as she navigates a world that’s less than welcoming to the middle-aged. Feminism is about choices, and…it’s her face.

The problem is not her face, or mine, or gravity. The problem is that we live in a world in which women are dismissed if we aren’t youthful, thin, and beautiful, and shamed if we take too many (obvious) measures to become or remain so.  Our faces and bodies, far too often, are battlegrounds, political pawns, fodder for the next news cycle. They are regulated and legislated. The least we can do for one another is to refuse to add to the daily barrage of messages that declare our bodies are not ours to determine. The least we can do is claim our bodies, our faces, our crinkly crow’s feet and wise smiles, for ourselves.

It’s a gorgeous, sunny autumn afternoon, perfect for a walk.  Now, where did I toss that hat?

What’s Age Got to Do With It?

So, after someone asks, “After all these years, how did you know?” you focus first on the “how did you know” piece. After the third or eighth or seventeenth sales clerk/prospective vendor/random person in public sees your forty-something self with wedding-related items and assumes you are the mother of the bride instead of the bride-to-be, you start thinking more about the “after all these years” piece.

Is it possible to laugh out loud while grimacing in rueful recognition? Ladies and gentlemen, Garfunkel and Oates, in “29/31”:

Lest you’re wondering, no, I’m not 29-and-holding; in fact, I’m quite a few orbits past 31-and-kvetching. (Well, okay. I cop to the kvetching.) Actually, it amuses and bemuses me every time I hear a news story about how the average age of marriage has risen dramatically in the past few years. To 27. Of course, that is an average. Just doing my small part to blow the curve.

I don’t know that I ever felt as confident and glib as “29,” though I definitely shared her naivete–especially the bit about how love and partnership “just happen.” I didn’t hit “31’s” wall of angst until I turned 36. Forty was closer than thirty…when did that happen? Suddenly I saw with clarity how the trajectory of my life, in terms of readily available dating opportunities, had progressively and steadily narrowed: the wide-open spaces of college in a big city when most everyone my age was unmarried and so “available”; grad school in a slightly smaller city, where the increasing demands of school and teaching meant I mostly met men in my department, a good third of whom were already attached; then my first full-time job, even more demanding, at a small college in a tiny Georgia mountain town with a charming square, great festivals, and six eligible bachelors. Okay, maybe seven.

The year I celebrated the pivotal 36th birthday, I’d moved to Virginia and broken off a relationship that distance proved to be a mismatch. Over the next five years I had two revelations: (a) If I wanted to meet people (not just potential partners, but anyone outside work) and see the world, there was no time for or sense in waiting; I was going to have to go against my introverted grain and, to quote a mentor, “make my own luck.” And (b) it was entirely possible that despite whatever efforts I made or adventures I embraced, I wouldn’t find a lifetime partner (unless felines counted).  And whether I did or not, I was going to be okay.

More than okay, actually. I was going to be awesome, because I could choose to live an awesome life, whether I lived it alone or with a partner. Or alone or with a partner with cats.

Not long ago, NPR ran a great piece on Morning Edition I wish I could have heard many years ago: “For Single Women, ‘An Infinite Variety of Paths’.” The piece ran as part of their current series on “The Changing Lives of Women,” and focused on an interview with Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry. My favorite comments from Traister’s interview are those the title is drawn from: “…we make a mistake when we create a binary between, you’re either married or you’re unmarried. Once you lift the imperative that everybody get married at age 22, what you get is an infinite variety of paths. It’s not simply some argument that single life is inherently better than married life. The fact is there are all kinds of married lives and all kinds of single lives, and more people are now free to go down a variety of paths.”

“An infinite variety of paths.” Which may be walked (or strolled, or skipped, or stampeded down) at an infinite variety of ages. Remaining single at 31, or 36 (or 43 or 55 or or or) doesn’t mean life is “over”; getting married at any age is simply the start of another exciting (and, for me, as yet uncharted) path. Not all who wander, as they say, are lost, and if we’re lucky, we’ll have the chance to experience many different paths within one lifetime, each with its own challenges, riches, and joys.

Some of them have annoying sales clerks.  But some of them have cats.