Weddings and the Interwebs

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.

contract

Sign here…or?

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.

Beach together

This photo is mutually approved!

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.

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Why the best wedding day won’t be the best day of your life

Whenever bridal magazines or wedding dress ads proclaim my wedding day will be the most wonderful day of my life, I hope they’re lying.

Think about it. You find the love of your life, decide to get hitched, throw a big party to celebrate the beginning of your marital bliss, and—what? It’s all supposed to be downhill from there?

Lies, damned lies…and some statistics

Putting all the emphasis on the big day may well start a marriage off at a disadvantage. According to a study conducted by economists Andrew Francis and Hugh Mialon of Emory University, there is a negative correlation between lavish, high-cost weddings and how long a marriage lasts. “’A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration” made a big media splash in fall 2014.The authors surveyed over 3000 adults, all of whom had been or were still married. They discovered that “relatively high” spending on an engagement ring increased the odds of the marriage ending early by 1.3, and those adults who reported spending more than $20000 on their wedding were 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than those who spent between $5000 and $10000.

Overall, those who spent less on the wedding tended to stay married longer. The researchers speculated that marital stress caused by debt was a contributing factor. Couples do fight about money, but in many cases, parents pay the wedding bills. Still, the considerable gap between the world of extravagant weddings and everyday life creates unrealistic expectations, and too often, the nuptials command more devotion than the actual relationship.

The problem is that we still believe in fairy tales. We plan a wedding but act as if a marriage just happens.

“Downhill” is relative

A wedding is not representative of married life. Yes, it’s a wildly exciting day, filled with the love and affection of visiting family, hours of talking and dancing with friends, beautiful flowers, fancy cake. It’s a day full of meaning and ritual, public declarations of deep feelings (and, not incidentally, a significant outlay of cash). Every moment matters, every detail is documented.

So there is an inevitable post-wedding lull, maybe even a bit of a letdown.

Thank god.

Supposing I could survive an entire married life so physically, emotionally, and financially intense, if nuptials actually modeled marriage, I would still implode under the pressure of wearing white every day.

Planning a wedding together, on the other hand, is excellent practice for marriage, and, I suspect, much more representative of daily married life. Planning together requires teamwork, communication, negotiation. My fiancé Steve and I have volleyed ideas back and forth, discussed preferences, revealed our individual likes and dislikes. We’re learning, together, how to balance desire against budget, what to prioritize, where to save and when to splurge. We’re making mutual decisions and sharing burdens, discovering more about ourselves and our partnership. We’re growing our love for one another as we look forward to the future, together.

Maybe that sounds less than romantic, but love that lasts is built and sustained through the daily choice to stay present and engaged. Love is something you do as much as feel. According to Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, a philosopher who studies romantic love at the University of British Columbia, instead of buying into pre-determined ideas about romantic love as a “package deal” complete with “hearts and flowers” and “eternity,” we need to ask “what is love?” and define and shape it for ourselves. We need to do the same for marriage. Crafting a marriage that lasts requires deliberation and conscious reflection; it takes, as Arthur C. Brooks urged in a recent NY Times column, courage and mindfulness. A loving, committed marriage doesn’t just happen; even more so than a wedding, it demands thought, time, investment.

Parents of brides (and grooms) to be, take note. Traditionally, when parents foot the bill for the wedding, they maintain control of the budget and command a greater say in the decision-making. You might have paid for your child’s college, too, but did you dictate every class taken, every club joined, the chosen major, minor, and concentration? (If you did, you might consider paying for your kid’s therapy before taking on a wedding—just sayin’.) Giving your child a fairy tale wedding and worrying over every last detail of it yourself deprives your child and his or her partner the opportunity to learn to work as a team, the chance to begin learning how to budget, prioritize, negotiate. It robs them of the opportunity to reflect on what they value as a couple, to learn more about what makes their future spouse tick (or tic). Given the stats, less fairy tale and more participation from the bride and groom might be a better option.

Besides, having the support of family and friends matters more than their readiness to pay for an extravagant event; Francis and Mialon’s study showed positive correlations between marriage duration and higher numbers of people attending the wedding. Couples who went on a honeymoon were also more likely to create a lasting marriage, perhaps buoyed by their willingness to invest dedicated time in new experiences and one another.

Don’t forget the map

The wedding is the exotic island getaway: a weekend of high upon high, a romantic and sensual blitz. Marriage is a cross-country road-trip. There will be days of high adventure and exquisite beauty, days that rise above others in their pleasure and joy: watching a child walk confidently across the swinging bridge he once feared, standing sweaty and spent with your spouse atop a mountain you’d long dreamed of climbing together, dancing in the light of a fading sunset on the beach where you first fell in love. There will be days, should the fates allow, even more wonderful and wondrous than the day you walked down the aisle.

But there will be steep descents, too, and wide, flat plains of calm. With any luck, you’ll mostly travel through rolling hills and gently scenic vistas, the occasional dramatic peak rising up and surprising you, the stunning, startling beauty of a tree pushing through rock. Some days you’ll pass through valleys drizzled in rain or buried in snow; others you’ll walk the windswept dunes of sun-warmed beaches, the ocean lapping at your feet. There will be exhilaration, exhaustion, exertion, and rest.

Always, the horizon will stretch before you to a future beyond imagination. May the map of your love be your guide.

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Bratty Bride Goes Shopping

If “Bridezilla” and some of the other wedding reality TV shows are to be believed (and I’m not so sure they are—no bride I’ve known has had anything so much as resembling a meltdown), there are at least a few ladies who think their “bride” status entitles them to be bossy, demanding, and downright rude. Planning a wedding can be stressful and time-consuming, but whenever I get the urge to complain, I try to stop and remind myself of one key thing: every last piece of it is a privilege.

It’s a privilege to have found a partner who returns my love and shares a desire to commit to a life together. It’s a privilege to have caring family and friends with whom to celebrate our joy. And it’s privilege to have the resources to throw a party with beautiful decorations and  abundant food and drink. These are not things to be taken for granted, and they’re assuredly not a license for temper tantrums and testy outbursts.

So I’m confident “Bridezilla” is well beyond my basic crankiness capabilities.

I’m embarrassed to admit that a little alter-ego I’ve come to call Bratty Bride is not.

 Meeting Bratty Bride

When you’re planning a wedding, everyone, it seems, has an opinion. Vendors and wedding professionals—the photographer, the florist, the DJ—are supposed to have opinions; you pay them well for their expertise, and when they share their knowledge, it impacts your vision and helps you make decisions. But then there are, oh, say, the overly enthusiastic dental hygienists, or the nosy sale clerks whose advice seems entirely derived of their own nuptial dreams and utterly divorced from the reality of yours.

It was whilst I was on the receiving end of such advice that I first met my inner Bratty Bride. Continue reading