Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
I'd be interested to read a column about wedding etiquette, because it's ludicrous what couples expect their friends to shell out. As an example, I just found out my friend is doing three round trip flights to another state because she is in a bridal party—engagement party, shower, and the wedding itself—plus paying for hair, makeup, and nails, and dresses and gifts. My sister is a maid of honor and throwing a bridal shower. Suddenly, the mother of the groom wants to invite 30 of her own friends to the bridal shower—on the bride's dime. The couple, for the record, are doctors, and my sister is a teacher... slight income disparity
[Adapted from a comment on this post.]
I'm going to just admit up front that I have a lot of bias against the Wedding Industrial Complex, and the one-special-prince/ss-day mindset on which many weddings seem to be based right now. So understand that my ideas of wedding etiquette involve a lot of teeth-gritting and the application of standard systems of politeness rather than any adherence to a code that involves treating one of the people getting married (who could be a bride, or one of two brides, or two grooms, or a groom who wants the special prince party and a bride who doesn't) as though they are elevated above all others and therefore need not show empathy or politeness to others.
The fact of the matter is this: a wedding is essentially supposed to be a celebratory gathering where two people who love each other talk about that in front of family and friends as a way of situating a legal and/or religious union in a community context for the purpose of increasing its longevity. To do that does not require that every member of the couple's community be in attendance, it doesn't require thousands of dollars be spent on folderol and banquet food, it doesn't require a year of mini-celebrations leading up to that day and it doesn't demand the receipt of thousands of dollars worth of home goods the celebrants wouldn't otherwise buy for themselves.
Now, the people involved in that celebration may wish to demand or shell out for those things, and they may wish to demand that their friends and families contribute financially to them getting those things exactly in the way they want them, whether or not those friends and families want to give them or can afford them. Under normal circumstances, we would call that behavior selfish. When it comes to a wedding, we consider it both expected and within their rights.
The fact of the matter is that people need to both learn to say and learn to accept "no" when it comes to weddings. "No, I'm sorry, I can't afford to fly across the country three times for all the pre-wedding celebrations," is a totally reasonable and polite response. Or, "No, I'm sorry, I can't afford to feed 30 extra guests at a wedding shower I'm already stretching to pay for." Or, "No, I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable wearing a penis necklace and sexually harassing strangers in service of the idea that part of your life is ending on your wedding day." If you don't like, feel uncomfortable or cannot afford to do something in service of a wedding, the appropriate response is to apologize and then to say no.
There are, of course, two types of responses you might get. One is the totally polite and appropriate response like, "Oh, I totally understand, I'm really going to miss you but I look forward to seeing you at the wedding!" and the other is the totally impolite and inappropriate, "Why are you trying to ruininng my special day, don't you know this is required?"
If you get a version of the second response, you get to choose: is this person really your friend (remember! Friendship is a reciprocal relationship!) or is s/he demanding that you be little more than a background prop to a dramatic piece they are performing? And are you willing to spend money or time being a walk-on role for someone else's life event if s/he can't summon some empathy for your situation? Someone who assumes that everyone else's needs, priorities and budgets are automatically secondary or totally unimportant because it is his or her Big Special Day doesn't sound like the best friend ever.
And, to all the would-be brides and/or grooms reading this, let me offer some advice: your wedding is an important day to you, but it is not as important to almost anyone else who will be in attendance (and, if it is, you need to tell that parent, sibling or friend to let it go). The engagement parties and showers and bachelor/ette parties aren't actually things you're required to have, let alone try to force others to attend.
There is honestly no law that says you have to have attendants in matching outfits on any wedding-related occasion. There's also no law saying everyone in your party needs TV-appropriate make-up (which might look great on video but will look totally off to the people attending the event you're chronicling). You should choose what's important to you and plan accordingly. If having mass numbers of family and friends at your wedding is a top priority, don't pick a destination wedding. Think about what your wedding plans mean you'll be asking of people, acknowledge how much you're asking, be willing to understand if it's too much for some people, and consider compromising the external "perfections" of your day in exchange for what really should be important: the ability to be surrounded and supported in your decision by the people you love.
Or you could reject the essential heteronormativity of weddings (elope!) and marriage entirely, pay a lawyer a couple hundred bucks to draw up some power of attorney shit and just live your life.
Yeah, ok, that was silly. Please just try to be nice to the people you love and want at your wedding. The end.
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Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com