Weddings are likely the most overrated social events in the history of mankind. Maybe it is because all fairy tales end at that exact moment connoting the eternal bliss that the couple is entitled to experience after a long period of hardships, doubts and solitude. In many respects, the wedding is the reward that our heroes – and especially heroines – enjoy as a reward for their struggle (to free a hostage, uncover a secret plot, in other words, save the world). Then, as Disney would suggest, they live happily ever after.
However, back on planet earth, organising a wedding is a pre-requisite for the fulfilment of a social obligation, that of marriage. Marriage is promoted not only by families, by the whole social and political system. It is part of the dominant discourse to the degree that, if you are not married, there must be something truly wrong with you. Of course it would be unfair not to recognise the benefits that traditionally societies enjoyed from marriages. Apart from weddings offering the opportunity to have a good time in the pre-media era, families came together and constructed new social networks, promoting social harmony. They also combined their wealth and often multiplied it through collaboration: one family would ride of a person (woman) who had reached her productivity limits and another family would take in this person with the hope of offsprings, who could assist in the increase of productivity within the family unit.
However, times have changed and women can be highly productive in jobs that don’t require manual labor. That changed the dynamics within the family. Now she is an asset in more ways than reproduction, child rearing and housekeeping. She has also acquired her own social status that, even though originally connected to the status of her family, can be enhanced through her own hard labor.
Nevertheless, weddings remain a strictly social event for many couples. In previous times (and even some rural areas today) the man would mount a horse, a camel or an elephant and walk around the village so everybody could witness his wealth and the blushing bride would be covered in veils and gold. Today, couples go to similar, yet more Westernised and sophisticated, ways of announcing their coming together with all the changes in status and fortune that their union implies.
Take the New York Times weddings/celebrations section as an example. Savoir-vivre articles, fancy wedding announcements, polished couples’ profiles. General facts and little details that paint a portrait of bliss and prosperity: the bride is a Princeton graduate. She works for the X hedge fund. The groom is from New York and his father is a doctor in a big hospital. They met in Africa while teaching English to poor children. The marriage will be performed by an Anglican priest. The bride will take her husband’s surname.
Though these articles, the individuals make an official debut as a government-approved, God-blessed couple. Just like the groom on the back of the elephant and the bride showered in gold, these couples present their fortune and social well being to the people, only this time the crowd consists of the readers of a major English-language publication. Due to their content, such announcements range from sweet to corny to mildly offensive. Of course, there is also the case of Republicans Christopher Nixon Cox (no, the first surname is not coincidental), Andrea Catsimatidis and their outright kitsch profile – bless their heart.
You cannot really blame people for wanting attention. Humans are social creatures. Showing off could also be compared to wild animals showing their teeth to protect themselves. We live in a cruel world after all.
However, as a disturbingly romantic soul, I consider marriage (or committed partnership for that matter) as the mature decision of a person who has her achievements in life and would like to share her experiences with another human being. The truth is, commercial marriages always left me feel highly embraced as they looked like events where you had to touch, greet and smile at people you have never seen in your life and pretend for a few hours that you are absolutely ecstatic. On the other hand, there is another level of intimacy (not to mention costs) in a spiritual ceremony by the sea on a beautiful sunset. Because you can be somebody and you can feel genuine happiness without announcing it to the world.