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Why You Stay… (A PhD Paper on APW)


 A huge number of really cool things happened this year at APW, some of them almost totally behind the scenes. One of those things was that Melissa Janoske, who’s working on her PhD in in public relations, social media, and social capital, wrote a whole research paper on the APW community and why so many of you stick around after you get married. It’s a fascinating paper, and she’s willing to email it to any of you that are interested in reading it. But today she’s here with a post about why she wrote on this topic and what she learned. It’s interesting to me, not just as the person who runs APW, but as someone who’s made some of her best girlfriends in the world through blogging. Why do we bond the way we do online? What happens when those relationships go from virtual relationships to solid real life relationships that nurture us? How does that happen? How can online communites foster this? As we wrap up 2011, Melissa is here to talk about what she learned.

Why You Stay... (A PhD Paper on APW) | A Practical Wedding

Years ago, way back in 2006, I was just starting my first real job as an instructor at a small liberal arts college, and I met a boy. And I really liked that boy. I liked him so much, in fact, that I started to daydream-plan our wedding. I spent hours in my brand-new office using my brand-new computer to look at ways to create a wedding for my brand-new relationship. Beyond chair covers and the perfect shoes, however, I noticed something else: people (mostly women) talked on these communities. A lot. About everything. They shared the secrets of tying square knots and where to buy fifteen milk glass cake plates, but also how they felt about their future mother-in-laws, and if they were going to change their name, and lots of other things. I was hooked.

I spent a lot of time in that office over the next two years, alternately learning how to teach public relations to undergraduates and navigating planning my wedding to that boy I liked, using those same online communities. And one day, I stopped and thought about how interesting it was that people were making friends online. Real friends, ones who supported one another and answered questions and said that dress doesn’t make you look fat, exactly, but perhaps this one would be better. These relationships seemed to be the focus of the wedding blogs I read.

And, being the budding researcher that I was, I decided I’d like to know more about why that happened. What, exactly, was driving these women online, instead of to their best friend’s house? I scribbled down a note to myself, my very first “Something I’d Like to Research” idea, a promise that it would be something I would look into. I forgot about it for awhile, but as I got engaged and kept reading, got married and kept reading, got divorced and kept reading, started dating again and kept reading (I’ve been reading for awhile), I figured I was onto something. There was a reason I couldn’t tear myself away, a reason that all these other women couldn’t tear themselves away either, and I wanted to figure out what it was.

****

How do you explain APW to your family? To your friends? To your significant other? Do you think about it in terms of the conversations you have, the friendships you’ve formed, or just the key phrase from that one post that really made you think? Maybe you think about it in terms of social networks and the strange factors that entice people to build relationships online? Or maybe you don’t think about it at all—you just read.

I wrote a paper about APW. A whole, research and theory-based academic paper that finally made use of that five-year-old scrap of paper, focusing on what it is that APW does to make people stick around when previous research says they should leave (namely, once they’re married). And what I found was pretty interesting. I did interviews with twenty five members of the APW community (including one with Meg), where I asked them about their experiences. Why did they seek out wedding information or inspiration on the internet? Why did they stay once they found APW? What did they like, and what would they like to change? How did they feel about the relationships they’d made (if they’d made any)? Could they tell me why they kept coming back—why they couldn’t tear themselves away?

****

APW is classified in research as a event-based community of practice, which means that it’s an online community where people come together to learn, share information, and get support, and it’s built around the idea that there is an event happening after which people would be expected to leave the community (other examples: having a baby, supporting a political candidate, having major surgery, etc.). It’s why a site like Offbeat Bride expanded into Offbeat Mama and Offbeat Home, and we occasionally harass Meg about broadening Reclaiming Wife—the founders stand to lose too many personal and informative resources if everyone jumped ship once they tied the knot.

I used uses and gratifications theory (a fairly common mass communication and public relations theory) to understand why people would look for a wedding community online (gratifications sought) and why they would stay in the community (gratifications obtained). Based on the twenty five completed interviews, I found that people came to the community because they were looking for an emotional resource, a place to discuss changing societal roles and ideas about the terms “wife” and “marriage,” and to be empowered to make decisions that were right for them.

People stayed with the community because of the advice and support they found, the diversity and overall positive feel of the community, and the strength of the personal voices leading the community. I also discussed the post-event connection that occurs, due to the idea that a person’s role changes (one participant said that she “feels like an advisor now, more than a sponge absorbing information”), and the importance of having an offline connection option (book club and other social gatherings) to support the online connection.

One other important piece is that not only do the contributions and comments of married users provide discussion and resources for brides, but it provides a picture of what life is like on the other side, the ultimate gratification obtained. That crystallized picture of being a wife, full of advice and suggestions and stories, helps refuel commitment to the community, and to extend that commitment beyond the natural end. In addition, APW works to provide content that deals with marriage, and to let both married and engaged women have a say in that discussion. Instead of focusing on weddings specifically, there is a clear idea that weddings will turn into marriages, and it is good to be prepared for what happens after the party is over.

APW as a community ultimately survives because of their three-fold approach to the topic: it’s a practical resource for weddings (finding vendors, how-tos), a thought-provoking resource for marriage (name changing, fighting, potential parenthood), and an emotional resource for everything that comes along with both processes. Getting married is a highly personal universal event, and APW does its best to help you navigate that passage and then turn around to help others do the same.

Thanks to Meg and my twenty four other (anonymous) interviewees, who opened up their experiences and ideas to me, and were honest, thoughtful, and the real life of the project. The full paper is available upon request by contacting melissa dot janoske at gmail dot com.

Photo by: Rory Gordon Photo (APW sponsor) from the APW Flickr stream

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  • Marina

    So. Cool.

    • http://fianceesarehumanstoo.tumblr.com/ fianceesarehumanstoo

      I agree! Very cool.

  • http://babystepsvintage.blogspot.com Paige Turner

    It is so true, and I love seeing this presented in an academic manner. This is why I stayed, even though I’m more of a lurker around here.

  • AMHM

    I found APW while wedding planning and am still here one year later. I have found the stories to be thought provoking and I love the variety of perspectives, from the pre-engaged, to those actively planning a wedding, to the wisdom of looking back at it 50 years later. For me, this website is about all of that is family and relationships-weddings are a microcosm to explore these topics from.

  • http://www.meanestlook.com Sara

    I keep coming back hoping there will be a free cookie day. I love cookies.

    • http://www.meanestlook.com Sara

      Sorry, Meg. I brought the intellectual discussion down big time. *hangs head* Sorry.
      PS. WU TANG <— did it again, huh?

  • http://marie-evelaforte.blogspot.com/ Marie-Eve

    Fan. Effin. Tastic.

  • Kashia

    LOVE this!

    I really would like to see more academic research about things that are important to women, and about the communities and identities that women form. When I first got engaged (before I even found APW) I started combing through academic research about weddings and wives and marriage and name changing. I found a disappointing few resources.

    Thanks Melissa, for filling in some of the gaps.

  • http://www.agirlherblog.com/ one soul

    I always knew APW was a smart community. This confirms it. :)

  • HH

    Awesome. I just received my books from Book Buy Day, and wrapped them up for my mom and future mother-in-law. I’m going to email them this post after they open their presents, to explain a little further, and entice them to crack open their books ASAP. :)

    Thanks!!!

  • Sarah P

    I found APW in late 2008 or early 2009 (before I was engaged) and now I’m still hear over a year post-wedding. I stay because the content here is a nice daily reminder to stay present in my marriage – every day reminding me to work for what we have and to be a better wife.

    Also, the people. The people and the comments are fantastic. You all make me want to be better.

  • http://newlyla.blogspot.com Ashley

    This is insanely cool and I will be emailing you for that paper! That is all!

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com/ Morgan

      Me too!

  • http://lillight.wordpress.com Jennifer Lyn

    Awesome! As an Anthropology major, it is absolutely fascinating to see someone else examine APW in forms of the cultural and interpersonal perspective.

  • tirzahrene

    I hang around because this site has awesome people talking about things I’m very interested in. And someday I’ll actually be hanging around because I’m planning a(nother) wedding. I have my copy of the APW book all ready. ;-)

    Everyone thinks about different things with their spare brain-time. Some people think about video games, or cooking, or their career, or writing. I’d say 95% of my spare brain-time goes to food and people. What would these things taste like together? And why on earth am I so pissy about this apparently small thing? What else is going on?

    So a site where people think about why they’re doing what they’re doing, what it means to them, and what it says to those around them? Right up my alley!

  • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

    Slate’s article about ravelry and its community hit on the crux of what I think this is about. APW is a self-selecting group of awesome women. Half of the internet is about finding your people (and the other half is building and maintaining relationships with those people) and APW is a great way to find them. Weddings may be the common denominator but that’s not all that it’s about. Come for the weddings, stay for the awesome discussions of feminism and how to navigate a gendered world.

    Or for the mustaches on sticks.

    • Kara

      This was exactly what I thought of while reading this article! Ravelry is like APW for women* who are knitters** instead of women* who are planning weddings. Plus it has really, really lovely forums.

      One of my favorite things about the internet is that it allows us to find our people. I love that you phrased it that way, Christina. :-)

      * or men
      ** or crocheters, spinners, weavers, etc.

  • http://ladyoftheforest.blogspot.com blind irish pirate

    Yeah, I always wondered why I kept coming back… ;)

  • Melissa (the researcher)

    I’m so glad that so many people think this is a cool thing. I loved researching it, and even had a good time writing it! (And am hoping I’ll get to have a great time presenting it at a conference next year!)

    There are lots of other communities out there that do similar things, and Ravelry is an oft-cited one, but the trick is that with most of them, people aren’t supposed to leave. With a community like APW, research expects that you would get married and then peace out, and people don’t, and I wanted to know why. And now I do. (Mostly. Always more research that can be done.)

    So, thanks, everyone, for sticking around and giving me something cool to research!

    • http://www.roguebride.com Rogue Bride

      Melissa, I ‘d love to read your academic paper! If you’re serious about sending it to anyone who asks, I’m asking. I love that you wrote about this, and even more, I love that APW is a home for intelligent women to gather. It can be very hard to find brain-food once you leave academia and a lot of us ladies are starving for intellectual conversation and exploration!
      My email address is Roguebride (at) yahoo (dot) com.

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      I’d love to read it too. I stalked your academic email so there should be a message from me waiting for you there. :-)

  • Shannon

    This is so very awesome! When I talk about APW with other people, I refer to it as a feminist discussion that just happens to occur on a blog about weddings and marriage. And then I often go on to talk about how much of the cultural dialogue for women revolves around The Wedding, and how we as women need to reclaim that and give it our own meanings. I’ve been lurking around this site for about two years now, and I’m probably not going anywhere… Reading and participating in this blog has given me the impetus I needed to start thinking about my own potential contributions to the blogosphere, and to the general cultural discussion about feminism, family, gender, marriage, sexuality, etc etc.

    This is the only “wedding blog” I read, and I guess that’s because I don’t really see it as a wedding blog! Yay, sure do love all of you!

  • Kat

    I love this! I’ll be e-mailing for a copy of the paper :)
    I keep reading (ok, lurking) nearly two years after the wedding because the discussions on APW make me think about my relationships, what I want out of life and ultimately probably make me a better person. And why would you want to leave that?

    • cat

      My thoughts exactly!

  • Caroline

    Yay, I love reading about things I think about in academ-language…it makes me feel smarter by proxy.

    Also – ASIDE – I GOT MY BOOKS TODAY! In Ireland no less. And I already teared up on the bus once. I snuck to the end, and it is lovely, just lovely Meg.

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      Whaaa? The books made it to Ireland before Idaho?! J-E-A-L-O-U-S

      • Meredith

        Idaho must be behind the times. I got my books last week (in Boston) and finished reading it yesterday.

        • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

          haha The book delivery gods took pity on me. It arrived yesterday!

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com Pluis

    I think I come back because when you see eye to eye with a group of people regarding planning practical weddings (that are also representative of the couple), you want to hear their opinions about all the other things too. It’s not like there’s a marriage-how-to written for “my demographic”..

  • Sarah H.

    This is awesome Melissa! I’ll be emailing you too!

    I started reading APW in the pre-engaged stage, because I found myself looking for more (practical) information and support on dealing with serious relationships and the prospect of marriage. And reading certain other blogs just made me feel bad for not knowing someone with a barn, massive mason jar collection, or expert baking skills.

    And now that I am engaged, I come for the validation that I’m not lame for not wanting a cake knife, or really wedding cake at all. (I’m thinking pie at the moment.) And the Reclaiming Wife posts are awesome too, because they make me believe I can do this “wife” thing, no matter how hard it might get, as long as I love my husband and respect myself. The APW book is my Christmas present to myself, and I expect it’ll be pretty well dog-eared and hi-lighted by the middle of January. :-)

    I just love, love APW, and I’ll be sticking around this cadre of strong women just to listen in on the conversations and discussions. I’ve also made it my mission to tell more DC vendors about it.

    Happy Holidays APW-ers!

    • Jen

      there is nothing wrong with having wedding pie!! i have expert baking skills, and my friends often joked (but were really being serious) about having to drag me out of the kitchen the morning of my own wedding to get me ready…but I’ve decided that I’m not baking anything, and who can say no to delicious delicious pie?! we’re going to have everyone’s favourites and it’s going to be splendid!!

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com Amanda

    I think what drags me back is that it is not only about weddings, it is “life advise” disguised in wedding planning because most of the advise can be extrapolated to almost every situation. And secondly yes, of course, for the community. There is something big going on, being able to find and talk and relate to people that are “similar” to you.

  • Ana Maria

    I’m a nerd, and this makes me really happy. Thanks Melissa!

    • Melissa (the researcher)

      it’s a great day to be a nerd. :)

  • http://www.ActsofBeauty.co.uk/wordpress ActsofBeauty

    Yes there’s definitely a campfire here where we’re gathered… I’m glad for it.
    I enjoy the integrity of Meg’s voice and how she has created a space for such honest and courageous storytelling.
    It seems that ‘weddings’ are just the flame that has drawn us all here.

  • Rachel T.

    I literally was JUST thinking about this the other day – if I ever did my PhD, I would love to write a piece about how women bond online and particularly in a community like this. It is absolutely awesome and fascinating, and I hope something that eventually gets pushed to the forefront of society and media (replacing all of the stuff on MTV showcasing the negative female relationships where all we do is tear each other down). Hip hip hooray for APW!!! You are the only wedding blog I am subscribed to, even though I’m planning a wedding. It’s the only one that feels real. Thanks Meg and APW community! :)

  • Stephanie

    WOW! This is amazing. This story and the site. I have been wondering lately about the draw to blogging (specifically, blogging of an intimate nature… not just how to make cookies and curtains) and what it serves. It seems like a common theme I am reading is validation. My first instinct is to say, “but you don’t need anyone else to validate your thoughts, ideas, intentions”. However, this kind of experience can serve as a great stepping stone. It has for me. We come and hover, we absorb, we act, and before you know it we are self-empowered. And once you dip into that well, it doesn’t just seep into one little crack. Nope. Before you know it, you are swimming in something that started as a trickle (nurtured by a “strangers” in cyber space, no less!). Transformation!
    I stumbled upon APW in a drunken, newly-engaged wedding blog marathon- induced haze. Upon encountering a voice of reason, I sobered up, dropped all the other sites, and haven’t looked back.

  • http://www.threlkelded.net Emily

    What a great post!

    I don’t remember how I found APW, but thank god I did. And I don’t plan on leaving any time soon. ;)

    Cheers to a lovely 2011, ladies! I hope to learn more from all of you next year.

  • http://fionalynne.wordpress.com fiona lynne

    Two years post wedding and I’m still here too, mostly lurking, but this place helps me think about my marriage and my life in a helpful and constructive way. And the ladies who write here are so amazingly bold and passionate, I’m hoping some of it will rub off on me ;)

  • http://txtingmrdarcy.wordpress.com Txtingmrdarcy

    I’m only two months out from our wedding, and allllll of the other wedding blogs have been deleted from my bloglist… Except this one. For all of the reasons mentioned above and more. This is such an intelligent, joyful group of people who support each other in good and bad, and feel comfortable sharing intensely personal moments with each other… I’d just miss you all too much!!

  • http://ktmade.blogspot.com Katie

    What a fascinating article. As a reader of many blogs and a writer on my own blog, I often wonder why one blog creates a community and one doesn’t, and why, specifically, APW has been so succesfful at that. It’s so interesting to see it all laid out from an academic perspective. I have to imagine that the process was really interesting and exciting for you. Makes me want to go research something! And it makes me extra grateful that I found this amazing community.

  • http://www.projectsubrosa.com Cate S

    So you’re going to be a doctor of APW?! :D

    • Melissa (the researcher)

      That would be pretty awesome, wouldn’t it? :)

  • http://www.rorygordonphoto.com Rory

    I am way late to this party, but on a very superficial note I’m really excited to have a picture running along with this fascinating article!

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