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Zen: Confessions of an Ex-Weddingphobe


Today I’m thrilled to introduce the brand new APW writing intern series for 2012, Planning: Journeys. I’m delighted for you guys to start to get to know the wonderful women who comprise our intern team this year. You’re going to love them, I’m sure of it. Our very first post is from Zen, who you’ll remember is a Chinese Malaysian lady, living in London. Today she’s writing her long held hatred of the concept of weddings and what being engaged has taught her. It’s damn good stuff. So, let’s give a huge welcome to Zen.

Zen: Confessions of an Ex Weddingphobe | A Practical Wedding

I used to hate the idea of weddings.

I didn’t hate weddings—not weddings as I knew them. To me a wedding meant a gigantic Chinese banquet in a hotel ballroom. You’d have to wait half an hour past the time on the wedding invitation before the food was served, but there would be compensations. The slide show before dinner showing pictures of the bride and groom at various stages of childhood, puberty, and adulthood, tracing their development before the separate tracks of their lives converged. The film of the ragging that would have taken place that morning, in which the bride’s friends and family would’ve set the groom embarrassing, hilarious challenges before he was allowed to claim his bride.

And of course, the eight-course meal, and the toasting of the bride and groom when they came round to each table. Even if you didn’t drink you could hold up your cup of tea and shout “yaaaaaaaaaaam SENG!” with everyone else, prolonging the vowels until you ran out of breath.

No, weddings were ok. It was the idea of weddings that I hated. In a Western-dominated world, it was the huge white dress. It was the rock on your finger that measured by the percentage of your fiance’s salary spent how much your love was worth. It was the bride being passed, a prized possession, from her father to her future husband. It was women hating each other, squabbling with each other, envying each other, all for the glamour and achievement symbolised by that one big day.

I was totally above all this. No mystique about the wedding day for me, no sirree. It was nothing more than a means of formalising a legal relationship you entered into to please your parents and placate the tax collector. The real relationship underlying it was all that was important. Weddings and marriage were only a social institution laid on top of that love, the way a layer of fondant (ew) is laid on top of delicious cake.

You could be married without getting married. In a lot of cases, e.g. if you were gay and lived in all except a small number of countries, you kind of had to!

“The wedding is for the family; the marriage is for the couple,” I said, with all the profound wisdom of inexperience.

Then I met someone, and we had the delicious cake of affection and comradeship, and earlier this year he asked me whether I’d like some fondant on it. I said I could go with that.

Some time after this I realised the fatal flaw in the saying I’d so happily parroted. The wedding is for the family; the marriage is for the couple. Yeah—except I’m not only one half of the couple, I’m also a member of the family. So how does that work?!

And actually the big white dresses are beautiful. (As are the slinky high-collared red dresses and the fantastic gold-and-silver embroidered boxy dresses.) The value or existence of the engagement ring doesn’t matter—except when your partner wants to give you the ring, when it matters to him that he should spend a decent chunk of money on something he hopes you will wear for the rest of your life. Actually every single thing about a wedding is a huge deal; it involves superstitions and feelings and sums of money you’d never even conceived of before you stepped into Weddingland.

When I found myself judging the way other people were getting married, that’s when I realized sorrowfully that yeah, I do care about weddings. In fact I’m slightly obsessed with them. Inside me is some version of the seed that produced the cinematic desecration that was Bride Wars. And that’s probably ok.

It sucks that not everyone can have a wedding if they want one. It sucks that so much of the imagery and so many of the traditions—and not only the Western ones—are tied up with heteronormative, patriarchal norms. It sucks that weddings have been turned into a commodity in all kinds of unpleasant senses.

But weddings themselves don’t actually suck. As with lots of other things, they’re what you make of them. Now after a lifetime of not really thinking about weddings, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to make of mine.

Photo by: Hart & Sol East (APW Sponsors)

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  • Ceebee

    My aversion went away when I get it(!) that weddings are for building community and creating a accountability ground for the couple. And everybody there loves you or your parents or whoever at the far end of the family tree.

  • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

    Glad to have you here, Zen!

    I’ve been going through the same thing, trying to get an idea of what I want after so much time spent thinking that I didn’t care about any of it. I found that I got caught up in a flurry of pretty, pretty images and now things are settling back into a recognizable version of me. Just…with some surprises. For instance, it turns out that I don’t care about the wedding colors, but I really want a first dance – who knew?

    Congratulations on your engagement, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the idea of the wedding!

  • http://routinebrilliance.com Brytani

    In high school I found out that in some Chinese weddings its not unusual for the bride to wear ten dresses, and I had this embarrassing moment when I thought I would romance the one Chinese boy I knew (even though he was kind of a jerk) just for that fashion show. I’m not proud, but I just remembered that and chuckled at myself.

    Seriously, though. Chinese weddings are so interesting and vibrant and I’m really excited to watch you plan an event that incorporates all the meaningful parts of your heritage. As an American White girl, I’m just a tad jealous.

    • http://www.lucyguest.com youlovelucy

      Now I need someone to start a blog called American White Girl.

    • http://hobbitsvselves.wordpress.com Zen

      But American weddings have so many colourful traditions! Chinese weddings are mostly Tiger beer and uncles singing karaoke. *g*

    • Kaitlyn

      And here I am counting my lucky stars that FMIL (who is from Taiwan) has only asked me to have one outfit change. :)

  • Robyn

    yes. i have had to let go of so many judgements I made so that I could realize I actually don’t hate everything. i actually really like some things. like my dress and my ring. its really nice to hear someone else say these words. thank you!

  • carrie

    “When I found myself judging the way other people were getting married, that’s when I realized sorrowfully that yeah, I do care about weddings. In fact I’m slightly obsessed with them. Inside me is some version of the seed that produced the cinematic desecration that was Bride Wars. And that’s probably ok.”

    It’s totally okay! Most of us have been there or *are* there. And then when you come out the other side, you’ll have a completely different perspective. One that we can tell you about and you can read about, but impossible to grasp until you’ve been through it. All the conflicting emotions are normal, even GOOD, I would say. Because I think most of us struggle(d) with caring about things that we think we shouldn’t care about and try to balance it with the realization that the day is important not because of a dress but because it’s a marriage.

    Welcome and congrats! We are glad to have you!

    • http://www.lucyguest.com youlovelucy

      “Because I think most of us struggle(d) with caring about things that we think we shouldn’t care about and try to balance it with the realization that the day is important not because of a dress but because it’s a marriage.”

      This is something I needed to hear today. Thank you :)

      • carrie

        That sentence is a terrible run-on one, but I’m so glad it helped. You’re welcome. And breathe! :-)

      • http://meditatingontherain.wordpress.com Aine

        This is so true- the entire engagement for me was a fight with myself- constantly feeling like I shouldn’t care about X, shouldn’t be interested, shouldn’t want…etc. It’s so hard to resist that voice telling you that you shouldn’t care, smart/modern/feminist/mature women wouldn’t care about that and if you do, you’ve failed at everything.

  • Granola

    I’m going to third and fourth what’s already been said here. I feel you Zen – I think for me that the judging was sort of a defense mechanism because I thought caring = bridezilla and I certainly didn’t want to be that. But I do care, I really care. A wedding is a huge, messy wonderful deal and d*mn right I care! That doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily particular, or that I care more about the flowers than my fiance, but caring is definitely not a bad thing. And I wish I’d started off with that perspective – it would have saved me a lot of guilt over knowing that I did care but feeling like I *shouldn’t*

    • http://hobbitsvselves.wordpress.com Zen

      “because I thought caring = bridezilla and I certainly didn’t want to be that. But I do care, I really care. A wedding is a huge, messy wonderful deal and d*mn right I care!”

      Yes! I do still struggle over caring as much as I do. I feel it’s a bit of a betrayal of teenage me, who didn’t do cupcakes or lace or all that GIRL STUFF. But it’s like — GIRL STUFF is OK, and weddings aren’t really about GIRL STUFF anyway; they’re about marriage. A far more important and mysterious thing …

    • http://meditatingontherain.wordpress.com Aine

      “I wish I’d started off with that perspective – it would have saved me a lot of guilt over knowing that I did care but feeling like I *shouldn’t* ”

      I feel like this, too, but I don’t know that I *could* stop feeling that guilt- I kind of knew it at the time, that I deserved to enjoy this process, enjoy the wedding planning and the anticipation. Its so hard to change the way you feel about things- I think we’ve all got years of habits and social conditioning feeding into these expectations and that’s powerful stuff to fight.

  • Class of 1980

    Any rite of passage can seem easy to grasp, until you’re on the inside and it’s personal.

    And … wait. Meg has interns? INTERNS? What kind of fancy blog is this? ;)

  • http://bigweddingsmallbudget.wordpress.com Barbra

    “Actually every single thing about a wedding is a huge deal; it involves superstitions and feelings and sums of money you’d never even conceived of before you stepped into Weddingland.”

    This. Trying to tease out what parts of the wedding planning are important because they’re meaningful, what parts are important just because I like them, and what parts I think are important because of external pressures and expectations has been a gritty, complicated, awful, and wonderful experience, all at the same time.

  • Anon

    “The value or existence of the engagement ring doesn’t matter—except when your partner wants to give you the ring, when it matters to him that he should spend a decent chunk of money on something he hopes you will wear for the rest of your life.”

    YES! Thank you for articulating this! I had a hard time reconciling my feelings about engagement rings with my fiance’s – but this is really what it boils down to. I love my diamond ring more than I could have imagined, but a lot of it has to do with what it means to him.

    • Jessica

      Yes, yes, and yes. I would have been completely happy with a watermelon-flavored Ring Pop (as long as I get to be married to C* at the end of the day), but I love my ring now too.

    • http://hobbitsvselves.wordpress.com Zen

      “I love my diamond ring more than I could have imagined, but a lot of it has to do with what it means to him.”

      Yes! I mean, I also now love my ring because it’s so pretty *_* But initially I didn’t want an engagement ring at all, and sometimes I still feel like maybe I should have held out? But there are times when feelings are more important than ideology, and this was probably one of those times.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

      I didn’t get that part for the longest time. It took me offering to help pay for a ring and him getting SUPER upset to realize how important that the ring can be to the person doing the proposing.

  • Alison

    “Actually every single thing about a wedding is a huge deal; it involves superstitions and feelings and sums of money you’d never even conceived of before you stepped into Weddingland.”

    I loved this part. It’s exactly how I am feeling, about 8 months out from my wedding. It’s huge. The entire thing is huge. Decisions are huge. Emotions are huge. People and communities are huge. And the hugeness is scary.

    But like you said, Zen, “As with lots of other things, they’re what you make of them.” and I can’t wait to see what you, me, and the rest of the us planning our marriages and our weddings make of them. Welcome to APW, we’re glad to have you!

  • Marie

    “Actually every single thing about a wedding is a huge deal; it involves superstitions and feelings and sums of money you’d never even conceived of before you stepped into Weddingland”

    This is where I am today. In my mind it was going to be so easy and low-key, and in reality I have to remind myself not to worry about it every night. Particularly the inconceivable sums of money part. But it all matters to me more than I thought it would.

    Thank you for kicking off this series so eloquently and I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences!

  • http://www.sarahhoppes.com Sarah

    I’m an former weddingphobe myself and went through a very similar thought process on the subject.

    Thanks for kicking off this series with this fantastic post!

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

    “Then I met someone, and we had the delicious cake of affection and comradeship, and earlier this year he asked me whether I’d like some fondant on it. I said I could go with that.”

    Zen I was really looking forward to your first post. I knew I was going to like you. But now, I know I’m going to love your writing. Because that quote right there is just perfect.

  • RachelC

    Love this.

    I’ve found my wedding Zen…….ba dum ching. :-P

    • http://hobbitsvselves.wordpress.com Zen

      Ahaha, I love that phrase! When I started reading APW and saw it all over the place I was like, “That’s me!” ;D

  • Kaitlyn

    As a complete side note, you’ve reminded me that I need to look into what is served at that traditional Chinese wedding dinner and see if any of it can feasibly be done by the people catering my wedding. Or, alternately, talk to my Taiwanese FMIL and see what one thing she would want served. Ah!

    As someone planning a mishmash multi-cultural wedding combining Chinese and Hungarian traditions (why yes, I am going to polka in a qi pao), I’m very much looking forward to seeing what you choose to do.

    • Zen

      I don’t know how they do it in Taiwan, but I can send you a typical Malaysian Chinese menu if you’d like. I think of Four Seasons as being very typically weddingy … That said, probably more sensible to ask your fmil what she’d like!

  • blissing

    I’m with you, Zen! I’m 49 and told all my friends if I ever talked about getting married, something would be seriously wrong.

    Now I’m getting married and things are seriously right. We want to formalize our commitment to each other, we found out after moving in together a year ago. Combine that with the need for health insurance and….WEDDING!

    I actually think the legalities around marriage should be abolished and we should come up with completely different ways of distributing benefits. I shall not rant further.

    I’m also half Chinese and it’s good to see you here.

  • Pingback: 6.5 months to go | Hobbits vs. Elves

  • Amber

    “But there are times when feelings are more important than ideology, and this was probably one of those times.”

    Stole this from one of Zen’s replies…and wanted to exactly this a million times. We hear a lot about how we don’t need the big white dress/fancy meal/whatever for a wedding, which is of course true and useful, but it’s also ok to want them. I was so determined to have a non-traditional wedding I started arguing about not doing things because I felt I shouldn’t want them.

    Case in point: the dress. I was adamant I didn’t want a ‘princess’ dress. I wanted something low-key, because it was just a dress – it didn’t matter, right? But when I tried the big skirt/corset/strapless (champagne) dress on…I *felt* happy. So, so happy. So I went for it :and I’m so gald I did.

    So my advice for brides-to-be is don’t let the WIC ideology get to you…but don’t let the anti-WIC ideology get you either, because it’s still ideology. Feelings are key :)

  • http://www.pozivnicezavencanje.com pozivnice za vencanje

    Anyways you get that person whose love you…..Really it’s embarrassing If any body talk something wrong about you on your marriage….But you don’t care about these people and enjoy the life with partner…..

  • Madmax0r

    :DDD /

    As I type this, my colleague was jug regaling us with his crazy idea of riding a Vespa with an entourage of vespas carrying his “heng tais” on the wedding morning’s ragging session to the Bride’s. And he doesn’t even have a license.

    And we were laughing at his expense over the fact that at the end of it all, he’d have parted with a good sum of money or relatives and the distantly acquainted to drink and make merry on his expense and hungry stomach. Damn crazy things ppl do for weddings!

    And yet everyone tries so hard to make it perfect because making special memories is hard work! I think it’s a super maniacal sort of sweet.

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  • http://halimeda.blogspot.com Halimeda61

    It’s comforting to read that there are so many people feeling the same way as I do. I drift in and out of bridezilla neurotica, followed by self-loathing, only to return to the fact that hells yeah I want that perfect dress that’s practical and not too expensive but only sell in one retail store in the entire country of USA. This whole industry is ridiculous and humbling at the same time. Thank you, APW and Zen, for this wonderful website.