I’m looking for a white dress. I’d like it to be a short, classy, modern, special dress, which I will wear on the day I get married. One that my haute couture-loving seamstress grandmother would love. One in which I will feel like a glamorous, lovely version of myself.
The bridal consultant tells me they have no short dresses, with some mixture of surprise and disappointment that I’d asked. This is the second strike against me. Not only am I shopping for a dress just six months from the date, not even firm yet, on which we hope to get married, but I want a short dress on top of it. A failure of a bride, her raised eyebrows indicated. She might as well have clucked with disapproval.
So I try on some long gowns. The big dresses, made of satin and tulle. The ones that can stand up on their own, bolstered by stiff fabric and bridal dreams. They are lovely, but I feel out of place in them, like a girl playing dress up. Standing in my underwear in between dresses, I use my phone to show my friend a shorter bridal dress I found online, one I really love. I say, “Can’t I just wear this, or something like this?” “Yeah, you could,” she says, “but this is the only time you can wear a wedding gown.”
She is right, and she’s not the only one saying it. There’s this voice, maybe it’s mine, or maybe it’s the collective societal whisper, that says I should wear a wedding gown. Not even because I want to, but because I won’t be able to again. You can only get away with the princess thing once. Or the glamorous Hollywood siren bride, or the sweet lace ball gown bride, or the modern non-traditional but really quite traditional mermaid gown bride. Or whatever version of bride fits into the image you are painting, of yourself, your partner, your relationship.
The dress isn’t the only thing you won’t have a shot at again. Only once will you have the opportunity to get 150 of your friends and family in one large ballroom, walk down the aisle with your father, have a first dance, cut some white cake. Maybe you don’t even want these things that you can only have once. But there’s still the voice telling you to do them, so that you don’t later regret not having done them.
Sometime during the wedding planning, these symbols take on outsized importance. It seems they must be perfect, not just because we can only do them once, but also because they should be the faithful representation of your relationship, of what is important to you and your partner—personally, spiritually, aesthetically, and otherwise. These static symbols should be a faithful representation, not just for now, but for always. Because the marriage is forever, right?
But in reality, the wedding day celebrates the start of one of the longest and most intense iterative processes most of us will go through—a marriage. We are committing to a forever process, which is much different than committing to a static forever. For me, what makes it so significant is that we’re committing knowing that things will change, and not knowing what those changing things will be. But when we plan a wedding, we are not encouraged to think about how we will handle this iterative process, what we will bring to it each day. Instead, we are encouraged to think about all the static symbols, the trappings of the wedding. There is something out of sync with the only-once framework to celebrate the over and over again.
My fiancé and I designed my engagement ring together. In one of the earlier designs, I wanted a smaller diamond than what I ended up with, one whose size would match the design I envisioned. Before the design changed, my fiancé’s sister told him, “Just get her the bigger diamond,” thinking maybe that he was being stingy. “She wants a smaller one,” he replied, “and so what, if she changes her mind later in life and wants a bigger one, I’ll get her a bigger one.”
When he first told me this, I grimaced, saying I wouldn’t ever want to change the ring or the stone, because I am sentimental and it had to be forever. I am sentimental, but I was putting too much stock in the notion of the ring, that it had to be the perfect thing, done once, forever. Like the wedding. Nothing like a marriage.
But now I see he was on to something, to not be so wrapped up in the idea of forever, or the idea that an object or moment could always hold the essence of the relationship. Maybe later my taste will change, or neither of us will want to wear rings at all. The ring as a symbol holds value not because it will necessarily be the perfect thing forever (though it’s so lovely, I feel it will be). It holds value because making it gave us a fun and interesting experience, because it reminds us of when we got engaged, and because the new weight of it on my finger reminds me of him.
The wedding, really, will not be the first day we decided to be together, and it will not be the last day. It is a day, on which we act on a decision we made a long time ago, one we’ll continue to make, through the daily wakings and sleepings, all the spoken and unspoken yeses. The wedding is just a snapshot of the two of us in that moment when we act on the decision. A snapshot of the two of us facing the unknown, and betting that it will be better with each other.