“What’s your hashtag?” my youngest sister demanded over dinner the night Dan and I got engaged. We discussed #tomschakeane and #keanetomscha (both too long and prone to typos); #danandjenny (taken); #keanepartyoftwo (we’re not making restaurant reservations); and #keanewedding (I’ll be keeping my name, thank you very much). My sister brought out a cake topped with a July sparkler. #Danlovesjenny? we wondered aloud. A quick search revealed that no one else had used that hashtag yet. “#Danlovesjenny it is then,” proclaimed my sister. She typed quickly on her phone and posted a picture with her congratulations.
There we were, Dan grinning, my hand over my heart and I’m laughing because the sparkler is surprisingly bright and because it was the most wonderful day, and we had become #danlovesjenny, just like that.
I love hashtags. I’m thrilled by this new punctuation, the way it labels photos or bits of text and gathers them together, how a perfect hashtag can recast what has come before it, turn a sentence into a joke, give context to a photograph. In what other time in human history could you have a photo gallery of all the #catsofinstagram, all the beefcake of #firemenfriday, and all the lonely souls working the #nightshift??
Remember our prior world? How difficult this kind of thing used to be? Brides put those green and white disposable Fuji cameras with their cheap plastic shutters on their reception tables and waited for Tuesdays with free double prints to develop them. Now I know I can’t even expect my twenty-something cousins to email me their pictures; they live in this new world, and why not? They’ll hashtag selfies of themselves dancing at our reception #danlovesjenny. I’ll have an instant album.
Like a marriage itself, which stakes out a claim for the couple away from their individual families, your hashtag separates this particular coupling—yours—from the barrage of other weddings and babies and sunsets that flicker their way through your phone each day.
Which lead me and Dan to the inevitable crisis: Had we staked the right digital claim?
I’m not sure we have. Because Dan loves me, yes. But don’t I also love him? (Yes!) And aren’t I also a feminist? (Yes!) And what kind of feminist agrees to a defining label like #danlovesjenny? (A freshly engaged, completely distracted, champagne-buzzed, whatever-I’m-marrying-the-love-of-my-life-and-couldn’t-care-less-about-freaking-hashtags feminist is the answer.)
What would have been a better hashtag? A proper pun. Something subtle, something literary. Maybe a line from a poem we love, but with one of our last names instead. We might have expressed our love of books, our literary wit, and the intimate language we speak together as a twosome. We could have taken advantage of the hashtag’s ability to reshape what comes before it, to joke. Instead we are only #danlovesjenny, earnest as a note written in crayon. And we seem to be stuck. Our impulsively chosen hashtag turned into our wedding website url, which was emailed early on to all of our guests, and now, many photos in, it seems too late to change.
My anxiety over our hashtag (read: my first wedding freakout) stems not from the sense that everything in the wedding needs to be perfect, but from the sense that the wedding needs to be perfectly us. By the WIC and by our well-intentioned families, we’re told the wedding should be “so you,” and to make it all our own, from the music to the vows to the cocktails and the table runners. But as my fretting over our hashtag reminds me, every choice that I make isn’t necessarily my ideal choice or a choice that reflects us or even a choice at all.
Because we’re planning our wedding from Shanghai, we visited only one venue, and that’s the one we picked. Our venue has on-site catering and is in South Dakota, which means our wedding menu will most certainly include dinner rolls and butter wrapped in gold tinfoil. Ideally, we’d like imported Oaxacan mescal and goat cheese everything and the soul band from Boston I adored in my early twenties playing “Let’s Stay Together” as fireworks burst over the lake. But our wedding is a reflection of dozens of choices we make that are limited by another dozen factors—money, geography, schedules, availability, money, time, and again, money—outside of our control.
So the hashtag we’ll use on our wedding day is #danlovesjenny. With our marriage, as with our hashtag, we will stake our own claim in the world. We will re-order our relationship to our own families and to each other. We’ll create something new, something only for us. And we’ll have a hardworking DJ, overpriced bottles of Bud Light, and no fireworks because wildfires, and as I anticipate that day, I try to remember that it only really matters that Dan and I will be there. Our wedding will be us enough. We are the bride and groom, after all.
“You’ll want a family hashtag too,” my sister reminded us this Christmas. “To collect all the pictures of your future family.” She and her growing family are #herlastnamelove from 2013 until all eternity. Or until the inevitable transformation of digital culture replaces the hashtag with something else. For now, I’ll be taking suggestions.