Rebecca, Children’s Book Publicist & John, Research Scientist in bone diseases
Reader, I married him.
I am a person built by books. When my now-husband and I moved in together, we merged our libraries and I said to him that giving away my copy of Pride and Prejudice was a commitment greater than marriage. (And believe me, I meant it.) I work in children’s publishing now, and there’s one thing I know for sure: readers or not, we all love a story.
I never expected wedding planning to be hard—my job in PR means I organize a lot of events. I’ve stage-managed three hundred five-year-olds, a person in a character costume, and a nervous author; a stressful event is when you have ten thousand children registered to watch your author’s talk online, not a hundred of your closet friends and family for a short ceremony and dinner. Frankly, I was looking forward bashing quickly through the decision-making with my fiancé and then relaxing on the sofa with a cold Sauv Blanc for the remaining six months.
What I found out when we got engaged was what you probably all already know; that wedding planning is only fifty percent about practicalities. The other fifty percent is emotionally digesting the following: societal expectations, generational expectations, and the very strange condescending, pushy attitude of people who are meant be offering you a service. A month into wedding planning I was crying on the street (and I’m British, I do not cry on streets) because my mother had announced that not only had she hired someone to ice the cake, but that I would be ruining a thirty-year dream if I didn’t get married in the local church with the reception in my parents’ back garden. At this point, I was twenty-nine, and she had therefore been planning my wedding since before I was born.
On the way home I had a road-to-Damascus style dawning of realisation: I was planning a wedding in 2013 and my mum was planning one in 1979—the last time she’d been to a wedding. We had fundamentally different narratives of getting married. In 1979, most weddings were in churches, were planned by mothers, and receptions were in family gardens. (Interesting side note: in the 1979 wedding The Groom seemed curiously absent.) I also realised that I couldn’t have that 1979 wedding, even though it was going to hurt someone I loved very much.
I also had a completely unanticipated reaction to a large part of the wedding industry. John and I had to leave a ring shop with me hyperventilating because I felt we were being viewed as walking wallets; whilst I enjoyed wedding dress shopping, all the dresses seemed a bit claustrophobic and just… heavy. We left a prospective venue quite quickly after the guide tried to sell us an engagement photo shoot package. (John, puzzled, “But we already did that bit, didn’t we?”)
The danger of stories is, of course, that they are often at their most compelling when they are binary, and simple. If I follow the story then I will make a recipe for happiness! Decades after the insidious nature of fairy tales was first discussed by literary critics, many parts of the wedding industry are still trying to sell us a neatly packaged happy ending. To paraphrase second-wave feminism, you’d better believe that the personal is still the socio-political, and in this case the socio-political forces at work are concealed in shiny magazine pages and marquees full of DIY projects. “Once we have accepted the story,” commented Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, “we cannot escape the story’s fate.”
In fact, there’s pretty much only one part of the traditional wedding narrative that I would still partially subscribe to, and that’s that the day itself is still important—not because being married is a more authentic relationship than not being married—but because it is a day when you stand as a couple and say this is us, at this moment in time; this is the story of us we choose to tell.
And our story on our wedding day was this: we are a couple who visit art galleries and museums. I love a good-looking font and he loves paper cut very precisely. We picked a poem for me and a Carl Sagan passage for him. There was a LOT of cheese and even more wine. The bridemaids wore different dresses and the ushers listened to Radiohead whilst getting ready. We both gave a speech. He wore a kilt and I wore a short fifties style dress. I chose a bastardised T.S. Eliot quote for his ring and he chose a Smiths lyric for mine. I had a book flower in my bouquet and he had a thistle in his buttonhole. Our cake was iced with the three skylines in our story, Oxford, Edinburgh, London. We are Rebecca & John, John & Becky, R&J.
So, what would I say to year-ago us? Just this*: write your own story. Ignore everything else. Make it from words and silence and people you love and—most of all—you.
*Well, I might also say on a practical note that your dream wedding venue is literally half the price of a lot of the other places you will look at. So just Go For It. Also, only give money to vendors you like.