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.
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