I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.1
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Appreciation of ordinary nobody-ness is rare in a celebritocracy. Weddings, it seems, offer every nobody a chance to claim the trappings of celebrity. As you've probably noticed, over-the-top extravagance is de rigueur. So, what's the harm in nobodies pretending with celebrity-style weddings?
For starters, over-the-top weddings are the creations of the multi-billion-dollar-per-year wedding industry. Entrepreneurs chanting, "You only get married once," exploit childhood fantasies, normalize pop culture excesses, and encourage self-indulgent spending frenzies. Lemming-like brides, grooms, and their loved ones are lured toward the brink by profligate flower budgets and catering contracts and requisite party buses and stretch limos. And then there are the destination weddings.
Do you sense an appeal for not so over-the-top weddings ahead?
First, the disclaimers. Some of my best friends and loved ones have attended, participated in, and/or paid for over-the-top, fantasy weddings. Also, since I have no idea how it feels to be a central figure in such a wedding, I admittedly do not understand the unique and possibly legitimatizing joys of a wedding more expensive than a small house or a trip around the world or, let's say, a bride's and a groom's Ph.D.s.
The chief argument for modest weddings is this: The values that inspire a deliberately modest (ordinary) wedding - fiscal retraint, emotional maturity, and focus on intrinsic rewards - are values that inspire an extraordinary marriage. The more-is-better giddiness that inspires celebrity-style (extraordinary) weddings indulges the adolescent (regardless of age) narcissism of the in-love. Sound likely to inspire an extraordinary marriage?
Sidebar: A few words about narcissism. Poet, Jim Harrison, offers this definition:
...in Mexico the poor say
that when there's lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture. 2
Christopher Lasch, who has written about the subject for 30 years, explains that narcissism is "a difficult idea that looks easy - a good recipe for confusion." 3 In most cases, the narcissism of the in-love is not the hopelessly unhealthy narcissism of the psychopath but garden-variety narcissism, defined by Lasch as "self-absorption and delusions of grandeur." 4
Again, you may ask, "What's the harm in a bride and groom indulging their narcissistic fantasies about being the center of their universe on their one perfect day?" Well, what's the good in it? Who benefits other than the wedding industry vendors? "Most important day of your life" needn't be synonymous with most extravagant day of your life.
When it comes to the profoundly important, happily-ever-after, facing reality trumps clinging to fantasies. For example, the financial realities of most marriages argue against that "sky's the limit" mentality. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to carry into newly-married life the "you-only-live-once" attitude and accompanying material expectations. Just ask all those first-time homebuyers with upside-down mortgages.
Also, to succeed at happily-ever-after, self-indulgence must give way to emotional maturity. There is nothing romantic or joyful about unrealistic expectations and adolescent narcissism. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to carry into newly-married life the "It's my day and I'll do as I please" attitude.
An ordinary wedding sets the right emotional tone and can meaningfully launch an extraordinary marriage.
For more about the book, go to www.everybodymarriesthewrongperson.com
1.The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson (Barnes & Noble Books, 1993), 17.
2. Jim Harrison, "Easter Morning," Saving Daylight (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2006), 60.
3. Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Era of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton & Company, 1979), 8.
4. Ibid., 199.