I grew up across the street from a gorgeous church, the kind that is made for photographers. Weddings were exciting and frequent events in June. Picture yourself as a four year old standing on your front lawn. A black limo pulls up to the church across the street. Groomsmen dressed in gray or black hurry into the church from all directions, while the limo waits. Then a door opens. You see a flash of white gauze and a bridal veil (everyone wore bridal veils in those days) blows in the wind like a cloud. The bride, surrounded by bridesmaids in matching dresses, appears very briefly as she is hustled inside the church. You stand and wait, hoping for another glimpse of her. A half hour passes and finally, the double doors of the church swing open. The grownups in the house shout for everyone to see. “Kids, the bride! The bride! Come see the bride!” Everyone in the house rushes outside to glimpse the beautiful bride. It is thrilling. The bride wears a stunning white dress different from all the other dressy dresses you have seen. Someone is carrying her train. Within a minute or two she is hustled back into the limo, never knowing the excitement she gave to everyone around.
The brides I watched enter and exit the church across the street seemed like fairy princesses to me, or like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. They were not real. They existed purely to be viewed. The tight-waisted lace, the satin gown, the veil and the big blue sky over the church were what made for a wedding. Marriage? The fact a couple was being married hardly seemed worth a thought.
Thirty years ago this August I had a lovely wedding with family and friends, a pretty dress, dancing, and a lovely dinner. The day was clear. The music was Cole Porter. I think it was very nice, though my main memory of the event is the sheer terror I felt at making such a huge decision. But my own wedding is too personal for me to apply it to this column.
This column is about The Perfect Wedding.
Have you heard about the perfect wedding? Apparently it’s something you regret not having for your whole life. Don’t have money for a designer gown, a three course dinner for two hundred, or a live band? Time to go into mourning because you’re going to miss “the perfect wedding.” Have a rude brother-in-law, a best friend too fat to fit into the bridesmaid’s dress or a groom who has two left feet? You too are destined to suffer the devastation of missing the perfect wedding.
Missing The Perfect Wedding can scar a girl for life. A bride tearfully tells Dr. Phil that an argument over her wedding has poisoned her relationship with her mother-in-law, her best friend, or her husband. All her life, she explains, she has wanted The Perfect Wedding. It was her dream, her life goal and now it is ruined forever.
On basic cable reality shows, the phrase “Perfect Wedding” is bandied about constantly. Rude young women shriek and whine constantly about flowers, invitations and meals. Their parents, fiancés and girlfriends put up with unbelievable rudeness all because the bride deserves The Perfect Wedding.
Arrange a wedding for the bride who wants perfection? I’d rather have a root canal.
It occurred to me when I was thinking about this, that romance novels may hold a clue to the perfect wedding. Have you ever noticed how few romance novels end with an actual wedding? You imagine that the couple has the Perfect Wedding, but you seldom witness it. The reason for this may be twofold. 1) Perfect weddings lack drama. 2) Hours of haggling over whether to serve chicken or roast beef are incompatible with an HEA.
Great weddings in romance novels never happen at the end of a book and they are not perfect. They are the site of great drama. Jane Eyre’s wedding to Mr. Rochester must be the gold standard. Finding out that your groom has a mad wife in his attic is one hell of a conversation starter. Worried about the dead flowers on the table? Have a guest invite a mad wife and nobody will notice a thing.
I went to a wedding once where an old boyfriend called the bride’s house hourly throughout the wedding weekend threatening to crash her ceremony. If that were not enough, we learned that the groom, who was ten years older than his twenty-something bride, had been married three times before. The bride’s parents learned this information about the same time we did. Worry about the weather? Not this bride.
In romance novels I like to read about weddings where the bride and groom are strangers. Jo Beverley’sAn Arranged Marriage, features a forced wedding between a young woman who has been raped, and a nobleman who happens to be the rapist’s brother. And Jessica Benson created an entertaining wedding in An Accidental Bride; the bride is surprised when she looks up at her wedding and realizes she is marrying the wrong identical twin.
Why don’t romance novelists describe happy weddings? Happy weddings don’t have much drama. In fact, up until this weekend I would have told you that happy weddings are pretty dull. In fact up until Saturday, I was planning for most of this column to be a rant on wedding fever. But a funny thing happened on Saturday and here it is. On Saturday I attended The Perfect Wedding.
Yes, I did, and I am going to tell you about it. There were 25 of us at the wedding, longtime friends, each handpicked by the couple. The bride and groom had loved each other for a long time. As the “bride’s man” put it, they had been “dating” for 16 years (if you think dating involves living together). Among the attendees was the groom’s tiny grandson, aged one and a half.
The bride, a slim and uncommonly pretty woman who teaches ballroom dance, wore a lovely dress, designed and sewn by a good friend. The groom wore a lavender shirt, which he swore was “the last lavender shirt I will ever wear.” Nobody gave the bride away, as she informed us “people do not give people away.” We sat in a gorgeous garden outside of her mother and stepfather’s home in Washington State. It was a beautiful day, but it could have been raining.
When the groom got up to welcome us, he told us we were all family. We were the people they loved best in the world and they wanted to share this with us. They also wanted us to meet each other, and like each other. And we did.
Before the vows, the “bride’s man” read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
At this last all eyes were on the groom (whose hair is a bit rubbed off) and a low chuckle fell over the baby-boomer guests. Except for the groom’s children, none of us were young. Some of our hair had been loved off, our joints were not as good as they had been, and we knew that, as we are in our fifties, this is only going to continue.
But we looked at the bride and groom and we knew that they are as real as the skin horse said. They have loved each other for a long time. And they love us, the lucky friends who were invited. It occurred to me that this wedding could not have been anything but perfect. It was about love, the kind that lasts, not romance, which is private, but a kind of ongoing admiration of a man and woman for each other, that exists regardless of physical beauty. And so, I can only thank my dear friends Ken and Liz for inviting us to join in this and let me see something very rare indeed – The Perfect Wedding.
Questions To Consider:
Have you ever attended The Perfect Wedding? Share some of your most memorable – good memorable, or bad memorable – wedding experiences, be they your own, or others you attended. Were you ever the bridesmaid in the hideous dress? Did somebody ever get drunk and make a fool of themself? Did you ever argue with yourself about who to take with you to a wedding as your guest if you are/were unmarried at the time? Dish!
Do you cry at weddings? Why? If not, do you wonder why others do?
Now let’s turn to romance novels. Which romance novel wedding scenes are memorable to you? The first to pop into Laurie’s head comes from Julie Garwood’sThe Gift: “England, 1802. It was only a matter of time before the wedding guests killed one another.” Which romance novel weddings lived up to your expectations, and which fell short? Which didn’t feature a wedding at all?
Are weddings more prevalent or better in historical romances or contemporaries, or does it matter? Does the mundane “We can’t put Uncle Steve anywhere near Cousin John or there’ll be a fight!” figure more in modern-day settings than in historical romance?
Do happy weddings preclude the drama necessary for a great romance?
When reading a romance novel with a wedding mishap, would you prefer they be funny, dangerous, or serious derailments?