When a woman’s Facebook relationship status switches to “engaged,” the comments that ensue are pretty predictable. There are OMGs, congratulations, the ring emoji, the couple-holding-hands emoji, the smiley-face-with-hearts-in-place-of-eyes emoji... You get the picture.
And then there’s that comment: “You’re going to be such a beautiful bride!”
I absolutely hate this comment. And I saw a lot of it in the past month, given our penchant for engagements in late spring and early summer. When I see it on Facebook, I yearn for a Reddit-style downvote button on Facebook. When I hear one woman say it to another, I want to roll my eyes with such gusto that they roll right out of my head. Because I’ve come to realize that this comment is the bubbling, molten core of all that’s wrong with American wedding culture. And there is a lot wrong with American wedding culture, so that’s saying something.
I swear, I do not actually straight-up hate weddings. I do realize that there is very little I can say about the wedding-industrial complex without seeming crotchety and bitter (or just plain misanthropic), considering that I am an unmarried woman in her thirties whose most prominent break from lifelong commitment-phobia has been the adoption of a cat. And, sure, I get a little bit nauseated when I hear about grown women with high-powered careers and Twitter accounts full of Sheryl Sandberg quotations, insisting that their fathers “give them away” to their future husbands. But weddings in general? To each her own. They’re typically really fun parties in celebration of a couple whom all the guests love and support as they embark upon a journey together. A difficult journey.
And that’s my point: A wedding at its best is a communal celebration of an agreement that’s frankly pretty gutsy to undertake. There’s a problem, a big one, when people getting married are dragged into the belief that what they’re preparing for is a wedding, not the marriage itself.
There are also some signs that focusing too much on the pageantry of a wedding may be a bad sign for the marriage. Have an extravagant wedding, and statistically you’re more likely to get divorced. The same study by Emory University academics found that an expensive ring disproportionately correlated to a failed marriage. I’m no social scientist—and I know that correlation does not equal causation—but this sounds like a major case of rose-colored glasses: Tricking yourself into thinking that an engagement is a prelude to a big party that’s all about you, versus the whole “lifetime commitment” thing, is effectively an act of self-brainwashing. It’s an easy trap to fall into, considering how much of American pop culture prioritizes a focus on weddings, as opposed to actual marriages. It’s called Say Yes To The Dress, not Say Yes To The Legally Binding Partnership.
So when your friends push this even further on you by implicitly insisting that the thing worth congratulating you on is the fact that you’re going to look gorgeous in your wedding dress—rather than the fact that you’re taking the brave leap to legally join your life to someone else’s—it misses the point in a pretty shitty way.
Like I said, I’m not married, nor have I ever been close to it. But I can imagine a lot of newly engaged women are pretty freaked out about what they’re getting into. I sure would be. And I can assume it’s easy to try to appease those feelings by instead focusing on Your Special Day versus What You’ve Just Agreed To Do. That doesn’t mean the feelings of being totally freaked out go away. How many women feel like it’s taboo to talk about their concerns and fears regarding marriage, and instead choose to make a new Pinterest board to make themselves feel better about it?
There’s plenty of difficulty, challenge, and compromise in a life partnership. Even the happiest marriages have their low points and their uncertainties. Perhaps the most supportive thing that an engaged woman’s friends and family can do is acknowledge that, and offer their genuine support—not just platitudes about how good she’ll look in a dress she’ll never wear again.
Image via Shutterstock.