Weddings vs. Marriages

A CLIENT TOLD ME OF A SHARP disagreement in her son’s wedding plans. Russ wanted to wear a dark gray formal wide tie while Amy, his fiancée, wanted him to wear a black bowtie with his designer tuxedo. Since they wanted everything to be perfect in their wedding, they consulted wedding advisors who had split opinions. That simple decision consumed a great deal of attention.

I see young couples who are more focused about their wedding than about their marriage. Weddings do have a complicated decision matrix that can lead to conflicts, but the marriage is much more important. Right about now, many couples are planning June weddings and some of the issues are percolating to the forefront. A big one, of course, is where should the wedding be and how much should they spend. Then there is how much should each participant— the bride, groom and parents—chip in. Clearly, this has potential for conflict. Now I am hearing about more destination weddings, which costs guests a fortune even before they reach into their pockets for gifts.

Next comes a harder one: Whom do they invite? Because weddings are expensive, limits often have to be observed. “How can we invite cousin Shirley and her third husband and not invite cousin Murray and his first wife?” “I can’t stand my sister-in-law’s brother but how can I invite her and not her brother?” “I work with 14 people and don’t know where to draw the line.” “There are too many people on your side of the family as opposed to mine!” Then, of course, comes the entertainment, the food, the flowers, the favors…

One week, my wife and I went to two unforgettable weddings. One was a Greek-Egyptian marriage where the Greek-American bride came from a family in the catering business. Everything was wonderful. Wonderful food, colorful entertainment, exotic guests and a real feeling of joy. The other was extraordinarily lavish: Two tents on an estate, two bands, piles of Beluga caviar and friendly guests. Neither marriage lasted.

In contrast, Marilyn and I got married in the Bronx County Courthouse because my parents were married there and had a wonderful marriage, and my father had died two months before, making the location meaningful. Marilyn’s folks, being from Missouri, didn’t object. It was boarded up, every office closed except for the Justice of the Peace’s office. There was rubble outside and signs inside saying, in English and Spanish, “Don’t spit on the floor!” My mother-in-law cried, and not for joy! Yet we are within sight of our golden anniversary. We knew: The marriage is primary.

Don’t get me wrong, I think weddings are wonderful. Weddings have important functions. They introduce spouses to the other side. Often, we know our cousin married Tom, but until the wedding we don’t know how many heads he has nor how he acts. Granted, the introduction is somewhat orchestrated, but it remains an intro. We also reunite with people we have known for years though contacts may have faded. Marriages seem to have a matchmaking function, too. At minimum, weddings are often fun parties with good food, company and dancing. Not incidentally, a function of weddings is to help young people start married life. Many young couples are saddled with college loans, furnishing a new home and starting a family. The gifts do help.

However, the wedding should not be viewed as the end all. To those planning one, lighten up and enjoy. The marriage is primary and the marriage is not a party. It requires work and compromise and an endless series of adjustments. The sharing involved is more profound than even the best wedding.

That’s why Russ eventually decided on a bowtie.

Illustration by Tom LaMothe