In recent weeks, Jezebel.com has featured a number of posts on bad wedding behavior:
- “The Most Amazing Wedding Text Message Fight of Our Time,” June 20, 2013, http://jezebel.com/the-most-amazing-wedding-text-message-fight-of-our-time-514528769
- “Worst Bride Ever Throws Facebook Fit Over $100 Wedding Gift” July 3, 2013, http://jezebel.com/worst-bride-ever-throws-facebook-fit-over-100-cash-wed-660712215
Whether the experiences and exchanges recounted in these posts are true or not is sort of beside the point. Clearly, the posts struck a nerve among readers, given the thousands of comments received and the tens of thousands of Facebook shares. Enough people know people (who know people) who’ve gone over the edge as a result of the wedding and its alleged pressure that readers easily can imagine that someone somewhere acted in such an entitled, outrageous, and generally shitty manner. There’s a lot going on in these posts, and I have some ideas about them in regard to both their content and their cultural relevance.
First, the content. In “Wedding Text Message Fight,” a wedding celebrant first asks a guest to provide a receipt for the gift given (a gift basket of various foodstuffs) and then takes it upon herself to share a bit of wedding wisdom: “I’m not sure if it’s the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding… People give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate… And got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return Just a heads up for the future :).” In a follow up message, said bride schooled her thoughtless and clearly ill-informed guest by dropping this bit of knowledge: “Weddings are to make money for your future.” As for “Worst Bride Ever,” readers learn about another bride who saw fit to follow up with a guest in regard to a gift received: “I just want to know is there any reason or dissatisfaction of Mike’s and I wedding that both you and Phil gave 50$ each? In terms of the amount we got from you both was very unexpected as a result we were very much short on paying off the reception because just for the cocktail + reception alone the plate per person is 200$ (as per a normal wedding range with open bar is about).”
Before we even get started, please disregard the absolutely abhorrent grammar and overall subpar effort at written expression in the quoted material. If ever my first impulse was to go after someone for a paltry wedding gift, my pre-first impulse – even before the going after – would be to proofread the message I planned to send. Because who wants to look both stupid and like an asshole? But that’s just me.
As for the assertions made by the brides, I can confirm, as a human, that they are massively rude and, as a historian, that they are absolutely without historical merit. Over the course of my research on American weddings, I read many, many, MANY guides on wedding etiquette. To prevent people from thinking as these brides do, contemporary guides often make the specific point that weddings are NOT to be viewed as a time to make money – either to pay for the wedding or for the future more generally. If a couple must receive a certain financial remuneration in order to pay for their reception, most guides suggest immediately scaling back. Some guides go so far as to suggest a couple forgo hosting a celebration at all. The choice to have an elaborate or extravagant wedding reception is the choice of the couple being wed, not the guests. As such, guests cannot be expected to pay for their plates. As for the idea of the wedding as a means of making money for the future, this is also a misplaced notion. When the majority of brides and grooms regularly wed as teenagers and early twenty-somethings (aka the late 1940s and 1950s), yes, there was a focus on preparing the couple for their future – but with dishtowels and flatware and small appliances (to be clear: gifts, not envelopes). But now, as the average age of wedding celebrants creeps ever higher, the fact is that most couples begin their marriages with at least some measure of financial and material preparation. The couple being wed, not the guests to their wedding, are responsible for their future planning. And, of course, a couple theoretically should think of their wedding as the moment when they are joining into a lifetime of commitment before a beloved community of family and friends, rather than a time to pad their wallets. If you’re inclined to get romantic about these things.
Early postwar brides expected gifts to help them fill their new homes.
Now, the context. The tales from Jezebel fit perfectly within a kind of sub-genre of contemporary American wedding evaluation: critique, fostered by the critic’s sense of superiority at his/her own inherent rationality. This critique regularly focuses on the blatantly consumerist element of the wedding. That’s obviously at play here. Additionally, and just as often – and often in conjunction with critique of consumerism – is a focus on the bride behaving badly. She is easily recognized, and we know her by name: Bridezilla. And a Bridezilla is the star of each post. I HATE this term, and so here I focus my energy.
Let us imagine there is cultural expectation, originating and perpetuated during childhood (during babyhood if we want to bring up the fact that there exists an item that is onesie – for an INFANT – that reads “Future Bride”), that a wedding and a white dress are essential to adult happiness. Let us imagine there is an entire industry dedicated to selling women (and men) everything they need to make sure said wedding is “perfect” – either for them individually or on a scale determined by said industry. Let us imagine the wedding can cost thousands – and more likely, tens of thousands of dollars – and that the prevailing cultural assumption is that it should be the best day of one’s life, a day on which one can and should have whatever one desires. Might one feel pressure to guarantee this wedding live up to expectations – both personal and cultural? Might one wish to exert some control over decisions regarding this day that has been so built up over the course of one’s lifetime? Short answer to both questions: yes.
And yet, we’re inclined to berate and condemn those who buy into this cultural expectation too fully. Now, clearly, the women highlighted in these Jezebel posts behaved terribly. Their attitudes and expectations and shared sense of entitlement are inexcusable. And, of course, individuals must be responsible for their actions. But I offer this warning. When we roll our eyes at their behavior and pat ourselves on the backs for knowing we’d never be so awful, when we dismiss them as crazy, we legitimate a vocabulary for dealing with “difficult” women that accepts descriptors like crazy and we okay the addition of “zilla” to denote the monstrous nature of a woman who dares to have a voice (which ultimately means even a reasonable and measured voice, unlike our Jezebel protagonists). We let off the hook the culture that created, maintains, and, one might argue, encourages an environment in which unrealistic, unharnessed, selfish wedding expectations take seed and grow, an environment where women, told their entire lives that the wedding is their one special day, can imagine that codes of conduct and kindness fail to apply to them. And that is truly monstrous.