It’s that season again! Wedding season. Summer is synonymous with save the dates and gift registries and explaining to my husband why fatigue cargo shorts should not be worn, even if it is an outdoor ceremony. It’s the time of the year where a woman reawakens her childhood fantasies while a man resigns himself to the first of many marital compromises. It’s where a father or even a father in law reminds the groom it’s often best to practice a lot of head nods and “yes dears” and an emphatic “I do” for opinions, even solicited ones, can be dangerous things to share. Turns out there really is a difference between purple, plum and eggplant. If you don’t know, it’s best to say nothing. For these distinctions and more, this day is often referred to as the BIG day; even still, the sheer magnitude of what two people are entering into is often overshadowed by seating arrangements, dessert options and chicken versus beef. I have been a bride before, so I am speaking from experience. I’ve actually been a bride twice, so either I’m all the wiser or I’m doubly foolish.
My first BIG day occurred in my early twenties. With two degrees under my belt, I was the bookish girl much smarter in a class lecture than in love. What does one do when they have mounting student loans, a college sweetheart adored by many and no more ringing school bells? Wedding bells it is. What’s nice about many first weddings are the obligatory checks doled out by parents further fulfilling flights of fancy. In my case, guest lists grew like leaves on trees, family trees filled with third cousins I hadn’t seen since I was a tween. Finding the dress for the BIG day meant even bigger payment plans and almost a year to the date of an ill-fated engagement the BIG day officially arrived.
I entered the church to the sounds of a live rendition of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.” I entered the church following 9 bridesmaids, two ring bearers, a flower girl, and even a praise dancer who had just been given word she would become a traveling performer with Cirque Du Soleil. My girlfriends still won’t let me live down the dancer. I entered the church a good 10 seconds before my train did because it was truly just that expansive of a train. While I was adorned in ivory and lace with a sea of onlookers, the stained glass window scattered rainbow silhouettes throughout the sanctuary. A lifetime of imagining my day as a bride had all led up to this moment. A picture perfect point in time, orchestrated in my minds eye, illustrated from the lenses of rose-colored glasses.
At the other end of the aisle stood a groom who less than two years later would decide he liked being a groom far more than being a husband. “At least we had a great party,” he’d say, and truth be told, we did. It was a great party indeed. Stevie wonder themed, ribbon in the sky, country club, golf course, open bar, dance all night long type of party. It was the party to rival all parties, but what good is a last dance when you’re dancing with the wrong partner?
My next BIG day came 8 years later. I had exchanged the wide-eyed naivety of my twenties for an early thirties homage to real world maturity. Phrases like tenure took on far greater significance, yet amidst my career climb cupid fortunately had not forgetten me. I fell into a deeper type of love that paired the girlish goose bumps when he calls my name with an unmistakable desire to carry his name. I took immense pride in becoming one with my true love, yet on the heels of an “almost perfect” wedding do over I proved I still hadn’t learned a valuable life lesson: It’s less about the party and more about the partner. The thing about lessons, especially those that deal with matters of the heart, they keep coming back, super glued to your psyche, until you finally pass the makeup exam.
And speaking of makeup, there was no team of beauty experts working together to turn me into a cover model. I did my own makeup, swooped my hair into a topknot and adorned a Vera Wang gown lent to me from a dear friend. Let me briefly interject. There is no such thing as a 2nd rate Vera Wang, so all in all I felt as beautiful as I did the first time, but I was smarter…somewhat.
With the Pacific Ocean at our back and the love of my life by my side, we eloped to picturesque Santa Barbara for the “we did it our way” wedding of our dreams. I had truly hit the love lottery this time with a perfect mix of the type of guy your parents always wanted for you combined with the type of man you never believed existed. It mattered not that he left his suit back in Los Angeles and had to pull an all night turn around trip to meet me at the chapel clock tower. It mattered not that the morning of the ceremony was met with raindrops on my hotel window, a washing away of the old and an ushering in of the new. It mattered only that this handsome, kind, smart and funny, in that witty or sometimes corny but never obnoxious kind of way man chose me and I chose him right back. The day was perfectly imperfect. Our only guests were a group of Swedish tourists and an aging officiant who struggled to properly pronounce my name. The Swedes gifted us with smiles, compliments and paparazzi style photo ops. They seemed to think we were celebrities and in that moment we owned prime real estate of coastal splendor. At one point in the ceremony as the magistrate mangled my moniker, Ryan with an “e” but the “e” is silent, my soon to be husband corrected her in this polite but self-possessed way. It was as if he was letting her, the Swedes and me know I’d always be his.
For many months thereafter we lived in an impenetrable bubble of newlywed bliss. Sayings like “leave well enough alone” should have prevailed but I stupidly disregarded the age-old adage. While unpacking boxes in our newly purchased home, something came over me. Maybe it was the hanging of decorative framed wedding pics from our spur-of-the-moment Swedish photography shoot or maybe it was simply the way my husband looked at me. It often happened when he thought I wasn’t looking. I’d dodge his gaze, he’d dodge mine but eventually we would lock eyes and the corners of his mouth would turn upward. I could blame it all on his smile, and it would be so easy to do. But that would be only a partial truth. For reasons I must admit fall into categories far less weighty than till death do us part, I decided to have a wedding reception to commemorate the BIG day we had already experienced.
This is the part of the lesson where another tried and true motto comes to mind: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” A reception designed to announce to the world what I had already fortified in my heart was an unnecessary act of self-importance. I tried to blame it on his smile, I truly did. That paired with the fact that he deserved a party, or we deserved a party or a love like ours deserved to be publically recognized all seemed like legitimate motives, but there was only one problem: I wasn’t done living out my allegorical tale. To be the wife, mother and woman I was purposed to be I had to become as smart in love as I was in literature.
As an English Instructor I often assign my students an activity called fractured fairytales. This is where they take a traditional fairytale and change the overall plot transforming the intended outcome. Consequently, the parable also changes and in the parable of my failed BIG day things didn’t just fracture but rather shattered to pieces. My stylist had an unexpected emergency and I was left to tackle my own reception look. Where is Vera Wang when you need her? The convection oven for the caterers caught on fire and unbeknownst to my guests they were steps away from potential harm. The food was subsequently late and my very vegetarian English department chair was given a dead animal to eat. The DJ forgot our favorite songs and by the time guests were fed our reception venue was nearly closing. The party to rival all parties was slipping, spinning, swimming down stream and waterworks were welling up in my eyes. With each quick blink designed to salvage my waning makeup I was taken back to that Santa Barbara morning where rain trickled down the windowsill with a musical four beat drip. Here—Comes—The—Bride. All—Dressed—In—White. And then it hit me. Like a stack of happily ever after storybooks falling square on my stubborn head: “It’s not about the party. It’s about the partner.” From across the room while saying his goodbyes to guests my husband still sought out my eyes. He caught them, like he always does, and he smiled.
Nowadays we realize we don’t need a fancy reception to give us pause to party. Successfully getting the kids off to school is worthy of a little jig. Our living room is our dance floor where our six year old often squeals and begs us not to kiss, but compels us to dance a wedding dance like the one in Beauty and the Beast. And so we dance, like crazy people. Oftentimes to deal with the craziness of life. And we dance, with wanderlust memories of the changing tide and our friends from Sweden. Once my husband even danced in a labor and delivery room for the only thing that could keep me from screaming was his offbeat robot with a jazz hand finale. And when summer comes around marking yet another wedding season, I make a wish for the brides and grooms twirling to their first dance. As they rejoice in the culmination of their BIG day, my wish for them is that the party doesn’t stop there. I hope that years from now, no matter where they are in a room, they will seek each other out, they will smile, and if need be, they will dance.