“Should we have a wedding, or elope?”
I once asked this question, when the cost of a wedding seemed insurmountable and irrational, and my now husband and I were in the all-consuming stage of love where our worlds revolved entirely around one another. I daydreamed of Virginia elopement destinations, such as rural, red bricked, rolling hilled Abingdon; or Occoquan on the Eastern shore, its winding avenues lit with gas lights, a briny tang from the lulling river in the air. But a couple of people in my life—oddly, my feminist mother (who herself eloped)—exhorted me to have a wedding. My mother dearly wanted to see me as a bride, and lamented that one of her biggest regrets was not having a wedding. Of course, I did not dare admit to my grandmother that I was considering elopement. That would be scandalous.
I did not foresee that the decision to have a wedding, with all of its attendant costs, stresses and time commitments, would be a catalyst for a host of other maturing realizations I had over the next year of planning and preparation. Not only did I mature as a woman and assume deeper responsibilities as a family curator and peacemaker, I fully dispensed with many insidious anti-family, anti-God, and cosmopolitan modern myths.
It is no wonder the world gave me so much guff for daring to have a wedding, for daring to not be barren! I could not bring it up—whether during a beauty appointment, or conversationally—without everyone from strangers to relatives exclaiming “what an enormous financial waste weddings are,” and how they’re “just going to elope and avoid the stress,” as if those things are what a wedding means, and as if everything hard is to be shirked, and as if a wedding is not worth money, of all things on earth that exact a cost. Feminist-leaning women were the most disparaging of all, given their denial of their own happiness. I suspect the worst of the detractors were without a compass for understanding the meaning of the sacrament, yet inherently sensed it was something good and sought to tear it down.
For it turns out that having a wedding is a consummate act of rebellion—against modern solipsism, Satanic nihilism, and the destruction of tradition and European-descended families. It was a rebellion against rootlessness, against the disintegration of my Southern family, and against shame for Southern heritage. It was a rebuke of alienating individualism and a re-orientation to much maligned collectivism, properly understood as shared identity, history, and interdependence. (Ironically, my sister-in-law mentioned during her toast that she knew she would like me when she met me and I was reading The Fountainhead). I think the wedding industry is partially booming because brides, though they likely cannot articulate their reactionary sentiments, are indeed seeking to build a fortification in the vacuum of our lost traditions. Our generation, largely abandoned by our forebearers, must learn to rebuild these traditions, clearing the overgrowth away from their carved stone bier and brushing the dirt out of the chiseled crevices to reveal their faces.
Modern rootlessness is a serious problem, both for the social disintegration it leaves in its wake and the paradoxical diminishment of the wanderer. The early throes of an adventurous temperament are a far cry from the route practice of picking up and moving every few years to trail the promise of material preeminence. Following the crumbs of the job market, treasured people disappear to unreachable places for years, calling annually, or perhaps sending a card to commemorate an occasion, though even that is falling out of fashion with the cheap and easy substitute of social media. Facebook—truly the corn syrup of socializing.
Musical chairs; a revolving door; a torn map; pick your metaphor for the sad state of kinship in today’s world. We live in the age of the flakes, where plans made a mere 12 hours before must be confirmed and often modified via text message. Some friends are lost to distance, and some are lost to ideas. Over the year, I rallied friends and family who had been scattered, who had pursued their personal diaspora (growing wider and emptier), but the ones lost to ideas were lost forever. A part of me cruelly scorned my hopeful efforts as a fool’s errand, as an endeavor ultimately meaningless that would not be appreciated by those to whom I reached the trembling tendrils of my spirit to. But if we were in the habit of buckling at the cold nip of our doubts, we would never leave the cave—much less step up to the altar.
Having a wedding will test a bride not only in her ability to manage logistics, aesthetics and entertaining, but it will test her every family bond and friendship. It is a gentle sort of reckoning, that reveals fairweather friendship, and truly separates the wheat from the chaff. The social pains of the past year have been significant, but worthwhile. Intimate occasions have a way of smoking out interlopers. Friendships I thought forged for life were ruined like an expensive watch dropped once into water. Yet old friendships, artifacts of power, delightfully revive, knowing no time or distance. A year of preparation not only allows for time to envision every detail of guest experience, or the flowers in your bouquet—candlelight roses, white ranunculus, pink hypericum berries—it makes a bride reflect on her entire life, to lay to rest grievances, and to discover the grace it takes to be a good wife, and a gracious spirit.
The wedding is a bride’s opportunity to create for herself and her husband, and all of their loved ones, a memory so sublimely beautiful that it is like a dream of heaven. The dream can be revisited, at any time, at any place, glowing and good. Ideally, a bride seeks to emulate the beautiful, rather than confuse herself with the beautiful, in her painstaking efforts to create this gift for her husband and their guests. Women’s love of appearances often rightfully inspires no small amount of snide remarks from reactionaries, but I think they miss that this love is not inherently deficient, but is vulnerable to being misdirected from its higher aims of memory-making, by fadish status projection and in service to her personal myth.
Yet ideally, every wedding detail is a note in a score composed from her very soul, sharing her vision of heaven, through which she will enter more fully into with her husband. In an ideal marriage, the husband and wife will be the humorous finishing touches on the beautification of each other’s souls. Placing a flower from the garden path in his lapel, she bids him goodbye; brushing a last strand of hair from her face, he turns her unclouded view to the magnificent vista where she has arrived. It is in this way that they depart one another. The wedding affirms publicly what is privately confessed, and announces the couple’s accountability to their personal collective, and their navigation towards their Creator.
No wonder about half the time when talking about having a wedding in public, one gets an earful about how it isn’t worth it, how buying a car would be better, and how only fools go through the trouble. A wedding is a heavy charge circumvented only to the detriment of the families involved. A wedding is a celebration of beauty and lifelong commitment, which understandably upsets those inimical to the transcendent. We must cleave close to the good, and close to each other, pity the littleness of those who seek to waylay us, and enjoy the great mirth of life.