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July 10, 2003

Simcha Stress and Bridal Blues

http://www.jewishjournal.com/celebrations_simchas/article/simcha_stress_and_bridal_blues_20030711

Whenever I tell someone about my impending nuptials, the reaction is the same. First come the whoops of joy and the chorus of "Mazel Tovs!"

Then, invariably, the tone shifts. Faces fall.

"How are you?" they ask, in much the same tone one might hear at a shiva call. "How are things going?"

Planning and executing a wedding, the implication suggests, are psychologically only slightly less taxing than death or divorce.

I spent the first few months of my engaged life fully invested in shrugging off such concerns.

"Whatever," I was known to reply. "It's a white dress and a party!"

I thought I could handily squelch this paradigm of wedding planning as something to survive, something to get through. This was my beloved, after all, and we already lived together, intertwined book and CD collections and everything. We picked a place, we picked a date and we found a kosher caterer whose head chef happened to be a vegetarian. We got on with our lives, and with the much more vital task of maintaining the healthy, loving relationship that warranted all the expenditure of time, energy and money for a wedding in the first place. The Wedding Industrial Complex (as a cadre of "anti-brides" on the fabulous indiebride.com Web site have dubbed it) wouldn't get its clutches on us, gosh darn it.

When Joel and I decided to get married (yes, he did "ask" me, but only after we had made a mutual decision and I found myself inexplicably sad not to have experienced that archetypal bended-knee thing) we sat down with our parents and laid down some ground rules. We were happy to go to Vegas tomorrow, we said, but if they wanted us to have a big ol' community simcha, we needed them to agree that our values dictate the character of it.

They hummed "Sunrise, Sunset," got misty-eyed with thoughts of grandchildren, wiped the remaining beads of sweat -- from fear that one of us might have married one of our respective long-term non-Jewish significant others -- off their foreheads and said yes, sure, absolutely, whatever you want.

But a wedding, everyone is quick to point out, is not really about the bride and the groom. No kidding.

Round One: The Text of the Invitations

Namely, the Hebrew phrase "Uv'rov todah l'Adonai," meaning "with many thanks to God." My mother, a Jewish communal worker and admitted Orthodoxy fetishist, insisted that this was nonnegotiable. Not only would it be terrible luck (Jews, superstitious? Never!), but she claimed that the absence of this sentiment would be a personal embarrassment. Well, to say that the mention of God in relation to the miracle of our finding each other made Joel and I, two strongly identified Jews, uncomfortable would be an understatement. The part of Judaism that appeals to us most is that there is no prerequisite of belief. One is a Jew whether or not one believes in God. We cherish the aspects of Judaism that encourage questioning, iconoclasm and devotion to the spirit of the laws. We also feel like our individual conceptualizations of "God" are too idiosyncratic and private to shorthand in such a public, rote manner. We tried to put our feet down. No mention of God on our wedding invitation, please.

Round Two: Guest List

With two sets of divorced parents, you can just imagine the numbers we're talking here. Our Vaseline-smeared mental images of an intimate ceremony flew out the window. And speaking of things flying out the window, the sheer volume of potential guests also inspired our unofficial prewedding tagline: 1,000 is the new 100. Holy moly, man, is it possible that a "white dress and a party" can really cost this much? Everyone had at least 50 people they absolutely needed to invite. We tried to look on the bright side. So many people love us! What could be bad? But with a list of upwards of 300, an implicit expectation that we somehow manage to please them all turned the volume on the preparations way up.

Suddenly, I feel the need to choose flowers, design a set list with the band and write a program that not only feels right to me (whoops, I mean to us) but that will appeal to and win the approval and continued affection of all and sundry, ranging from smarmy Great Uncle Joe in Pittsburgh (who once charmingly insisted to an 8-year-old me that I stay out of trouble by making sure to "keep [my] legs crossed") to college friend Dora (whose notion that the institution of marriage is an outdated patriarchal outrage is one I can't really argue with). Needless to say, Uncle Joe won't be pleased to hear the band covering punk songs and Dora will roll her eyes when we go through the contrived, bourgeois motions of "step together, step down" the rose-petal-strewn aisle. Nope, you can't please everyone, but we still sure as hell intend to try. I'm holding out hope that Uncle Joe will be seen bopping his crotchety old head to the Pixies, and that Dora will forgive me my Bridal conventions and not cross me off her list of people with whom to get drunk and sing bad karaoke in Koreatown.

Round Three: Bridal Attire

My tales of Wedding Stress should just come clean and call itself "Elisa and Her Mom Argue A Lot."

In a nutshell: I want to be barefoot and veil-free. My mom insists I wear shoes on the basis that it would be "undignified" not to, and pleads with me to "just try" a veil at every dress fitting. Now, I find tufts of white tulle as aesthetically pleasing as the next guy, but there's way more to a veil than that. The ubiquitous myth, reiterated in almost every wedding program I've seen, holds that the groom veils his bride to avoid making the same mistake as that biblical schmo Jacob, who accidentally married the ugly sister. (Quel horror! An ugly bride!) In reality, though, that story is but a footnote in the annals of veil history. People! It's a veil! You know those sporadic pictures in the newspaper of all the innocent civilians in the Arab world who we're supposedly "liberating" from their own oppressive regime? Those women are veiled! Sure, it's with some sort of durable poly-cotton blend and not a pretty $200 piece of lace, but the spirit of the thing is the same. It's about modesty, plain and simple. Call me disagreeable, but I simply will not wear a covering over my face.

All's Well That Ends Well

At the end of the day, the aforementioned trifles are just that. Joel and I are delighted to have found each other, we're looking forward to a long, fruitful life together, and we love our community of family and friends. It's imperative that we take a step back a few dozen times a day to remind ourselves of those facts, lest we get dragged down by the need to compromise, appease and subvert our own desires. Hey, come to think of it, I guess that's pretty good advice for life after the wedding, too.

Oh, and by the way: I'm wearing both shoes (albeit flip-flops) and probably a (small) mantilla. The 300 invitations go out this week, and each one thanks God for allowing us to reach this momentous occasion.

Mom: 3, the happy couple: Love.

Elisa Albert is in the MFA program at Columbia University, where she is working on a collection of short stories. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in "Pindeldyboz," "Response" and "Body Outlaws: Women Write About Body Image and Identity" (Seal Press, 2004).

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