Rest in peace, the wedding. I will refrain from dancing on its grave, but only because I’m wearing the wrong shoes. Which is typical. Even in death it screws us on footwear.
Long have I bored on about the wedding’s faults, occasionally in the voice of a person fallen out of love with the world, sometimes with reference to such nostalgic concepts as “capitalism” or “commodification of gender” or “bad cake”. I may have totted up its costs, like a particularly bitter divorcee, grinching in print about the grossly inflated bills for canapés and balloons and sentimental table fetishes. I may have grabbed you in the smoking area and shouted about the passivity of princess culture and its inevitable conclusion, the massive white dress and its required pedestal. The erasure of a woman’s name coming at the end of a performance of proposals and symbolic rings so politically retro it would be no-platformed if booked for a university debate.
Perhaps I have whispered joy-freezing facts at you about the mythologising of the dress or marketing strategies of expensive objects like diamond rings that became codified as compulsory. The hurry that heteros often appear to be in to become institutionalised and sign contracts about love.
One of the most unifying fatalities from last year was the death of the fancy wedding, and yet none of the above were to thank.
All those feminist arguments against weddings withered in the face of a series of recent testimonies from American wedding photographers. Discussing their experiences of working through Covid, they told Texas Monthly about maskless ceremonies and sweaty dancefloors. One asthmatic photographer said she’d been shooting a wedding reception for a couple of hours when a bridesmaid approached to thank her for coming, considering the circumstances – the groom, she explained, had tested positive for coronavirus the previous day. It was news to the photographer. When she left before the last dance, the wedding planner told her it was the most unprofessional thing she’d ever seen. Bridesmaids accused her of “heartlessly ruining an innocent woman’s wedding day”. One told her: “I’m a teacher. I have 14 students. If I’m willing to risk it, why aren’t you?” As she left, she told a bridesmaid: “I have children. What if my children die?” The bridesmaid replied: “I understand, but this is her wedding day.” The photographer tested positive soon after.
Weddings, parties that pivot on the taking of another person’s unwashed hand, had already come under scrutiny. Last summer a single wedding in Maine led to more than 170 people contracting Covid, and at least seven fatalities. None of those who died had actually attended the wedding, now widely reported as a “super-spreader event” – guests passed it on to people in a nursing home, a jail and a church. In October, 300 people gathered for an illegal wedding in Washington, and 17 later tested positive for the virus, some of them care home workers; seven elderly residents died in the homes where they worked. The stories piled up with familiar tragedy, one of their few welcome side-effects being, finally, a questioning of weddings themselves.
Surely the concept of the traditional wedding should have imploded sometime around the fourth reality show, or when a couple realise they didn’t have to pay a band to play a reggae version of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing before they were allowed to have sex. Or when the thought was first voiced: is a fancy wedding the con that tricks women into enslaving themselves with marriage? But many millions disagree, to the point that last year it was more important for some to perform this ceremony of subjugation to an audience risking their lives than stay at home and quietly love alone.
I know how I sound. I have to live with me, I hear my voice both inside and outside, its estuary drone famous for flattening both vowels and fantasies since 1981. But I remain shocked that these ceremonies have become so ingrained that couples have been willing to inadvertently kill for them. I remain shocked that women appear to choose these sinkholes of cash and dignity over the many alternatives, most of them requiring far fewer bouquets.
And yet, oh God. And yet, for all my decades of snittering cynicism, recently, for the first time I have had a taste of what, possibly, it feels like to want a wedding. It took three waves of a deadly virus, a routine where I sat opposite my boyfriend for a thousand hours each day, a baby born at one of the most unsettling times in living history, our family condensed so that we were its elders, death around us, life on our laps, baked potatoes in the oven, but I got it. I got the desire to formalise a commitment that otherwise dwells in our shared sofa and pans, and the occasional benefits of a contract that makes it harder to leave. Brrr, is romance a side effect of Covid? The vaccine can’t come soon enough.