On Child-Free Weddings
Over at Feministe, there is a discussion on whether banning children from weddings — which is becoming a trend, apparently — should be perceived as offensive to parents who are invited. Lots of virtual ink is spilled detailing children’s propensity for undecorous behavior, the poor parenting skills of people who reproduce (as oppose to the child-free, who frequently emerge in these discussions as the experts on proper parenting), and why whole classes of adults are not excluded from such events based on unacceptable behavior of certain of their members, while excluding children is okay.
In all fairness, an invitation banning children from a wedding isn’t so controversial these days. I once read of a couple whose wedding invitations specified that guests were expected to have mastered classic waltz by the day of the event, set forth instructions on how to twirl properly, warned that incorrect or ungraceful twirling would not be tolerated and contained a request that anyone unable or unwilling to twirl properly refrain from attending. Even that, I am sure, isn’t the most extreme of attempts by marrying couples to achieve a “perfect” wedding.
Incidentally, think of what most people believe makes a wedding “perfect”. The word conjures up images of palacial spaces, billowing pastel-colored dresses, immaculately coiffed hair, fine china and moving, heartfelt pontification. Weddings were once rowdy affairs where children ran around, people danced with abandon, and newlyweds would sneak off right about when the merrymaking reached a fever pitch. No longer. A “perfect” modern American wedding more closely resembles a funeral than a family celebration — hence the growing feeling that it’s inappropriate for children. Often, it’s not a celebration at all, but rather a proceeding, a stilted, highly scripted event, in which a bunch of ordinary yokels pretend to be Marie Antoinette.
Few people get to do this more than three times in a lifetime, and therefore the stakes are very high. The months and sometimes years leading up to the Big Day are full of feverish preparation and agonizing over the most minute details, arguing over tablecloth shades and sitting arrangements, insane diet-and-workout routines designed to make the bride look her most photogenic for that unforgiving (yet absolutely mandatory) strapless gown and ungodly amounts of stress, that threatens to undermine the very relationship that the wedding is intended to celebrate. The proceedings are meticulously rehearsed — the canned, preachy speeches and the obviously choreographed “first kiss as a married couple”. (Bleh.) The modern wedding is a spectacle. The emphasis is on solemnity, order and display — but above all, on creating an impressive, flawless photographic and video record. There is very little place there for actual fun. It is not unlike putting on a full-scale opera, except that relative to means, it represents Mars Rover landing-levels of cost, preparation, and delicacy of execution. Is it any wonder some massively stressed-out couples don’t want kids anywhere near such an important and complicated operation? An untimely yelp from some little fucker at any point during a wedding would be no different than a baby bawling in the middle of a performance of Don Giovanni. Weddings are serious business, people.
Bashing weddings is not unpopular, and I hasten to separate myself from the crowd that always rushes to point out that the money spent on a wedding would be better used towards a downpayment on a home. I actually hate it when people say things like that. (I myself did not have a traditional wedding, but I recall a conversation by the side or a water cooler when a co-worker expressed dismay and outrage that my husband and I would spend money on a trip to Italy when we didn’t even own a home yet.) The American obsession with home ownership for its own sake, no matter the cost or individual circumstances, is almost as ridiculous as the obsession with “perfect” weddings. Moreover, I cringe at the underlying notion here, that it’s wrong to spend lots of money on pleasure, that young married couples should prove their grasp of responsibility by spending money only in “serious” ways, such as by buying a home when they may not want or need one. I think that leading an enjoyable life — within reason, of course, but still — is just as important as investing money (and buying a home isn’t the only, and isn’t always the best, way to do this) and providing for any kids’ educations and one’s old age.
Rather, what bothers me about “perfect” weddings is that so much emotional capital is staked on something so ephemeral, that friendships and familial ties are put in jeopardy for the sake of putting on a show. If people applied the same energy and hard work to their marriages, the divorce rate would be close to zero. It’s not the money that I see as the problem — though the great expenditures are certainly one manifestation of what I believe is the trouble here — it’s the over-the-top tackiness, the haughty showmanship implicit in “perfect” weddings. The latest “no children allowed” trend is merely part of the growing obnoxiousness of that display.
It was said repeatedly in the thread I linked that the marrying couple have the right to decide who does or does not attend their wedding. After all, it’s their day, and the guest list is their prerogative. That is, of course, true. However, there is often a confusion in people’s minds between having the right to do something and having the right to receive only innocuous reactions to whatever it is you do simply because you have the “right” to do it. Of course the marrying couple may bar whomever they want to achieve their own version of a successful wedding, but expecting people never to take offense is a bit much. The Bride and the Groom could just as well send out invitations that instruct guests not to bring significant others who are overweight, because we want only conventionally attractive people at our wedding for the purpose of producing an aesthetically pleasing visual record, and it’s OUR special day, and we have the right not to allow any fat fatties, so don’t feel offended, we have the RIGHT. I’m sorry, but that’s highly unrealistic. Point is, when you invite a relative or a friend to an event that’s meant to celebrate you starting a family, and tell them that a member of their immediate family is not welcome for reasons of elegance, you convey to that friend or relative exactly how much you value your relationship.
Don’t be surprised if she gets the message.