In the fall of 2011, I sat down at my laptop with a mission: I wanted to compile a list of all the weddings I remembered attending, and the basics of what happened at each of them: What I wore, what gift I gave, who got married and what led them to that, what side-plots and adventures and possible mishaps occurred on the big day. I’d been thinking a lot about the weddings we go to in life, particularly as single women in our twenties and thirties, and how they are not just about the couple getting married, but about us, too. We all bring our stories and whatever we’re feeling at the time to them, and those emotions and backgrounds impel us to act in certain ways — sometimes in ways we (or I, I can only speak for myself) have regretted.
There’s also that looming question with regard to weddings, particularly as we keep attending them: When will it happen to me? I’d been a guest for years and years, and yet, I hadn’t had my own, and didn’t know if I ever would, or if that was something that was really important to me. Love, a good and healthy relationship, is, but a wedding? I wasn’t sure how much I needed that, even as I saw friends walk down the aisle and felt moved and happy for them.
Weddings, of course, are also incredibly cinematic, ornate, orchestrated productions held in a matter of hours that often involve months of planning, and a range of varied players. They may not be “perfect days,” but they are perfect for analysis, as they contain multitudes. They are some of the only times in adult life we get to dress up and go out and be photographed (like celebrities!) and reunite with friends and family and meet exciting new people, too, dance and eat cake and specially prepared foods served to our tables by men and women in fancy coats.
They’re like prom for grownups wrapped in family reunions wrapped in a profound ceremony of love and meaning, and because love and meaning is at the base of it all, emotions are high. Then there’s the drinking. Things tend to happen, good and bad. Weddings are all different, and they cause us to feel, often many different things, sometimes all at the same time. Anything that makes you feel that much is worth exploring.
I wrote an initial essay I’d set out to compose and kept thinking about it, wondering what it meant and if I should do anything with it. (I kept it stashed in a file on my desktop for months.) Eventually, I submitted it to The Hairpin, where it quickly got hundreds of comments, people sharing their own wedding-going experiences and stories. To me, that was an added push for an idea I’d been considering before the essay ran — maybe it could be something bigger, a book, to allow me to explore the threads of friendship and romance, autonomy and self-fulfillment, and the varied ways one can be a modern adult, that I was seeing over and over again through the lens of other people’s ceremonies.