What does marriage mean to today’s young women?
Do young women still want to put a ring on it?
Traditionally, a wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of a woman’s life. A little girl supposedly dreams of this day, which also incidentally wraps up neatly all her favourite fairy tales. In modern popular culture, the “Bridezilla” has become somewhat of a stereotype. The woman so crazed by the idea of creating a perfect day for herself, that she becomes a monster in lace, leaving her husband quivering behind the cake. However, isn’t this idea all, well, a bit dated? Do we seriously still live in such a sexist society that we believe that us women will get all worked up over a load of finicky canapés and napkins shaped as swans? The next Leader of the free world is going to be a woman for Christ’s sake.
Clearly some serious social research needed to be done. So I cracked open the last of my Easter eggs and settled in for a marathon of Don’t Tell the Bride. What I learned is that these brides were determinedly preoccupied with being the non-traditional bride. There was the gothic bride, the indie bride, the Ibiza bride and every type of bride that you can think of. Even the more traditional brides were keen to push their quirky attributes: they were “too picky”, “impossible to please” or “straight talking”. Rather than seeing the wedding as a transition, these brides saw the wedding ceremony as an extension of themselves. Any attempt by the groom to put his own personality into the wedding are met with violent tears of rage. The message of Don’t tell the Bride appears to be this. Women are emotional train wrecks whose tantrums can only be sated by the perfect kooky converted barn ceremony. Men however would be quite happy nipping down the registry office followed by a piss up at the local. The humour of the programme appears to lie in the role reversal with the man running round in a panic, picking hideous bridesmaid dresses and Argos wedding rings.
I felt curiously unfilled after my bridal binge. Surely such an important rite of passage added up to more than just a load of extortionate price tags. I spoke to Jennifer, a 20 year old student from Manchester about her generations attitudes towards marriage. Jennifer believes that not many girls of her age or social group place too much importance on marriage, although they do like the idea of a wedding day. When I asked her whether a wedding day was seen as more of an important rite of passage or a fun party, her answer was interesting. “Very much dependent on the couple. If they have gotten to the stage where they are actually getting married then it probably is. However, lots of people get engaged because they like the idea of it and then it fizzles out”.
Jennifer also adds that it tends to be working class girls who are more interested in getting married, suggesting that they are seeking a sense of stability that they never had at home. Middle class students and professionals such as herself, she explains, would rather concentrate on putting money down on a house. This makes sense. Middle class girls have plenty more opportunity for rites of passage, for example a graduation ceremony or the completion of a gap year. The class based issue is interesting. Working class women have long been parodied for their apparently garish, extravagant weddings beyond their means, as recently epitomised by the reality TV sensation that was My Big Fat Gypsey Wedding. Did not automatically jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of marriage therefore make me somewhat of an unconscious snob, sneering at the frivolity of the
working classes during a time of austerity? I certainly hoped not.
I kept thinking over Jennifer’s assertion that lots of couples get engaged because they like the idea of it without perhaps treating this as a serious commitment. I can’t help but think about the girls who clog up my news feed with triumphant pictures of spangled fingers and engagement announcements, coupled with a sly namedrop of some posh Restaurant where the question has been popped minutes before. From that moment on I can foresee months of statuses updating me on what appears to be a long and extravagant shopping process. Photographs of designer white shoes encrusted with Swarovski crystals, cakes with more storeys than a skyscraper, infinity pool shots from their upcoming Bahamas honeymoon . I began to feel uneasy. Are weddings, and engagements for that matter, now just a way to showcase your own lifestyle? I thought of the smug married couples of the Bridget Jones novels. Could we be now living in an age of smug engaged couples, or perhaps even smug wedding planning couples? Surely there is more to marriage that just a fun party where you spend all your money and show of to your mates?
Personally, my own feelings regarding weddings are a little bit complicated. As a little girl I loved running round in my bride dress up costume the way I loved dressing up as a fairy or a Disney Princess. All personas felt equally plausible. I had no context of what I was wearing apart from the fact that it was pretty and got me praised by various relatives, which I guess is in large part the whole point of a real wedding dress. I would like to point out at this point that I have tried and failed to find a dress up groom outfit for little boys to imagine their perfect day. Growing up, marriage seemed shrouded in mystery, far away and somehow very final. The real life equivalent of “and they lived happily ever after”. What lay beyond that, babies, mortgages seemed hopelessly unromantic. After all, Jane Austen didn’t write too much about Elizabeth berating Mr Darcy for loading up the dishwashers. The teasing courtship tied by a ceremony is the stuff of novels. Marriage is the stuff of Women’s Weekly. Now I am 24 and in a long term loving relationship. The questions have begun and still I find that I cannot quite answer them. I’m short and round and so a lovely long dress would only make me look like a Ping Pong Ball draped lavishly in silk. Public speaking sends me gibbering like an idiot. Moreover, as a Feminist and a Writer, I find myself nit-picking at certain parts of the ceremony as if it were a slightly archaic and not very original play.
The fact of the matter is that most people’s definition of forever has change. I for one have only been to two weddings, both which ended in divorce. However, I personally see the rising divorce rate as a positive thing. People are no longer stoically suffering the rest of their lives out with the wrong person and this not for a minute suggests that we are getting less romantic. I don’t think the rising divorce rate takes away from the meaningfulness of the day itself. I also would argue that the rising costs of a wedding ceremony doesn’t necessarily take away from the meaningful nature of the day. I am still not sure of my own feelings regarding marriage, or my thoughts regarding the traditional wedding ceremony, but clearly marriage now has many differing connotations which vary from person to person. However, if a couple are happy and in love then they will be so whether they are married or not.