Click here to read more from Slate's wedding issue.
When did getting married become an exercise in acquired situational narcissism? This is a recently named psychiatric disorder, generally striking celebrities, characterized by grandiosity, lack of empathy, and rage. Based on the wedding-related mail I receive for the "Dear Prudence" column, an engagement appears to be another trigger for this adult-onset malady. Before entering into holy matrimony, brides seem to think it's acceptable to spend months—sometimes years—giving holy hell to everyone. Abused bridesmaids, perplexed grooms, and appalled parents complain endlessly about the personality changes that otherwise lovely young women undergo when they start arranging "my day."
Is there anything more revealing than the phrase—uttered with a stamping of the foot and a rising of the voice—"my day"? Of course it's not "our day," because the groom is merely an accessory, like a cake topper. The first time a bride-to-be utters the words "my day," I recommend potential bridesmaids and grooms respond, "Mayday."
The "my day" syndrome has become so extreme that some brides seem inspired by dictators who declare holidays in honor of themselves. Take this bride, who after more than a year of planning her wedding—still months away—was told one of her bridesmaids and the best-man-to-be were getting married, too. Outraged that her friends had chosen a wedding date three weeks before hers, she wrote, "I am not one of those brides who think that I 'own' the whole summer—but three weeks before? And their wedding is going to be bigger, fancier, and include roughly half of the same guest list." When she's ready for children, will this bride instruct her friends to stay on the Pill, lest they give birth to a baby—bigger and prettier—weeks before she does?
Weddings were once the place for loved ones to witness the union of the bride and groom. All guests—be they halt, lame, blind, or colorblind—were welcome. But now some brides see themselves as auteurs and their guests merely extras on the production set. How else to explain the letter I received from a groom-to-be who signed himself "Under Moral Siege." His dear female friend, who wears thick glasses, had been selected as a bridesmaid. But the bride insisted this bridesmaid leave her glasses at home because "glasses are an inappropriate accessory for women's formalwear, and the bridal magazines have convinced her that there can be no exceptions to the no-glasses rule." It makes me hope that as the groom tries to explain this to his friend, he'll find himself looking deep into her Coke-bottle lenses, suddenly declare, "Why, Miss Keeler, you're beautiful!" and run away with her.
Then there's this woman who received these instructions in a wedding invitation: "The bride respectfully asks all guests to please dress in either dark blue, forest green, or black … so no guest will stand out against the tablescapes." The letter writer explained she had no dress in those colors, nor the money to purchase one. I say let your cerulean gown provide a memorable accent. After all, while I have seen people leave formal events with the centerpieces, I have never been to an event in which the guests were the centerpieces.
Someone else's wedding rarely encompassed more than one or two entries on your calendar. Today's wedding has more acts than "The Ring Cycle." One guest wondered whether she needs to attend all six (yes, six) of her friend's showers and bring a gift to each (answer: No!). And the "honor" of being a bridesmaid is akin to signing enlistment papers. The bride's equivalent of, "Drop and give me 40, maggot!" is to whine, "You aren't there for me" [see also: my day]. One recruit, I mean bridesmaid, who has been through two years of planning for her friend's wedding says, "We have already thrown her an elaborate shower and I think she's anticipating an equally festive bachelorette party, and enthusiastic attendance at at least three other wedding functions besides the actual ceremony and reception." But what truly signaled that things had spiraled out of control was the bride's asking "why I was still breast-feeding my 8-month-old, if it was going to be a problem to leave her for 12 hours on the wedding day." In other words, "Stop breast-feeding, maggot!"
In A Short History of Rudeness, author Mark Caldwell describes how a proper wedding, as detailed in etiquette books at the end of the 19th century, was "a simple, practical, and dignified rite, veering into impropriety as soon as it became too obsessed with getting the details 'right' or slathering on a too-thick layer of pageantry." One manual looked dubiously at wedding gifts—the ritual "has now degenerated into a very bold display of wealth and ostentatious generosity, so that friends of moderate means are afraid to send anything."