Note: This article is based on my own observations and experiences working in the wedding industry since shooting my first wedding in 2011. Not every couple, parent, person, cultural or religious community, or wedding vendor is going to agree with me and that’s okay. My purpose in writing this is to emotionally support couples (especially my own) and to challenge a deeper level of thought about our own behavior in regards to weddings.
COVID-19 is the Toby of viruses right now. For those not familiar with the show The Office, a Toby is the worst of something, the ultimate Debbie Downer, a ruiner of good times. Weddings are getting postponed left and right, some more than once as we move from month to month, constantly reassessing. Here in southeast Texas we are used to having to reschedule weddings. Hurricane season is a quick teacher of the need to be flexible so you can pivot fast. But Coronavirus is beyond what we’re used to and there’s no end in sight.
With all the uncertainty about when it will be safe to hold large gatherings again, a lot of couples that were meant to be getting married throughout March, April, May and beyond still took the plunge and got legally married. And from these moments, a new trend was born.
No, I’m not talking about Zoom weddings, although I’m quite sure that’s not going away as we move beyond this pandemic. I’m actually talking about something completely different that has been a long time coming, and a VERY NEEDED gift to modern day couples. I’m talking about support of the marriage despite not being present to witness it in person.
This historic event has initiated an epic trend where society has collectively set aside petty judgements and expectations to instead hone in on the most important detail of any wedding, the love and dedication of two people to each other for the rest of their days.
All of a sudden we’re okay with the wedding still happening in our absence and in the absence of all the “stuff” that normally goes with them. In the words of Jack Skellington, “What’s this?!”
In the presence of a pandemic, family members and friends were able to set aside their expectations of an ideal wedding to support the couple being most affected. In the presence of a pandemic, people were able to make exceptions for these couples who didn’t want to wait to be married to each other. They’ve granted a pass, accessed empathy, and sent good vibes and congratulations.
Details like who got picked to be a bridesmaid and the dinner menu options became silly particulars now trivial in comparison to this real life challenge. All of a sudden, the party didn’t matter as much as the humans that were planning it. The moment of marriage became more important than the wedding.
Basically, people took pity on the couples whose parties got rained on and were able to step out of their own egos and focus all their love and encouragement on the people who were side swiped by a situation that can only be described as SHITTY AF!
It’s given couples a break from the constant shaming that accompanies wedding planning. Ask any couple and they can tell you they’ve been shamed in some way, either financially, emotionally or beyond, while planning their wedding. And most of the time, it’s coming directly from the couple’s social circle.
Couples planning weddings get bombarded with messages from culture and media that are echoed and reinforced in the opinions of family and friends. There is a wave of expectations couples feel they need to meet, but they can never succeed because you can’t please everyone. An “acceptable” wedding is often a moving goal post.
The world has attached too much value to wedding invitations. Society believes that receipt of a wedding invitation means it has the highest value to a couple and lack of an invite means having no value. But that’s unwarranted in a time when all generations repeatedly tout how expensive, and difficult to plan, weddings are.
Complaint of not being invited to a wedding, or of someone being left off the list, as I see it, is an act of shaming. It shows a lack of empathy and understanding of the difficult task the couple is undertaking and completely dismisses their feelings and position. Society has made weddings more about itself, the wedding guest, than the wedding couple. If unions were truly about two people pledging their lives to each other, there wouldn’t be so much time spent and stress induced over writing out a guest list. Couples would feel free to plan their milestone in a manner that reflects their relationship, comfort level and finances.
Yet, couples sit in a pool of anxiety waiting for and dealing with blowback over the course of their entire engagement. There are literally memes on Pinterest that say “Let’s decide who we’re inviting to our wedding and will never speak to us again.” THIS IS INSANITY!!!
For couples in this day, planning a wedding means preparing to part with friends and be harshly judged by family, OR be distressed and spend beyond their budget in an attempt to not lose anyone. It means choosing between the wedding day that will bring moments of comfort and reinforce their marriage and the wedding day everyone else wants and expects. This is how people who say they care for the couple are making that couple feel. On the day that the soul focus should be on their future spouse, couples are barely able to think about each other because their attention is on putting out fires with everyone else.
It’s like everyone is saying, “your desires don’t matter, celebrate this way or eat 💩.” It’s actually easier to just, not get married. The relationship the couple shares is not reinforced at all when their entire social circle starts having opinions. And the funny thing is, they’re not sharing opinions about how to have a good marriage, they have opinions about who should have the privilege of being present and what cake flavor you should get in order for them to not have a tantrum.
I know I’m like Gary Vee yelling confusingly angry but supportive truth bombs right now but bare with me! 😂 LOL. I’m just super passionate about couples.
We need to leave the wedding invitation quid pro quo behind. Presence is not a necessary ingredient in support. It’s time for society to reevaluate its priorities when it comes to weddings. Is it more important to have the relationship, or to be at the wedding?
Cheering on a couple in their marriage journey, whether you’re present for the vows or not, can strengthen the bond they have with you. Your encouragement makes the couple feel accepted for who they are and respected as a team. No one likes to be forced into being something they aren’t and weddings can do that en masse, causing a lot of resentment towards those that initiated the pressure and judgement.
Being a photographer I get to spend a lot of time with my couples both before and during the wedding day and I have gotten stories from a sizable majority of them about this very issue of guest list guilt. I have seen this happen for every size wedding. It’s prevalent enough I finally decided this was the time to bring it up.
To be clear, this is not a persuasion to abandon large weddings in favor of small. I love big ass weddings! I love little ass weddings and elopements too! I just love weddings, period. This is to acknowledge and give voice to the fact that whether the guest list has zero people or 400, the wedding couple will still get flak from their social circle about who made the cut.
We’re at a potential tipping point now that could change the future of our relationship with weddings and save future generations from the emotional turmoil currently attached to them. This is our opportunity to examine our own behavior and acknowledge the hypocrisy of saying things like “weddings are too expensive,” or “weddings are too competitive” or “weddings are too – insert negative connotation here,” followed by pretty much any complaint at all about the wedding of someone we know.
Because I didn’t just want to stand here yelling from my soap box, I actually took to Reddit and asked some couples about their experiences. For those who chose to forge ahead and still get legally married during this pandemic, I wanted to know how their family and friends took the news they were still getting legally married.
Here are some of their stories:
“We canceled our wedding scheduled for October 2020 due to COVID-19 and are now planning to elope over the summer instead. Everyone we’ve told has been extremely understanding and supportive, and several suggested we host a virtual shower or reception of some sort. Only my sister pushed back some, asking me to think about if I’ll regret not having a ‘real wedding’ and celebrating with everyone, but once we made our decision then she supported it. People are disappointed since it’s been a long time since a lot of us have been together, but everyone understands the situation and thinks we’re making the right decision.” ~ Reddit user kombodockerson
“We aren’t married yet, but are getting married on June 6th. We completely cancelled the big wedding/reception and are doing an immediate-family-only ceremony in my parents’ backyard. I hadn’t sent out invitations yet when Covid hit, so there was no pushback, and it made things really easy for me. Our families were extremely supportive and wanted us to still get married on our day because it is ‘our day’ and has been since we initially chose it. If anything, we and our families are more excited than ever to get married. Surprisingly, Covid has been a weird blessing in disguise because now we get to celebrate in an intimate, comfortable way with the most important people.” ~ Reddit user KahunaKB
YOU GUYS! It’s okay to feel sad or disappointed when we don’t get a wedding invitation. It means we care enough about the couple to have wanted to celebrate with them and that is a beautiful thing. Conversely, it DOES NOT mean that the couple cares less about us than we do about them. You can never really know what people are dealing with or feeling. There could be handfuls of reasons you get left off the list that have nothing to do with either side’s loyalties.
We have two choices at this juncture; we can run with the disappointment and act out in a way that causes resentment and distrust from the couple, or we can run with the caring and help them to feel accepted and loved. The disappointment looks like potentially getting into a fight with a family member or losing a friend. The caring looks like a special post-wedding dinner date where you can spend some real time together fostering a more meaningful relationship.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic for society to think more logically about all the ways marriage vows, weddings, finances and mental health intermingle. We can channel our empathy and choose support over selfishness.
If you don’t get invited to a wedding you wanted to be at, don’t complain or judge. You just don’t know what factors led to that decision. If you do get invited, cease having an opinion. It’s not your business to do or think anything. And for g*d’s sake return your RSVP on time!!!
Now I leave you with this Zoom wedding hosted by everyone’s favorite Jim, John Krasinski, including a special reunion of the cast of The Office.
~ 5:50 for lots of wedding love
~ 7:25 for a Jim and Pam Office themed wedding proposal
~ 13:53 pronouncement of the couple
~ 14:55 Office dance off