When I got engaged last year, a close friend gave me a piece of advice. She said, “The wedding isn’t about you. It is about the family – remember that.” She’s a pessimist, I thought. And she was. But she was also speaking from her own experience – one that I would soon understand all too well.
Despite her advice, I was blindly certain that my wedding experience would be different. I’d always imagined our big day would be a small, elegant affair – everyone I was close to, everyone I loved. It wouldn’t include aunties and uncles who I hadn’t seen for years, or friends of older family members – next-door neighbours, distant cousins – whose names I could barely remember. What would be the point, I thought? Only, my family had other ideas.
From the moment myself and my now-husband started to discuss wedding plans, family members wouldn’t just have suggestions, but non-negotiable expectations of how they wanted <our> day to go. My in-laws made it clear that my wedding would have a guest list to rival Megan and Harry’s, and a lavish feel that would put Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s nuptials to shame. Meanwhile, my own mother was adamant about the church where we would say our vows – it had to be the church she regularly attends.
As the months passed, it was clear that my dream of a fuss-free, low-key wedding with our closest family and friends was slowly slipping further into the distance due to the demands of our parents. As the number of guests doubled, the budget tripled and my wedding planner believed every detail of our wedding needed to be bigger and bolder, I asked myself and my husband, “Does the wedding day ever just belong to the couple?”
No. It became crystal clear that our idea of the perfect wedding had to fit in with the traditions, conventions and culture of our families. Yes, some believe a wedding is the moment where both families celebrate coming together to be one big unit, through two other people. However, by creating a day that fits into parents’ ideals and caters to their social circle, it is often at the expense of the details that reflect the personalities and vision of what the bride and groom want. I had always envisioned my bridesmaids in black, but it was made clear by both sets of parents that black wasn’t suitable for any bridesmaids, especially bridesmaids who belonged to me.
Weddings don’t just belong to those exchanging vows, but our hundreds, sometimes thousands, of followers or friends on social media, who rate our nuptials at the touch of a like button
Yet, it is not just the people who surround you that can shape and dictate how your big day should be. Social media has transformed weddings from being private moments into fully-fledged public affairs through guests uploading minute-by-minute footage of the ceremony and couples choosing the most candid (read: staged) shots to post of their big day. The internet has created unspoken wedding rules of second-outfit changes, wedding hashtags and the picture-perfect poses that define how and what a wedding of the 21st century should look like.
In the build-up to my big day, through viewing snippets of another couple’s weddings, I felt myself becoming not just an uninvited spectator, but a critic of nuptials that belonged to random people who popped up on my Instagram feed. Weddings don’t just belong to those exchanging vows, but our hundreds and sometimes thousands of followers or friends on social media, who rate our nuptials at the touch of a like button.
Between social media and unrealistic and unfair expectations of loved ones, it can feel like being a bride or groom is part performance and part genuine excitement about beginning a new phase of your life. Even on the day, for a split second I was worried if my dress was too simple compared with the extravagant designs I had seen other brides wear via Instagram. I had to remind myself that my dress was perfect and it wasn’t bought with the sole purpose to win likes on social media, but to make me – and only me – feel special on my big day. With the pressure to fit into what parents and people deem the norm on your wedding day, it is understandable why so many couples elope or decide to keep their nuptials quiet with just a witness by their side.
And, in the same sense, there is little wonder why celebrities like Cardi B get married in secret – the singer recently tied the knot with just her cousin as a witness. She, like all of us, knew that the way weddings remain solely about the couple is by keeping the day as private as possible. While I may not have had the exact wedding I wanted, like Cardi B I took the necessary measurements to ensure my day belonged to me. I made sure I booked the DJ of our dreams and made sure he only played music released after the 90s. We ensured that our friends sat closest to us in the reception, rather than being close to distant relatives and friends of parents who we hadn’t seen for years. In the end, I guess my big day somewhat reflected myself and my husband – but perhaps not in the ways I’d dreamed it would. Maybe it’s time we all took a leaf out of Cardi B’s book and make weddings about couples again, not the sum of our notifications.