An Ironic, Low-Key, Unconventional Wedding Is Still a Wedding

But fauxbivalence has the potential to be just as alienating and even snobbish as bridezilladom. What first led me to coin the term was an essay by a young woman who married her live-in boyfriend for health-insurance purposes. Certain details (the ironic dive-bar "'reception,'" in quotes in the original) suggest that the author and her husband did want to get married, but that this felt too bourgeois:

My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic 'congratulations!' were little epiphanies—they'd finally found a way to relate to me.

Getting married revealed that the author shared something with suburbanites—and not the hip kind. As life choices go, marriage is the height of square. From her essay, it appears that the author objected less to the commitment of marriage than to the fact that being a married woman made her seem conventional.

But the pressure to be different can be its own conformity. This itself has class implications. As Bourdieu has told us, taste is wrapped up in socioeconomic class. Weddings are expensive, ergo the rich must be the ones going all-out. But it's like a hatred of McMansions. If spending less (and the tasteful choice isn't always the less expensive) is about seeming more intellectual or old-money, then it, too, is a form of showing off.

I sympathize with much of fauxbivalence, and welcome a counterweight to the extremes in the other direction. As excited as I was to marry my now-husband, planning a wedding—let alone going into debt for one—is not something that ever interested me, so I appreciate those who insist that one is no less married for choosing City Hall. And I never did like the idea of "engaged," although this may have been less fauxbivalence and more the effect of many childhood viewings of the Seinfeld where Elaine tells off a woman bragging about her fiancé: "Maybe the dingo ate your baby." I especially sympathize with angst over pre-wedding workouts and name-changing, having noticed myself emphasizing the lower-key aspects of my own wedding—the non-bridal dress, say, but not the absurd amount I spent on shoes. Shoes I have worn several times since—see, the urge to explain away is strong—but still.

Fauxbivalence loses me, however, when it amounts to a refusal to accept a basic fact about weddings, which is that they acknowledge the universal in the particular. Whether you're a hipster or an accountant, straight or gay, chances are you will at some point want a spouse, and your desire for one will echo that of every other human being to be in that situation. Every relationship is unique, but a wedding is a way of momentarily setting aside that uniqueness and accepting that what you're experiencing—the public sanctioning of an intimate relationship—has been felt countless times before. That even if you do not own a North Face or a pair of Uggs, you have not invented some radical new way for two human beings to relate to each other. If what you want is what most everyone else does, better to support those with less conventional desires than to pretend that your own are one of a kind. Rather than playing up the subtle distinction between your alternative, low-key wedding and that of a suburban princess, you might be an ally to those who don't wish to get married at all, or who do but cannot in their jurisdiction.

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Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a writer based in Princeton, New Jersey. She holds a doctorate in French and French Studies from New York University.

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