I do not plan to have another wedding; I'm standing pat at two. But I must confess that after spending a pleasant hour gazing at the photographs in the newest crop of wedding guides, I began to feel a bit of the old itch. There is something deeply seductive about a wedding: romance in its great last stand, before it is sullied by routine and responsibility. Even a picture of that ill-fated girl Diana Spencer (one of eight in Letitia Baldrige's Legendary Brides), standing at the steps of St. Paul's, her veil caught in a gust of wind and her father waiting beside her, can provoke in me a vague yet undeniable longing. But it took only a few minutes of actually reading the texts of these manuals (which are often published in midwinter to serve the many brides planning June campaigns) to bring me to my senses. More than mere fondness for my husband keeps me from getting on the phone to price tea roses and a tent.
Planning a wedding is hell. Things are said. Doors are slammed. Quarrels about the most inconsequential things—yellow tablecloths or white? hors d'oeuvres set out on tables or passed around on trays?—are often pitched at such a level that it seems the combatants may never recover from them. Much of the anxiety, of course, is tribal. It is wrenching to have to open the sacred circle to admit an outsider. If, as Joan Didion once wrote, "marriage is the classic betrayal," then a wedding is the Judas kiss, public and terrible. But what brings people almost to the breaking point (emotional, social, financial) is that white weddings as they are currently practiced in America—with flocks of attendants, and dinner dances for hundreds of guests, and a code governing every moment of the proceedings—don't come naturally to most. Perhaps they don't come naturally to anybody other than the members of the $70 billion-a-year wedding industry (a staggering $19 billion is spent on gifts alone), who seem to have all but created the contemporary event, weaving together attractive bits of genuine tradition and bolts of pure invention.