Why a wedding, exactly?

Why are we contemplating spending the price of a luxury automobile on what boils down to a really fancy schmancy party?  Many of my friends say that they barely remember their wedding.  They were so burnt out from the preparations and the whirlwind of activity that it becomes a blur.  So, a fancy party that we possibly won’t even remember.

Neither Penny nor I have religious beliefs that require the sanctifying imprimatur of clergy before we start our lives together.

Penny has been married before, and has no particular fondness for the institution, with its binding strictures and implications that both individuals are somehow subsumed into the whole of the Couple.  She would be perfectly happy with a handfasting presided over by our blacksmith, or a service performed by breakdancing mimes.  Or nothing at all.
We could create the necessary legal equivalents of a marriage as they become necessary.  DC has very strong domestic partnership laws  that would allow us most or all of the rights of married couples without having to resort to the actual legal institution itself, to say nothing of the odious aspects of the ‘traditional’ wedding from the bouquet toss to the garter removal to the Chicken Dance.

So the question really becomes, why do *I* want a wedding?  And what are the aspects of it that I consider essential?
It’s partially that I’ve been to a brazillion weddings in my time, and enjoyed myself thoroughly at all of them.  At every wedding I’ve been to, in the back of my mind I’ve been thinking “when it’s my turn for this….”

I worry that I am verging on being a Groomzilla, that what I really want is my turn in the spotlight, and an occasion where I am the center of attention.  Do I really want people to fuss over me(us) and buy me(us) gifts?  Is this all an elaborate ruse to get AllClad cookware for which I have no earthly need?

This nagging guilt over pushing for a ceremony/party has been exacerbated recently by reading “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding.” This is a rather biting and caustic look at the nonsense and extravagance that surround the “Traditional” wedding.  The book is fairly insightful about delving into the needless markup of wedding dresses, the way the Wedding Industrial Complex bands together to inflate demand for its services.  It also has interesting revelations about the origins of such ‘traditions’ as the Unity Candle, which it turns out can be traced to an episode of Days of our Lives in the 1970’s.  Reading the book makes you feel vaguely nauseous, and guilty about having any ceremony other than a 1940’s era private service where the groom wears his Army Air Corps uniform, the Bride wears her Sunday Best, and the reception is held in the church basement and catered by the neighbors.

If my motivation is an egotistical desire for attention and gifts, then I should pull the plug right now, and we should just start co-habitating and designate each other as our emergency contacts.  When it comes time to start a family, we can figure out what other legal constructs are necessary.  Or have a destination wedding on the Amalfi coast.

But there are some functions that I feel a ceremony and following party will fulfill.  For one thing, although I’m not committed to a particular church or system of beliefs, I think I have a lingering bourgeois value system that says you’re supposed to be married to the mother of your children.  Perhaps it’s because my father worked in family planning all those years, or maybe it’s just middle class late 20th century American values.  Perhaps I feel that a wedding subsequent to a pregnancy is slightly tainted by the presumption that it didn’t occur naturally for its own sake, but was necessitated by the unexpected procreation.  I know that this is irrational, but it still floats around in the amorphous cloud of my value system.

More than that, I have in my mind the wedding’s traditional semiotic implication.  It’s a transition between stages of life.  It’s not really necessary in this day and age when the wedding doesn’t usually mark a transition from your parent’s household to establishing your own, or a beginning to sexual activity.  Nor does it demarcate adolescence from adulthood.  But it’s still the beginning of your life together as an indivisible whole.

I am a firm believer in sacraments.  Not religious ones, but secular sacraments such as voting, giving blood, or singing Sweet Caroline at the ballpark while munching on peanuts and casting the shells at your feet are very important to me.  And the part of the wedding that matters to me is having friends and family around for a joyous occasion, when you stand up in front of them and announce that you are entering a new phase in your life, and will be going forth with someone else at your side.

Their recognition of the transition, and their joy and approval is what makes it real.  A secular sacrament.

So, I feel the need for a ceremony, followed by a party of some sort.  It matters not to me whether we get the wedding license and make it a de jure partnership.  Our union is already real to us, no matter what we do.  Whether it be an according to Hoyle “wedding’ presided over by a member of the clergy, or some goony event involving nerd rockers Paul & Storm, the part that is most important to me is the sharing of the event with family and friends.