Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine. He’s getting married soon, and is getting a little tired of the process of planning the wedding. He told me that he’s not sure that it is worth it because he doesn’t know how much more he would enjoy the ceremony than simply eloping or doing a civil ceremony. A lot of people feel this way about the stress of planning a wedding. Especially men, since as we all know it’s the bride’s special day and not ours.
I have a couple of thoughts on that. First, it’s not all fun and games for the bride either – it being ‘her day’ might just mean she feels even more on trial than you, and she may be shouldering more of the planning. But the truth is that it’s not primarily meant to be fun for either of you. It should be and it can be, but that’s not the main point.
The wedding is not for you.
Let me repeat that. The wedding isn’t for you, or your fiancée. The wedding is for your family and friends. After all, you could just get married in a courthouse. But from a social point of view it’s not just something that is happening to you. You might have center stage, but it’s happening to all your friends and family. Think of your circle of friends and family as a community. Communities come together to celebrate important events and milestones, and everyone in the community looks forward to these occasions. There is a new daughter-in-law, a new sister-in-law, a new friend, or at least a new status given to an old friend. Everyone wants to acknowledge that. No one wants a new family member without ceremony, or to watch a big change in a good friend’s life pass unmarked. They want to celebrate with each other and they want a reason to do it. This is all the more necessary becuase your family and friends probably don’t all live in the same town. This is especially true for your friend groups that come from growing up together or going to school together. Celebrations like this may be one of the only times they are all together.
This is especially true because the distinction between an individual and a community is not as stark as we often make it seem in our culture. You are the sum of your people – you are molded by their opinions, lessons, and tradition, and defined by your obligations to them stemming from your role as a child, friend, sibling, or parent. You are a part of the community, and it is a part of you.
Which means that your rights of passage and important moments are theirs too. Your parents have raised you to be an adult, and this moment is not the least of the proofs that they succeeded. They want a party to celebrate this moment that is as much a rite of passage in their lives as yours and which is a continuation of their family. Your siblings and friends want the chance to celebrate and to participate in your wedding.
Put yourself in their shoes, after all. You may not care about going to a wedding of an acquaintance where you doubt that anyone you know will be there. But we are all offended when a sibling or a close friend gets married and we aren’t invited. It comes across as disrespectful of the time you’ve spent as part of their lives, and deprives you of the chance to see everyone together again.
I’ve expressed these thoughts to friends thinking about weddings before. It’s an important point to make since people are sometimes raised with the impression – or pick it up from bad movies – that the wedding is supposed to be something ‘for you’ in the same sense as a kid’s birthday party, when it’s not a success if you didn’t enjoy it all immensely. But that’s not the measure of success. A wedding is a success when your guests and your family enjoy it, even if you found some parts of it a chore. And if you are a mature person, you will at least get some satisfaction out of having provided the experience for others.
But this time, I realized something else. My friend made the comment that he understood this argument, but didn’t know if it was a good enough reason to follow the tradition. And that really bothered me in a way it wouldn’t have when I was younger. This time, I realized how selfish that seemingly innocuous statement is. And to be fair to my friend, he may have just been stressed by the wedding and not meant it like I took it. But it got me thinking and I wanted to share.
In a very real sense any tradition is like a wedding. Traditions are a defining part of any community or group. Having them, and participating in them, brings people closer together and is often very enjoyable. Without them, the group doesn’t exist or isn’t very close. But also like a wedding, they aren’t always fun for the people who are shouldering the burden of that particular tradition at that moment. We enjoy our traditions most if other people keep them going. That way we get the best of both worlds.
This is fine if you are a kid. But as an adult you need to take more responsibility for your community and the groups that you are a part of. Sometimes that means being the guy who does the work that keeps it going.
Which means that we need to flip the question around. It’s easy to ask “what is the reason I should keep doing this?” in a society built around individualism and gratification. But the problem is that the answer in such a society will too often be no, and we’ll all end up the poorer for it. To be a mature man with a stake in his family and community, the question about tradition should be different. It should be “do I have a good reason to stop upholding this tradition or obligation?”
Help keep your community healthy.