Months before my wedding, my social media accounts started promoting photos of my ready-made wedding dress. However, the targeted advertising was wasted, as I had already purchased the dress shortly after my engagement, no twists of the arms were necessary. I had an easier time buying a wedding dress than anyone; I tried on five dresses on an hour-long date and bought my favorite. I did not pose for a photo with a sign saying “I said yes to the dress” because what I said was more like “it will work”.
Nonetheless, the internet found out which dress I clicked on and kept reminding me of it. Photos and advertisements have appeared everywhere online. On Instagram, I even scrolled through real wedding photos of real brides wearing the exact dress. oh my God, I was thinking. A lot of people wear this dress. I suddenly understood why people buy haute couture dresses and berated myself for being so hasty in my purchase.
I started to search feverishly on Google and found dozens of designers selling reasonably priced couture gowns that were made using ethical workmanship. Headlines like “Extremely Ethical Handmade Wedding Dresses for the Modern Bride” and “Your Guide to Unique, Ethically-Source Wedding Dresses” have filled my internet browser. I checked the labels on my dress. Imported. Great. My wedding dress was not only original, but it was also probably made in a sweatshop.
I am certainly not the only bride to feel an unwarranted marriage panic. Weddings have become an extremely personalized affair; every detail is over-analyzed to ensure that the occasion reflects the uniqueness of the bride and groom. Websites such as OffbeatBride.com encourage originality and independence instead of tradition and conformity. Many brides now even aspire to be “anti-bride” instead of being a princess. Author Phoebe Maltz Bovy writes in the Atlantic that wedding comments on engagement jewelry basically became contests over which ring got the furthest from Tiffany: “I recently got engaged and my fiance gave me a beautiful ring: 3 uncut diamonds (d ‘ethical origin) set in money :),’ wrote one commentator. Another wrote: “My engagement ring was a very simple ruby and gold ring that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. “
What started as a silent inner panic about the originality of my wedding dress quickly turned into full-fledged hysteria about the originality of everything else. Now I not only wanted a unique wedding dress, but I also needed our reception to be ‘different’, the food ‘to reflect us’, the band or DJ not playing ‘typical wedding music’. My husband, Jake, kindly pleased me for several months, listening to all my reasons and justifications for changing and re-evaluating this and that. But after looking at version 7 of the dinner menu, Jake finally begged me not to change anything else.
I agreed, mainly because now was the time to plan our wedding mass – a welcome distraction from the aforementioned hysteria. When it comes to the Catholic wedding mass, there is not much to plan. I quickly found out that it was going to be more like “Pick A, B or C”, which was hugely different from every other aspect of our planning. There was even a book with all of the reading options listed.
We flipped through the pages of the organized wedding reading the “options,” discussed our musical preferences, and finally landed on the vows page, where we found there was no option to choose from. Honestly, I was relieved. Thank goodness we don’t have the option to write our own vows, I was thinking. Not only did I not want to spend hours tirelessly creating something witty and original, but I also knew that if I did, I would over-analyze and edit until an hour before the ceremony.
But then it hit me: despite all my attempts to make our wedding original, the climax of it all – the exchange of vows – was so unoriginal that all of our guests had probably heard them before or maybe. even they pronounced them themselves. In a time when I was feverishly trying to distinguish what made our marriage so special, familiar vows were a much needed reminder that weddings, by default, aren’t unique. A wedding, no matter how quirky, understated, or ironic you do it, is still a marriage.
After months of trying to make our marriage different for no reason to be different, the rigidity of our Catholic Wedding Mass was just what I needed to bring me back to reality – to where I was months before, indifferent to originality, choosing my favorite dress from the five options in front of me.
Besides restoring my sanity, there are other good and more important reasons for the lack of flexibility in Catholic liturgy and marriage vows. Namely, since marriage is an alliance between a couple and God, Catholics simply cannot write their own vows. The president of the Philippine bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, recently wrote that personal expressions “should not be mixed with the church liturgy as it diminishes, confuses and spoils the action of Christ himself. in the sacrament ”. The liturgy does not belong to us. We cannot change it.
Try telling your average engaged couple that their wedding mass is not theirs. If you are a wedding seller, you would probably be fired. But a celebration of love and the sacrament of marriage should not celebrate the love of the couple but rather that their love is of God and depends on God. “I promise to love you even when you don’t empty the dishwasher” doesn’t quite do it justice.
Second, words matter, and although I have a writing degree, I haven’t lived a single day or a lifetime of marriage. Who were Jake and I to decide what would be important for us to promise at the altar? I could certainly write some genuine, loving words, but I don’t think I could have articulated any vows that address the long term implications of married life. I’m afraid they would no longer have looked like sappy crushed Instagram captions than a deal between two people and God. And so we planned to recite the following, “I promise to be true to you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you every day of my life.
Jake and I weren’t the first, we weren’t the last, we weren’t even the only couple to say these vows in that church that day. Our vows didn’t need any extra embellishment or personal touches; our love is greater than ourselves and is certainly greater than we could ever have said in our own words. Fortunately, the church offers us words to use. After 16 months of stage fright, I made those unoriginal vows in that unoriginal wedding dress that thousands of other women apparently also wore to their weddings. Some of them may have even recited the same vows. Well done to them.
This article also appears in the August 2018 issue of Catholic of the United States (Vol. 83, No. 8, pages 23-24).
Image: Anna Docking via Unsplash