Writing left handed

The Big, White (Guilt) Wedding

Okay, I’ll be honest with you. Yesterday’s weekend wedding planning index left off one rather important figure…

Number of times I started crying, even though I promised myself I wasn’t going to let anything in the wedding planning process make me cry: 2

I suppose this is a somewhat unrealistic goal—I cry over everything, good, bad or otherwise—but still. Twice? On our first weekend out of the gate?

The first episode occurred as we were heading back to the car after concluding the tour at our First Choice Venue. The caterer had just informed me that we could, in fact, have our first dance in the same room as our ceremony. And the thought of marrying PIC there, in that room, with that view, of reciting our vows and having our first dance there—it was just too perfect.

Dream wedding perfect.

dream wedding

Not quite this, but something along those lines…

So perfect, in fact, that I started crying. The minute we got into the car, I pulled up my calculator and started crunching numbers. There had to be some way to make this work…

The second episode occurred about 24 hours later. We were between tours, heading to my brother’s house to have dinner with him and his girlfriend, and it was very hot out and there was young kid selling water under an overpass with his father.

The kid happened to be black and my white guilt complex kicked into high gear.

The next thing I know, I was basically sobbing to PIC about how I didn’t want to have a big white wedding when there are kids who have to sell water on the side of the road. How I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing we’d spent tens of thousands, or even just thousands of dollars, on one day…

As if not having a big, white wedding was going to somehow directly benefit this kid?

As if I personally needed to save this kid?

As if this kid needed saving?

As if my very own (and very white) brother didn’t sell water too when he was younger? We had a traveling lemonade stand; we cleaned up every July 4th. Maybe this kid was just an entrepreneur-in-training?

Or maybe he’s not. Maybe he doesn’t have a choice, and maybe I was just trying to transcend the ridiculousness of my well-intended-but-still-f*cked-up-white-guilt-complex by succumbing to the wedding-industrial-complex…?

(Can we say analysis paralysis?)

Fortunately, PIC had the good sense to suggest we table all further wedding discussion for the rest of the night (not before assuring me that we didn’t have to do anything over the top, and that we didn’t have to do anything we didn’t want to do). I was kind of irritated at the time because I like to get issues dealt with, then and there, but we had been driving around all weekend, it was hot, and we were both overtired… fertile ground for an argument, not a rational discussion.

My other consolation is that my high school BFF got engaged only a week before we did and thanks to my being a bit more hyper about planning than most people, we now find ourselves in the exact same stages of the wedding planning process.

Like me, she’s traveled a lot, has lived abroad, and is trying to walk the line between fiscal responsibility, social consciousness and planning a beautiful affair that will make herself, her family, and her fiancé happy.

We’ve been texting all morning about that damn Huff Post story— the one where the Turkish couple decided to forego the traditional three-day feast to serve food at a refugee camp instead—and how guilty it makes us feel over our own desires. I mean, seriously, the bride is standing there in a gown and a golden tiara, handing out plates of food.

Turkish Couple Hold Wedding Buffet in Refugee Camp

So instead we talk about donations instead of favors, of forgoing the traditional registry because we’re both in our 30s and how many Mikasa plates does one couple need? (And no, I’m not just being rhetorical here. I already have one set of Mikasa plates and one set of Lenox plates and they’re both second hand but perfectly fine, aside from the one salad plate that PIC accidentally put in the microwave…)

Her fiancé was thinking about trying to turn the entire event into a fundraiser for some non-profit or another, and I have to admit I had a few thoughts along those same lines but I can’t help wondering if a small part of me wants to have a “responsible” wedding just so I can say I had a responsible wedding…

So I can look down my nose at those who get caught up in the frenzy…

So I can feel somehow noble about not going to Kleinfelds…

So I can justify not being vegan, not even being vegetarian, of rather liking steak… because, hey, we had a small wedding!

So I can live in a perfectly nice house in a perfectly nice neighborhood while all the while dreaming of a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, but its okay, because living in a nice neighborhood is something you earn right? There’s nothing privileged about it…


And being an anthropology professor makes it all that much worse. Because I know better.

I know that the things we think we need (the white dress, the multiple rings, the first dance, the open bar because you don’t want to look cheap, the live music because it’s classier than a dj) are all crap. Lovely crap, but crap nonetheless.

The white dress didn’t become a thing until the 19th century, and even then it was only to inject the lace industry with a much-needed boost in sales.

Diamond rings are also a relatively recent “tradition” and we’ve got DeBeers to thank for that (check out my book review of The Engagements to learn more about this).

Traditions are traditions because we make them traditions, not because there is anything inherently right or wrong about them.

They change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and even though we’d like to think that these changes are totally natural and organic, they’re often the result of carefully calculated marketing campaigns and most of us are too dumb to realize it.

(And there we go with the self-righteousness again… I’m starting to get why so many people find me to be a bit difficult.)

I’m not really sure where I’m going with all of this (which is, perhaps, more apparent to you as you read this than it is to me as I write this) except to say that it’s all very confusing.

31 Responses to “The Big, White (Guilt) Wedding”

  1. no longer her landlord

    We have always tried to be about “intent” and thoughtfulness when making our decisions. For the most part we live a very good, but frugally oriented life, making our decisions based on costs, fair trade/wages, (which ARE unfortunately often so difficult to do) impact on the environment, etc. Even with what we may consider an “over OUR budget” wedding, it is still way under what a normal wedding budget in the USA usually is (and to put it in perspective, it isn’t even far over budget!)…I spent last night looking for resale MOB dresses, because I think spending over $150 on a dress for one night is just ridiculous and would rather be able to still support my charitable choices next year, instead of saying, “I have to take a year off, so I can buy a dress.” There were wonderful choices. I will still have the fun of trying on dresses to find styles that look good on me, but am very excited by the hunt to find one, “resale.”

    One can be cost conscience, intent oriented and still like a bit of glam! If anyone can throw a beautiful wedding with thoughtful intent, it is this family!

  2. Laurie

    This isn’t about proving your consciousness and responsibility to yourself. It’s about making a beautiful memory. Beautiful memories don’t have to be expensive, but they are always personal. This is a gift that you give to yourselves (and to your families too, and the photos will entertain your future children for years). You can have a registry that includes donations, use bubbles or birdseed instead of rice, and find other small ways of practicing what you preach. A good time to do service (handing out food for example) is on an anniversary. A wedding is to celebrate your and your love! BTW, Solo and Lindsey refuse to have a tent at the Audubon (their venue in Portland, Maine) so they are getting folding umbrellas for favors, just in case they end up getting married in the rain! And we found an Indian wedding jacket for Solomon (in Little India in Queens), which turned out to be far less expensive than buying a suit and a lot more beautiful.

    • Kat Richter

      Okay Laurie, this comment has me seriously in tears– but good tears. I LOVE THIS! And especially the idea of doing something more “service-oriented” to commemorate our anniversary in years to come. That’s so cool that Solomon is doing umbrellas- there are some really pretty ones out there. And I second what my mom said: can’t wait to see pictures! Remind me when’s the big day for them?

      • Laurie

        Sept. 19th. BTW he sends his best. I suggested that they arrive at the wedding in a classic car like this green Studebaker (http://motorlandamerica.com/weddings/) but he’s having none of that. Also, he lucked out big time in the M-i-L dept. too. She is candidate for sweetest-woman-in-the-world award, and loves him like a son. How do you guys get so lucky?

  3. becky119

    When I first started the wedding planning, everyone wanted to offer up their opinions. After a few weeks of this I paused and just thought, “this is stupid”. Because there is only going to be this one day for us. The one day where it’s okay for everything to be the way I want it to be. (within reason) Where I don’t have to bend to everyone’s whims and include people in the wedding party that I don’t want there. Where it’s okay to say that I don’t like this idea or that idea. Where it’s okay to splurge a little and get the dress and the veil and the tiara. Because that’s what I’ve wanted since I was a little girl. And it’s okay to be selfish every once in awhile. It’s your day. It’s supposed to be the day that you stand up in front of your friends and family and declare your love and commitment to that one person you are lucky enough to have found. Do what is going to make YOU happy, as long as at the end of the day you keep in mind that the whole point of a wedding is to have a marriage. ❤

    • Kat Richter

      Haha, good. Glad I’m not the only one. Also? I just found your florist’s “Becky’s Wedding” Pinterest board and I LOVE all the gorgeous but understated fall-ness 🙂 Well done!

  4. Daria

    Well, sometimes I compare it to watching horror movies. (Not the wedding part, the knowing about traditions and the structures and still being caught in them.) You can tell yourself it is just a movie, you can imagine all the equipment and crew behind the camera, the moody actors, the director, but still you have to hide your face in your hands because you get scared watching that horror movie. Because it works on your emotions and emotions are more powerfull than reason. Otherwise, why on earth would people marry at all? 😀
    Sometimes I think that being an anthropologist is a binary opposition of the most awesome and the most awful thing at the same time. You get to understand the structures, which makes you a very annoying person in discussions and the worst about it: it doesn’t free you from the structures in your daily life, but it gives you a meta-perspective on yourself being inside all the tradition. Maybe they should give a Matrix-like warning before letting people into studying anthropology. But I think we humans need structures and traditions and we need to get confused before a wedding. And cry. It’s actually sort of a liminal phase, before entering a new stage of life. All the best! 🙂

    • Kat Richter

      You mean I have to go through the liminal phase even though I KNOW it’s a liminal phase?? Ohhhh the joys of scientific “objectivity” 🙂

      But on a more serious note, I really loved this comment– it made a lot of sense (and I was hoping I might find more of your writings when I clicked your gravatar but got an error message?)

      I always read a passage to my intro students on their first day of class that says (I’m paraphrasing here) “Anthropology is gonna complicate your life” and I couldn’t agree more!

      • Daria

        “Anthropology is gonna complicate your life” – love that one! But people, especially students, hardly ever listen. 😉
        And I am new to WordPress, I have been blogging years ago on livejournal and now I am here, with something like an attempt to popular anthropology. Just because more lives of more people need to get complicated. lifebetweenworlds.wordpress.com – not much there yet, as I am building it.

  5. ladymeritaten

    I agree with you. I had a dream, ideal venue in mind, my favorite local !museum but in no way can we afford it (well we could but it would be beyond stupid) and we will have a perfectly wonderful experience where we chose. No one will die from not having it all.

    • Kat Richter

      Yeah, PIC naively suggested we get married in the art museum where we got engaged because it is absolutely stunning and is obviously a special place to us; his rationale was that museum’s are non-profits and were therefore bound to be less expensive. To which my response was, “How do you think non-profits make their bottom lines???” They have an exclusive contract with one of the most expensive caterers in the city so as lovely as it would have been, we’re not even thinking about it. I think you guys definitely made the right choice– “can afford” and “should spend the money” are two very different things.

      • ladymeritaten

        Absofreakinglutely. We still want to have a nice party for our friends and family but we ain’t plunking down a house down payment to do it and we are in Bay Area so that’s hard enough to accomplish! European honeymoon for the win!

  6. manette jen mcdermott

    finding the blessing in the journey, and seeing that your mixed emotions is part of that journey…the journey of who you are and who you will be together. i love that you are feeling mixed, confused and honest. it’s not the wedding day that results from all the planning, it’s the planning where we find the joy, the meaning and each other, and there begins the creation of all those beautiful memories.

  7. manette jen mcdermott

    and may i add, kat, that you have a big beautiful heart. don’t be afraid to listen to it…
    side note -my daughter found a wonderful wedding dress at a vintage wedding dress shop…

    • Kat Richter

      Thanks 🙂 After writing this post and talking with a lot of friends who are either going through this or have just been through it, I’m realizing that basically every bride in the world has felt this way and I am now giving myself permission to just go with it. And I’m almost 100% going to end up with vintage of some sort! What time period did your daughter go for?

  8. Heather

    We had a budget for our wedding, which really didn’t work with 2 factors: the cool venue (being in architecture it’s kind of a thing) and accessibility, which doesn’t usually work with the first factor. We had people who needed to be in a wheelchair, so our location had to be simple. We chose based on that, and then focused on making it fun for everyone. Me, the groom, the wedding party, the family, our friends. This should be fun. Have fun. Be responsible, but have fun!

    • Kat Richter

      Yeah, I could see how being an architect would certainly make you prioritize certain things over others. I studied history and historic preservation as an undergrad and took a bunch of architectural history courses… outdoor wedding may be “in” these days but I’m like, “Show me the buildings!” Glad you managed to find a place that met both of your needs and had a great time 🙂

  9. petitepaumee

    It is all very confusing, and I think that’s perfectly normal! In fact, I would be worried if you and I weren’t going through similar thought processes and emotional upheaval. There’s a lot of good insight in the comments above… Ultimately, I’m sure we will both have conflicting emotions about the choices we make, but we have to step forward with our fiances and make the decisions that are best for US as life partners, not other people.

  10. Mary M

    I have often felt superior about my small affordable wedding, but this year my Sister-In-Law got married and had a smaller cheaper wedding. I hope you find the right balance for you and your partner.

  11. Pierre Rubison

    See if this doesn’t sound exactly like what I just read to you from this University of Pennsylvania professorette who’s all absorbed in her white guilt. It’s so bad that she can’t live with herself and she’s advocating that we all abandon our whiteness and create a new whiteness.


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