For as long as I can remember I’ve been fiercely drawn to the elaborate spectacle of weddings, while simultaneously repulsed by the excessive materialism and enshrined heteronormativity they represent. Even as a child I experienced these conflicting emotions as a kind of existential quandary: apparently, at age 5, I propped my elbows on the kitchen counter and asked my teenage cousin how she felt about “marriage.” I told her I wasn’t sure myself, but I did know one thing: husband or not, I wanted to be a bride. On the other hand, though my favorite porcelain doll came outfitted head to toe in white satin, and a lace veil, I still wouldn’t let Ken and Barbie tie the knot because I deemed saying “I do” too lame for their Malibu lifestyle. I might have been in kindergarten, but I was onto something—on her wedding day a bride looms large, commanding attention and celebration, but what happens next? And who foots the bill?
When it actually came time for me to get married this past year, I wasn’t sure which impulse to give in to: should I have the lavish event I’d been fantasizing about my entire life? Or should I face up to being a cog in the wedding-industrial machine, and forgo the fluff that comes with such a celebration? Little did I know then that my internal debate would prove to be futile. God was already laughing at the very idea of us making plans.
In an effort to assuage my ongoing identity crisis, my fiancé and I initially declared our wedding would be eccentric, low key and above all fun! The ceremony would be held in our backyard, and we’d forgo outdated formalities like having groomsmen or maids of honor. Instead, we’d have piñatas custom made to resemble our likeness, and our first dance would be set to the ’80s slow jam “Lady In Red,” my beloved’s idea of a joke since I would be wearing a fiery crimson gown. With colorful smoke bombs and BBQ served off paper plates, we were going to be a cool couple for once.
But when all was said and done, we were still planning a Wedding with a capital W. Our parents were still inviting all their friends without telling us, and I was still dieting and upping my exercise regime in pursuit of my desired “bride bod.” Each time we were congratulated, or a loved one asked to hear our engagement story, one part of me blushed with delight, while another rolled my eyes so far back in my head I almost choked on them.
Early on in our planning, when a scheduling snafu almost turned half our family against us, my betrothed floated the idea that we elope. “Come on,” he said, “why don’t we take all this money and just spend a year traveling the world?” I looked at him in horror. He already knew about my bride doll; in a moment of true vulnerability, I’d shown it to him, unpacking her from the decades old tissue paper that cocooned her safely in my cedar hope chest. How could he not understand that it was my greatest wish to profess my love to him while a hundred people swayed gently in their seats to Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”? Yet even as I explained this through tears, I was already embarrassed for myself. Deep down, I felt he was right.
The truth was as plain as day: my real motivation for having a wedding actually had very little to do with the new union I was forming with my husband. It sprang, instead, from a long-held desire to hold court. To make matters worse, my quirky flourishes didn’t absolve me of anything. I was just a bridezilla with hipster taste.
Before I had the chance to say anything, my fiancé looked up from his phone and grabbed me in a hug. We were in a real pandemic, he said, worse than we thought, and it looked like the whole country was going into lockdown.
After that, time seemed to dissolve. Within days the wedding was cancelled. In the months that followed, like so many others during this COVID era, my husband and I went on to experience what felt like every possible setback. We lost jobs, became furloughed, and each of our parents suffered debilitating health issues. Yet, all the while, we managed to keep each other mentally sane, physically healthy, and dare I say, even happy from time to time too.
As spring gave way to summer, being a bride slowly softened into a distant memory. Once you go through quarantine with someone, a wedding no longer seems that important.
Then hints of fall began to settle around us, and the possibility of a disastrous and potentially violent election reared its ugly head, cementing the importance of my dual citizenship between the U.S. and Ireland. I’d spent the last year loving a man who had done everything he could to make my life better during a plague. He brought me coffee and snacks when I couldn’t get out of bed, drove me across the country to be with my mother when she fell and broke her back, and even dutifully watched the crap TV shows that I turned to for comfort on my darkest days. Surely the best thing I could give him was a way out if things became even more unstable. So we decided, once again, to get married—though this time around there would be no pomp, only some circumstance.
Our elopement came together in under a week. I wore a Mexican lace nightgown that had belonged to my grandmother, a woman with a sense of style all her own. It was a piece I’d always admired, and when she gave it to me shortly before her death, I couldn’t help but cry. I bought a bunch of wildflowers from a stand down the street for my bouquet, and the baker of our original cake dropped off a smaller version she’d lovingly made pro-bono. It would be just the two of us, plus a justice of the peace, and a local photographer, aptly named Love.The writer on her wedding day.Photo: Love Ablan / Courtesy of Lacy Warner
On a crisp sunny day in September we climbed up a hill to an outlook near our house and vowed our love and loyalty. For all the attention I had previously desired, I’ll never forget how special and intimate it was that our elopement featured only my husband and me. We weren’t performing anything for anyone, but staring into each other’s eyes and making a promise. The privacy of the ceremony made it all the more sacred. As we walked home through the woods holding hands, the day seemed to light up with a secret glow that only we could see. Afterwards we drank champagne, ate lobster rolls, and called our families. They had no idea. Our wedding was ours alone.
Now we’ve turned the corner into a different year, and a new crop of “save the dates” have optimistically landed in my mailbox. These cream colored envelopes make it seem easy to go back to where we left off in March, and start planning weddingpalooza all over again. But something’s changed between my husband and me. As the world becomes even more chaotic and surreal, it’s the marriage that takes center stage, pushing the wedding off to the sidelines.
That said, I can’t wait to attend all these celebrations that are planned for more hopeful times. I can’t wait to check into motels and embrace old friends who happen to be staying down the hall. I can’t wait to have an excuse to buy a whole new outfit and do the hokey pokey with the 7-year-old ring bearer. I can’t wait to toast to every new, happy couple. Here’s to them: I hope their weddings are everything they dreamed of, but I know their marriages will be even better.