As I was watching Say Yes to the Dress (a show that I have hugely ambivalent feelings for) I had a bolt of clarity on why the Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC) is fundamentally flawed and dangerous. The problem is that the WIC skews how people negotiate personal identities.
Not an episode of Say Yes to the Dress can go by without someone uttering the phrase “feel like a bride.” In the mainstream wedding media, this is why people plan weddings, so you can have this day where you “feel like a bride.” It is a fleeting moment, just 24 hours long, that will never be replicated. Therein lies the key to the WIC fantasy: you will never get a chance to feel like a bride again so make the most of your wedding day. Since this is a one time thing, if you do it wrong, you never get a chance to do it right. Well, I want to call bullshit on that idea.
Weddings are overwhelming because they ask individuals to fulfill two identities simultaneously: the first identity is a bride and the second is a host.
Weddings are overwhelming because they ask individuals to fulfill two identities simultaneously: one identity is making an emotional and personal relationship transition, and the other identity is someone who is throwing an amazing celebration. To make it simple, the first identity is a bride (anyone who is getting married goes through the exact same thing regardless of what you call yourself, but for the sake of sticking to a theme, I'll just refer to this identity as a bride) and the second is a host. Because these roles are assumed simultaneously in modern weddings, people conflate them. Not just the wedding industry folk, but everyone — although I do blame the WIC for perpetuating this conflation.
The way I see it, the term bride is really a relationship moniker. It denotes a person who is getting married indicating a shift of relationship types from engaged or dating to married. This is a fairly universally acknowledged shift: dating/engaged is different from married. This means that people act differently in the two situations. This means that at the simplest level, being a bride is about your relationship. It refers only to your willingness to negotiate and change your relationship with someone else. So, to feel like a bride, you just have to feel like you are in this transition. There is absolutely nothing material about being a bride — there isn't even a time length. You can take as long as you want to transition. Most people will stop calling you a bride after the wedding, but you don't have to give up that transitional identity yet. In fact, this transitional identity may begin during the engagement as well. It all depends on how a person negotiates this change.
On the other hand, being a good host is about 75% material and 25% attitude. Someone can definitively be a good host or a bad host. There are some behaviors that make you a bad host. Did you promise dinner to all 150 guests but only ordered enough food for 30? That's a bad host. Did you ignore the comfort of your guests? That's a bad host. I don't think there is much disagreement on what makes a really bad host. As for being a good host, I think there is only one real rule and that only applies to attitude: a good host also enjoys the party. If a host is engaged with the party and the guests, the guests will probably feel more engaged. As long as that one aspect is taken care of, the party can take any form imaginable. There is no real template, except bad examples, of what to provide to make a good party. I think this is what all of us face when planning a wedding, having to imagine and produce a party that will make us feel like having fun and that will make a crowd of our friends have fun as well. This is an incredibly difficult and daunting task. No wonder weddings are gigantic balls of stress.
Within the wedding industry there is a confusing morass of egos, capitalism, and genuine desire to help. There are now specialists, i.e. vendors, on various aspects of wedding planning. Unfortunately, the way the majority of vendors advertise and sell their wares is as experts on how to be a bride and feel like a bride on your wedding day. I get why this shift happened: business people need to sell a package that people believe in and romantic weddings are things that people believe in. Unfortunately, too many wedding vendors now believe that they can tell you how to be bride. They fully believe their marketing BS.
I wish that more people paid attention to this bride/host divide. I do think that some wedding stress would be alleviated if vendors just talked about their usefulness in terms of their experience in how to throw a party, NOT on their experience in defining what it feels like to be a bride. This would take the pressure off of all of us to fit into an identity that has vague parameters but apparently still has a clear definition of how to be a bride or not. I think they would still be able to maintain their businesses, and in the end would make their jobs easier. After all, stressed out people are not that fun to work with.