“It’s your day” as a myth, in the anthropological sense

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Lately, my mom has taken to explaining to everyone that our wedding is going to be “very odd.” As of yet, I have not been able to tell her: “It's my day, please respect our wishes.”

I observe patterns of behavior for a living, so it soon struck me that my mom, herself, uses that statement. Whenever I talk to her about the budget, she tends to call it “my day.” When it comes to talks of the dress, it is yet again, “my day.” Whenever, for that matter, I talk about more conventional wedding-related things that seem silly, outlandishly priced, or a bit out there to me, it is “my day.”

This, of course, is never said alongside something offbeat. “A picnic, with no chairs? We can't have that, can we? People won't like sitting on the ground.”

Clearly, “it's your day” serves as more than just an encouragement. It seems to function as a myth, in the anthropological sense. Normally, calling something a myth devalues it by implying that it is false. Naomi Wolf uses this to great effect in the title of her book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women (a must read, I think). But that is not the sense in which I use it here.

Actually, the truth (or lack thereof) of the myth is completely irrelevant. A myth is a tale that serves to justify certain ways of doing things — specifically ritualized behavior, like weddings. This means that not only must calling something a myth be done carefully — as calling it a myth means it is rather important to our understanding of things — but also that myths are extremely meaningful things.

This myth is employed not to justify any oddity that you might wish for, but to confine your desires to the correct ones.

Now, myths constrain as much as they enable. Yes, they explain why things are the way they are. Let us remain with the wedding example to illustrate this. Explaining that spending a small fortune on flowers is appropriate, since: “It's the bride's day,” would be the functional use of this myth. In more abstract terms, it is alright that something that would otherwise be called frivolous or even ridiculous is done in this context, because it serves to commemorate and appropriately mark the importance of the ritual we know as “wedding.”

Yet there is more to myths than simple explanation. They are also a claim to authority, a means to negotiate the exact form of whatever is in need of justification. In this context, it tells the bride or the questioner that they are indeed doing the correct thing for a wedding. Buying a tiara that you will never again use or even look at is completely justified as “normal” bridal behavior. It is appropriate to the idea of “wedding” that exists in people's minds, and you will be encouraged and indulged in all appropriate flights of white-dress fantasies. It also serves to discourage fantasies that are deemed inappropriate to this idea.

To summarize: This not only means that there is a set idea of what the wedding ritual should be like (a passé statement if there ever was one), but also that ritual is backed by a myth — one I have called “it's your day.” This myth is employed not to justify any oddity that you might wish for, but to confine your desires to the correct ones.

[related-post align=”right”] Of course, making sweeping statements like I am doing here is extremely unfair based on only one person's experience. I do think, however, that next time someone justifies something by saying “it's her day,” or next time that I'm tempted to justify it in that manner, I will think twice.

I do not wish to appeal to an established narrative of what weddings are, nor do I wish others to attribute it to this idea. If I am to seriously question “wedding,” and what that means, and if I am committed to making it mean what I want it to, then I must break away from “it's your day” as well.

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Comments on “It’s your day” as a myth, in the anthropological sense

  1. What struck me while reading this post is how many “days” I’ve had in my life. Prom, graduation, baptism, first day of kindergarten, first “date”…
    In each of these instances, “it’s your big day” was a reminder to stand up straight, wear my Sunday’s best, smile a lot and do all of the things I was supposed to do. For me, that translates to “It’s time to shut up and look pretty until this is all over.” (A notion that I do not respond well to.)
    But ritual is important in a society. Rituals are part of the construct on which we’re built. If there’s no vows or official acknowledging a union as valid, then who’s to say it is? If we none know the bride on sight, how are we to behave? What will we do while we wait for this ritual to be completed? When can I expect cake? Even though our rational minds know it’s not necessary, our social consciousnesses are waiting for expectations to be filled because we beg validity and sameness. And sameness isn’t necessarily bad. The presidential inauguration, the passing of the Olympic torch, the first hot dog of summer–these things fulfill our need to recognize order and importance.
    But it’s also important to recognize our need to be genuine and our need to express ourselves without worrying when the cake will happen.

    • Dootsie, I’m not sure we ever get cake….the cake is a lie. (Sorry just had to throw that in!!!! 😉 )

  2. Maybe it’s because I’m male, or because I’m a positive person, but “It’s your day” never occurred to me as a statement that would limit choice.

    • No, I agree with you and I’m female, and newly-ish married.

      Personally for me, I do not find the “it’s your day” thing to be constricting. I find it to be a way to get things I want for something important to me. For example…my birthday. I can say, “I want to go ride ponies and eat cupcakes because it’s my day!” because maybe pony rides and cupcakes are super important to me for my birthday.

      Just like when my wedding occured, people were pestering me to wear fancy high heels (I wore chucks), and wanted a prayer for dinner (not on my atheist watch)…but I said, “No, it’s my day.” And no one spoke a word again because I had requested to them that I will not be doing those things because it is my day (and my husband’s), so I will do what I please.

      I feel the “it’s my day” is a way of getting people, who are trying to force me into something I don’t want or a more traditional thing, to back off because this is my day/event and I will do it how I please.

      I choose to view it as a positive tool only to be used under certain circumstances (like when people are trying to force you to change something you want for your event). I suppose you could view it as, “This justifies me spending tons of money on flower arrangements because that’s what I’m supposed to do.” But why not view it as, “This justifies me NOT spending tons of money on flower arrangements because that’s not what I want.”

      • I agree with both of you; however, I’ve had a different kind of limitation by the statement “it’s your day” that isn’t intended.

        I’ve found “it’s your day” has played into all the rhetoric surrounding making a wedding a reflection of you/partner, etc. Feeling like I can’t make any choice but I need to make the choice that’s right for me or reflective of us as a couple has been more panic inducing than any of the times folks have told me what I have to do (to which I’ve simply cheerfully disagreed).

        But I think comparing it to a birthday in my head might help this… because birthdays you get a lot of (which takes the pressure off picking any one right way to celebrate, for me) and the wedding I’m hoping to just have one of (although my brother pointed out that if we’re not happy with our choices we can just have another wedding a few years later, who cares if we’re already married).

        • In my own experience, I have to agree with Tori. Being told “It’s your day” over and over has been very hard. I normally have a hard time with decisions, and wedding decisions have been excruciating for me.

          What’s more, I’m the type of person who lives to make other people happy. When I seek input from my friends and family as to how to plan and execute the wedding and all I get is “whatever you want, it’s your day”, I freak out a little. What I want to to make everyone ELSE happy, and that seems incongruous with the idea of the bride getting whatever she wants.

          Let’s just say….it’s been tough some times

    • I never saw it as a phrase that would limit *my* choices, but I still see it as a limiting phrase.

      When is it my partner’s day? Where’s he in this? “It’s your day” is a phrase I’ve only seen spoken to women, and I feel like it feeds into the idea that the wedding and ensuing marriage are my show and my partner is an invisible and possibly even uninterested party in the whole process.

      It’s a heck of a lot milder than everything else we’ve got planned, but perhaps the first indication that our wedding is not going to be the standard off-the-shelf model is when someone tries to tell me it’s my day and I correct them. “No, it’s /our/ day.”

      • This was the only way I heard the phrase used, and it was his mother who said it! He was discussing his ideas for the wedding and she told him he shouldn’t be making any decisions because it’s my day and I might want something different (and naturally being “The Bride” my choice would completely overrule his).

        When it was about me doing something they didn’t like the arguments were more along the lines of “but it’s a wedding” (apparently people won’t know this without real flowers in the middle of the table?).

        Which still comes down to the same idea as in the article – it’s a wedding so you have to do it like every other wedding because that’s the way it’s done.

        • My response to any protest along the lines of “it’s not a wedding without X” is: “Do we have a marriage license? Will it be signed by the end of the day? THEN IT’S A WEDDING.” No arguing with legality. 🙂

      • Luckily our families were extremely supportive of both of us, so we heard, “It’s your guys’s day. You need to do what feels right for the both of you”

        But a few vendors we interviewed (not many… just one or two) continued to tell me that I needed to think about what *I* wanted for the day. The vendors we did end up with were spectacular about understanding that we were a united team, creating a day between the two of us… not just mine.

        I’m just amazed by both our families not putting any pressure on us for our wedding to be anything other than exactly how we wanted it!

  3. Great post!

    Just as the Wedding Industry can’t logically use “It’s your day” to justify forcing brides into a certain mold, Offbeat brides also cannot simply say “It’s my day” as a real reason to justify doing off the wall things for the sake of being off the wall. Yes, it is you and your future spouses wedding, and if anyone has the final say, it’s you. But I also think it’s important to remember that parents, family and friends – no matter how conservative a view, have strong opinions because many of them are contributing to your day in some way. Be it financially or with their time and effort. In that sense, weddings in which family and friends take an active roll are not just about “Your day”. It is “Our Day” or a day to celebrate with the community. I think that it is important to honor the contributions of your loved ones. Now, on the other hand, if they use their generosity as a way to guilt you into having the wedding THEY want you to have, then they are missing the point of community as well. I guess it’s a matter of know which category your family falls into. It may also help with a bride’s patience, n the very least, to realize that her overbearing parents only seem that way because they’ve been duped their whole lives into believing the marriage myths too. So in this sense, in their minds, they are trying to help, and doing it in the only way they’ve been taught.

    I could say more but I might be rambling! Sorry!

  4. Whenever I think about how I’m going to manage to pull off all it will take for “my day” I come back to this…”it takes a village” Which means it’s not “my day” at all. And it isn’t. Our wedding day belongs to me, and my FH and all the people who love and support us (whether they are there in person or in spirit) and even all the persons (and even non-persons) who have functioned to make us who we are (past teachers, past loves, pets and so much more.) I don’t want my wedding to be a reflection of how much I love myself. I don’t even want it to be a reflection of how much I love my FH. I want it to be about how much we all (the community, etc) love and support one another. Because that’s what commitment IS. And that’s what I want for my day.

    Woah, heavy!

  5. I have been trying to be careful with the balance. There are things that are important to me, things at important to the husband in training, and things that are important to the family. With the exception a handful of issues we’ve found a middle way, and I’ve added more then a few things to make others happy. Balance isn’t always easy.

  6. Looking at weddings from an anthropological point of view is both interesting and confusing. For one thing, as an anthropologist I actually have a lot of respect for “tradition” as something that helps link generations and give people scripts to follow to make life easier, so I don’t think everything being meaningful to the individual couple is actually that important, that’s a very modern western way of looking at things. I think “it’s your day” kind of lubricates the tension between valuing individualism and being uncomfortable with being selfish or standing out – on “your day,” decisions that would otherwise seem completely extravagant (like $1000 dresses for one person) are actually “traditional.”

    You know where this really throws me for a loop though? Post-wedding name changing. What do different decisions signify to others, and what side of social change do I want to be on?

  7. The whole it’s your day” thing is a fallacy in the first place. It sort of implies that the groom doesn’t exist, that a wedding is only about the bride and the groom just happens to be an afterthought. Thankfully, neither of my sides play that game. MIL is incredibly offbeat friendly and has an interesting way of knowing my brain along with her sons. My mom on the other hand thinks our “offbeat lite” wedding is not offbeat enough. She actually, literally gagged a little when I told her I want sleeves on my dress. But aside from generally hating the “stuffyness” I’m imposing upon her (I literally had to demand she buy a proper bra for the occasion) she’s been ok. I guess I’m lucky.

  8. I really feel better about our wedding remembering that it is partially for the enjoyment and benefit of our families and friends than I do trying to focus on us. If it was really only for us, I don’t know why we would do it at all (we’ve been living together for four years and are pretty quiet at home kind of folks).

    • My thoughts exactly! I had to check your name to see if I hadn’t sleep-wrote. Though we’ve been together five years.

  9. As a South Asian bride brought up in the US I had a really hard time with this concept. Traditionally weddings in our culture are considered a marriage between two families, not just between the bride/groom. On the other hand, it was pretty much left up to me to do all the leg-work for the organizing, planning and financials (which is usually unheard of).

    Naturally I did things the way I wanted since it seemed like “my day.” Well when my day came around, it felt more like I organized a production or a play, not a celebration of love or even a coming together of two families. Our celebration started when my husband first asked me out, and the months of our engagement were really the time when our families came together and started developing the great relationships they have.

    During the wedding my husband and our parents especially were too nervous about doing things the right way to really enjoy what we were there for. I wish it was easier to realize it’s not that “day” itself that matters as much as everything leading up to or following it.

    • I’ve noticed the same thing while we’ve been planning our celebration for next April. The things I’ve enjoyed the most are the times that my family and my FH have gotten to know one another and create shared memories. Our at home wedding has allowed my dad to show off his skills in home fixing while teaching my FH and I some great life lessons. These things wouldn’t have happened if we were having a “traditional” ceremony and reception in a church..

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