All weddings, except those with shotguns in evidence, are wonderful. — Liz Smith
The first one was periwinkle and the texture of living room drapes. The second was a shiny satin the shade of sea-foam green. The third — my favorite, as its sable, “iridescent espresso” tone was the only one to suit my strawberries-and-cream complexion — was 100 percent silk. I have worn just three bridesmaid gowns, one for each of my sisters. Heather, second oldest, was first to march down the aisle, followed by Jane, the eldest. Jenny, last to be born, was also last to be married.
I’ve attended my share of weddings — of both gay and straight families, friends and acquaintances — and I have come to believe that the manner in which a couple chooses to interpret the traditions of ceremony and reception reveals not only what is important to them in a wedding, but also what is important to them in life.
Let’s start with periwinkle. Heather (who was a young girl when she decided her future was to be a happily married teacher and mother of two) cherishes tradition and all things right and proper. In the months leading up to her ceremony, Heather focused on favors and programs, painstakingly ensuring that not one point of etiquette was breached. Sean, Heather’s groom and a devout atheist, “converted” to Catholicism by agreeing to hand his children over to the church in order to grant his fiancée’s wish for a traditional Catholic wedding in the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. Though he didn’t follow her faith, Sean shares Heather’s reverence for tradition, and he was active in the preparations. Heather and Sean met with the deacon and his wife for six consecutive weeks to discuss issues with which many couples struggle. “We weren’t just preparing for our wedding,” Heather told me, “we were preparing for our marriage.”
Their reception was held on the steamship William D. Evans in Mission Bay. This complemented Sean’s nautical background (he’d sailed around the world), while also guaranteeing for Heather that no guests would leave before the garter and bouquet were tossed. My date, upon realizing he would be trapped for three hours on a boat with my family, got cold feet on the gangplank and refused to board the ship, leaving my parents to pay for a meal of lobster bisque and filet mignon that would go uneaten.
Sea-foam green was Jane’s choice of color for her wedding party. She got married right around the time MasterCard released that commercial: “Sea-foam green shoes, $90; sea-foam green dress, $200; a friend that you would wear sea-foam green for? Priceless.” By the time Jane saw the ad, it was too late to change the scheme, but there was plenty of time left for her to fret and feel guilty about making us wear a color that had become a national joke. It turned out for the best because guilt is sort of Jane’s thing; in the midst of all the pre-wedding craziness, the sea-foaminess of the material she chose provided a safe haven for her neuroses, and it gave the rest of us ammunition with which to tease her, the immense power of which remains intact ten years later.
Jane, the family’s fashionista, expressed her nuptials with style. Both the wedding and reception were a fairy-tale affair held at Mt. Woodson castle in Ramona. Whereas Heather’s dress had been adorned with conventional pearls and lace, Jane’s was an elegant plain ivory silk with an A-line cut and a medieval-style high waist. Jane’s ceremony was the most emotional. She and her husband Simon — an outwardly calm and collected guy — sniffled and sobbed their way through the poignant vows they’d written themselves, at the end of which not a dry eye was left in the castle.
Iridescent espresso was not Jenny’s choice so much as it was Heather’s, her maid of honor. Jenny and Brad wanted two things — for the ceremony to be uncomplicated and to share a bit of themselves with family and friends. Jenny left most of the details, like the flowers and favors, to Mom and Heather, who, with their experience and willingness, were perfect choices for the job. Mom found the location overlooking the water behind the Island Palms hotel on Shelter Island and handled all the arrangements. The ceremony itself was perfunctory, lasting no more than ten minutes. The most elaborate feature of the affair was Jenny’s golden-ivory dress, in which her sisters got to see the youngest and only flaxen-haired member of our family shine.
Both Jenny and Brad poured most of their preparatory effort into selecting songs to be played at key moments and choosing photographs for the slide show to be screened for guests during the reception. Music and photos — symbolism and memories woven together — are an integral part of Jenny’s life. The Beatles tune “All You Need Is Love” was the wedding recessional. Jenny and Brad took to the floor to “Square One” by Tom Petty; Brad and his mother danced to “Brand New Day” by Van Morrison, and Jenny and Dad performed their practiced father/daughter dance steps to Abba’s “Thank You for the Music.” Of the slide show, Jenny said, “We wanted to portray as much about our lives and ourselves so people could understand who we were, who we are as a couple, and how we got there.”
Crimson would have been the color for my bridesmaids had I had any, but I did not plan a wedding. It may seem contrary to my nature to forgo such a great opportunity for attention, but my choice to elope is very much in line with my values. As the black sheep of my family, I have never embraced the traditional. David and I are religion-free, child-free, and unconventional in myriad other ways. Years before our “wedding,” we’d already considered ourselves partnered for life; we entered into the institution of marriage not for sentimental reasons, but for practical ones — it was the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to change my name and legally grant my love his pull-the-plug rights. And so it was that one Wednesday just over a year ago, wedged between errands to the supermarket and the dry-cleaners, David and I made our way down to the county courthouse and joined the ranks of governmentally approved couples.
The day after Jenny’s wedding, the entire family, including a horde of relatives from Brooklyn, Jersey, and Staten Island, congregated at Mom’s for a celebratory bash. Children squealed and splashed in the pool while most of the adults guzzled wine, beer, or daiquiris while discussing everything from who should be the next president to whether or not Uncle Jimmy needs Botox for his 50th birthday. Heather and Sean, Jane and Simon, Jenny and Brad, David and I shared stories and laughter with the rest of the family. When I noticed each couple had at some point stepped away from the crowd to have a moment to themselves, it occurred to me that despite the differences with which we had each handled our marriages, my sisters and I had all, quite similarly, fallen in love with men who, as far as we can tell, were specifically designed to make us happy.