Little girls are known to dress up in their mother’s shoes, smear make-up on their faces in comic, clownish imitations of everyday feminine facial masks, and play make believe marriage. The cutie-pie image of an angel-faced child in mock up wedding veil is almost as familiar as tiny toes inside stilettos. But am I being old fashioned? Sure, Kinder eggs may now be divided into pink and blue (pony and racing car innards respectively) but haven’t we moved on from boys and stick-swords and five year old girls with full wedding day plans? Isn’t the whole idea of fairy-tale marriage a bit old hat?
In most of the Western world, arranged marriages, or relationships forged for familial economic or social advantage, have been rejected. The secular, democratic age is the also the age of romantic love, of unions based on pure passion and feeling. Yet, despite strict marriage rules being abandoned, and having more freedom to co-habit, divorce, or flit from one union to the next, than ever before, the idea of marriage is still the overwhelming narrative for our understandings of love and commitment. Even more so than thirty years ago, when many of the status-quo bashing students of the 80s declined to walk up the aisle, the blushing bride is holding sway over the collective psyche. ‘Wedding inspo’ rivals ‘fitness inspo’ for newsfeed clogging dominance; Gypsy Weddings rule the television schedules; Kimye’s four-day-photoshopped wedding shoot reigns over Instagram. Kate Middleton.
Why, in the days when divorce rates in the UK edge towards half of all marriages, are our pop culture queens slightly skewed Disney princesses? Why did Kim and Kanye’s kiss in front of ivory flowers garner 2.4 million likes? Why did Beyoncé call her most recent tour Mrs Carter? Why did rumours of trouble in the Carter world cause gossip column tidal waves of concern? Perhaps most importantly, why do prominent women reliably get interrogated over when they will get hitched?
Maybe its because, at whatever level, most of us love what weddings are all about. We like parties and gossip and a bit of glitz, all of which weddings supply. The clothes, the décor, the embarrassing speeches and dancing, the idea of a happy ending. It is not that surprising that photos of Kate Moss, or Angelina Jolie, or Amal Alamuddin, which routinely sell for millions, are worth ten-fold to magazine editors when they are decked out in designer wedding garb. And yet. The dominance of wedding and marriage narratives in our culture do not seem to be just a frothy smile at pretty people in pretty clothes. For it is not just the big day that preoccupies us, but also the run-up and the aftermath. It is not just the blushing bride, but also the fiancé and the spouse that fill column inches. Benedict Cumberbatch’s announced nuptials, Brangelina working together, Johnny Depp and George Clooney finally heading to the altar, Gwyneth and Chris consciously uncoupling, Jennifer Aniston as either spurned / jealous ex-lover or desperate wannabe bride. While it is overwhelmingly focused on the female camp, this obsession is not entirely gender specified, and ‘obsession’ is accurate.
From childhood, certainly through adolescence, we are fed with the idea of love. Adulthood and contented happiness have become synonymous with coupledom. The ‘singleton’ may be portrayed as the wild and free one of the friendship group, the one unhampered by couples bickering, cheating and commitment fears, the one able to go out all hours and regale others with one-night stand stories. Yet, there lurks under these notions the prevailing idea of ‘searching’. There is the assumption that, unless you’ve ‘levelled up’ and coupled up, you are firmly in the dating game. All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely Players, or something. The modern age of casual flings and no-strings attachments, of Tinder and Grindr and mass online dating, hasn’t made marriage or monogamy things of the fairytale or fifties-housewife past, because we are still gorging ourselves on these narratives. We want it all – the fun and the freedom, and the promise of a soulmate Prince Charming or Cinderella at the eventual stroke of midnight. We want infinite choice from an eternity of options, only a mouse-click away, while also being assured that we are one-of-a-kind. One-of-a-kind that is conveniently also someone’s ‘other half’. Why can’t we be ‘complete’ until paired up?
Loneliness is scary. The prospect of ‘being left on the shelf’ is not a nice one. But that is partly because we have constructed singledom, or serial dating, or polygamy, as social oddities. We have made our own bogeyman fears, by casting such an all-encompassing angelic glow on marital ‘bliss’. It is a conservative and restrictive story we are telling ourselves, imagining it’s escapism. We have more options than ever before; the world is getting smaller by the day. Rather than attempting to fit ourselves into wedding-gift boxes, maybe we should be questioning why the gift-wrap still holds so much allure. Maybe it’s time to blow the bloody doors off.