Thursday, April 26, 2012

Marrying Alone: The New Elopement

Forget bowling solo. The new trend is getting married alone.

Since I read an excerpt from David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise for class, I have greatly enjoyed stalking the New York Times Wedding page in all its Ivy League-educated, matching eyebrow height glory (See: the photos requirement). A month or so ago, the Times ran an article on the "New Elopement." An increasing number of upscale brides and grooms are planning elaborate weddings without any guests. A comment from one such couple:
“I wanted the dress, the vows, the flowers and the pictures,” said Ms. Provost, 36, who took the unconventional step of turning the couple’s elopement into a blowout. “But when you have guests, we felt like it ends up being more for them, not for the bride and groom. We wanted it to be for us.”
This sentiment is common for eloping couples. From a wedding blog's profile of another "wedding for two":
"We felt from the bottom of their [sic] hearts that we had to bring the focus back on us, regardless of what anybody else wanted and to remember what we would want first and foremost from our day and that was to celebrate our love for each other, our love for traveling, and enjoying every moment of our day with each other." [Emphasis mine.]
I find this idea of a "wedding for two" particularly interesting for two reasons. First, the radical detachment from any importance of relational ties in marriage and second, the drastic difference between what the Christian's idea of where the focus should be in marriage and the extremes of what this kind of individualism means spiritually. 

The thesis of the aforementioned class I am taking called "American Regime" (taught by the inimitable PJD) is that while American culture started with the Puritans' (and later, the Anti-Federalists') idea of liberty as freedom to pursue of the good, the Founders' Lockean Constitution has slowly created a country in its own image: self-interested, more individualistic, free from restraint rather than to the good. The class has essentially put me on "Locke Watch" and makes my mom's tales of her Nisbetian friends moving off the grid in a quest for community seem much less of a contradiction in terms. 

Saddest cake topper ever.
Thus, as for the first reason, is this simple Lockean self-interest taking over the wedding day? The oft-cited divorce statistics tell the story about how American marriage itself has been ravaged by individualism and the contractual terms-based union. In this case the elopement itself, beginning and setting a tone for marriage, shows a disavowal of any ties and responsibilities greater than one's own desire to be the center of one's own attention. Additionally, while, indeed, a man and woman are to "leave their father and mother," the new elopement is a dramatic example of forgetfulness of familial obligations when they do not seem convenient. Locke's discourse on paternal power gives insight into the ideas behind the changing cultural tides:
Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after; but it is but a temporary one. The bonds of this subjection are like the swaddling clothes they art wrapt up in, and supported by, in the weakness of their infancy: age and reason as they grow up, loosen them, till at length they drop quite off, and leave a man at his own free disposal. (Two Treatises of Government, "On Paternal Power," Sec. 55)
Man is "at his own free disposal." Merely "subjection," no familial ties should matter if they are a distraction from his own will. Apparently, this also means the flowers, dress, and photos should be an expression of self-interest. "Leaving and cleaving" has all but vanished. As free individuals, we have no relationships to leave and cleaving is only a prelude to another round of leaving. Locke wins.

This self-interested and self-fulfillment-centered ideal cannot hold in a Christian view of marriage. I appreciate the way my local church combats this cultural message. Even putting aside the communal oversight and expectations of a couple while they are dating, the wedding day is meant to primarily serve as a worship service. The day is not about the couple or the bride's dress or the kiss at the altar (sometimes our elders do not even say "You may now kiss the bride" after the Pronouncement of Marriage), but about picturing the gospel and "profound mystery" through the union of bride and bridegroom. The merging of two families only images the future union of Christ and the Church. When the bride walks down the aisle to meet her waiting bridegroom, it is a sweet picture of the day when there will be no more sorrow, no more tears. "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." Why wouldn't you want everyone you love at your wedding day, not only so they can celebrate with you, but so they can participate in a shadow of the greatest day to come?

1 comment:

  1. Hi J,

    You know I love this. Our wedding day was about worship first and foremost. I wanted the Church, the way we structured the ceremony, and the prayers and rites to be reflective of this union, this mystery, and yes, a foreshadowing of what is to come when we, as the Body and Bride of Christ, are united with the Bridegroom for eternity. Thanks for this great post!

    Much love,