Commentary: Getting married at year’s end is a Battle Royale
Netizens are quick to pour scorn on bridal couples who take things too seriously, overspend or become obsessed with creating a perfect day. But is it really so simple? Terence Heng reveals what's at stake.
LIVERPOOL: Bet you didn’t think there would be another commentary on weddings so soon after the last one on funky bridal shoot locations right?
Well tough, it’s wedding season in Singapore, and not just because June and December are the only months when teachers seem to get married.
Throw in “auspicious dates” and that end-of-year feeling, and you have a potent combination for individuals looking to make lifelong commitments to each other.
Despite the joy and conviviality that many wedding photographs portray, weddings are stressful events. For most individuals, it will be the biggest party and gathering they ever undertake, in terms of guests, budget and scale.
It is also the only event where the bridal couple can be almost guaranteed that they (well, at least the bride) will be the centre of attention. So, expectations are high, both for them and the respective families they represent.
Because as we’ve seen, weddings are more than just about love. They are about status, connections, family, identity, wealth and aspirations.
Recent news reports covered news of a wedding dinner “ruined” because of traffic conditions caused by the Standard Chartered marathon, crazed shoppers (Black Friday does make people do weird things like stay up past 10pm) and a group of middle-aged Irishmen (okay, maybe U2 is more than that).
Ever the Singaporeans, we find that kind of inefficiency appalling – why didn’t event organisers think ahead? Why run all three events at the same time? Don’t they know people need to shop, run, and relive their youth all over again?
Despite how much we think that weddings are commercialised and overblown, we recognise their importance as a rite of passage for individuals.
It is indeed a big day, where one’s social status changes in the eyes of society, the law and the government. You are now respectable and eligible to purchase an HDB flat with someone not related by blood.
We commiserate with the bridal couple. It’s never a nice feeling seeing (at least) a year of planning turn out the way it did. And highest marks to the groom who took it on the chin.
But these stories of “ruined weddings” often carry a double-meaning. They occur around the world, and are written to evoke a kind of schadenfreude from readers who recognise how they have encountered bridal couples who take things too far.
Tabloids are the greatest culprits, they leverage on the stereotype of the bride/groom-zilla who get themselves into debt to pull off a perfect day.
Readers who see this tell themselves that this will never happen to them, while at the same time kicking the expensive wedding photo album under the coffee table.
Stress, spending and emotional outbursts at weddings are common, and that is because of the significant number of factors and actors involved in a constant tug-of-war of wills and desires.
As the focus of the day is the bridal couple, much of the responsibility, credit and blame also lie with them.
WEDDINGS RUINED BY FAMILY
But who are the other players on the stage of weddings? Here are few I have encountered in my research.
First, family, and not just immediate family.
While it is quite predictable that one’s grandmother might object to changes in tradition like choice of colours or flowers, it is not uncommon to see sudden rituals foisted upon bridal couples on the day of the wedding by a distant relative.
Flows of information also circulate outside of bridal couples’ knowledge, especially among senior family members, who hear that doing something is good, and therefore pass that ritual or requirement on, further complicating an already complicated schedule.
WEDDINGS RUINED BY THE WEDDING INDUSTRY AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Scholars and authors have also pointed to the wedding industry for being responsible in creating and crafting unreasonable expectations among aspiring brides.
Commercialisation of wedding rituals (introducing rituals as a way to “package” weddings) and making certain objects or outcomes “mandatory” are just two ways the modern wedding is constructed as an act of consumption.
This is accentuated, of course, by social media – early on in my research, wedding blogs by photographers were a rare occurrence. Today, they are an integral aspect of a photographer’s portfolio, offering real-time results to potential clients.
Such photographs, posts, tweets and instastories are all part of the visualisation of “a perfect wedding day”.
So, when things go wrong, as they will, the performance of the perfect day is disrupted and undermined.
Whether it is because the wrong video was played, the pyrotechnics display caused the carpet to catch fire (a true story for another time) or uncle A does not want to sit next to aunty B, these factors all act as stressors on the bridal couple.
WEDDINGS RUINED BY HIGH PRICES
And of course, all of us as society are complicit in the creation of the wedding day as particularly special.
That’s not to say that it isn’t, but we are social animals after all, and history, culture and circumstances all play a part in the way we embed meaning into things and occasions.
I am about to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary this December – but like every couple that got married in the week between Christmas and New Year, trying to book anything for a reasonable price is like asking Singaporeans to understand simultaneous National Anthem recording releases.
Do-able, but very, very difficult.
One might say that it is not necessary to do something special – “marry so long no need lah” is a typical refrain.
But romance aside, we all do need to make our lives just a little bit different once in a while.
Terence Heng is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Liverpool, UK, where he is also an associate at the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts. He studies the changing identities of Chinese Singaporeans through ritual, religion and place-making.