Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Runaway Weddings

The “Runaway Bride” news story out of Atlanta is well known now so I’ll only recap it briefly: Jennifer Wilbanks is a 32-year old woman who ran away a few days before her wedding and later called police from a distant state saying she had been abducted. After several days in which her family and law enforcement frantically searched for her and assumed the worst, she was found and returned, contrite, to her hometown. Subsequent speculation centered on the “cold-feet theory,” though Wilbanks indicated later in a statement that her reasons went much deeper than just pre-wedding anxiety about her 600-person, 14 bridesmaids wedding ceremony.

Let me say that I am sympathetic to a prospective bride or groom backing out or postponing at the last minute. My sister did this three days before her wedding and it was the right thing. She had doubts about the long-term compatibility between her and her fiancé. He was and is a good man, but she had enough uncertainty to postpone and indeed they eventually split up and are now happily married to other people. Should she have come to this decision earlier? Yes, in a perfect world. But the decision spared them both long-term unhappiness.

And let me say also that I am not unsympathetic to big weddings. I understand that in many respects it is an occasion for the bride and groom’s parents to celebrate the joyous occasion with many circles of friends and my feeling is that if you have the money, let ‘er rip (Of course, if you don’t have the money but feel you have to provide a lavish wedding for appearances sake, that’s another issue).

But when the fanciness of the wedding practically precludes the option of delaying or canceling the wedding, I think it is detrimental.

Here is what I have observed as a minister. The larger and more extravagant the planned wedding, the more the couple is fixated on the ceremony and not on preparing for marriage. In the best cases, they are indeed prepared for marriage and there is no detrimental effect. But in many cases they miss out on the crucial time for examining and talking about their relationship and preparing for THE MARRIED LIFE (as opposed to preparing for a 40-minute ceremony and a 3-hour celebration).

One psychiatrist who has counseled people about marital concerns observes that “weddings are terrible stresses on people. They really try people’s relationships, especially when they’re one of those big productions” (“Marriage Counselors: Wilbanks’ actions extreme but understandable”; AP, 4/30/05).

If I could give couples one piece of advice it would be to get premarital counseling before they get engaged. This helps them to honestly assess their relationship and address potential problems absent the stress of an approaching wedding. It gives them a way to say “we’re not ready” without the social ramifications of postponing or delaying the wedding. And if they’re ready? Great. They can then get engaged and plan the wedding with confidence and excitement (Angela and I did this and it helped her to confirm what a great catch she had).

In all seriousness, weddings are important but they’re not the main thing. The main thing is marriage. Isn’t it?


Post a Comment

<< Home