Gene takes on the matrimonial-industrial complex

Gene Weingarten
Columnist May 16, 2013

As June approaches, with its “big weddings,” where brides get to celebrate their “special day,” I thought it would be a good time to discuss the best way to “wolf down a 12-pound baked ham, whole.”

The parallels are intriguing. Both involve an impending joyous event — in one case, the legal union of two people who love each other and, in the other, the consumption of some mighty tasty pork. And in each case — the big wedding and the esophageal assault — you are choosing the worst possible way of doing it.

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

By “big weddings,” I’m talking about those high-tension, anxiety-laced, friendship-testing, sanity-obliterating, money-evaporating, woman-diminishing, multi-hyphenated effusions of petty self-celebration that remain so popular these days among the young folk, with the encouragement of the matrimonial-industrial complex and its conscienceless confederates, the bridal magazines.

I got to thinking about all this a few weeks ago when I opened a chirpy wedding-season story pitch from a PR person, offering reporters access to an expert in relationships between women and their mothers-in-law. (If you are a journalist, this will not surprise you. There is no subject that is too trivial or idiotic to have someone flogging an expertise in it. I once interviewed an expert on drool.)

The mother-in-law pitch began this way: “As wedding season creeps ever closer, brides-to-be are stressing out over a lot more than last-minute wedding preparations. Deciding how to ‘manage’ your future mother-in-law (MIL) during the pre-wedding buzz can be daunting!”


(Eric Shansby)

(I applaud the use of verb “creeps” to describe the gait with which wedding season approaches, though I would have offered the more insectoid “scurries.”)

The pitch introduces MIL-wrangling as just another wedding-planning chore, akin to floral arrangements and bridesmaid gifts. Among the suggested strategies are letting the MIL come along when you get your nails done. Another is “asking her opinion now and then ... to make her feel valued.” (It quickly emphasizes that you don’t have to listen to her, at least not on the “most critical” decisions.)

I considered calling the MIL expert to ask, politely, if a better way to deal with this problem might be to try to relate to your fiance’s mother as an actual human person, but I knew she’d probably find that really naive and laugh at me in this terrifying, high-pitched, phlegmy cackle-snort that would give me nightmares for weeks. So instead I visited some wedding-planning Web sites, to see what they thought about the MIL issue. I lasted only a few minutes. I had to escape after reading that there are exactly “127 must-have moments,” moments that absolutely must be captured on any competent wedding video, including “when the groom sees you for the first time walking up the aisle,” and “when your dad sees you for the first time in your dress,” and “when you throw an epic hissy fit over the height of the orchids in the table centerpieces.” Okay, I made the last one up.

I’m almost done now, and I apologize if this seems like a screed. But I think anyone who respects women has an obligation to disrespect big weddings, which are events designed to present women in the least flattering light possible.

You know what was a great wedding? One I recently attended for my friends Beah and Dan. Everyone wore jeans. We drank beer and played beanbag horseshoes. The food was great. The bride was beautiful. The groom was handsome. The centerpieces were in cloisonné flowerpots made from dyed toucan beaks. Okay, I made the last one up.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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