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A pair of golden wedding rings on wooden background

Fancy weddings, how do I not love thee? Let me count the ways.

My husband and I recently celebrated our 31st anniversary. I stood for a few minutes in our living room, looking at the wedding certificate that hangs over the fireplace. In the Quaker tradition within which we were married, a couple is married by the signed witness of all present when the couple exchanged vows, which are incorporated into the wedding certificate.

It’s one of the traditions I appreciate about Quaker weddings, as it affirms the crucial role of a couple’s community in their marriage, right from the start.

Back in 1988, my husband and I entered the Meeting House together, also according to Quaker custom. Our wedding created no hierarchies among friendships, because I had no wedding attendants. I come from a long line of simple weddings — at $1,500, ours was the fanciest wedding among my four siblings. We had a live band and a caterer for the serve-yourself dinner on decorated picnic tables at Hoyt Park’s shelter. Yes, we experienced the whirl of activity that surrounds most weddings, but I did not say, as friends of mine did, that I was thankful when it was over. Nor was it just “my day.” My husband designed the program for the ceremony, and we jointly crafted a hymn about community that everyone sang.

I witness young friends’ terrible wedding dilemmas about whom to invite, as the price per plate turns their sit-down dinner places into expensive real estate. I hear about months of arguments, often with mothers, about how the day should proceed. I see years of vague royalty fantasies manifested in wedding-related courts, and wedding organizers instructing couples on who should do what, in what sequence. Many couples go into considerable debt for this day of festivities.

But my biggest frustrations with fancy weddings go beyond the cost, the frenzy and the hunts for dresses. My greater objection is that sometimes they seem to affirm the value of narcissism over steadiness, of performance over simple commitment. At fancy weddings, I’m always hoping for a whiff of inelegant attachment and to find evidence of concern for others.

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I most love weddings whose traditions reflect a community that prepares couples for, and will later support them through, life’s predictable and unpredictable challenges. Certainly, two people attempting to merge two sets of expectations, preferences and approaches to problem-solving will generate friction. Sometimes, as the ego-affirming delights of romance segue into daily problem-solving, one partner or another feels the loss of spark keenly enough to look elsewhere. Sometimes, long buried feelings steer fundamental changes in marriage. Sometimes, life traumas afflict couples. It’s comforting to know that there’s a community committed to supporting couples through those hard times.

Cultures address the challenges of solidifying marriage in many ways. More often than not, church, synagogue,or mosque has undergirded marriage. But in our decreasingly religious society, where do couples find that outside reinforcement and support? Whatever form it takes, I am always grateful for the weddings I attend where couples place realism over fantasy, friendship over ceremony, community over individual romance and glory. I’m happiest where my secret toast for a couple isn’t, “may you pay off the cost for this event within five years,” but instead, "may your community support you all of your lives.”

Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. She is policy program director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

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