Clara Barnhurst

My ex had angry words with me more than once. Twice, she got upset rather than angry. The message was clear: do it her way. She was the bride, it was her show. I had input but no say. My interest in the planning confused her and her mum: they grew up in conservative, working-class circles where men weren’t expected to do more than have a piss up some time before, wear whatever suit was picked for them, and show up when and where they were told.

Of course, I’m not a man and my reaction to my upcoming wedding wasn’t especially mannish. But I was perceived as a man and expected to at least partially fit the mould. I was expected to have input, but not a say. I could express opinions, but actual decision making was not my job. I could say what I want and expect to get it so long as it met the approval of the bride.

Weddings in Western society are about the bride. Many common jokes and sayings about weddings refer to the groom as some kind of prisoner or coerced party. Like men only marry under duress - untrue, I’m sure - and it’s the women that actually want that commitment, even though they’re not meant to be the ones to ask for it. It’s as though the tradition of men asking women to marry them is part of a check-and-balance system devised on the notion that men can’t want to get married, so when they ask, you know it’s for real. If the woman asks, then the man is being coerced. It’s a ridiculous idea that rules out same sex anything. It can’t be true, yet we all believe it of hetero couples enough to tell the same jokes, buy the same cards, use the same imagery, and carry the same expectations. True enough for us to construct a reality from untruth.


So when I was beside myself with excitement at getting married, I wanted more than a token role. I wanted more than input. I had a vision of what my wedding would be like, and I wanted it. I was, in effect, your basic twenty-something that had imagined her wedding since she was a teenager and had an eagerness to get as much of that imagining into reality as she could.

Of course, I knew I wasn’t expected to have my dream. I made a big show about not wanting to marry for many years because I knew what I wanted wasn’t going to figure. I knew it would be about the bride. I wanted to be the bride. I was a bride, but nobody saw me that way. My way of letting the dream go was resolving to never get married. That resolution clearly didn’t last: when you fall for someone from another country, you start talking marriage a lot more quickly than normal. It’s a way to stay together and escape a distance relationship, so there we were.

The confrontations over how the wedding would be became more upsetting as the weeks wore on, and eventually I disengaged and played the role I was given. By then, I had won some of the things I wanted. My mum was going to do a pagan blessing - the main battleground choice - and I wasn’t going to be in a church (to my ex’s disappointment). So a few major decisions swung my way, but not without a fight. Not without their confusion at my caring. Not without enduring disapproval that became part of the wedding story whenever it was told. Eventually, we stopped talking about it entirely.

I’m still waiting on the final bits of paper that will end that marriage, but I’ve met another person and we’re going to go ahead and get married. I’ve discovered I still have my dream wedding in my head. It’s not like the first one happened at all, despite winning a few things the first time around. This time, everyone sees me as the bride I am.

“You just tell me where to be and what you want me to do. I’ve never been the mother of the bride before!” my mum said to me, pleased as punch, though I should point out she had the same attitude the last time. My fiancée wants things but is utterly intimidated and lost by the whole task of planning a wedding, so I find myself with the reins much of the time. It feels natural. Like it should have been, only better.


The cultural assumptions about how gender and weddings relate are working for me, and when I chatter about it people aren’t surprised or resistant to what I say. Naturally, there are certain differences that make this wedding process incomparable to the last. It’s a same sex wedding, for a start, and my fiancée and her family are all liberal atheists that don’t give the automatic expectations as much strength. What’s curious is how the assumptions endure despite these crucial differences, but there’s no man to target with jokes of coercion.

There is a clear euphoria at being able to have an ordinary discussion with my fiancée about what we want and how we want it without some bizarre gender bias colouring whatever is said. I can have breathing space and not feel guilty or self conscious about it. I can have my say without apology - an irony, as often since being perceived as the woman I am I have to accompany my say with an apology for people (men) to hear me.

I’m lucky to have a chance to have another try at this. Many existing married couples express a frustration at how things from the day, no matter how amazing it was, are now wrong or somehow uncomfortable. Not to say they couldn’t go again, but that legacy endures and creates a point of dissonance. I suppose that is one advantage to my partner leaving me, though I wouldn’t wish that on people. It’s a silver lining, nothing more. For now, I’ll continue to enjoy myself as I wend my way forward.


TU Articles