To say I “married late” is an understatement. I'd sooner tell you my Social Security number than admit my age. But let’s just say the last time there was any estrogen floating around in my system, Mitt Romney was in favor of healthcare reform and Cher still had remnants of her original face.
According to the infamous 1986 Newsweek story about single women, I had a better chance of being hit by a meteor/struck by lightning/killed by a terrorist than of getting married after the age of 40 (I love defying statistics!). How I met my husband (hint: it was nothing short of a miracle), and the ups and downs of our seven years together before marching down the aisle, is a story for another time. So is the story of how I assiduously avoided marriage most of my life (hint: I had cornered the market on every unavailable/inappropriate/sociopath). Or the story of how I panicked after the proposal and suffered a major case of commitment anxiety.
Those stories can wait. The story I want to tell is what it was like to become a first-time bride at an age when most women are picking out their Mother of the Bride outfits. “Weird” doesn’t even begin to describe it. “Surreal” comes closer. And yes, sometimes, it’s also been quite wonderful.
First came the proposal (it wasn’t a surprise…I’d already been ring shopping for months). As a newly engaged Woman of a Certain Age, I often felt like a freak of nature. News of our engagement was greeted with a mix of shock, awe, confusion and delight. I suppose there’s something sweetly endearing and hopeful about older people finding each other late in life and tying the knot, against all odds. But it’s definitely not the norm. It’s kind of like seeing a bear riding a tricycle. It’s a novelty, but slightly abnormal.
I’m sure every woman, regardless of her age, experiences a whole gamut of emotions when she gets engaged for the first time. Some of those emotions are universal. Wedding blogs are filled with comments from young women fretting about their ring/dress/caterer/invitations/flower arrangements, etc. etc. etc. I shared many of those same concerns.
But as an older engaged woman, I also felt different. It was hard to relate to 20-somethings bemoaning the fact that their Girls Nights Out drinking Cosmos with their BFFs might be coming to an end. These girls clearly identified with Carrie Bradshaw. I felt more like one of “The Golden Girls”. Besides, I can hardly stay awake anymore past 9:00 PM, so I wasn’t terribly worried about losing my freedom or missing wild nights out with the girls.
On the other hand, many young brides worry about losing something more significant: their identities as independent, single women. In my case, that identity wasn’t something newfound; it had been a core part of my being for decades. As wonderful as it is to find love, getting married late in life means letting go of one’s lifelong status as a single adult (and a certain perverse pride that goes with it). At times after I got engaged, I almost felt like I was betraying my other single women friends — abandoning the “club”, as it were. I worried how my longtime single friends would react to my new status (the answer: most of my friends were very supportive and happy for me — but there were some mixed reactions. After offering congratulations, one friend blurted out, “Oh NO…this means I’m the LAST one!” I was taken aback. But frankly, had it been me, I might have reacted the same way).
Another dismaying discovery: wedding blogs are full of women confessing they “waited a really long time to get married". From the sound of it, you’d think they'd barely escaped Old-Maidhood. Then you realize these women are all in their late 20s and early-mid 30s! There is nary a mention of anyone over 40. OMG, what would they think of me?? It would be like their Great Aunt Tilly walking down the aisle…like, gross!
So while I was able to feel a certain degree of kinship with my bridal sisterhood, I mostly felt completely alienated from their ilk.
Even more alienation awaited me in wedding magazines and on wedding blogs. Naturally, they are all geared towards young women. Of course, these womens’ perspective is completely different from mine; they are just starting out — their whole lives are stretched out in front of them. They are planning families, sharing hopes and dreams of the future. My new husband and I are looking forward to shared AARP memberships and discounts at the local multi-plex. For us,“Will you still love me when I’m old and grey?” is not just a hypothetical question.
Getting engaged, however, was only the beginning. Then there was the whole question of The Wedding. Neither my fiancé nor I could even imagine having a wedding. We were much too old to make a fuss. We didn’t want all the stress and expense. We seriously considered running away and eloping. Either that or just have a really small wedding (a non-wedding). But…what if it escalated and turned into a much bigger wedding? My fiancé and I debated all of this for weeks. The eloping option was looking better by the minute. But we finally agreed on a very small family wedding at my parents’ home.
Now it was time to plan the wedding. I would have preferred to have had a root canal. I know a lot of women dream about walking down the aisle their whole lives. Some of them fantasize about their Wedding Day from the time they are little girls. That was never me. I wasn’t anti-wedding. I was just indifferent. Ambivalent about marriage in general, and even more ambivalent about weddings. One thing was for certain: I was not one of those wedding-crazed women obsessed with color schemes, bridesmaids dresses and themed bachelorette parties – ick!! I was paralyzed over the thought of calling caterers, getting estimates, renting tables and chairs, sending invites, editing the invitation list…ALL of it.
I refused to become yet another victim of the Wedding Industrial Complex. I scoffed at all those brides and their ridiculous color schemes. I laughed at all those brides who obsess over flower and seating arrangements. I ridiculed all those brides who fret about finding the perfect shoes.
And then a funny thing happened: I became one of those brides. Seriously. A month or so before the wedding, something snapped in my brain and I became BRIDEZILLA. A living, breathing stereotype. A walking, talking cliché. The dormant Bride gene had been activated. There was no hope.
For the first time in my life, I suddenly gained entry into a rarefied world previously off-limits to me. The sparkly, pastel gates opened and I entered the kingdom known as…ta da! — Wedding World!
Nothing could have prepared me for this strange, new land. If I had landed on Mars, I could not have found the terrain more foreign. And yet, I was here. I was now a member of the elite group known as “brides”. I had a wedding to plan. And there was work to be done.
Suddenly, I was spending hours online, pouring over photos, searching for the Perfect Bouquet. I looked at more bouquets in one evening than I had looked at in my entire life. I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I discovered Martha Stewart Weddings and it became my new bible. Martha Stewart Weddings?? Me? It couldn’t be possible.
It got worse. For the first time in my life, I picked up a copy of Brides Magazine at the nail salon, and leafed through its glossy pages, staring at photos of dewy skinned, lithe young women in their Size 2 Vera Wang wedding dresses. I devoured the stories about hairstyles and honeymoons. Poured over the photos of floral arrangements and wedding arbors. And took copious notes on creative ways to fold napkins. That’s when I knew I was gone.
When the dressmaker told me my wedding shoes were not the exact right shade of ivory, I raced to the shoemaker to have them dyed. Then, just to be on the safe side, I ordered a backup pair of shoes from an obscure online retailer in Beijing. (I bought a beribboned, lace-trimmed pair called “Pretty Pretty Lady Wedding Shoes”. They were pretty pretty, but they hurt hurt).
I went to food tastings. Agonized over table cloth colors. Edited and re-edited the guest list. And hand-picked every song I wanted our pianist to play. I also dieted like a fiend, in hopes of squeezing my ample Midlife midriff into my wedding dress (ladies, this is why it really helps to get married at 20).
I was completely out of control. So was my spending. I knew the security code on my VISA card by heart. The whole time I was planning my wedding, I felt like I had a neon sign on my forehead flashing, “Go ahead, rip me off — I’m a BRIDE!”. There were the outrageously expensive catering estimates, the outrageously expensive flower estimates, the outrageously expensive photographer estimates, etc. etc. (in fairness, some vendors were quite nice and very reasonable, but many were clearly rip-off artists).
Overnight, I went from being the woman who didn’t want ANY wedding to the woman who was micro-managing every last detail of a tiny wedding.
And guess what? It paid off. The wedding was absolutely perfect. Sweet. Lovely. Really small…relaxed…wonderful. We are still savoring the memories.
Which brings me to the much-anticipated wedding photos. Seeing them moves me to tears. Sure, they bring back beautiful memories. But mostly, they make me think, “Why the hell didn’t I get married when I was still relatively photogenic?!” Now I wish I’d saved some money for a much-needed facelift and tummy tuck. I get it now. There’s a reason why people get married young. It’s not because you are naïve and full of hope. It’s because you look good in your wedding photos and you don’t need hours of Photoshopping.
So that’s my story. We’ve been married for nearly two months (and they said it would never last). I can already anticipate the comments to this post. I’m sure many of you will congratulate me and wish me well (thank you!). Some of you may remind me how lucky I am to have found true love late in life (better late than never, right?). I agree. Honestly, no one is more grateful than me. Not a day goes by when I don’t marvel that it happened at all. I still can hardly believe it. Sometimes, I just have to pinch myself. And believe me, these days, there is plenty to pinch.