In First Things, bride-to-be Leah Libresco notices that all the wedding planning guides have something rather dreary in common: They don’t leave room for the wedding night. One book, she says, reminds the happy pair:
“There’s not just the one (huge) celebration to think about—kick off your engagement with a cocktail party; throw a rehearsal dinner to remember; extend the wedding-night celebrations with an after-party; and send your guests off with a post-wedding brunch.”
It can’t be that the book’s authors didn’t notice that they’d squeezed the wedding night down to nothing (this is a book that reminds you that if you’re only booking one hairstylist for you and your bridesmaids, someone will need to volunteer for the early morning slot). It’s simply that this is a plan that assumes there will be nothing particularly special about the first night that a couple spends together. It’s a to-do list for engaged couples who have already been sexually intimate before marriage and don’t need to reserve any time or energy for consummation. In all the hustle and bustle of a wedding weekend, there’s no time for non-essentials, and one more night together doesn’t manage make the schedule.
Libresco gives the kindest possible interpretation to this arrangement, saying that, likely, couples who are already used to living together want to be generous toward their friends, whom they may not see very often, or who may not get the chance to live it up. So it makes sense to host an event so lavish and long that there just isn’t any room on the schedule for sex.
Instead of recommending wedding schedules that erase the bride and groom’s obligation to (and delight in) each other, the Knot and other wedding guides might do well to carve more time out of the reception for the couple to spend together. They could borrow the tradition of the Yichud Roomfrom Jewish weddings. After they are wed, a Jewish bride and groom head into a separate, locked room for a private interlude. It may be brief (eight minutes is the minimum required) but it allows them to not be hosts, but simply to be two people, a little awed by what they’ve offered to each other.
Eight minute minimum, eh? I can just hear the scoffers scoffing. Eight minutes is more than enough, if it’s your first time! Har har.
If the idea of abstaining before marriage is foreign to you, you might enjoy bursting the bubbles of your straight-laced friends’ wedding night fantasies, informing them that two virgins having their first sex is going to be awkward and disappointing. There is some truth to this: the best sex happens between two people who not only love each other but who know each other very well; and virginal young newlyweds, by definition, do not know each other very well.
But the wedding night isn’t a big deal because of the fabulouso sex you’re guaranteed to have. It’s a big deal because it marks a turning point. It’s not supposed to be a pinnacle or culmination of anything; it’s supposed to be a beginning. It’s okay if the sex is not great, because the whole point is that now you can begin to learn how to do this amazing thing. The point is that you’re not only eager to have sex with each other, but you’re eager to start something new together. It’s not about leaving virginity behind; it’s about marking the beginning of a union, which includes but is not limited to married sex.
It’s sad that sex is no longer considered something special that husband and wife share together, something reserved for a special state in life. In a way, it’s equally sad that all the other aspects of married life are no longer considered something special that husband and wife share together, something reserved for a special state in life.
At least in Putative Trend Land, some couples are so busy, burdened, and stressed out by wedding planning that they are taking a “minimoon,” a short “honeymoon” vacation together before the wedding.
What are honeymoons made of? It’s really all about just being with each other, away from the daily grind. It’s about embarking on an unknown adventure, eating good food, sightseeing, and exploring any number of fun, new experiences. In short, it’s a vacation, one that just happens to be in celebration of a marriage. But there’s no law that says such celebratory vacations can’t happen before the “I Dos.”
But then what are they celebrating? If their life together is already a “daily grind” that makes them feel like escaping, what could a marriage ceremony possibly signify? What could marriage possibly be for?
Listen to me now. I’m an old married broad. I know all about the daily grind, and I know a lot about the joy of marriage, too; and I can tell you that what couples need is not white sand beaches or mai tais. Happy couples are couples who know how to find their happiness in being together, wherever and whenever that happens to be. Happy couples are couples who understand that the marriage they’re in is something real, something that sets them apart from everyone and everything else in their lives, something which may demand things from them, something which may pour out blessings on them, in a way that nothing else besides marriage can do.
This is why that time locked alone in a room together is indispensable.This is why that first married sexual union matters, and why time should be set apart for it — yes, even if you’ve had sex with each other before, and yes, even if it’s not going to be the bestest sex ever. You ought to be looking forward to beginning something you cannot do with anyone else, would not do with anyone else: Sex, and all the rest of it, too.
A wedding night is the starting point of something new, something different. Marriage is supposed to make you different. If your married life isn’t changing you, then what’s it for?
Image: Sir Samuel Luke “The Village Wedding” 1887; via Flickr