Every so often, I run into a harried bride-to-be who is absolutely freaking out over wedding plans. Even with my own low-key, low-budget wedding I remember losing sleep over whether it we really needed spoons, or if we could get away with wooden coffee stirrers. It was so hard to prioritize when there were so many decisions to make, especially when I had no experience planning something so large. Everything seemed equally urgent, but I knew there was no possible way I could get it all done right on time. Freak out!
Now I've been to many weddings, big and small, fancy and plain, and this is the advice I give to brides:
1. Remember that nobody else knows what it was supposed to be like. You're the only one comparing the fantasy with the reality. Everyone else just sees what's there, and probably thinks it's fine.
and, more importantly:
2. The main thing that people will remember about your wedding is whether or not the bride and groom looked happy together.
All the other details fade away in people's minds, but a look of pure joy, or the sensation of deep misery, is what will linger. And that's the kind of thing that most people will take away as an example, too: I want to be happy like that! Or, I would hate to be that miserable. That is what they will remember, when they think of your wedding.
If this is true for a wedding, it's also true for a marriage. There will always be petty people who are stuck on externals: "Oh, she dresses her children in Gymboree and Hanna Andersson, but you just know she bought them second hand!" (I actually heard someone say this.) But a good many people will be able to look at a family and see right away if the parents and children look happy or not. And when they do look that way, it's very, very good for the world to see. That is what they will remember about families.
Please don't misunderstand. Sometimes families are unhappy and there's nothing they can do about it. Suffering isn't a sign that you're doing something wrong or a sign that God is displeased with you. If your family is unhappy, the cause of your misery is a heavy enough cross, and the last thing you should worry about is how you look to outsiders. Pasting a fake happy face on suffering should have no part in Catholic culture. (I am, in general, opposed to forcing a smile when there's something else going on on the inside.)
But for too many Americans, marriage is what they see on sit coms: just an artificial framework where men are derided, women are disappointed, and children bring nothing but hassles and grief to their parents. That's what they think marriage is. Why would anyone want a part of that?
So if you are happy . . . if you love your spouse, if your kids bring you joy, if you are delighted with your family and if your life brings you satisfaction and contentment -- oh, let it show. Tell people about it. Be happy in public. Let people know that you want to be together, that your marriage and your children are good things, that you enjoy them and are glad they are here The world needs to see that.
And that is what they will remember when they think about marriage.