Stay Tuned/Marriage and Martha Stewart

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

Marriage and Martha Stewart
2 August 1998

Another brief column. I'm sorry, I can't focus tonight. One thought keeps running through my head, over and over, like a mantra:

I'm not having a wedding.

Never mind my friend who had a civil wedding and has told us that if we have a justice of the peace marry us, she'll kill us. Never mind that our parents would kill us. Forget it. No wedding. Our relationship is strong, but we'd kill each other planning it, if I didn't get a chainsaw and kill everyone around me first.

I mentioned a while back that I lean more toward the bride perspective than the groom. I understand the need for a fairy tale wedding that is absolutely meticulously perfect in every way. I feel this need. But in fairy tales, the bride doesn't actually have to plan any of this. Or pay for it.

I have here a special edition of Martha Stewart Living dedicated to weddings. It does devote a fair amount of ink, in its articles, to the idea that prospective couples might not have the resources of the U.S. Mint behind them - in short, that most people can't afford that dream wedding. But the advertisements (and the magazine is mostly ads) reflect no such sensibility.

The ads all imply, "You get married only once and it's the single most important day of your life ... so go all out! Only the best of everything." Honestly. First, getting married will not be the most important day of my life. At present the most important day of my life is the one where, soon to be jobless and with no fiscal reserves, I got a wild idea to haul off to Boston. I had no job, no friends, and no place to live waiting for me here. Nonetheless it turned out to be possibly the smartest thing I've ever done. Or the luckiest; I don't claim to have made the decision with a clear head.

One day another day may become the most important one. But it won't be my wedding, because I'm already basically married and I'm secure in that. Furthermore, if I wasn't secure in the relationship, I'd be foolish to try to make it a marriage. I'm one of these weirdos who believes that people should live together in close proximity for several years before trying to get married. I'm already there.

None of this is about consumer culture really, is it? OK. Let's talk about Martha for a little while. That'll calm me down.

I bought this magazine in the supermarket today. My true love's hatred for Martha is such that she almost refused to buy it. I would have given her the money for the magazine, but that was not the point. She honestly did not want the magazine to be seen among her purchases.

I've suggested to her before that she may be overreacting a touch, and on the way home I suggested it again. I find Martha harmless and amusing. I figure there can't be anyone who reads this stuff and takes this woman completely seriously. It's so obvious that she's a chronic overachiever, a perfectionist-cum-control freak. She does some wonderful stuff, but who really expects it to look that good? Besides Martha.

Her rejoinder was that there are plenty of people who do take Martha seriously and think that, yes, they have to make it as perfect as Martha does, and get upset when they can't. She also feels that Martha doesn't want people to be able to keep up with her - that the implied message in her TV shows and magazine is, "Look, I can do this better than you'll ever hope to, so there."

I don't disagree with that. But I think there's more here than meets the eye.

I think that Martha Stewart really has some good intentions at heart. I think that she tries for inclusiveness, that some part of her genuinely thinks she is conveying the message, "Look, this is simple. If I can do it, you can do it too." The Julia Child approach of demystifying the subject.

What Martha doesn't realize - I think she honestly doesn't see it - is that her perfectionist nature makes the tasks so daunting, so unapproachable, that it undermines her helpful message. That it becomes exclusionary.

Martha also has a lot of time on her hands. She forgets that other women don't - this is Martha's job, she doesn't have to do anything else for a living. Martha has the luxury of spending several days preparing elaborate marzipan fruit to use as a garnish for a wedding cake - the cake itself taking several more days. Most of us don't even have the spare time to make muffins on a Sunday morning, assuming we weren't too harried to learn how in the first place.

I don't dislike Martha, but I don't think anyone should take her too seriously. Mostly she just makes me laugh in disbelief: This woman stencils her own wallpaper?

When I see a Bridal Planning Calendar in this magazine, though, which starts with a column labelled "Six Months Or More In Advance," I for once cannot laugh at Martha, because this is how people actually plan weddings! I haven't planned anything six months in advance in my life, not even which college I was going to attend. Six months in advance is a vast zone of haze to me. And I like it that way.

When I look at this list of things to do for the wedding - and even after I strike out the ones which are obviously way above my income level, which is to say, about half - it strikes fear into my heart. This isn't groom fear (that'd be "Oh, god, I'm too young to settle down!") This is bride fear ("I can't possibly do all this!")

There will be no wedding. Maybe we'll elope one day.

You think this rant is bad, you should see what happens when I get started on funerals.


[February 2007:] I did eventually get married, sort of. The ceremony was held at dinner at our favorite restaurant; the only other person in attendance was the old friend who married us. We didn't tell anyone until afterward to prevent the shouting and screaming. Later, after the fact, we did throw a big party and invite the family and friends and such. It was a lovely compromise, and I think everyone has forgiven us by now. I'm very happy to have a wife who understood my misgivings and wanted to do it as quietly as I did.

You still don't want to get me started on funerals.

As for Martha, not only was going to jail not the end of her career, it seems to have done her some good; I believe she was genuinely unaware of how badly she chafed some people, and since her prison stint I have noticed that she seems to have softened a little. I admire her energy and her persistence, even if I don't care for her style. (As an exceptionally lazy person, I have a grudging admiration for go-getters.)

My wife still hates her.

and now back to our program

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