Welcome to your wedding day. As it turns out, you’ll be sharing it with plenty of others; more couples will marry in 2022 than in any other year in recent history. Still, to you and yours, this will be a day to remember, from the flowers to the food to the ridiculous balloon-awning monstrosity that your future mother-in-law insisted on. No detail will escape your notice.
Well, except maybe one.
As a former function coordinator, I’ve seen more weddings than most. I’ve seen torrential rains, heartfelt vows, bees in the centerpieces, twisted ankles, doggie ring-bearers, and blueberry pie in place of cake. And I’ve seen enough receptions to know that you, like most brides and grooms, will be too busy and excited — and, let’s face it, too blissfully young — to recognize the real treasure hiding somewhere behind all those darn balloons.
These are your MVGs… Most Valuable Guests. And yet, they are nearly invisible.
You won’t invite them into your pictures. Not the important ones, anyway. Not the ones that count. Their faces won’t appear in the formal photographs, or the silly, costumed poses for Instagram. Years from now, you’ll see them in the background of a candid shot and smile, perhaps. But not today.
You’ve seated them far from the dance floor. Far from the head table, too. They’re somewhere behind the “work friends” and the “home friends,” back by the kitchen’s swinging door. When you stop by to say hello, it will be perfunctory. A squeeze on the shoulder, a “thank you so much for coming!” You won’t sit down beside them. They won’t expect you to.
They will chew their chicken and admire the dresses and clink their glasses. You won’t notice that their smiles are tinged with melancholy as they listen to the speeches of love and happily ever after. They will hide it well. Because this is a day for fairy tales, and they will see what the speechmakers don’t.
They will see your future. Happily ever after, yes — of course. And also a little bit more.
They will see your first year after your first baby, the so-called “hardest year of marriage,” as you will learn after the fact, but not before. That year will roll in like a wind storm, stirring up ever-shifting sands of responsibility, blame and guilt. You will wonder how such bliss can be accompanied by such terror — and anger. You will wonder if you are broken. If you thought to ask them, they would take your hand and tell you that they felt it too. That everyone does.
They will also see the devastating lay-off. The fertility challenges, appearing out of the blue. Addictions of varying flavors and strengths. Down payments and loan payments and deductible payments, each with the power to strangle. Disagreements over paint color that balloon into something more dire. They will see the time at the garden center when you stop in front of a pile of gravel, stare at the multitude of tiny gray rocks, and wonder — maybe out loud, or maybe just to yourself — if it was all a big mistake.
They will see the death of your first pet and, eventually, of your second. And all the other deaths — grandma, friend, uncle, dad — that will march through your years like an invading army. Each time, you will have to depend on each other. And each time, you will learn if you can.
They will see your future. Happily ever after, yes -- of course. And also a little bit more.
They will watch as your child morphs before your eyes from wide-eyed cherub to foot-stomping toddler to dour teen to occasional stranger. That last one will sting most of all. They know that you will have to learn, then, how to be something other than “parent.” How to be yourself again. How to return to being a better half to your better half, and if two halves still make a whole.
They will watch you dance your first dance on that cobbled-together parquet floor, and they will see all the weeknights and errands. All the illnesses and sunny days. All the power struggles and new mattresses and graduations and address changes. They will see that perfect vacation at the lake. That long, cold winter when nothing will go right. The one thing you’ll say that you can’t take back. The birds that will chirp happily at your feeder, and the ones that will fly head-first into your wide glass door.
They will see it all: the “for better” and the much, much worse. And yet, when you greet them, they will say only, “Congratulations!” They will pat your smooth, unblemished hand and tell you that the cake is delicious. The best they’ve ever had. And you will float away, onto the next moment, not even realizing that you just received their wedding gift.
Someday, you will know its value. Not today, though. Today, they are just the old people at the wedding.