From her seat in the front row, the mother of the groom gazed lovingly at her son and his soon-to-be wife. A sweet image of him as a small boy arising in her memory, she jolted, suddenly hearing her name.
The young couple was looking at her and her husband — the bride’s parents, too — and thanking them for modeling marriages they could now aspire to.
For the rest of the ceremony, when she wasn’t holding her husband’s hand, she touched her wedding ring: touching the sense that every day and every decade was part of this day. It had all mattered.
This is a true story.
Of course, I was not privy to the mother-of-the-groom’s innermost thoughts, but I did witness this happen during a wedding ceremony. And no, I’m definitely not
saying she needed external reflection to feel that her marriage meant something.
What I am saying is that in our society of rugged individualism, of self-reliance, of — heaven-forbid! — codependence or enmeshment, the truth is that we are interdependent. We all need each other just as much as we need food and water.
As scientist Matthew Lieberman said, “In the West, we like to think of ourselves as relatively immune to sway of those around us while we each pursue our personal destiny. But I think this is a story we like to tell ourselves rather than what really happens. We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”
So…what does all this have to do with weddings?
Look at the expressions and postures of the people in the photos above. These wedding guests are touching…leaning in…open-faced…smiling…
They are connecting.
Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, according to Brené Brown’s research. Feeling connected satisfies our deepest hunger. Connecting awakens and enlivens; it allows us to feel happiness, joy and love.
Connection leaves an imprint on our heart; a stamp in our memory. It’s the wedding (not counting our own!) that we never forget; the one we leave feeling inspired by the impact of loving relationship.
We may think it’s enough to have gathered all our closest friends and family together; that they’ll take care of the rest. Or we may assume that our love as a couple will bring everyone into a space of closeness and connection.
In her book, The Art of Gathering
, Priya Parker writes, “When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering.”
She’s reminding us not to presume that just because we’ve brought people together for a connecting and happy occasion, they’re going to feel connected and happy. No, unfortunately simple proximity and circumstance isn’t enough. (I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been to enough of those weddings to know.)
The good news is it’s actually not that hard to foster connection, and as the first “gathering” your guests will experience at your wedding, the ceremony is the perfect place to do it.
In an upcoming blog post I will share specific ideas for ceremony rituals and elements that help create connection among your guests, and a feeling of inclusion and belonging. Even without adding something that stands out in the ceremony, though, we should think about connection as something that is baked in.
As in the story I began with, we must show how our relationships have fed and nurtured us: that we value and depend on them. We have to explicitly communicate that this day is about connection…not just between the couple, but among everyone. We need to consistently convey the message, Feeling connected to you matters to me.
Finally, if any of you are wondering whether I’m saying couples should make their wedding about other people — this, the one day some people will ever have for it to just be about them — I want to again point out our wrong-headed ideas about connection.
Consciously or unconsciously, we’ve been educated to believe connecting is a zero-sum game i
n which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss. Instead, connection is a win-win proposition: a reciprocal message that communicates, I’m here for you and you’re here for me.
It is taking to heart the old Irish saying:
“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”