We Don't Display Our Wedding Photos
Are we monsters? Maybe.
If I'm lucky, I'll never be able to put my finger on the happiest day of my life.
When I was a tween babysitter, I was fairly sure that over-the-top wedding collages went hand in hand with unhappiness. In suburban southern California in the ‘90s, the wealthy parents who hired me covered their walls and shelves with intensely art-directed versions of themselves embracing on weirdly empty dance floors, cutting monstrous cakes with soap-opera intensity and gazing at each other with solemn expressions that seemed to say “yes, my love, the world is ending, but we will always have each other and this already-dated formalwear.”
I’d sit in those de facto shrines and contemplate the mysteries of adult romance for a few hours, then re-meet their subjects at the end of their date nights when they were worn out, irritable and anxious to drop me off at home and go to sleep. Maybe they have to remind themselves that they used to be in love, I thought. (To be fair, I was really into Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations at that point, so I also associated fixating on one’s wedding day with the decrepit, unfortunate Miss Havisham. “[E]verything in [her] room had stopped,” Dickens’s young narrator observed, “like the watch and the clock, a long time ago.”)
My own eventual wedding produced a big old shrine’s worth of photos: Our photographer, a fantastically talented documentarian and family friend, took hundreds of fabulous pictures of my now-husband and me. Unlike the over-posed folks I remembered from my babysitting days, we just looked like a couple having a really good day.
Neither of us had — or has — much interest in filling our apartment with those images.
So, what gives? Do we think we’re better than the collage enthusiasts? Are we trying to give the impression that we’re modest? Are we a cold and loveless pair? Well, here’s the thing.
There’s no secret passageway in our house.
If I owned a massive, spooky mansion (like Miss Havisham’s), you’d better believe I’d frame and display the significantly-larger-than-life portraits of me and Joe that our photographer blew up and sent our way for reasons known only to him, and that I’d cut tiny holes in each of our pupils so we could creep behind them and observe visitors in secret. On the walls of a small city apartment, by contrast, I suspect our huge faces would just look like old-timey political propaganda, and I already voted for us.
I see that guy all the time.
Joe and I moved in together when we graduated from college, and we’ve spent the vast majority of our time in each other’s company ever since. I can’t say that I could close my eyes and draw his face from memory — I’m no artist — but I have a solid grasp of what he looks like. If oceans or truly punishing work schedules divided us, I’d consider wearing a tasteful cameo with his photo and a lock of his hair. For now, I’m set.
We’re not (super) old.
In the 12 years since our wedding day, I’ve removed my eyebrow piercing, gained some freckles and bleached my hair. Joe, in turn, has grown a beard and acquired a bit of silver at his temples. I imagine that in another decade or two it will be exciting and/or depressing to compare ourselves to the infants who exchanged vows all those years ago, but commemorative photos don’t have the zing of historical significance yet.
That’s not us.
I began my career in women’s magazines, a sometimes-wonderful, sometimes-weird industry notorious for taking weddings Really Seriously. I was not immune to its hype, and when we got married, I was keenly aware that my groom and I were expected to be better-looking than we are on any other day of our lives. That’s why we all spend so much on clothes and stylists and photographers and albums, right? We were also expected to be happier than we are on any other day of our lives — which is why couples revisit all those images, no?
I didn’t think much of those expectations, but I did wonder if there was something wrong with me when I saw our photos and thought, “well, that was nice." Why didn’t I want a shrine?
We have our shrine, but it’s one that only we can see: It’s junk drawers full of international ticket stubs, the patina on our cast-iron pizza pan, a rectangle where the sun has bleached the table around the record player.
If I’m lucky, I’ll never be able to put my finger on the happiest day of my life.