GENTLE READERS: A term now in common usage that puzzles Miss Manners is “a real wedding.”
She recalls from 19th-century drama what a sham wedding was: A cad would persuade a virtuous lady to elope, produce an imposter to act as a clergyman and pretend to marry them, and shortly after, abandon her to ruin. The planning always seemed to take more time than the enjoyment.
More recently, and more sympathetically, people who were not legally allowed to marry held ersatz weddings, called commitment ceremonies, to mark their unions.
Silly Miss Manners would have thought that a “real wedding” was one in which a couple actually got married in a legal and optionally religious ceremony. Some sort of celebration almost always follows, but while that is called a “wedding reception” or a “wedding breakfast,” it is an add-on.
But now people want to divorce the marriage from the wedding. What they mean by a “wedding” is only the pageantry. The white dress, the costumed attendants, the “giving away,” the huge cake and, of course, the presents -- these may be produced without benefit of matrimony.
These events are not staged so often by couples with no intention of actually marrying (although there are instances) as they are by couples who are already married. Some are recently married and want to repeat the event for different spectators; others are long married but complain that they now want the trappings they missed at the time.
The targeted “real wedding” guests are no more charmed by this than Miss Manners. It seems that the emotional element of witnessing a binding union is essential. The legal part is so crucial that emotions do not seem to be dampened when the bride and bridegroom have previously been living as a couple. Miss Manners cannot blame them for their lack of enthusiasm for re-runs.