Wedding Dress Blues

Are You What You Wear?

By Elaine Ambrose

If love is blind, then I need a white cane instead of a white dress. My empty wedding dresses hang useless and unfulfilled, as bittersweet symbols of inflated hope that fizzled after tying the knot too loosely.

Instead of sashaying down the aisle to wedded bliss, I detoured over to Malfunction Junction. I can imagine the sleeves of these dresses slapping me in the face while some mysterious voice asks, “What were you thinking?”

I grew up singing “Going to the Chapel” along with the Crystals. Who wouldn’t be inspired with intricate lyrics such as, “Gee, I really love you”? During my college years, I was the official wedding singer, and I sang “We’ve Only Just Begun” so many times that I begged for the song to just end. As I watched my sorority sisters marry and live happily ever after, never did I aspire to get married in a lonely living room without my family (first wedding) or on top of a mountain (second wedding). But that’s what happened.

Many young women dream of floating down the aisle in an opulent white gown riveted with a thousand satin-covered buttons while braced on the arm of an adoring father. I experienced the unromantic reality of standing in a rented room in a thirteen-dollar green dress with my fiancé and an itinerant justice of the peace. My father refused to attend. He wouldn’t allow my mother or brothers to come, either. My family realized I was married when I defiantly announced my new name on live television. These facts should have been a clue that there could be some problems in the future.

We met in July of 1973 at KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, where I was working as Idaho’s first female television news anchor and talk show hostess. Although a liberated, freedom-loving female, I fell hard and fast for his dashing good looks and breezy personality. Because living together was still considered a sin in southern Idaho and I was a “public personality,” getting married seemed the right thing to do. And the marriage stopped those pesky telephone calls from my mother at 3:00 a.m. as she wondered where I was. The spontaneous independence that was an asset in my career ironically worked against the success of that first relationship. We simply skipped the inconvenient dating and engagement process and got married less than three months after we met. I remember my wise old aunt clucking her tongue and muttering, “Marry in haste, repent in leisure.” My husband and I had no idea whom we had married.

My father did not approve at all, and called my fiancé a wide variety of unflattering names that he did not deserve. When the criticism only strengthened our relationship, my father reminded me that he bought me a car for my recent college graduation. So I gave back the car. Then he said he wouldn’t pay for the wedding, even though he was the wealthiest man in the county. Just to prove my independence, I said, “Fine! Who needs a fancy wedding?” Ah, the misguided impudence of poor negotiation skills. I brashly gave up my new, red sports car and we drove away in my lover’s battered, old sedan.

(Note to self: Just because a guy is good-looking and charming doesn’t mean you should marry in haste.)

On my salary of $450 a month, I could barely afford a new peasant dress at the department store. It was green with a white collar. It wasn’t exactly storybook wedding fashion, but I didn’t care. We believed that our love could conquer all obstacles in our path, including the fact that we had no possessions and no money. (At least you can get a toaster or some sheets with a wedding.) He gave me a sixty-dollar gold band for a wedding ring. We took off work on Friday, got married, and returned to work the following Monday. That’s when I announced my new name on the air. My mother has not forgiven me, almost forty years later.

Stubborn as well as spontaneous, we stayed together almost twenty-three years. The best of those years included the birth of two incredibly wonderful children. The worst came after my father hired and then fired my husband. We were left penniless, homeless, jobless, and I was pregnant with our second child. At one point, our financial situation became so dire that I channeled my inner Scarlett O’Hara and vowed that I would never go hungry again. And, by God, I haven’t.

We divorced in 1996 but remain friends. We participate in our children’s activities, and even though the marriage failed, we appreciate the fact that our kids are successful. I remarried in 2000 at age forty-eight, and have no one to blame but myself for this monumental example of poor judgment. The man was fun-loving and could cook. What more did I need? I overlooked the fact that he didn’t have a paying job. Number Two, as my children appropriately called him, also loved alcohol. A lot of alcohol.

(Note to self: Just because a guy can cook and tell jokes doesn’t mean you should marry him.)

Once again blinded by love and terrified of becoming a spinster, I planned a spectacular wedding and funded it with my inheritance. We were married on top of Brundage Mountain near McCall. More than a hundred guests rode chairlifts to the top of the mountain overlooking Payette Lake while a jazz choir from the University of Idaho sang my favorite songs. I wore a long white knit dress with a sequined jacket that I found at an upscale department store for five hundred dollars. It made me feel beautiful.

After the ceremony, we all blew bubbles from little bottles as we descended the chair lift to the ski lodge for dinner and dancing. I stood on the balcony and sang “Summertime” with the jazz choir as backup singers. It was awesome. But again, I missed an essential clue that the marriage wouldn’t work: I paid for everything. The marriage lasted eight years, and now I pay him an annual settlement check. He’s still having fun and cooking in a house I bought in Arizona. And I gave him a luxury SUV instead of a red sports car.

The dress from the first marriage was donated to charity, but the outfit from Number Two remains in the closet. I’m thinking of shortening the dress so it becomes a summer suit. Or maybe I’ll give it to my granddaughters for dress-up clothes. Though my wedding dresses are examples of poor decisions, I still treasure the good times, the children, and all the wisdom that came from those marriages. If we learn from mistakes, I’m the smartest one in the room.

Both my children are married, and my daughter and daughter-in-law were stunning in their gorgeous white wedding dresses. I enjoyed watching them as they exchanged their vows and pledged their lives to their spouses. They took time to get to know their partners, and I believe their marriages will last. One of the best attributes of their marriages is that they show a positive, loving example to their children.

(Note to self: If you find a man who loves you for who you are and likes to laugh and love, marry him. Extra Bonus Points if he also is good-looking, charming, earns a nice income, can cook and tell jokes.)

Now I’m nearing my sixtieth birthday and can’t believe I’m so darned old. Yet I’ve been blessed with another chance at love. I’ve met a wonderful man, and we’re taking time to do it right as we make plans to commit our lives to each other. I still believe in the lyrics of the old song from the Crystals: “We’ll love until the end of time, and we’ll never be lonely anymore.” We probably won’t have a forty-year anniversary, but we’ll experience abundant life every day and live as if each day is a gift. Because it is.

(Note to self: for the next ceremony, I’m keeping my car. And I’m not buying a new white dress).

This story is reprinted, with permission, from Little White Dress: Women Explore the Myth and Meaning of Wedding Dresses. Many of the stories were drafted in one day, when women met last August at the Eagle home of Elaine Ambrose, whose company, Mill Park Publishing, released the book in October. [/private]

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