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No, You Do Not Need to Have a 'Shadow Wedding'

Illustration for article titled No, You Do Not Need to Have a Shadow Wedding

So you're getting married! And you want your union to be real and true!? You do not need to drop a cool $2,500 to $7,500 extra to do a faux ceremony in front of everyone in your "worst clothes" being "brutally honest" about your awfulness. Cute idea, tho.


A shadow wedding is an alternative wedding ceremony that takes place a week before your "traditional" ceremony, and in it, you work through a kind of "dark side" of your habits/flaws/shortcomings. It is meant to offer a stark contrast to the "light" of a trad ceremony — the giddy love blinders that are often in place (required?) to marry another human. The idea here is that the wedding is an idealized ceremony with an idealized person — why not strip that away a week before and call a spade a spade?

Think of it as stopping a traditional ceremony right when the person says "for better or for worse" and then having them elaborate, exactly, on what the worse is, just a week prior. You're not just marrying a terrific dancer with a great smile who always knows when you need a hug and cup of soup, you're also marrying someone who interrupts you a lot, is bad with money, and cannot seem to remember that you hate pesto. #neverforget


In other words, get crucial, say shadow wedding people. And right on to that, yo. But it's one thing to advocate for being honest about your shortcomings and seeing a person as clear-eyed as you can before throwing all in, and it's quite another to wrestle them in sweatpants in the woods and exchange pieces of trash (lolololol) while guests spit and growl and throw mulch on you.

You will not be shocked that the creators — Jim and Jessica Benson — live in San Fran. He's a sex/relationship coach; she's a marriage therapist, and together they are advancing the ultimate performance art. And yes, they rocked their own shadow wedding in 2010, and by all accounts it was a beaut. Whatever it takes, you know? Whatever it takes.

Say the founders:

The full spectrum of a real wedding experience, and of a real relationship, is far more multi-dimensional than these glossy images. When we marry one another, we marry all of our beloved, the light and the dark. This idealized scene omits any of the murky aspects of getting married — underlying relationship dynamics, family challenges, fear of commitment, doubts about each other — not to mention the stress and chaos involved in creating the actual wedding day.


I couldn't agree more, and honestly I truly love the spirit of that sentiment. And yet — there is already an existing experience out there that doesn't omit the murky aspects of getting married, that should explore relationship dynamics and family challenges and fear of commitment, and it doesn't require the planning of a second wedding ceremony: It's called dating. Living together. Also: Pre-marital counseling.

If you are dating someone, you are, for all intents and purposes, allegedly getting to know them. You are ostensibly finding out that they are not necessarily the person who courted you, but a real, flawed, actual person who has baggage and is sometimes going to be pretty full of shit. Just like you. This takes different lengths of time for different people, but the proposal IS, after all, an acknowledgement of you, warts and all, exactly as you are, no?


Hopefully, you've seen the red flags and you not only didn't run, but you hoisted up your own weirder red flag right beside it. Doesn't that mean that, again, ostensibly, that you KNOW the dark side already? Why add a few grand, and some embarrassing performance art to the mix, to find out what you already suspect is true?

Does that really "shore up" clear-eyed perspective or immunize you against divorce? At least one attendee of the Benson shadow wedding thinks so:

"I witnessed the real power of the shadow wedding ritual when I went to the couple's actual wedding. Because they had directly and honestly addressed their darkest aspects, it was as if the sun shone brighter that day and the couple stood fully in the light, in wholeness," says Rosy Moon Schlussel, a guest at the Benson's shadow wedding, who is also an actor, life coach and yoga instructor.


But um, and I say this respectfully, that doesn't mean dick? Wouldn't the real power of it be the lasting of the thing and the working through of the shit on the daily? Talking about your flaws certainly takes awareness, but if you've ever heard anyone who spent years in therapy talk about themselves, being able to rattle off an astute laundry list of their "issues" with mad insight is a world apart from changing, trying to change, being able to change, or even being sorta tolerable in a relationship. Puhlease.

Proof, rather, of owning your issues, is doing the work every day. Everyone has baggage, it's the living with it that counts. To be clear, the process of the shadow wedding involves four to six months of counseling prior to getting married — and I think that's an excellent idea in general.


All that said, though: Who would disagree that perhaps the wedding ceremony as-is could stand for some inventive, fresh approaches? The thing is, you can already get married in shitty regular clothes, and be "brutally" honest in your vows by simply expanding on for better or for worse yourself in the one ceremony (says a piece on Vocativ about the "shadow vows": Common examples: "I vow to never pick up my socks and wash the dishes only after you've asked me 10 times," and "I vow to focus on my career more than you."), And, believe me, some of your friends already are hissing and groaning, just silently. You don't have to double the ceremonies or the cost for that added bonus.

But hey, to each his or her own shadow. Half of all marriages, yadda yadda. If the ugly loafer fits.


Image via kongsky/Shutterstock.

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When I saw the phrase "shadow wedding," here are some things I thought it might refer to before I clicked through to read this post:

  • Shadow puppet performers at your wedding ceremony. (After first dance, before cake cutting, naturally.)
  • Hiring actors to appear as the bride and groom so the actual couple can go fucking eat something without a guest trying to talk to them.
  • Wedding photography created entirely with some weirdass dark Instagram filter.
  • A second wedding for all those d-list people you didn't want to invite to your real wedding.
  • A ritual in which one partner has to descend into a hellscape alternate universe to rescue the other from eternal doom.

And yet I clicked through and thought "Nope, the real thing is way worse than what I imagined."