Why We Stare at Brides


By Mark JudgeBarbWire guest contributor

It didn’t start out as a social experiment, but it became one.

A young woman from the neighborhood was getting married. The family invited me, and asked that I take some pictures. They had an official wedding photographer, but I’m a photojournalist and would get some backup shots. This was fine with me — I actually prefer that role, as I think that people look much more natural and beautiful when they are not posing.

So I was a participant in the ceremony, but also something of an outsider. I could be close to the wedding party, yet also watch those watching the ceremony, which was at Georgetown University in Washington. It was a position that left me with a question.

Why are we so mesmerized by wedding brides?

I realize all the usual, and correct, answers. She’s beautiful. It’s an important day. People like to see happy things.

But all of this could apply to seeing a group of women out on the town celebrating a birthday. People are not mesmerized by a girl’s night out. They are mesmerized — some seem frozen in place — when they see a bride. It was a rich and funny experience to be a fly on the wall and watch people abandon their shopping bags, friends, and even smartphones (other than to take pictures) and simply stand and stare. And stare. And stare. And stare.

They stare, some of them with deep longing, because that in a world that insists on being more and more secular and selfish, a woman on her wedding day is a shocking countercultural totem of resistance. She is a defiant sign that immortality can be touched when you make yourself a gift to another human being. The groom does this also, of course, but men tend to be more violent, promiscuous, and in in the evolutionary order of things, more expendable. People might notice the groom, say he looks handsome, but they positively forget themselves when they see a bride.

Women are more moral (look at the prison population), are the primary transmitters of life and culture, and just smell better. There is just something divine about them. As pornography, dressing down, and feminism keep trying to drag them down to the guys’ level, the wedding gown reveals their true selves. And in the metaphysical scene of things it is much more crucial to human flourishing than “equal pay for equal work.”

Real men know that the woman’s true self is worth loving, protecting, and dying for. The best women call us out of ourselves. They teach us discipline, self-sacrifice, and giving ourselves up for future generations and for love. And not romantic love, but the love, as Pope Benedict XVI once put it, that goes all the way to the end; the love that endures through sickness, depression, disease, even indifference. That is why we stare at brides in their white. We stare in awe and in gratitude.

The night after the wedding, I went to see a great band from Austin, My Jerusalem, play at the historic State Theater in Virginia. I was mulling what I was going to put in the wedding video I was putting together for my friends. Then the band provided the answer, in their song “Mono.” Here are the opening lyrics:

You’re gonna die in this room
In your twin size coffin tomb.
When all your friends have bailed out,
Who will rescue you now?

The sheets, they make you itch
And bedsores make you twitch.
And you just can’t figure out
How you’ve gotten here somehow.

I wanna be the one who rolls you over.
I wanna be the one who rolls you over.

Not your typical wedding vows, but it hits the mark.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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