Tossing feminism for a chance to catch the bouquet
I had a good feeling going into the bouquet toss. I was prepared to demonstrate the animalistic skills that I had developed with years of training in my grandmother’s back yard in Sparks. I was 7. My 9-year-old sister, my cousin Lisa, age 10, and I spent many afternoons tossing and catching fake bouquets. We were planning for our futures. We trained almost weekly until our skills were put to the test at my uncle’s wedding later that year.
The bouquet was tossed. It was headed toward me. I felt foliage in my palms. My future would be solid. This definitely meant marriage for me.
Suddenly, the bouquet was gone from my hand into the arms of my older and equally ambitious cousin, Lisa.
By the way, Lisa’s engaged now. I’m not.
In 1982, when I was 3, I was handed a bouquet by a shy and embarrassed bridesmaid.
I remember being totally overjoyed when the wayward bridesmaid handed me that bouquet of daisies. I thought it meant something. I thought it was security. I would definitely be getting married, and when I was 3, I planned on getting married at least three times so I could have three weddings. What I really wanted were three wedding dresses. By the age of 5, I had decided that I didn’t need three weddings, just eight children. When I was 12, I planned to get married when I was 22. At 22, the age of 25, or even 30 (God forbid) sounded more reasonable.
I’m not sure what I was doing in the middle of the bouquet toss at 3 years old, because odds were, I wasn’t going to be the next to get married.
Actually, I do know what I was doing in the middle of that bouquet toss; I’ve always wanted to get married. It seems to be some kind of innate instinct with which I was born. It is a lot like my instinct to breathe or to eat.
This is something I have trouble admitting. You see, I claim to be the independent type. I have an academic history, as well as a personal history, rooted in feminism. My mother deliberately never taught me to iron, so that a man would never want to marry me (or at least never expect me to iron for him). I got an “A” in my feminist theory class. I criticize tradition. I scoff at women who need men.
I am a hypocrite.
Life in the battlefield of the bouquet toss grew more complicated as I did. I’m now at the age where my friends are getting married. I’m now at the age where women are seriously desperate to catch a bouquet. I have a feeling this desperation derives from the age limit we all set for ourselves when we were 5, or even 20.
The catching of a bouquet is such a silly superstition. It has been proven over and over again throughout my vast experience that the catching of the bouquet does not guarantee you will be the next to get married. It doesn’t mean anything at all, except that you get to take home an additional souvenir from a wedding … and a little piece of hope.
I’ve tried to avoid the ugly scene when the DJ announces the bouquet toss. Historically, I’ve stood near the back. I’ve noted that bouquets often fall near the front, but the front lines are way too dangerous. I had never felt the desperation that might draw one forward.
Don’t get me wrong. I silently prayed that the bride would be overcome with wedded bliss, toss her bouquet with gusto and send it straight to me on the outskirts of the crowd. Then I would know that God exists and likes me and, more importantly, that I, too, would be getting married.
This, however, never happened.
Now, at age 22, I’ve never caught a bouquet and walked away with it.
This didn’t really matter much to me until my sister’s wedding day on a Sunday last September.
I knew from the beginning of her engagement that this was the bouquet toss where I had to get aggressive. This was the moment that I would betray Woolf, Rich, Frieden and Dinnerstein for a chance at catching a bouquet. I announced my intentions to my best friend, Nicole, early on. I knew Nicole was going to be my fiercest competition during the bouquet toss at my sister’s wedding.
“I have to catch the bouquet at Christina’s wedding.”
I hoped Nicole would sympathize with my plight. She didn’t.
“I’m going to catch it. I’m getting married next.”
Of course she wouldn’t sympathize. Nicole would sacrifice her own parents for a chance at marriage.
“It is bad form not to catch the bouquet at your own sister’s wedding. Besides, you don’t even have a boyfriend.” My sudden, unforeseen viciousness surprised me.
“So what? I’m going to catch any bouquet that I can,” she dodged and counterattacked, undaunted. “And it’s not like Mark is going to propose to you before you’re 30.”
Nicole already has the colors of her wedding picked out. She has decided on her dress, her favors, her ring, her flowers. Just about the only thing she doesn’t have picked out is the groom. I often find myself lecturing her about how marriage isn’t the most important thing in life, how she should be the most important thing in her life, and that it is OK if she isn’t married before age 23.
Because it is OK. Right?
Nicole hates my boyfriend, Mark. Mark feels the same about Nicole. It is a long and sordid tale, but let us just say that the two years that Mark and I have been together have challenged my friendship with Nicole. She delights in the fact that Mark is anti-marriage. I just think he is anti- the $17,000 engagement ring I have picked out.
My gay friend, Josh, says that if a man hasn’t proposed to you after two years in a relationship, he is just “playing” you. Nicole eagerly agrees with Josh’s theory. Mark says that Josh is gay and his theories on the relationships between men and women are void.
Christina, my sister, knew of my bouquet-catching intentions. She wanted nothing more than for me to catch it, but the bouquet toss was not going to be rigged. It was going to be fair for all the maidens in the land. I wanted to win the bouquet fairly, or it might not be an authentic catch. This was the bouquet I was going to risk looking desperate to catch. This was the bouquet for which I was going to reveal myself as a hypocrite. I would just tuck my feminist consciousness away for a couple of minutes while I demonically delighted in the pleasures of oppressionistic behavior.
I was dangerously stepping into Nicole’s territory, but it was going to be worth it.
The wedding was incredible. I could devote pages to the beauty and perfection of the event, but that might overshadow the importance of the bouquet toss. We gathered for the reception at Johnny’s Ristorante Italiano on Fourth Street.
At 9 p.m., the DJ announced the sacred event.
Nicole and I took our places.
In the front.
A pack of single women stood behind us. Nicole began to push me. I pushed her back. We were playful. We were having fun, but our competitiveness was now revealed to the public. The DJ began yapping about how we looked like football players and how dangerous things were out on the dance floor.
He had no idea.
Christina spun around once. I felt myself tense with nervousness. Everything was on the line. I felt my hands begin to shake. Christina spun around a second time. The pressure I felt was smothering, yet energizing me. I couldn’t breathe. I felt Nicole’s elbow in my ribs, trying to box me out. Christina spun around for the third and final time. The bouquet was released from her hands. I watched it travel up, up, up. Then it fell down, down, down … right onto Christina. I ran forward and picked it up. I held it over my head in a false victory. I wanted my bouquet catch to be legitimate, so I gave it back to Christina to throw again.
The DJ began babbling words of encouragement for a better toss. She spun again. Once, twice, I still couldn’t breathe, three times. The bouquet went up. I reached up for it. I felt the foliage, then the sense of relief, the sheer joy. But as I reached, I felt my dress begin to fall.
Have I mentioned the strapless purple dream I was wearing?
Well, the dress was incredible. As maid of honor, I had my own special dress that I selected myself. My perfect dress had turned on me. I realized that I must make a choice between flashing my entire family and really being vulnerable or letting Nicole catch the bouquet. She was conveniently located right next to me. She also had a hand in the bouquet. I could no longer deny my feminist consciousness.
Instinctively I wanted to catch the bouquet, but pulling up my dress seemed instinctively more important. I let the bouquet go into Nicole’s hands as I struggled to pull my dress back up.
I was completely humiliated. I felt like the stupid woman I had worked my whole life not to be. All I could hear was laughter. Nicole tried to hand me the bouquet, but I could tell she didn’t mean it. I walked off the dance floor and into my mother’s arms. She assured me that I hadn’t flashed the entire family, but I did come close.
Unfortunately, later pictures proved otherwise.
By this point, the single men in the room had assembled for the garter toss. I asked about eight more people if I had indecently exposed myself. They all said no. Liars. It didn’t help. My life was over. I was never going to get married. Losing the bouquet was a sign from above.
Kris, my new brother-in-law, flipped the garter as if it were a rubber band. I watched in disbelief as Mark snatched it willingly from the air. The DJ called forth the woman who caught the bouquet to dance with Mark, the man who had caught the garter.
Nicole motioned for me to go dance with him, right after she mentioned to me:
“I didn’t even reach for the bouquet; it just fell into my hands.”
But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t catch the bouquet; she did. Mark sauntered over, with the garter around his right bicep, and said, “What happened with you? I kept my end of the deal.”
Nicole and Mark met hesitantly on the dance floor. Once the music started, both instantly seemed to enjoy the thrill of being the center of attention.
Neither displayed feelings of hatred. As a matter of fact, they seemed to like one another quite a lot. I felt betrayed, incredibly miserable. I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was reacting desperately.
I wanted to yell at Nicole, “That was my bouquet! Are you so terrified of the idea that I might get married first that you have to sabotage all my hopes of marriage?”
I wanted to yell at Mark, too.
“What is this sudden shift in philosophy? You don’t want to get married. Or at least you don’t want to get married until you’re ‘done living your life.’ Well, what happened? And what ‘deal’ are you talking about? We never made a ‘deal.’ As far as I know, you are adamantly opposed to making any kind of ‘deal’ if marriage is at all related. Don’t pretend like you want to get married just for the sake of ceremony. I can’t handle conflicting messages!”
I didn’t yell. I flashed my fake smile and took a seat far from the dance floor. I told myself to keep smiling or I might start crying, and then I would really look hopeless. There is nothing worse than a crying bridesmaid.
The song ended and life went on.
I read in the paper that Gloria Steinem got married the same weekend as my sister. I shared the exciting news with Mark, and he was especially surprised, because he thought she was “dead or something.”
I’m sure the issues she had with getting married dwarf the ones I have with not getting married. I’m also pretty sure there was no bouquet toss at her wedding.
I know that just because Gloria Steinem got married, it doesn’t make my desire to catch a bouquet any more politically correct. I just see it as another sign from above. It takes the edge off my pathetic existence. Hopefully this story, this desire, this need will be something me and my 37 cats can laugh about when I’m 40 and still single.
Author Nora Ephron once wrote, “It seemed to me that the desire to get married—which, I regret to say, I believe is basic and primal in women—is followed almost immediately by an equally basic and primal urge—which is to be single again.”
I keep reading this quote as a form of therapy. I rock back and forth in the fetal position and repeat it to myself like a mantra. Well, yes, I am exaggerating, but I do find a sense of solace in Ephron’s words.
I feel less isolated in my pitiable state knowing that other women might feel the same, and that if Gloria Steinem, the feminist of all feminists, can get married, then it might be OK for me, too.
I don’t think my need to know that I will get married is abnormal (sick, yes; abnormal, I hope not). If someone is willing to spend the rest of his life with you, then you must be worth something. Perhaps marriage is the great redeemer. It proves that someone loves you, besides your parents, who have to love you. Perhaps women are so desperate when it comes to the bouquet toss because they are so desperate to prove to themselves, as well as to the world, that they, too, are worth loving.
I graduated from college summa cum laud. I’m working on my master’s degree. I have a good job, and I’m a reasonably good person. One bouquet toss made me feel completely worthless, humiliated and alone.
Perhaps I should apply my success in training for life to training for the next bouquet toss.
I just have to make up my mind about which is more important.
Michelle Depoali is a graduate student in the English department at the University of Nevada, Reno.