Bride Speeches: Why I Decided to Speak at My Own Wedding

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I went to more weddings that I can count in the years before I myself got married in 2011—so many that my best friend Leslie joked we should make concert-inspired tees listing all of the stops on our sprawling national wedding tour. There were country club weddings in Nashville; big, fat catering hall bonanzas on my native Long Island; one desert dance party in Phoenix. Along the way, I observed varying customs: where I’m from, the wedding party is introduced in grand fashion by the DJ before dancing, as absurdly as possible, into the reception. This would have never flown at one Southern shindig where the men wore white-tie, replete with tails. But one constant seemed to hold no matter the state, religion, or ethnicity of the couple: the brides did not speak.

The father of the groom typically gave a speech at the rehearsal dinner. More often than not, the father of the bride stepped up to the mic and made the customary speech at the wedding reception. I remember grooms piping in at the rehearsal, too, with gracious remarks for both families, and tender, aww-inducing closers directed at the bride (or in a couple of cases on my wedding “tour,” the other groom) about how eager he was to get married the following day. These speeches were largely lovely (even if my own dad went over my three-minute time guidance by more than double). But while an assortment of men rose from their seats, cleared their throats, and clinked crystal glasses, I felt myself glancing eagerly at the brides as they remained seated and silent in variations of white cocktail dresses. I wanted to hear what they had to say; how they felt about their families and fiancés in a moment that is so relentlessly hyped for women and girls. In my experience, mothers of the bride and groom spoke slightly more often than brides themselves but still less than fathers, leaving the anecdotes and jokes and mood and tone to the guys. Maybe it’s just the undying journalist in me, but not hearing from the bride felt like missing the heart of the story.

Many wedding traditions already carry a lingering whiff of patriarchy: fathers (at least of Christian couples) walking daughters down the aisle; brides’ families paying for the reception; father of the bride speeches. The word “dowry” is not not ringing in my head. As a bridesmaid, and then an engaged woman, I began to see just how much effort, energy and funds were funneled into matrimonial beauty, from multiple hair and makeup trials, to eyebrow shaping, gel manis, tactfully self-tanning, and subscribing to a workout routine that would yield Michelle Obama arms. To only hear men’s booming voices during the wedding weekend itself fueled a nagging sensation that brides were still expected to be seen and not heard; to smile brightly and look glowingly pretty and be appraised on their appearance, not their words. I couldn’t let that stand at my own wedding; neither could my mother, apparently, who gave a beautiful speech at our Floridian reception.

“Who stands in the middle of the ballroom after three glasses of Champagne on a completely empty stomach—and I mean completely empty, because fitting into this dress meant no solid food for three weeks? Who does that?” Miriam “Midge” Maisel asks as she takes the mic at her own wedding reception in the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “I do.” As a standup comedienne waiting to happen, Midge can’t resist the allure of the audience. “I thought I should get up here today and tell all of you that I love this man.” The applause was uproarious as she performs a shtick about meticulously planning her life, from declaring Russian lit as her major at age six to finding her signature ‘do at 12.

I can appreciate that public speaking is white-hot terror for most people, regardless of their gender, and that brides should be able to speak, or not speak, at will. While I am outspoken and outgoing, the thought of public speaking still makes me flush hot pink and literally shake. But I resolved to do it anyway at our rehearsal dinner, which felt less scary in its smaller scale. I didn’t want to just sit and have my dress and bouncy hair remarked upon. I wanted, as ever, for my voice to be heard. When I stood up in my chair, there was a little ripple of pleasant surprise to see the bride at the front of the room. I barely remember what I said, apart from thanking my in-laws for a beautiful dinner, likening my husband’s never-fading handsomeness to George Clooney’s and referring to my mom as the “guiding light of my life,” which is true but, especially for a writer, feels in retrospect like a cringe-y, overly sentimental way of putting it. Looking back, I don’t care. It’s less about what I said and more that I said something at all.

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