Two stories about marriage have been in the news in the past week.
One was the new study that shows that 48% of American households are now made up of unmarried people, compared to only 22% in 1950. This was immediately seized as proof that the institution of marriage should be considered an endangered species.
They failed to take into account the fact that we’re all living a lot longer now than we did fifty years ago, and many senior citizens who are widows and widowers would now fall into that unmarried category. Also, more people are realizing that “until death do you part” isn’t nearly as long if you get married in your thirties as opposed to right out of high school, which was the norm half a century ago.
The other marriage story involved the tragedy in Israel, when the dance floor at a large wedding gave way on the third floor of a Jerusalem catering company. About 300 people were injured and 23 died. It was an amazing story, and there was amazing video aired on newscasts everywhere.
Aside from the horror of the carnage, what astonished me was the fact that those 323 people only made up half of the total number of people who were there. The reports said there were 650 attendees at the wedding reception.
Six hundred and fifty!
No wonder the dance floor gave way. That’s a lot of people doing the Bunny Hop all at once. Or, more likely in this case, the Hebrew dance known as the hora.
I’ve never been to a wedding that large. Most of the ones I’ve been invited to included somewhere between 150 and 200 people. But after this incident, I asked several friends who told me that, yes, they’ve been to and even had huge wedding receptions themselves – four or five hundred was not an uncommon number.
That’s a lot of “chicken or beef?” decisions. And a helluva large catering bill.
I don’t even know that many people. At some point, you must be inviting in-laws of friends of roommates of relatives whom you have never even met in the first place.
That’s where the crazy dancing comes in. People who would be scared to death to get up and dance in front of close friends have no such trepidation getting up (and down) in front of distant cousins they’ll never see again, especially when the wedding band breaks into Kool & The Gang’s “Celebrate.” Come on!
Pretty soon the dance floor is filled with middle-aged folks moving more awkwardly than Trent Lott at a Jim Jeffords hug-a-thon. This is endlessly amusing to everyone under 30, who turn their backs so that the bride doesn’t see them guffawing at the way her father thinks he’s Tony Manero but looks more like Tony Soprano.
Now gather round – so that the waiters can clear away that salad you didn’t eat because it looked like it was made up of yard rakings and assorted oak leaves – and watch the bride’s father and the groom’s mother fight back tears to the sounds of “Sunrise Sunset.”
One wedding tradition that always makes me cringe is when the band is playing a fast song that has attracted everyone to the dance floor (the music will either be “Shout” or “Hava Nagila” depending on ethnicity), and someone brings out The Chairs Of Death. Suddenly, the bride and groom are being hoisted overhead by several burly men.
These are almost always the same guys who were taking advantage of the open bar earlier, so the concept of balance is no longer a physical priority. More than once I’ve seen either the bride or groom spilled or dropped to the floor.
This doesn’t dissuade the crowd, who then force the parents of the betrothed into The Chairs. You haven’t seen horror until you’ve seen the groom’s mother clinging to her chair for dear life, knowing that she’s just moments away from a gravitational encounter she’ll remember for weeks.
As the evening wears on, the band weaves its way through all the wedding band classics. Although “Close To You” and “Color My World” have long since been dropped from their repertoire, you can count on valiant attempts to imitate Louis Armstrong on “What A Wonderful World” and Whitney Houston on “Greatest Love of All.” And every husband in the room will be dragged into a slow dance against his will to “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Time Of My Life.”
For some reason, this is usually followed by “YMCA,” and everyone hits the dance floor to twist their body into alphabetical contortions. I seem to be the only one who sees the irony in everyone celebrating the pairing of two heterosexual people by loudly singing a song that is essentially a gay anthem.
And now that you’re on your feet, let’s boogie down cliche street with “We Are Family,” “Old Time Rock and Roll,” and, if we’re lucky, “The Duck Dance!”
Perhaps those marriage researchers overlooked something.
Maybe some of the unmarrieds among the invitees see the spectacle of all those suits and dresses doing “The Electric Slide” — plus the sight of 70 year old Aunt Matilda trying to keep up with her 13 year old grandson while the band plays “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” – and decide right then and there to stay single just one more year.
Now, while we serve dessert, won’t you please join the happy couple back on the dance floor as we play the song they told us was their song: “Love Theme From Pearl Harbor.”