Suzanne Fields
"Here Comes Bridezilla." The wedding march is from Wagner's Lohengrin, the bride wears a long white gown. The ceremony is designer chic and color-coded for glamour. It's almost June, the month of the bride, and this year, in many precincts, it's the year of "Bridezilla." This is the name coined by Carley Roney, editor in chief of Knot, a wedding-planning Web site, who encounters a lot of brides who are more concerned with their wedding videos and their photographs in the society pages of their newspapers than with post-wedding-bells reality. Bridezilla's bridesmaids rinse their blond hair in bottle tones of carefully matching shades. The floral decorations are synchronized with the stages of the ritual - white roses suggest purity in church or synagogue, pink petals grace the hall for champagne cocktails (foreplay with flowers) and deep red roses reflect sexy flower-power for dining and dancing. Overweight friends of the bride selected for her wedding party either go on a diet or join a gym during the engagement or they're out of the party. Those who don't "lighten up" are demoted to mere guests, fortunate to get a pew in the back of the church. "But it's their 15 minutes of fame," Roney tells the New York Times, "so they can rationalize it." The wedding day may seem like 15 minutes, but the lucky ones are those who will have children and stay married for the long, less-than-glamorous domestic life, when their bridesmaids' hair has turned from gold to silver. They're bucking a trend. The latest Census Bureau figures show that the nation's 54.5 million married couples, with or without children, make up barely half of American households. Fewer than a quarter of these households consist of married couples with children. Cohabitation is up, marital bliss is down, and early marriage is out. Both men and women are marrying later. The troubling statistic is the one pertaining to single-parent families: The number of single-mother families grew nearly five times faster in the past decade than those of married couples with children. The numbers of single fathers grew, too, and single-father families now make up 2.1 percent of all American households, an increase of 62 percent in the 1990s. We can laugh at Bridezilla, the neurotic, obsessively driven perfectionist who sees life as performance, a page out of Vogue, an advertisement out of a Victoria's Secret catalog. It's easier for a control freak to control a wedding than a marriage. As the reality of marriage settles in, Bridezillas, like the rest of us, learn the hard way that there's lots they can't control after the flowers wilt and the champagne goes flat. If a second marriage, in Dr. Johnson's famous formulation, is a triumph of hope over experience, lasting first marriages are increasingly constructed of gossamer. A headline succinctly captures the contemporary spirit of the latest census figures: "Matrimony: The Magic's Still Gone." An astonishingly high divorce rate plagues even the Bible Belt. Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, which has one of the highest divorce rates, has declared a "marital emergency." Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma calls for a "marriage initiative." Huckabee was a Southern Baptist pastor before he got into politics and Keating is a devout Roman Catholic. They understand that religious and cultural attitudes are more concerned with alleviating the pain of the divorcing principals than paying attention to the damage divorce does to the children. The most persuasive messages on behalf of marriage tells us that single-parent families are responsible for society's latest class divisions, more pivotal than income or race. "Nearly three-fourths of children in single-parent families will experience poverty by age 11, as against only about a fifth of children in two-parent families," reports the National Journal. Before the 1960s, blacks were more likely to marry than whites. Illegitimacy rates in the 1990s have more than tripled for blacks; 70 percent of black children today are born illegitimate. In 1960, illegitimacy rates for whites were a mere 2 percent; today they're 27 percent and climbing. Economic, psychological and intellectual promise for both blacks and whites favor those who grow up with two parents. The latest dividing line between the haves and the have-nots is a factor of two, as in, two parents. This was once cultural common sense. A father who left his kids was a creep. The unwed mother a figure of pity. Today it's business as usual. Bridezilla will learn that lots of things are harder to plan than the color of flowers at the wedding. The most important is what's likely to make a marriage last.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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