Pre-Wedding “Shadow Weddings” Commit You to Each Other’s Dark Sides Before You Tie the Knot. Who’s In? 

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This week, there has been a bunch of talk on this idea of the “shadow wedding.” We saw it on Jezebel and we saw it on Good Morning America and we poked around the actual Shadow Wedding website. (Because this isn’t a general thing that people are just kinda doing, you see—it is a particular service provided by a particular couple who have set up a particular shop in order to sling the shadow wedding.)

This is basically the deal with the shadow wedding:


  • You sign on with this couple, Jim and Jessica Benson, who are based in San Francisco, and who started this whole thing a few years ago after they performed their own shadow wedding just before their actual wedding.
  • The actual shadow wedding, which usually takes place about a week before you tie the knot for reals, is a ceremony in which you both acknowledge each other's darker sides, the fact that relationships and marriage aren't all unicorns and rainbows all the time, and admit your flaws and your fears and all of the things that people truly don't very often say out loud:

The goal is to acknowledge "aspects of the individuals that are less than glorious, knowing that's what comes up in a relationship," said Benson, 40.

It's a way to make sure you're in love with a person's darkest side before you commit to their best parts, her husband explained.

  • A lot of people wear dark and/or crappy clothing and do the ceremony at night, and most invite their closest family and friends to come witness this unloading.
  • For facilitating all of this, you will pay the Bensons between $2,500-$7,500.

You'll be glad to know, in case you're sitting there saying "Whaaa?" that the Bensons acknowledge this sort of thing is certainly not for everyone—a sentiment that was also quickly echoed when I ran this concept by Jennifer Hendler of Intentional Weddings, who is a Philly-based wedding officiant and licensed social worker with a background in family therapy. But Hendler is on board: "These shadow weddings really do counter how we focus on weddings in this culture, which would be very uncomfortable to most people," she says. "In this culture, the image of the perfect wedding day is what gets the most attention. Couples are really spending ninety-some percent of their energy on the presentation, and the emotional stuff comes up, but doesn't really get attended to so much."

I mean for me, personally—and as I have said a million times before, when it comes to weddings, people should do whatever floats their about-to-be-married boats and works for them; there is, perhaps, no better time to do that, matter of a fact—I absolutely one-hundred percent agree with all the sentiments here: We have all seen the bride or the couple who is much more focused on the wedding (the party) instead of the marriage (you know, life), and that's not a great plan for starting off on the right married foot. And relationships and marriage are not all unicorns and rainbows all the time, and you had better be talking about all the stuff about each other that you aren't exactly obsessed with and all of the things you know you need to work on and all the things you're scared and apprehensive of and all of that.

But if you are getting married, you had better be doing that anyway! Whether it's in premarital counseling or on the couch on Sunday nights with your person and a bottle of wine.

My other initial reaction was to not agree with the Bensons' sentiment that "regular" weddings only look at the happy and the joy and the excitement—because after all, traditional wedding vows very deliberately express that marriage is not a fair-weather romance: there's health, but also sickness. There's richer, but also poorer. Of course, as Hendler points out, "I would say that while these things are acknowledged {in traditional vows}, they are not typically embodied by the couple. And that's why many brides and grooms and couples are suffering in silence, and their suffering is coming out sideways (bridezilla!)." And that's a fair point.

So, do with all of that what you will. If you're into this, well, the Bensons travel. And if you think that what they're espousing is important, but do not feel the need to increase your budget in order to tell your to-be that actually, instead of having kids after two years of marriage, now that your career has taken off you'd really like to make it more like five, then use this idea as inspiration, and open up that bottle of wine tonight.

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