Decades ago, popular TV series did not seem to find it necessary to include wedding episodes – not even in season finales and not even when the show was about a single woman. (Remember Mary Tyler Moore?) More recently, wedding episodes have become more commonplace, often to put an exclamation point at the end of a season. Wedding creep became a thing, as wedding scenes got sprinkled throughout TV seasons and as they infiltrated even shows that were supposedly about themes other than romantic relationships.
The finale of the 14th season of Grey’s Anatomy featured not just one, not just two, but three weddings. I have a question: Have we habituated to weddings? Are they like a drug for which you need to keep upping the dosage to get the same effect? Does it really take three weddings now to wring the same emotional effect out of viewers?
The eve of the royal wedding, with all the attendant hoopla, may seem like an odd time to suggest that weddings are getting boring or even annoying. But have you noticed the backlash? I just typed “sick of royal wedding” into Google and got 4,250,000 results. At the top was a story from ABC in Australia offering to explain “why some people are sick of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.” It includes a clip of Emma Thompson imploring a reporter to just stop asking about the royal wedding.
I don’t have any evidence for this but for a long time, I’ve been convinced that all this matrimania (the over-the-top hyping of weddings and marriage and coupling) is happening not because we are so excited and so secure about the place of marriage in our lives and in our worlds, but because we are so insecure.
When Mary Tyler Moore ended 41 years ago (in 1977), the median age at which adults first married was 24.0 for men and 21.6 for women. They were young, in their early twenties. Now, they are much closer to 30: at the time of their first marriage, men are 29.5 and women are 27.4. These numbers are medians; that means, for example, that half of all men today who marry for the first time are older than 29.5.
Four decades ago, divorce was less commonplace and more stigmatized than it is now, and people spent more years of their adult life married than they do now. Even people who were not heterosexual often married someone of the other sex. Marriage was just what everyone did. There was no reason to insert weddings into every plot line or stage elaborate ceremonies or proposals or destination events. Hardly anyone needed to be persuaded to marry.
It is different now. Many people can lead full, fulfilling, meaningful, and even economically secure lives without marrying. Marriage just isn’t necessary the way it once was. To try to rescue it, popular culture steps in and ups the ante.
I thought the Grey’s finale was one of the most boring episodes of the 14 seasons of the show. Before I got bored, though, I was incensed. The episode began with Meredith’s voiceover saying that studies show that marriage makes people healthier. Um, it doesn’t.
By the end, though, there was some redemption. Meredith’s final words belied her earlier conviction about the health benefits of marrying. She said something to the effect that you don’t need marriage, you just need someone you trust, someone who will be there for you. I wasn’t sure whether she was still suggesting that the relationship you need is a romantic one. I hope not. A great flashback would have been Meredith and Christina, describing each other as “their person.” That iconic scene told us that single people can have a “person,” too, and research concurs.
There was one other nod to what was once great about Grey’s – the celebration of the true love in the lives of all the show’s doctors: the practice of medicine. Moments before Alex and Jo were scheduled to take their vows, they had a passionate discussion of Jo’s talents and the future of her professional life.
That’s the Grey’s I once loved.