You don't need an ice sculpture to get married, but don't try telling that to the people at the ice-sculpture booth, or the enormous group of women surrounding it.
On a rainy Saturday in January, I registered as a bride-to-be and attended the 2015 Bride World Expo in Los Angeles. The thing is, I'm not a bride-to-be. I am a non-engaged person who has been dating a guy for two months. I have divorced parents and zero desire to get married anytime soon. I scream in agony every time I receive a wedding invite. I am very much the opposite of Bride World's target demographic, but goddammit, I am a journalist, and I was going to experience Bride World the way a bride would.
Arriving at the convention center where this World was to take place, I saw ads for at least a dozen wedding services even before I got to the registration booth. Bride World Expo is a bastion of aspiration capitalism, that alluring implication that if you just buy this one more thing, it could be your ticket out of this middle- to lower-middle-class hellhole. An event like this assumes you either have no price ceiling for your wedding, or you are willing to go into endless debt for it. Because it's an expo, the latter is more likely—the wealthy are not attending expos. They are practicing dressage and hiring someone to plan this shit for them.
I had pre-registered as a bride, but my official "bride" sticker wasn't ready when I arrived. They said it was due to a clerical error, but I knew in my heart that my outfit was a dead giveaway that I was not really a bride. How could someone who looked as schlubby as I did, in Converse and hoodie from Target, be someone's future wife? The real brides were all dressed up and glowing from their pre-wedding facials.
Without a sticker, I briefly worried that vendors wouldn't try to sell me stuff. That worry lasted about ten seconds, before I was barraged by people asking about my bridal status and did I need a florist for the big day? They expected a lot more committal than I was prepared for—they wanted real times, real dates, the name of your fiancé.
At the David's Bridal booth, I was told that if I gave my home address and phone number and committed to a date, time, and store location, I would receive a coupon for $50 off my wedding dress. This didn't seem like much of a discount in the grand scheme of wedding dresses, but like I said, I'm not Bride Word's target demographic. Wedding expos exist to capitalize on women who feel pressured to have a fancy wedding but can't afford a wedding planner, and are easily duped into buying things for the sake of "getting a good deal." You don't need an ice sculpture to get married, but don't try telling that to the people at the ice-sculpture booth, or the enormous group of women surrounding it.
I literally ran away from the David's Bridal booth and, unwittingly, into the arms of a timeshare salesperson. It struck me that a timeshare is another little piece of luxury advertised as a good deal, a way you can have a vacation home without having to be rich. I had never been pitched a timeshare before, and I stood there for a while wondering what she was selling me, because she never quite said it. She just invited me to a brunch. I said I'd have to ask my fake fiancé, and she said I could just come by myself. I panicked and said my fiancé wouldn't let me. Then I laughed too hard and said, "Ugh, men!" before backing into a mannequin at the booth of euphemistic bridal-wear line Della Curva, "for the curvy bride."
I had only been here for 22 minutes, and I already wanted to go to bed. The expo was fluorescently lit, featured multiple DJs playing different songs at the same time, and, as far as I could tell, completely without drinking water. There was no water in the entire hall. Is this a purposeful tactic? Do people buy more when they're thirsty? The only available beverage was a free sample of Keurig coffee. It was the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth.
There was also a distinct lack of sweets at this expo. This was a wedding expo, for God's sake—where were the cookies and petit fours and cake pops? To be fair, there was a lot of candy, but you couldn't eat any of it. It was all for display at various candy vendors' booths. It was almost comically cruel, and may I add, a laughably bad sales tactic. If they had given me one free Rolo, I would have bought ten on the spot and put down a deposit on a Rolo cart for my fake wedding.
Candyless and alone, I wandered the aisles of the Bridal Expo, past gaggles of women wearing shirts that said "Bride Icon," a phrase I still don't understand or think is grammatically correct.
I passed a palm reader, whose booth looked invitingly calm amid the fluorescent lights and "luxury DJs" (another mystery term that was never explained) blaring pop songs. I had never had my palm read before, and I don't believe in it, but her booth looked quiet and had several places to sit, so I was on board. I was scared she would sense my skepticism and yell at me for being a nonbeliever, but she was nice to me and didn't try to sell me a timeshare. In fact, she was right about several things right off the bat: She said that I was career-driven, hesitant to get married, and even more hesitant to have kids (all correct). She also correctly guessed—or knew?—that I was in a new relationship, and was happy about it. She was very insistent that I would marry him within three years, which is probably just statistically likely for people around my age, but still made me pause for a second. Then she insisted that either his or my name started with J, which was wrong—I lost a little bit of faith in the process, but you can't win them all. As I stood up to leave, she told me I had a very psychic energy. I was flattered in spite of myself. She told me to use this year to "focus on love." I thanked her and left.
Leaving the expo hall, I raced to a water fountain and just barely managed to escape death from thirst. I thought about what the palm reader said. What if, in the next three years, I really was a bride-to-be? Would I find myself back at a bridal expo, but "for real"? Maybe when you're getting married, the promise of lifelong love softens the fluorescent lights and the vendors jabbing clipboards in your face. I can't say for sure. But it's still hard for me to imagine myself going back there willingly.
At the smaller water fountain next to me, a little boy was playing with two toy triceratops from the dinosaur exhibit in the next hall over. He was making them kiss. I took a picture to show my boyfriend.
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