It started with the ring pictures. Remember those? Back when engagements were reserved for our oldest cousins on Facebook. The shots were low-quality, usually with a questionable background. Manicured hands and a sparkly diamond inspired a flood of 50 or 75 or 200 comments: “Congrats!” “Welcome to the family!” “<3”

And then came the Instagram engagements. These pictures featured the older girls from high school, like the seniors on the soccer team who already seemed grown up to us as freshmen. They appeared on our feeds wearing Frye boots and infinity scarves, cashmere-clad arms wrapped around their fiancés’ necks in professional photos shot in front of a cityscape. Plus a caption to top it off: Sometimes a quote from a song (“Make you feel my love”) or a TV reference (“The One Where We Got Engaged”), other times a simple, “Can't wait to spend the rest of my life with this guy” or the self-effacing, “He’ll do.” 

The Instagram engagements started it all. First came the floor-to-ceiling flower arrangements, then the signs in loopy faux-cursive neon pink letters: “She said yes!” or “Happily ever after.” Opulence once reserved for the wealthy seemed suddenly accessible through a perfectly-staged wedding tableau. Before long, everyone seemed to be having engagement parties, and then bridal showers, and then bachelorette parties. What actually happened at those events besides Instagram posts? What distinct activities occurred at the engagement party that couldn’t happen at the bridal shower? Unclear.

By the time it was our college friends and co-workers getting engaged, the neon signs soldiered on and the wedding hashtags proliferated: #AllensaysIDo #ForeverYoungs #ITheeWebb. The wedding websites sprouted extra pages with bios of the bridal party and stories of how the couple met. There were Instagram-ready boxes of trinkets and mugs inscribed with “Will you be my maid of honor?” (By the way: Were we expected to respond to mug-questions with mug-answers? Did anyone ever send back a mug inscribed “no </3”?)

Once the first friend got engaged, it didn’t stop. Not just the engagements, but the posts. There are the witty, self-deprecating ones; the sincere, sappy ones; and the winding, poetic ones, musing on partnership. They mostly read like a sigh of relief: “We’ve made it! Life will be okay after all.” There were countless captions about true love, self-actualization, and arrival at the pinnacle of womanhood; being wanted for life.

If there ever has been a perfect couple, it’s social media and the wedding industry. Social media is designed to show the curated parts of our lives — not just for everyone else, but for us. And weddings are nothing if not curated, sometimes featuring a literal highlight reel of the best parts of our relationships, played or narrated for everyone to see. If we can curate that perfect relationship for our friends and families and followers, then isn’t it a real-life perfect relationship? 

And for those of us who aren't lucky enough to have been proposed to at a waterfront park, with a professional photographer laying in wait? We soft launch our not-quite-perfect relationships from an endless string of wedding receptions. A black tie formal photo with a new beau captioned, “Congratulations Kimmy and John!” (Where are Kimmy and John, anyway? Definitely not in this photo.)

Lately though, there’s a new wedding trend on Instagram. A few pioneers are skipping right to posting elopement photos, or — braver yet — full-blown wedding photos. Without an engagement photoshoot, without a countdown on stories, and without neon signs and hashtags. Just an out-of-the-blue photo in a wedding dress. It's risky, it's bold, and it's the ultimate cool-girl move. Illusive and nonchalant, an “Oh me? Married? Forgot to mention it.”

So, what's next? No wedding posts at all? Just a photo of beard hairs in the sink five years in? A wedding ring tucked into a drawer when it no longer fits on swollen fingers during pregnancy? After the social media wedding post bonanza, is the next best thing in wedding trends to not post at all? To have a wedding so elite and exclusive that nobody even gets a glimpse, save the lucky few who were actually there?

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Grace Benninghoff

Grace Benninghoff is a journalist, producer and writer currently based in Burlington, Vermont. She reports for VTDigger and graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2021.

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