The Shadow Wedding Ceremony Trend Sounds Like A Bride's Nightmare

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Imagine some of the most popular wedding fantasies: color-coordinated flowers, a good photographer, a white dress worthy of Say Yes to the Dress ' Monte. A tranquil beach, or maybe a building as grandiose as Westminster Abbey, à la Will and Kate. A crowd of adoring relatives, or perhaps just a few close friends. Whatever it is you're thinking of, it probably involves a general feeling of celebration and love.

Now, banish all those images. Envision the bride and groom wearing their ugliest clothes, shrieking at each other in a clearing in the woods while night falls. Their friends throw mulch on them, and they exchange rings made of trash. This may sound like an anxious bride's nightmare, but it's just a description of a "Shadow Wedding," a new nuptials-related phenomenon.

Jim Benson and Jessica Wolk Benson, a pair of San Rafael psychotherapists (Jim is a sex and relationship counselor; Jessica is a marriage and family counselor), came up with the idea of a Shadow Wedding for themselves when they got married in 2010. The point of such a ceremony is to place all shortcomings, personal failings, and relationship issues out in the open, according to their website. At their own Shadow Wedding, Benson swore to ditch Wolk Benson's family when it came to familial obligations, while Wolk Benson promised to always worry about money.

"I knew this about him, and I said 'yes' to him anyhow," Wolk Benson told SFGate. "This is exactly the stuff I knew I would be challenged by, and I really call on the power of that night to help me lean into it."

Having a shadow wedding doesn't mean there are no normal "I do"s, though. Benson and Wolk Benson had a "real" ceremony, or "light wedding," a week later. After expressing the anxiety-inducing, angry, negative aspects of their relationship, they felt free to celebrate the positive ones.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of a Shadow Wedding, though. Annie Block Pearl, a wedding officiant and psychotherapist, told Nerve's Tom MacMillan that while she agreed with the idea of exploring the dark parts of a relationship, she didn't like the participants vowing to harm each other emotionally. "It’s dangerous to put 'energy and intention' behind statements like 'I want to go out and cheat on my spouse,'” she said.

Nevertheless, increasing numbers of couples are exploring the emotional honesty forced out by a shadow wedding. The official website offers a free consultation with Benson and Wolk Benson, as well as a self-assessment survey and tips on "identifying shadow material," "creating shadow vows," and "designing your Shadow Wedding ritual."

I personally find myself wondering how a Shadow Wedding could be better than less dramatic alternatives — why not just sit down at the kitchen table and make a list of your faults and problems together? I'm certainly no relationship counselor, but doesn't that create the same kind of emotional intimacy without the throwing-mulch-and-screaming part? I'm not sure how well I'd be able to sleep next to someone who promised to flirt with every available woman he saw and reject me in times of emotional need.

If you decide that a Shadow Wedding is your game, maybe you can pair it with a zombie or decapitated-head wedding cake, and add some bridesmaidthong-flashing for good measure.