The story behind my C-ville Weekly cover story on Charlottesville’s booming wedding industry

robert ullman illustrationI wrote the cover story this week for C-Ville Weekly, “Marriage or bust: Why are Charlottesville weddings so dang expensive?” Read the story here.

The story was assigned to me as an earnest exploration into Charlottesville’s booming wedding industry from the perspective of yours truly, and to write the story with the angle of why and how Charlottesville got put on the map as a big wedding destination. After spending two months researching wedding trends, talking to local experts and brides I was hugely confused. No one was really answering my question of why and how Charlottesville was put on the map. (Yes, I know the Blue Ridge Mountains are the perfect backdrop, and yes, I know that we have amazingly talented wedding professionals, but that’s the tip of the ice berg. I needed more specific and frank information.) The most interesting part of my research was that none of the brides I interviewed could afford the grand winery weddings that these amazing nationally renowned wedding professionals put together. They were saying the venues and caterers were too expensive, there weren’t enough hotels to room everyone in town, and that weddings in general are so gosh-darn draining on their piggy banks. So, mid-writing, my story angle changed slightly (this often happens in the world of journalism), because my story wasn’t very compelling as “isn’t Charlottesville the most perfectest place to get married in the whole entire world?!” It didn’t have a point. My story changed and I was then writing about local brides who couldn’t afford a chic Charlottesville wedding and how they were cutting cost corners with do-it-yourself projects, going out of town, or picking a place that isn’t marketed as a wedding venue. Financially savvy brides. Real brides.

As someone who has been working in lifestyle journalism for the past five years I understand how much finessing and perfecting goes into making a photograph, a blog post, a story in a magazine look and sound beautiful. It takes a lot of styling and attention to detail. And, as a woman who reads a lot of lifestyle blogs and magazines I have a skeptical eye because I know that perfection isn’t on the other side of those images and words. That’s partly why I wanted to take on this story. The information that brides-to-be are reading is happy, cheery perfection about weddings and I think it makes it seem almost unattainable. Yes, I’m aware that these blog posts and stories exist in wedding publications to inspire and spark ideas, but I know that perfection isn’t attainable and can make a bride feel really bad, or like her average-Jane wedding isn’t good enough. That’s the dirty power of the Internet and social media. So, I pulled that thread of the social media-savvy bride into the story, because that hugely defines this new era of brides. They know what they want and they have big expectations that take root after Pinterest-ing, trolling lifestyle blogs, and seeing their friends’ weddings in their Facebook news feed.

I believe that a person can spend their money however they want and however it makes them happy. You have that right to that. And that’s not selfish and shouldn’t be judged. But, for me, spending big bucks on a wedding is out of the question. I can’t afford that luxury as a writer; I sure wish I could though and then I would have the most fantabulous wedding out there. (Roll out the red carpet and uncork the Dom Pérignon!) But, the brides that I interviewed were in a position of not being able to afford their dream wedding in their hometown, which just happens to have a pricy tag attached to all things wedding. So, I wove my voice into the story as someone who is empathetic and in a similar position as these brides.

Also, as a sidenote, I made a point not to talk about my personal relationship in this story. I know that some writers (and most bloggers) like to weave in their love lives into stories like this, but I didn’t even want to venture down that road out of respect for my partner. I got personal in my own way — through earnestness, silliness and sarcasm — but, this story is about my views on weddings, not my personal relationship with my partner in any way. As a writer that is a path I will never forge. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story — what you think of Charlottesville’s wedding industry or the wedding industry in general. Or, if you have any questions about my rationale behind my points and perspective in the story, shoot. Ciao! marissa

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2 thoughts on “The story behind my C-ville Weekly cover story on Charlottesville’s booming wedding industry

  1. Maggie says:

    You’ve been doing this for five years: congratulations, how wonderful.

    The article was insipid, rambling, and privileged. You did NOT arrive at a pount. You told the same story over and over. And you want to capture the “special moments between my partner and I.” MY PARTNER AND ME. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY IN JOURNALISM, PROFESSIONALISM, AND EDITING, you meant “my partner and me.”

    Good luck out there.

    • marissahermanson says:

      Hi Maggie,

      I tried to respond via email, but it looks like your email address doesn’t exist, so I’m guessing that “Maggie” isn’t your real name either.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story and for going out of your way to Google and track down my blog. Also, thank you for bringing the “my partner and me” correction to my attention. I’ll email the editor the correction. I encourage you to express your feelings on the story via Cville Weekly’s website for frank debate and conversation, as well as being transparent in your identity.

      Best, Marissa

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