May 03, 2005

There Goes the Bride, Part Two

In New York state, pulling a fire alarm when no fire exists is a felony punishable by up to one year in prison. It's a reasonable law, as far as laws go, since calling in a fake alarm can divert necessary resources away from actual emergencies. What may seem like a harmless joke to one person might actually result in a terrible tragedy for another.

That's why I don't find the Jennifer Wilbanks story all that cute, and have a problem with the "Runaway Bride" moniker the media has bestowed upon the Georgia woman. The Julia Roberts movie from which that nickname comes involved a woman who left a string of men stranded at the altar. Would audiences have been rooting for Julia's character to find true love had she left a string of emergency response workers stranded in the woods, searching for clumps of hair, torn clothing and body parts?

Bear in mind that this isn't some 18-year-old child bride from backwoods Georgia who might not have had the background to know better, nor the resources to face the true consequences of her actions. Wilbanks is 32 and her wedding was going to be a six-figure affair at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Looking at the couple's registry, the membership director of the Wedding and Bridal Association of America estimated the couple's potential gift haul to be about $100,000.

CNN reports that Duluth officials may seek to recoup the $40,000 - $60,000 they spent searching for Wilbanks by suing the woman. Add that base sum to additional expenses incurred by volunteers, officials in Albuquerque and federal agents, and it's not hard to imagine the grand total for her search soaring higher than the sum total of her ice buckets, bed linens and flatware.

Calling Wilbanks the "Runaway Bride" mischaracterizes this case in another way. In the movie, I don't remember Julia Roberts blaming her problem on a Hispanic man. Yes, Wilbanks included a white woman when describing her non-existent abductors, and it might be a stretch to call Wilbanks the bridal version of Charles Stuart, the Boston man who murdered his wife and then blamed it on a black man, but her choice to bring a different race into her fictionalized kidnapping makes me question her already questionable ethics.

I commend her groom for sticking by her - for now - and realizing that a couple's committment to each other begins much earlier than when they say "I Do." But each statement of loyalty I hear from him leads me to another reason why I believe this woman is undeserving of the sympathy she's received in some media circles - not the mention the movie and book deals she and her groom are likely to receive in the future. By skipping town just days before her wedding, she turned the man she loved, the man whose ring she gladly accepted, into a potential suspect in her disapperance, a Southern Scott Peterson.

Of course, the media is probably disappointed that they won't have another Peterson-like trial to cover now that the Michael Jackson case is winding down. But leave it to our trusty cable news talking heads to turn lemons into lemonade. This week we have been treated to a host of stories on cold feet and wedding day jitters, as if shaving your head and taking a bus across the country is a common course of action among nervous brides. Focusing on such an eggregious example does a disservice to the many couples who might actually be a little nervous about getting married or who have witnessed their wedding planning spin out of their control.

Posted by Doug at May 3, 2005 11:12 AM

I read that they're a very religious couple who hasn't been intimate, even though they're living together. Adds a weird twist in my mind. While I think 32 is old enough to have handled this properly, I wonder what sort of prewedding panic might have been inspired in someone whose own mother described her as needing to quit work and be a full time mother. (This is what I heard on the radio this morning, and think the source was New York Post.)

Posted by: e at May 3, 2005 02:30 PM

I would be hesitant to ascribe any of her odd behavior to religious choices or abstinence before marriage as plenty of religiously-observant people manage to get married or even call off marriages without involving the local authorities.

Posted by: Doug at May 3, 2005 03:33 PM

Excellent and reasoned take on the whole godawful mess.

And speaking of godawful...

Posted by: ChgoRed at May 3, 2005 04:57 PM