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Skip the Wedding. Stalk the Hashtag.

By Chiara Atik
Illustration by Sam Island

It’s become somewhat of a Sunday morning tradition: I lie in bed, I scroll through Instagram, I see pictures from the various weddings my friends have attended that weekend, I click on the wedding hashtag, I silently look at 15, 20, sometimes 50 pictures of what is often a complete stranger’s wedding. Repeat.

The wedding hashtag, for the uninitiated, can usually be found on the wedding program, or the seat assignments, or, if the couple is especially forward thinking, on the Save the Dates. I am sure, though I have no anecdotal evidence of this, that some people start discussing their eventual wedding hashtags before they’ve even selected a venue. I mean, I would. The hashtags themselves can range from the straightforward (#JakeandTara, #TheBradleys), to the more unconventional or campy (#n8andk8, #makingitlegal). SEO rules apply: the more common your wedding hashtag is, the higher the odds that another couple has used the same tag, or worse, that another couple’s wedding photos show up when people are searching for yours. Creativity is therefore rewarded, and with good reason: it’s the way couples brand not only their wedding, but their relationship, and themselves.

On a good weekend, at least three or four of the 334 people I follow on Instagram will have attended a wedding. At the height of wedding season earlier this summer, my feed looked like it could have been an especially ambitious wedding planner’s Pinterest feed: wedding after wedding after wedding. I settle in. I get myself a snack. It’s nice when I know the couple in question, but even when I don’t, I click. Sometimes, if a wedding is especially good (and “good” is obviously subjective, and sometimes means a certain kind of terrible, you know the kind I mean), I’ll send a friend a text with the hashtag so that she—and it’s always a she—can enjoy it, too.

I get that my compulsion with regard to wedding hashtags can seem curious at best, and creepy and intrusive at worst. They’re pictures of strangers, after all. Strangers smiling, en route to the church. Pictures of someone else’s aunts and uncles, hamming it up on the dance floor. Pictures of centerpieces, flower arrangements, wedding favors, bridesmaids dresses. I have no horse in this race. I’m only here to look. (And actually, this is not uncommon. So many people like stalking wedding hashtags that my friend and I started an email newsletter, Just The Hashtag, dedicated to them.)

I’m not particularly wedding obsessed. Still, I grew up on a healthy diet of romantic comedies, and Exclusive Look! wedding albums in People. As celebrities’ most private moments have become increasingly commodified — and increasingly “real” — my attention and interest have followed suit. The thrones that Victoria and David Beckham had made for their reception. Jessica Simpson’s red velvet wedding cake. Gwen Stefani’s pink-tinged gown. Somewhere along the line, before I even knew what was happening, weddings became important to me. They became something to consume, something to pay attention to, to broadcast to the public. By the time the Royal Wedding — an event that couldn’t involve me or any of my loved ones less—rolled around, I had all the expectations of any decent bride: that it would be the best day of my life. (I’d probably still rank it among the top 10.)

Of course, we huddled masses don’t have InStyle as a platform for our big days, which is too bad, because I’ll wager the everyday bride and groom have put just as much thought and work into their big day as, say, Lauren Conrad, minus the page views, public interest, and budget. But we do have Facebook. And Instagram. And a carefully selected, easy to remember after three glasses of Prosecco hashtag, so that later, the bride and groom (and guests, and friendly internet strangers) can see a 360-degree view of a year or more’s worth of planning. They (the bride and groom, or brides, or grooms) have slaved over Pinterest, stayed up til 2 a.m. fighting over seat assignments, printed out photos of Adele to bring to their hair trials, and, I’m pretty sure, put a lot of time and money and thought and money and love and money into their big days. The least I can do is look—and judge—appreciatively.

(Recently, I divulged my Sunday morning hobby to two friends, both recent brides. Would they, whose own weddings were recently on Instagram, be weirded out by lurking strangers?

“Oh my god —” one of them cut me off. “Do you look at online registries? You can see everything a couple registers for, I’m obsessed, I can’t stop looking at them.”

“Registries are the BEST,” the other agreed.)

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