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Wedding Deadline

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Phoebe: It's too late, you missed your chance! I'm sorry, I know this must be really hard — it's over.
Rachel: Y'know what? No. It's not over until someone says "I do."

According to this trope, a wedding becomes official when the bride says "I do", or the priest says "I pronounce you man and wife." Any character wishing to break up this wedding must do so before these words are uttered. There is also the implication that once the couple is married, it's permanent, and any romantic loose ends must be discarded.

Once upon a time, this was true; in the High Middle Ages, the vows, known as "the words of marriage", constituted the wedding, and all the rest was stage-dressing.note  Historical works can therefore use it with full force for various historical eras and fantasy worlds based on them. (But make sure that it's one that uses this ceremony.) Even in those days it could often be dissolved, with some difficulty, as long as the marriage was not actually consummated.

But nowadays, the boring truth is that a marriage becomes "legally binding" either when the proper legal authorities (i.e. local government) process the marriage paperwork, or when the marriage certificate is signed by the officiant. The wedding ceremony may have no bearing on the legal status of the marriage, although in certain jurisdictions the parties do have to take certain specific oaths for a marriage to be valid. And marriages can be canceled in most localities. (If you're in an unhappy marriage, consult your local laws for details.)

In a few religious traditions, marriage begins exactly at the moment the couple have both said "I do" or the priest says "I pronounce you man and wife". This however has nothing to do with the legal status of the marriage. It was once true that consummation was necessary for a marriage to be fully legal, and unconsummated marriages could easily be annulled: this is less common in modern times, when annulment is more likely to be tied to the length of the marriage or any allegation of fraud than whether it was consummated.

This should be a Discredited Trope, but it's not, probably because it's incredibly useful to writers of romantic stories. A wedding imposes a deadline for the consummation of a relationship. A deadline during the wedding allows the protagonist to make an exciting Race Against the Clock to win back his or her beloved at the last possible second. Furthermore, a wedding ceremony makes it easy to put all the main characters in one place for the story's riveting conclusion.

In short, this trope is something that viewers seem quite willing to suspend disbelief over.

May come into play in a You Have Waited Long Enough plot.

See Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace, Skip to the End, and Altar the Speed.

"I do" Examples:

  • In the Futurama episode "A Bicyclops Built For Two", Leela gets to "I d—" before Fry barges in, and shows that Alcazar is a shape-changing green cockroach, who has weddings to four other female freaks scheduled for the same day. It makes a lot more sense when Alcazar explains that he rented the tux which shifts to different sizes with him and is presumably expensive.
  • In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Marian says "I do..." and then appends "...NOT!" as the titular hero's rescue party charges into the scene.
  • Teen Titans: Starfire uses the same "I do... not!" line during an Arranged Marriage (and a phony one, at that) after Robin does his The Graduate parody.
  • In Flash Gordon, while being married to Emperor Ming Dale Arden also uses the "I do NOT!" line.
  • Jane Eyre
  • In the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor film version of The Taming of the Shrew (and probably in a lot of stage versions as well), Katherine attempts to throw an "I do NOT" but Petruccio stops her mouth with a kiss after she says "I do."
  • Friends. Rachel plans to stop Ross from marrying Emily and literally says that it's "not over until someone says 'I do'." Phoebe, trying to talk her out of it then desperately starts yelling "I do! I do!"
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures. In "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith", quite a lot will happen if Sarah Jane says "I do." The words would force her to bend to the Trickster's will.
  • A Different World: Dwayne Wayne stops his future wife's wedding to convince her to marry him. It works.

"I now pronounce you man and wife" Examples:

  • Possibly in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The Sheriff forces Marian through the ceremony, even answering the vows for her. The Bishop performing the ritual quickly rattles off the pronouncement (while the Sheriff is trying to force himself on Marian). When he gets to "man and wife", Marian turns to the Bishop and yells, "How could you?!"

Other Examples

  • The Princess Bride actually does both: during the ceremony, Humperdinck urges the slow-talking priest to hurry up and get to "man and wife." But after Westley rescues Buttercup, Westley says the marriage isn't official because she didn't say "I do."
    • Averted in the book. Humperdinck really does marry Buttercup. Westley steals her away anyway. (His reasoning goes along the lines of "you won't be married if you're a widow".)
  • In Spaceballs, the priest, annoyed at the numerous interruptions, says "Okay, this time we'll do the short short version! Do you?" "Yes!" "Do you?" "Yes!" "Good! You're married, kiss her!"
    • And one of those interruptions is Princess Vespa stalling at saying "I do" just long enough for Lone Starr to burst on to the scene and declare, "NO, SHE DOESN'T!" (And then saying that he's a prince and thus able to marry her.)
  • Shrek seems to imply that the kiss was what sealed the deal, as the main character barged in after the I do's. In the end, this matters little, as the groom is devoured by a dragon less than five minutes later. The trope is also lampshaded when Donkey stops Shrek from barging in, claiming that they need to wait until "Speak now or forever hold your peace" for dramatic effect. Shrek humors him until they realize the ceremony has already passed that part, and barges in anyway.
    • Fiona was worried about the kiss rather than the ceremony or the legality of the marriage, because her curse would cause her to permanently take the form of her "true love's first kiss"... and she (rightly) believed that Farquuad would refuse to kiss her after she morphed into an ogre at sunset.
    • Technically they were married, but Fiona was immediately widowed.
  • In Three Men And A Little Lady, two of the protagonists only manage to reveal the truth about Mary's mother's fiancé to her after she says "I do." When he points this out, the priest reveals himself to be the third protagonist in disguise, essentially making the whole wedding (supposedly) null and void.
  • In Teresa Edgerton's second Celydonn trilogy, if a marriage is not consummated and the couple are not living together, it can be broken by a year's separation. Since Tryffin and Gwenlliant are living apart at the beginning of The Grail and the Ring while she is receiving magical training, and have had platonically lived together until then, they must get back together by midsummer or they will no longer be married. They don't, but since they both agree that they still want to be married, they just have another ceremony as soon as possible.
  • On Adventure Time, the Ice King's wedding involves a weird Ice Kingdom ritual where he's lowered down to his bride by a rope, the marriage being official as soon as his beard touches her. In the end he winds up marrying Jake by mistake, which is promptly annulled.
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance plays it straight in Ivan and Tej's Citizenship Marriage, with a note that Barrayaran law, being highly oath-oriented, has a couple marry themselves before witnesses and it's automatically official. Yes, even if the bare bones ceremony is performed before the groom's distant cousin and bride's half-sister while Immigration is forcing their way through a barricaded apartment door a room away.
  • In one episode of Lost Girl, an amnesiac Bo has to be prevented from going through a marriage ceremony with her unprincipled lover, which will bind them together for a hundred years. Fortunately, while her friends aren't in time to stop her saying "I do," the ceremony's not complete until she puts on the ring, and they manage to prevent that.
  • In Kris Longknife Defender, the deadline for Kris and Jack is to get married before their superiors can cut them their new orders, which they (correctly) suspect will place them in the same chain of command - regulations for their Navy prohibit relationships between people in the same chain of command, but not placing couples who are already married into the same chain of command.
  • One episode of NCIS had (after the resolution of the case he was involved in) a recently rescued POW hurrying to be reunited with and married to his fiancée before the end of the work day, when the justice who was to marry them would leave for the weekend. They don't make it, but McGee calls ahead with an explanation and arranges for the man to stay a few minutes late.
  • Jupiter Ascending: Jupiter's Altar Diplomacy wedding to Titus Abrasax only becomes binding when both parties have had a ring-like design inscribed on their fingers via an automated device held by the officiant. Titus even tries to force Jupiter's hand back onto the machine when she starts to hesitate. Fortunately for Jupiter, the incomplete inscription fades away once the wedding gets crashed.

Aversions, Subversions, and Counterexamples

  • In the comic strip Bloom County, the Opus/Lola Granola Story Arc ended with the two actually getting married. But they agreed to annul it minutes later: the wedding kiss revealed that they had incompatible noses, which knocked Opus out cold and gave him a nightmare about his future with Lola - in the far-off Zeerust age of 2007 A.D., no less!
  • Subverted in the movie The Wedding Singer, since the marriage is broken up on the couple's flight to Las Vegas.
    • It's played fairly straight in the musical of the film, however, as Julia and Glen's wedding in Las Vegas is ended when Robbie crashes it.
  • Zig-zagged in Wedding Crashers, when John interrupts a wedding to declare his love to one of the bridesmaids who's currently engaged to a total jerk. After that's all settled, the wedding at hand then resumes normally.
  • In Scary Go Round, the wedding of Erin and Bob Crowley is the key that starts the apocalypse. Shelley comes in too late to stop the marriage, but when she learns that the marriage hasn't been consummated yet, she simply texts her lawyer and has the marriage annulled, banishing the army of demons back into hell.
  • Spoofed in The Lonely Guy, where Steve Martin's character makes it to the church just in the nick of time, pours out his heart to the gal of his dreams and begs her not to marry. Turns out he was in the wrong church, and he misses the deadline altogether. D'oh!
    • And while the bride was a total stranger, the speech did give her pause to take a long, hard look at the marriage and decide against it at the last moment.
  • Subverted to great effect in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Solitary Cyclist," in which the detective and Dr. Watson, accompanied by one repentant villain, barge in on the other, who is forcing marriage on the virtuous heroine who'd refused them both. "You're too late! She's my wife!" "No... she's your widow!" Bang...which doesn't actually kill the bridegroom. Once they get everybody sorted out, Holmes notes that the whole thing is void anyway, since the clergyman accomplice had been unfrocked and wasn't allowed to officiate the wedding; and that, "in any case, a forced marriage is no marriage, but it is a very serious felony, as you will discover before you have finished." The story ends with a mention that the lady later married the man to whom she had already been engaged throughout the entire thing.
  • At Mark's wedding in Peep Show, Mark explains to Sophie that even if she had said "I don't", they'd already filled in the paperwork and were therefore technically already married.
  • A storyline in Case Closed revolved around an arranged date between the policewoman Sato and the goodhearted-but-snobbish superintendent Shiratori. (Such dates are called omiai and tend to always end up in marriage; and while one party can refuse to go through with the wedding, up until not long ago it was VERY uncommon.) Another policewoman, Yumi, tried to get Sato out of it by sending her "help", whom Sato correctly guesses to be the shy Takagi, who also loves her and is the one Sato seems to favor in the Love Triangle. The brash Sato makes a deal with Shiratori that if Takagi doesn't show up before sunset, she will marry him. Unfortunately, Takagi is involved in a robbery case, with three witnesses all giving contradicting details on the culprit. Luckily, Conan gives Takagi some tips that helps him solve the case... but the culprit escapes, forcing him to give chase... a few minutes before sundown. In the end, he never actually makes it to the restaurant that Sato and Shiratori are at; Conan uses a decoy to trick both of them into thinking that Takagi DID show up, then lures Sato to where Takagi actually is.
  • Subverted in Bernard Cornwall's Lords of the North where Uthred escapes from slavery to find that his fiancée has been married off in his absence, but that the marriage has not yet been consummated. He then forces one of the monks who has custody of her to admit that the marriage requires ceremony and consummation and she is, therefore, not actually married yet.
  • I would also assume that this is how Young Lord Lochinvar justifies stealing his 'fair Ellen' from her wedding reception...
  • Final Fantasy X has a rather curious case. The heroes try and break up the wedding between the heroine and the villain before the ceremony goes through. But they get caught and it appears to anyways. This leaves one wondering how official a marriage can be when one of the participants is already dead. Is it illegitimate, or does it make Yuna an Insta-Widow?.
  • Something similar happens in Corpse Bride: Victor has an Accidental Marriage to the undead Emily, only for it to be declared void. It turns out that, to have a real marriage, Victor would have to kill himself during the ceremony. He's actually willing to go through with it, since his true love, Victoria, has been forced to marry someone else, but Emily winds up stopping him at the last minute. Similarly, Victoria is actually married to the evil Lord Barkis, but he very shortly leaves her a widow when he accidentally drinks Victor's poison a few hours into their marriage.
  • In the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Violet manages to invalidate her marriage to Count Olaf (who was blackmailing her by threatening her infant sister) by not signing the marriage certificate correctly - specifically, by signing it with her left hand, not her right. She neglects to inform him of this loophole until after he has had her sister released.
  • The Graduate has Ben arriving at the church just as the minister is pronouncing Elaine and her beau as man and wife. But when he screams her name repeatedly, she decides to ditch her new hubby and take off with Ben instead.
  • Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy climaxes with an epic Wedding Deadline race that greatly resembles that of The Graduate, 44 years later.
  • A piece by The Onion parodies this at the end, in "I'm Sure That Out-Of-Control Water-Skier Will Avoid Our Outdoor Wedding." Naturally, the water skier in question is imminently going to ruin the wedding. The protagonist was "forced to leave my first love, a working-class Irish bootblack named Patrick, to marry a rich man who pleased my father but whom I could never truly love, [...] Patrick, who just so happens to be that same directionless water skier. Yes, nothing can go wrong now."
  • Aveyond: The Lost Orb has a complicated variation. Edward and his bride exchange vows, the priest pronounces them husband and wife... then Mel runs.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth Jack tries to stop the wedding between Aliena and Alfred, but for this, he needs to escape the monastery. He ultimately fails, and while his mother actually goes there and curses the marriage, she doesn't stop it.
  • In the The Dresden Files story "Something Borrowed," Jenny Greenteeth, a sidhe, tries to marry Billy Borden by taking the appearance of Georgia, whom she kidnapped and put in a coma. Since only true love could break the spell and true love doesn't work if you're married to someone else, this is particularly sadistic. Harry has to stop the ceremony, but it's not the words that are important to sidhe magic, it's the kiss. Fortunately, it's one of those problems that can be solved by setting the building on fire.
  • Career of Evil ends with Robin saying "I do" at her wedding to Matthew, but as she says it she's beaming at Strike, who has just blundered in late. What she doesn't know, but will presumably soon find out, is that Strike offered her her job back in a voicemail message, but a jealous Matthew deleted the voicemail without telling her. We are left in suspense about whether she'll still want to be married to Matthew once she realises, or whether the marriage is binding.
  • In Schlock Mercenary Ennesby is scared of a karmic debt from a perfect wedding of the Doctor and the Reverend and conspires with Schlock to spoil it in several ways, including this. Too bad Petey, who's officiating the wedding, uses a modified version of the rite, without any of the relevant lines (and is also aware of Ennesby's plans), denying him any opportunity.


Video Example(s):


"Irrevocable Shackles"

Leela is rescued from marrying the scumbag Alcazar when Fry and Bender reveal he's trying to marry five different women on the same day.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShamWedding

Media sources: