Maria Yoon’s wedding invitation details are quite precise. The nuptials will take place at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, at Times Square in New York City, near the Walgreens, on the sidewalk. As she has learned from her previous 49 ceremonies, it’s best to leave little to chance.
Yoon, 39, is a first generation Korean-American. Calling herself “the voice of the unmarried Asian-American woman,” she bridled against the pressure her parents put on her to get hitched at a young age. So she became Maria the Korean Bride, and set out to hold a wedding in all 50 states to amplify and explore the ostracism that she feels, as well as examine how getting married is seen in other cultures.
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Along the way she discovered a lot of different attitudes, anxieties and anguish about what a wedding — and the institution of marriage — really means. But, mostly, she got really good at on-the-fly wedding planning. New York, her home state, is her last (fake) espousal. “It was important to me to finish the project before I officially became 40 on May 25,” she says.
Each wedding is an art project, and thus requires a commitment from a guy only to show up and read the vows Yoon writes for each occasion (“I promise to love, honor and cherish you until the end of the ceremony…”). Nevertheless, it’s no simple matter to find grooms. In one state (Nebraska) she married a 700-lb. Angus bull. In another (Wisconsin) she married an embroidered shirt.
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Still, she has standards. Since it’s art, she has to approve of the way the groom looks. She married a dog musher in Alaska and a cowboy in Wyoming (his girlfriend took a dim view). In New York, she held a lottery to find grooms, with vying suitors paying $5 each for a ticket. But even in a city where unusual art happenings are a daily occurrence, the first two grooms bailed and she had to go with No. 3. Another lesson she learned from 49 weddings: have a backup for everything.
Some have told her she’s desecrating what’s supposed to be a sacred ceremony. (Others might note that ship sailed long ago.) But she disagrees. “I take marriage so seriously, I needed to explore what it really means,” she says. And while the weddings don’t represent a lifetime commitment, they still require almost as much work as the ones that are supposed to be permanent.