Does it really make sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a party?
One aspect of the Gay Marriage debate that I noted before was that, in my mind, marriage ceremonies were something that Gay people inflicted on the Straight. Think about it. Everyone in the wedding business, from the wedding coordinator, to the caterer, the florist, the limo driver, the church organist, to the waiters at the reception, to the band members, is likely to be Gay. It is an industry that I think Gay men started, in order to fleece the Straight.
Perhaps this is not literally true, but there is a nugget of truth to it. And it is a funny thing, though, when you get married, everyone wants to know what kind of elaborate ceremonies and costumes and whatever, you are having.
It is, in short, a load of nonsense.
Traditional weddings are an obscenity. Why do I say this? Because they are based on a time-honored custom of misogyny. In the "good old days" a daughter was viewed as a stone around your neck - a burden to be unloaded on the first person who came along. And you were expected to pay to get rid of your daughter, as she was such an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass and all, you know, being a woman and all that icky stuff.
And in much of the world today, woman are still treated this way. They are treated as chattel or cattle. We prize them only for their ability to keep house and reproduce - provided of course, that they reproduce boys and not more of those icky girls that you have to pay to get rid of.
This is largely the truth of the matter in about half the world today. In Africa, the Middle-East, the subcontinent, and China, girls are just not valued - and are sometimes killed at birth. Even as wives, they are set fire to or murdered. Read the headlines - on any given day.
In the West, of course, we are progressive and think that women have value and worth - unless of course, you belong to a fraternity house, in which case you view them as objects to be raped, much like in India, today.
Maybe we just kid ourselves that we are "progressive" and "civilized" in this country. Really, if you think about it, no one gives a rat's ass about dead hookers, even in the United States of America. We really haven't "come a long way, baby!" just yet.
But once again, I digress....
The modern Western Wedding is still a remnant of this misogyny. Traditionally, the bride's parents were expected to pay for "her special day" in a remnant of the "dowry" system of old. "Please, take this load off our hands! We'll even pay for the wedding!"
Some families have abandoned this concept, and both bride and groom's parents pay for the festivities jointly. Others, of course, do not.
But it begs the question, why bother spending tens of thousands of dollars on a party to celebrate the beginning of a marriage? Particularly in this day and age, when half of all marriages end in divorce, usually within a few short years. Maybe when you make it to 30 years or so, there should be cause to celebrate. But at the beginning? You haven't done anything to merit such a party!
The wedding industry (and it is an industry, with a trade association, conventions, and the like) wants you to believe that a woman should have a "magical special day" which is "hers" for some reason (but not his) where everything is a fairy tale. It is, to say the least, a very, very odd "tradition."
And what makes it odder, in this day and age is that you meet these women, only a few years later, when they have divorced "the jerk" and their fairytale special moment is no longer something they look back on with fond memories. Quite frankly, they'd rather have the twenty grand that Dad blew on a one-day party.
Now, to be sure, weddings, like funerals, are for the living not the dead. That is to say, a wedding, although ostensibly about the bride and groom, can be more about family and friends. Often, family members and distant relatives gather together, many flying in from out of town, to meet for this special day, which is proceeded by rehearsal dinners and other parties, in a week-long buildup to the "special day".
In that regard, a wedding can be a time to re-establish family ties, particularly for extended families separated by long distances.
It is, of course, also a chance to show off status. A Father who can afford to put on a lavish wedding is surely someone who is successful in life! And in many cultures, women are treated this way - as pampered pets to be adorned with baubles, so that the husband can show off his success. This is a form of misogyny too, but at least a less violent form.
But getting back to the expensive wedding, does it really make any sense? For most of us, the question is moot. Expensive weddings are just not in the cards. We get married at the church and have a reception in the back yard. But even then, with a caterer, the church fees, the wedding dress, rented tuxes, and the band, it can come to thousands of dollars to put on such a party.
Starting a marriage in debt is really a bad idea. Starting a marriage by racking up Dad's credit card debt isn't much better.
Of course, some folks are trying different, less expensive alternatives. Many people come to our little retirement island to get married, often in simple ceremonies on the beach (hence the nickname for the island, "Home of the Newlywed and the Nearly Dead"). Such ceremonies can be fairly inexpensive and do provide a romantic getaway. Others have more elaborate plans, renting out club cottages for guests and having an elaborate wedding in the chapel.
And yet other people have cut to the chase and just go to the Justice of the Peace and sign a few papers and take vows. Undoubtedly this is the least expensive way to get married. And oddly enough, when you read about the legalization of Gay Marriage, it seems the gays are choosing this inexpensive option over elaborate weddings, by a factor of 10 to 1. Maybe they know something about their own industry.
Of course, you can do what you want to. If you think you can "afford" an expensive wedding, then by all means do so. But bear in mind that financial difficulties are the number one cause of divorce in this country (and divorce, ironically is the number one cause of further financial difficulties in this country!). $20,000 spent on a wedding ceremony might better be invested in funding an IRA or 401(k) for the bride and groom - or as a down-payment on a house. Giving someone a nest egg to start off in life might be a better deal than a one-day party that is all-too-soon forgotten.
The wedding industry, on the other hand, has done a very good job of creating "traditions" - some of which are only a few decades old - to force you to spend money on this one-day party. These are normative cues provided to steer you, like cattle, to the slaughterhouse. If you feel you are doing something because "it is expected of you" or because of "tradition" - even when you feel that these things are not right for you - then you are being manipulated by normative cues.
Let's take the wedding ring, for example. Or the engagement ring. The concept of the engagement ring, particularly the diamond engagement ring, is a relatively new concept created in the early part of the 20th Century. Our good friends at DeBeers have created the normative cues that diamonds are rare and expensive (not really true, unless you have a monopoly on diamonds and control their distribution). They also created, out of whole cloth, the normative cue of the diamond engagement ring. Using magazine advertisements in the 1930's, they created such concepts as "a diamond is forever" and the idea that a young man should spend two month's salary (some say three!) on a diamond engagement ring.
Think about this, if you make $50,000 a year, that's about ten grand on a single piece of jewelry. And for what? To make the Oppenheimer family (of DeBeers) happy? (Note, they have since sold out DeBeers to "Anglo American PLC". The article linked above provides a fascinating history about how this one family has controlled worldwide diamond production over the years).
So this "time-honored tradition" was nothing more than an advertising campaign, not some real tradition in our culture.
And when it comes to normative cues, weddings are chock full of such "traditions" that we believe go back for centuries, but in fact may be only decades or years old. The various dances we see today (doing the Hokey-Pokey or the Macarana) are of course, recent innovations. But shame to the Wedding DJ who doesn't play these songs!
Tossing the bouquet is a tradition thought to go back to 14th Century France. However, removing the bride's garter, is a tacky "tradition" that seems to date to only a few years ago (they never did that shit when I was a kid!) - although some folks claim it stems from "flinging the stocking" in Merry Olde England. Well, the people claiming this actually sell custom wedding garters, so consider the source.
Some other wedding customs have odious origins, such as the "Charivari". In parts of the rural Midwest, it was considered "traditional" to harass the bride and groom on their wedding night, often by making noises outside their honeymoon suite, or sometimes even by invading it. Sometimes even the bride would be "kidnapped" or otherwise harassed. Ahhh..... tradition!
Traditions are fine and all, but stop and ask yourself why you are following them - and make your own traditions instead. Many people and many cultures honor "traditions" as sacrosanct and inviolable, when in fact, they morph over time and are often only decades old. Traditions are, in fact, often evil, as we are seeing today in a world where people kill and maim in the name of "tradition" or "honor".
The expensive wedding isn't going to go away anytime soon. Many folks will feel obligated to spend enormous sums of money putting on a party for their relatives, in order to satisfy social custom. But years later, this party will mean little to them, other than some faded photos of people they haven't seen since.
You can make your own decisions and choices in life - I hereby grant you permission to do so. And if spending twenty grand getting married seems like an obscene financial disaster, maybe you are indeed correct and the rest of the world is wrong.
You'd be surprised, it happens quite often.