I’ve got an idea.
High school and college freshmen should all get a party. The night before their first classes, they should celebrate with a big cake, gifts and gift-cards, toasts and a dance party for all their friends. Their intention to finish their diploma or degree merits a big bash.
And why should anyone have to wait until they’re 65 to enjoy the professional accolades of all their friends and colleagues over a catered dinner and plenty of cocktails? If they intend to give a career their best shot, we should encourage them with a lavish celebration before their first day on the job.
If all that actually sounds foolish to you, then why don’t extravagant weddings seem equally unwise?
I don’t want to minimize the boundless suffering of badly-clad bridesmaids, slighted mothers-in-law, and the aftermath of champagne-induced sexual debaucheries. But a recent New York Times article examines one of the true plagues engendered by our cultural wedding fetish. It’s called “Married to the Plan. Still Looking for a Possible Groom.” It’s about young American women who have their weddings planned all the way down the napkins – even though they don’t even have a boyfriend.
In a stroke of truly incisive and creative reporting, this NYT piece reveals that there are drawbacks to planning your wedding as if the groom is a last-minute prop stitched into a tux.
“First, what some single women imagine may not be feasible and may actually be a waste of effort,” writer Alyson Krueger explains. She turns to the owner of a wedding trade show company, who says that brides, for example, might dream of guests sipping pumpkin soup. But then, if they get married in, say, Miami, in, say, February, the chef might announce, “I know you love pumpkin soup, but it’s not in season right now.”
“Another problem [as bad as the soup debacle, d’you think?] is the not-quite-bride is not taking into account a future partner and what his needs and considerations might be.”
The trade-show maven goes on.
“‘Even though you have all these ideas and you’ve done your homework and you are prepared as a single girl,’ she said, ‘you have to understand that marriage is a union and you have to take your other half into consideration.’”
But the single girls obsessed with their as-yet-unscheduled weddings weren’t worried.
As one woman explained, “if she met someone she wanted to marry, she doesn’t think his input would matter.”
Krueger does her homework and quotes a clinical psychologist:
“‘I think for anybody it’s much easier to plan a wedding than it is to form a meaningful relationship that is going to lead to a fulfilling marriage.’”
Stop the world, I want to get off.
Not only are women spending untold hours of their lives planning weddings to non-existent grooms. The New York Times finds it necessary to inform us that this one-sided, superficial obsession does not prepare anyone for a real partnership.
I’d like to shake the hand of whoever came up with that angle. I mean, really, thank God for clear-eyed psychologists.
It seems to me that lavish weddings are an irresistible incentive for people who have no business embarking on a lifelong emotional, sexual, reproductive, practical and financial partnership.
Imagine a world of marriages, but no weddings.
We would have been spared the whole Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries fiasco: without the promise of a televised fairy-tale netting millions, these two probably would have forgotten the meaning of the word “marriage” altogether.
Picture it: no Katy Perry/Russell Brand shambles. The world was a grayer place when we all learned that two elephants on a red carpet at a luxe Indian resort does not a marriage make. No acres of tabloids speculating on the wedding of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, when they already have forty-two children together. No millions of pounds for security measures for the wedding of William and Kate when the rest of Europe is rioting over austerity measures.
True, if we abandoned big weddings, it’s not only the wedding industry that would suffer – advice columnists would see a 75% drop in their mail volume, as all those questions about bridesmaids who dare to get pregnant, guests who demand vegan dinners, and deplorably late thank-you cards would cease to exist.
But if, as the American Psychological Association says, 40-50% of all married couples in the US end up divorced, shouldn’t we consider de-incentivizing marriage itself?
My home church produces a pamphlet about the importance of marriage, and it irks me, because the picture on the cover is of a beautiful young couple in a wedding gown and a tux scampering away together on an idyllic beach.
To avoid giving the wrong impression to those who are selfish enough to believe that their future spouse should have no say in what his own wedding is like, I vote for a different wedding pamphlet image.
I could volunteer the image of my husband and me on the morning we had to get up together before dawn so that we could both go to the insurance-mandated mechanic to hand over our totaled car and sign for a supremely ugly rental before we had to be at work. Or the time my husband got raging tonsillitis while we were on our only vacation of the year. Or the time we bought a couch and then realized it wouldn’t fit in the narrow, angled stairwell to our second-floor apartment.
Sorry, you dewy-eyed lovers, but once the last dance is over, the last congealed canapé is scraped into the caterer’s trash bags, and that new Waterford crystal pitcher is stashed in the closet, that’s marriage.
Did I say I regret it? Of course not. I love my husband and we’ve had many good times. But as the years go by, from coping with grief together to disputes over household chores, marriage can be a mammoth challenge.
And I worry that legions of young people are getting duped into it because of lifelong bridal-gown fantasies.
I don’t want to you think that my own wedding wasn’t lovely. I argued with my mom about the live goldfish centerpieces, the outdoor July ceremony was wiltingly hot, and I didn’t have time to eat anything during the reception, but it was a wonderful day.
However, it seems that the only thing to match our culture’s divorce rate is our obsession with weddings. At what other time do we lavishly reward people for beginning what is meant to be a difficult lifelong endeavor? (Baby showers, maybe, but giving birth is an even bigger commitment than getting married – you can’t divorce your child and pick a new one.)
The problem with weddings is that they affirm the easiest part of your union (no, that consuming drama over what kind of shrimp you’ll serve or whose estranged aunt should be excluded from the list does not mark the most stressful time of your relationship). You’re young (for the most part – I do realize a greater number of folks are getting married later in life) and you may still be in the giddy infatuation phase of your relationship, when you just can’t get enough of each other. And this – when it all looks so simple and rosy – is when we launch websites to showcase our romance (and disseminate material wish-lists), and spend ourselves into oblivion so all our friends can bear witness to the fantasy.
Maybe we should clear away the sequined gowns, the cummerbunds, the towering cakes with their tasteless marzipan mortar, the lavish gift registries, and the rented parquet, and let marriage stand for what it truly is.
I know many folks from my own family’s church and maybe yours would protest that the beginning of a marriage should be marked with public celebrations, to uphold the value of marriage and help others aspire to it.
But it seems to me that the US at least is already rife with incentives to marry. In fact, countless government benefits bestowed on married couples are a major reason that American gays are still truly second-class citizens in a majority of states.
From taxes, immigration and insurance to inheritance and adoption proceedings, government, social and business policies often favor married couples and their children.
Do we really need fancy weddings, too?
I’m in my late twenties, so of course our fridge is dotted with save-the-date magnets, and I’m happy for my friends. But I’d love to go to a big party for a couple who married modestly and then successfully weathered ten, fifteen, or twenty-five years together. I’d like to toast their love, and, instead of listening to speeches about how much they will mean to each other all their lives (fingers crossed), applaud what the couple has actually achieved and the example they’ve set.
But the reality of marriage is not nearly as sexy and romantic as what we imagine over a new diamond ring. So I fear we’ll continue to wallow in weddings, and hope the rest works out.
Have you been to a wedding (or watched a marriage) that convinced you, one way or the other?