“She made me feel like a horrible person,” my boyfriend’s mother sobbed on the phone, relaying her afternoon spent planning a friend’s daughter’s wedding shower. “I just think it’s ridiculous to make each girl pay over $200 for the party,” she said, defending her decision to stand up to the Maid of Honor, who felt the event would not be complete without Mr. Omelette.
When she returned home, there was hate mail in her inbox from the maid-of-honor’s mother: “If you have a problem with the details the girls are planning, the budget, or at least cooperating with the Maid of Honor who is in charge of the shower committee, maybe you should step back,” she read over the line, telling us how she was, essentially, kicked out of planning the celebration.
“Oy,” I thought to myself. “This is why I don’t want to get married.”
I am a 26 year old, straight, attached female. As such, professional engagement photos, macro ring shots, and complaints about big-day planning hardships now bloat my social media newsfeeds. Cupcake towers, save-the-date magnets, and Pinterest pages of “tablescapes” have reached a peak of absurdity. But none of this is really what bothers me about the current state of weddings — people are getting married, they’re excited, good for them. The part that gets me, the reason my little girl dreams of saying “I do” are now wrapped in nervous havoc, relates to all the rest: the planning, the money, the sparring over venues, decor and — god forbid — a shower without gourmet omelets. A wedding is no longer just a wedding, it’s a year of anticipatory celebrations that must also be coordinated and paid for, upping the ante for clashes and drama.
As I listened to my quasi-mother-in-law read the aggressively angry and flat out Kardashian-like email sent to her, I couldn’t help but question how committee-headed, multi-thousand dollar afternoons have became a prerequisite to marital bliss. Or why it would be okay to require the bride’s friends to float a completely unnecessary omelette chef in the first place.
In the United States, weddings are a $50 billion dollar industry. Nationally, the average price of a wedding has jumped to $28,000 (Chicagoans spend an average of $50K, New Yorkers around $76K.) But these numbers do not include all the other money — the money spent by family and friends to throw the ever growing number of pre-wedding events, with increasingly inflated bills. Bachelorette parties now have destinations: Miami, Las Vegas, Aruba. Bridal showers have multiplied, with brides-to-be planning not one but two or three individual showers. Parties have gone from a one night event to an extended weekend soiree. And with all this comes travel expenses, meals out, and hours spent away from work for each invitee.
In 2011, Mint.com estimated that the average cost of being a bridesmaid is $1,695. That number includes the bridesmaid dress and bachelorette party, and of course the lavish gifts (bachelorette, wedding shower, engagement). While that alone may shock you, the data becomes all the more absurd when you consider the fact that, more often than not, that bill is being paid for by members of a generation who just got sucker punched by the economic downturn of 2008. Unemployment rates for this 20-something generation are nearly double the national average, with lasting financial obstacles even after we finally find full-time employment. And we’re spending over $1,500 to watch a friend walk down the aisle?
I love my boyfriend. And the idea of spending the rest of my life with him does not freak me out, it actually makes me quite excited. But I am entirely terrified to get married. Not because of the commitment or the contracts or stage fright, but because of the wildly elaborate cultural expectations of what a wedding should be.
After decades of marketing schemes for designer gowns and Tiffany rings, today’s wedding frenzy is nurtured by television shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Four Weddings. Say Yes has been so successful it has six — count ’em, six — this-or-that-veil spin offs.
And then there’s social media, where obsessive posting makes big day comparisons all the more inevitable and tantalizing. Single gals wait to see whose profile will switch from “in a relationship” to “engaged” next, and scan photos to judge the bride’s white gown or hipster photo booth snapshots.
For all this, I blame no one. I am just as guilty of looking through friends’ wedding photos. And Randy Fenoli is unabashedly adorable and entertaining — I want to see what dress he puts a girl in as much as the next person. But as I feel myself getting closer and closer to the alter, I’ve begun to take a step back from the gawking to look more intently on what all the fuss is really about.
The wedding industry is a reliably rising stock. Both gay marriage and the altar-bound Gen Y-ers will keep the dress makers, DJs, wedding photographers, and suit rental industries going strong for years to come. And while I greatly support the institution of marriage itself — especially the notion that each and every person has the right to partake in it — I worry that marriage is becoming more a glorified Sweet 16 or bar mitzvah than a ceremony to note one of the most important decisions of your life.
“I had a moment a few weeks ago where I looked up and realized I was married,” a friend confided in me. “I don’t know why, but it just hadn’t really dawned on me until a month after the wedding. I’m maaa-ried.” In all the buzz and planning and gifts and bills and thank you notes, the time to take a breath and look at her husband — who, she is, I have to clarify, very happy to be married to — and appreciate the gravity of the commitment they were making never quite happened.
All this said, I must say each of my friends’ weddings has been beautiful, and heartfelt and memorable. But I question whether all the stress, arguments, and check writing preceding them were necessary to make the event just as spectacular as it should be. Yes, my frustration is partially out of a desire to use my limited cash flow on something other than penis pops and car rentals, and I don’t believe a five foot cake or monogrammed gift bags (or Mr. Omelette) should be a social requirement for happily ever after. But more than anything, I worry that these bloated wedding celebrations have become a distraction from the moment that should be the most important — having your family and friends watch you make a promise you hope to keep forever.