When I Get Married, I Won’t Have a Wedding
In a culture that drives us to desire luxurious and expensive weddings, the logical option is to elope
I’ve been to a surprisingly large number of weddings in my life. Some of them, like my brother’s, have been very traditional. I watched my sister-in-law march down the aisle of a church in virginal white to Here Comes the Bride, and recite traditional protestant wedding vows with teary eyes.
I have also watched my older sister stride down the corridor of an old art museum in crimson red with an acapella gospel choir singing behind her. Just last week, I observed a close friend getting hitched in an old farmhouse under flickering fluorescent lights and shag carpet.
Although I have enjoyed every single one of these weddings, they’ve also made me think about just how much pressure our culture puts on couples to tie the knot in a lavish and exorbitant way.
Although it varies depending on location, religion, ethnic background and personal preference, a 2017 study found that the average couple dishes out $33,391 on their wedding.
This doesn’t even account for the cost of the engagement ring (which will run you at least another $500) or the travel expenses of the honeymoon. With that kind of money, you could fund an entire year of college, buy a new car, or put a down-payment on a house — so why do we blow it all in one day?
Why we spend so much money on weddings
Media influences like films and TV shows encourage us to
To give a simple answer to a complicated question, it’s because our culture tells us we need to. From the time they’re toddlers, little girls have watched their favorite Disney princesses and rom-com queens start their happily-ever-afters by walking down the aisle. Before they even know what a wedding or marriage means, girls are associating them with happiness and love.
The ceremonies in our favorite movies are rarely small, either — they take place in big, beautiful churches with professional decorations and hundreds of supportive guests. There’s a subtle message here: the bigger your wedding, the greater your love.
Films like these teach us that, not only is it acceptable to spend so much money on a wedding, but it’s necessary. How else do you proclaim your undying love, if not in front of your closest two hundred friends and family? Don’t you want your happily-ever-after too?
Families play a role too
Beyond media influences, there’s also plenty of familial pressure. Even if weddings may masquerade as being all about the happy couple, it’s really about gathering family and friends together to share in this momentous occasion. You invite two hundred guests, let them watch you confess your love, and then feed and entertain them all night long.
Most of the time, families are the ones who push for big weddings. When my sister got married, my mother commandeered the guest list. I watched in silence as the fifty-member guest list grew to one-hundred and fifty. “We have to invite your great-uncles,” she said, “And all of your cousins. They invited us to their weddings, you know. Don’t forget about your second-cousins from your dad’s side, either. They’ll want to be there.”
A family reunion is all fine and dandy, but the longer the guest list grows, the bigger the bill. Each plate of food at the reception could run you between $30 to $1,520.
The wedding industry profits as well
Influences from families and the media have a significant effect on how much we spend, but the wedding industry is the one who capitalizes on this cultural trend the most. The $33,391 typically blown on weddings is not usually spent all in one place — different expenses add up.
An article from The Balance did a thorough job at calculating the different wedding necessities, and how much they cost. You’ve got to worry about the engagement ring, the invitations, the venue, decorations, the wedding dress, the catering, the cake, the photographer — and you get the point. A couple of hundred dollars here and there eventually total up to $30,000.
Like the movies, companies spend a lot of time focusing their ads towards women rather than men. Even today, you often hear about how a wedding is “the bride’s special day” or “the one day you get to be a princess”. So, if your wedding is the one day you get to feel like royalty, who wouldn’t want to walk down the aisle in a $1,000 dress?
But, more than anything, advertisements just reinforce the power of weddings. The more important a wedding is to a couple, the more likely they are to open their wallets and spend lots of money.
There are other factors that dictate why we spend so much money on our weddings — like our religious or ethnic backgrounds — but our families, media, and advertisers play the largest role.
Why I plan to elope
With each wedding I’ve been to, I’ve often thought about what my wedding might look like one day. When I was a little girl, my fantasies included me in a church, walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown to a smiling husband.
As I got older, this fantasy has changed. Lately, I don’t see myself in a church, or even an expensive white dress at all. A much more appealing vision is myself, older and more mature than I am now, tying the knot with someone I love in a courtroom ceremony. The details are fuzzy — I don’t know what I’m wearing or what city I’m living in. I don’t even know if the person I’m marrying is a man or a woman.
What I do know is that, after seeing the money, stress and months of planning that go into a wedding, elopement is the logical, simpler option. It might irk a few relatives, but sparing myself and someone else the expense and stress of a big wedding seems like easy math.
I can’t speak for the desires of my future mystery spouse, but I don’t need the bells and whistles of a lavish wedding. I don’t need to walk down the aisle with the eyes of hundreds of people on me, wearing the white of a virgin, to feel like I’m truly committing myself to someone.
To me, a wedding is only one day out of years in a marriage — the amount of money you spend won’t prevent a couple from splitting up or staying together. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries spent 10 million dollars to spend 72 miserable days together. My own parents have been together for thirty-eight years and kept their wedding as simplistic as they could. It’s not about the ceremony or the decorations — it’s about what you do after that matters.
For the record, I say all of this without judgment. As someone who spends $3.55 a day on coffee, I can’t fault anybody else for spending $30,000 on a wedding if that’s what they really want. We all have things that matter to us and take priority over others. What I can recognize is that, despite living in a culture that pushes me to spend the equivalent of a new car on my future wedding, I’d much rather just elope and call it day.