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As a newly engaged woman who made the mistake of updating my Facebook status, I've had my fair share of wedding-related ads come my way. Photographers, jewelery vendors, dressmakers and harpists are all popping up in my feed, each of them vying for their share of that sweet, sweet wedding debt that I'm sure to incur.
There are even some well-placed babies in a few of the ads, just in case it's a “shotgun wedding” or if I've somehow forgotten about my rapidly diminishing egg supply. (Joke's on them; my ovaries are doing JUST FINE thanks to adorable Internet cats and one hundred martini glasses filled with my own tears.)
While I expected the ads, what I didn't expect was the pressure from family, friends and even complete strangers about what my (and presumably every) wedding should include. The truth is that the widespread popularity of a lot of these “must-have” wedding pieces are actually pretty new in the big ol' history of marriage.
Although I have nothing against the people who want them, considering that the average wedding nowadays costs $29,858, it's worth asking whether buying into all of these traditions is actually worth the added expense. Let's start with...
5. The Engagement Ring
“Where's the ring?” is basically the first thing that anyone says to me after congratulating me on my engagement. If they don't say it, that's because the well-wisher has just completed a 10-second scan of my left-hand in a way that they think is discreet but absolutely never, ever is.
I could just never get behind the idea that I’m supposed to wear a ring for a year or two to show my commitment while my guy wears absolutely nothing to show his commitment. And then there’s the fact that after the ceremony, I’m just going to be wearing ANOTHER ring, in addition to the ring I was already wearing. So do I just take that first ring and store it in my jewelery box, hoping that any potential spawn that I have will want to wear it later on?
I realize that there are actual answers to this question (basically, don't write me), such as soldering the engagement and wedding ring together, or just saying to hell with it and wearing both of the damn things because they cost a small fortune. But the redundancy of having two rings that both mean “marriage”seems a little bit ridiculous, especially when the “recommended” price of each ring is often several months' salary.
Although you can trace the use of engagement rings all the way back to Ancient Rome, the iconic diamond ring that we think of today didn't become popular with us plebs until some fancy marketing from De Beers in the 1930s made us think that we wanted them. You see, during the Great Depression, the price of diamonds had dropped, largely due to young people thinking that diamond rings were “‘cheap,’ ‘flashy’ and ‘old-fashioned.’” In a brilliant marketing campaign, DeBeers actually re-spun “old-fashioned” into their now-famous slogan “A Diamond Is Forever.” Since then, we’ve been hooked, to the tune of about $4,000 a ring.
Getting a big, pricy ring made a little more sense when getting married was often the only financially viable option for a woman. If the man broke things off or died, she likely wouldn’t be able to recoup that loss, especially if she was no longer a virgin. But nowadays where women have more personal freedom (in some countries, anyway), this just doesn’t make sense anymore.
4. The Proposal
Okay, so maybe I didn't get a ring. But at the very least, my slacker-ass of a boyfriend must have made some kind of romantic proposal, right? Well...no. The truth is that my fiancé and I are a bit of a rarity in that we’ve been together since we were in high school. So despite the fact that we're in our late twenties now, we've actually been knocking boots (or at least awkwardly groping) for more than a decade. It hasn't really inspired either of us to propose to one another.
I’m as much of a sucker for public, undying declarations of love from my own personal brooding anti-hero as the next gal… but the far left lesbian shitass in me can’t help thinking that marriage is supposed to be about the love that two (or more, if you’re polyamorous) people have for each other. I mean, we're already common-law. We say “I love you” every day. I tolerate his incredibly awful Dad puns and he tolerates my incredible ability to lose my cellphone in the house every god-damned day.
I'm not really even sure how the whole “we should actually tie the knot” thing came about. One day, we just decided to start planning it. But I do know that the only reason that we became officially “engaged” was because we mentioned our wedding in passing while talking to my fiancé’s parents, which they then followed up with, “You’re getting married?” Oops.
So why is a proposal on a list of expensive wedding traditions? After all, when Jane Doe and John Smith proposed/got proposed to, it was inside of a fast-food joint/van/jail cell. And that’s all well and good for you guys. But the pressure to have some kind of story, the bigger and more romantic (and ultimately, more expensive), is real. Just Google “how to propose” and you'll come up with millions of hits on how to do it, as well as countless examples of people proposing with flash mobs, football stadiums, movie theatres, and so on... Some people are even spending up to $50,000 dollars on the proposal alone.
3. Endless Parties
When my fiancé and I decided to get married, we naively thought that the only big event that we’d be having would be, y’know, the actual wedding itself. But a few days after we told everyone about our upcoming nuptials, we started getting questions about when the engagement party was going to be. And the bachelor party. The bachelorette. Pre-wedding brunch. Post-wedding brunch. Traditional pre-planned crying ceremony.
The thought of standing up and declaring my love in front of other people even once is terrifying, so I'm pretty sure that hosting a score of other wedding-related parties would at least cause me to develop short-term paralysis. But what would be a nightmare for me isn't stopping other couples from throwing as many lavish parties as they can.
The New York Times did an article in 2013 about a few ladies who spent 4 or 5 days on their bachelorette parties alone, some of them even spending up to $25,000 a piece. And it's not just the ladies that are shelling out mad amounts of cash. Some men are spending several thousand dollars on their bachelor parties.
With today’s millennials struggling to make ends meet, it does seem likely that this is less of a trend and more of a few, vocal rich people throwing their money away. But it does give voice to the idea that at least one (if not several) huge pre-wedding shindigs are gaining ground in the public’s consciousness. From "The Hangover" to "Bridesmaids," big parties or “weekends away” that are thrown in addition to the actual wedding itself are no longer seen as out of place.
2. The Dress(es)
Ah, the iconic white, wedding dress that has become a staple of weddings everywhere. The practice of wearing a white dress as opposed to literally any other colour actually started to become popular after Queen Victoria did it when she married Prince Albert. And no, not because it represented any sort of pious virtue on the Queen's part, but instead because of how freakin' expensive it was to bleach clothing at the time.
And yes, I titled this entry “dresses” and not “wedding attire” because the average rental cost for a tux is around $150 whereas the average purchase price for a wedding dress is $1281. If you’re also footing the bill for a couple of bridesmaids dresses and maybe even a second or third dress as a “costume change,” you’re looking at two to three thousand dollars minimum on clothing that you're wearing for just one day. At least with the rings, you’re probably going to be wearing them for the rest of your life.
This doesn’t even get into the whole new weird “Trash the Dress” trend that seems to be picking up steam. You better believe that if I’m spending more than $30 on a dress, I’m a) not going to be wearing it for just one night and b) I’m not going to be (intentionally) destroying it immediately afterward.
And what drives me crazy about all of the wedding dress fervour is that almost every wedding dress looks exactly the same. I mean, if you watch “Say Yes to the Dress” (come on, I know you do), you're presented with about three options total. Number one, would you like a mermaid-style dress or something poofy enough to strangle a gazelle? Second, would you like white or off-white? And third, with or without sequins? After these three options, you have seen literally 99% of all wedding dresses ever. And somehow they all still cost a god-damned fortune.
1. The Reception and/or Honeymoon
We all know that guy who quietly got married over the weekend and then came back in on Monday with a ring on his finger. But there's definitely an expectation that if you're going to get married, you're going to do it in a huge and expensive reception hall, followed by a lavish honeymoon to someplace tropical, all-inclusive, and generally unthreatening.
I've been told that if I want to get a “good” wedding spot, I need to book my reception hall at least a year or so in advance. As well as the caterers, the DJ, the photographer and all of the other “must-haves” that are required of any modern-day wedding.
And yeah, while I'd like to do a little more than sign a license at the registry, I also don't want to throw some huge shindig. Whatever happened to just throwing a little party with 10 or so guests in your own backyard? The only parts of the wedding that I consider “important” are the groom and I, as well as a few close family members and friends. The rest is just dressing.
As for honeymoons to exotic locations, well...if I'm honest, this is where I want to spend most of my money. The difference is that wedding or not, I would have been spending that money on travel anyway.
Overall, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do any of these things. If you want all of what I’ve listed above and more, the more power to you. But if you’re just participating in these things because that’s what everyone else wants you to do, then for the love of god, don’t do it! Especially if you have to go into debt to do so.