Last Wednesday, I asked all of you to share your thoughts on the modern American wedding and why so many of us lose our minds the moment we begin to identify as brides. Well, the results are in! Plus, I’m going to share my own theory at the end of this post, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
First up, Lunar at Sublunar Reflections wrote about the “Catch-22” of the wedding industry and the fact that celebrations of this sort have become a status symbol.
“There’s an industry for them because people are obsessed, but people become obsessed because of the industry. You could also look at it as a display of wealth. Historically weddings were smaller and less ‘to do’ because most people couldn’t afford them. But now that the middle class is larger, more people want what the upper class has always had, aka. big deal celebrations and weddings.”
I definitely agree with her on this one. And even though I’m doing my best to reign in my expectations and not go crazy, I think it’s my dad who is going to be the real problem when the time comes. His chief concerns in life are having enough ice at parties (Remember the Great Ice Wars of 2012?) and providing good-quality alcohol because if you don’t, you look cheap.
The same could be said for chair covers, menu cards, tulle overlays, fancy invitations, monogrammed dance floors and—where would be without it?—uplighting. God forbid two people proclaim their love to one another without the requisite uplighting.
Mary M at Greek Upbringing wrote about what I like to call Love of Pretty Things Syndrome.
“Back in the day, if you were rich enough, you’d probably host an annual ball, and you could be thinking about decorations all year round as you prepare for it. Judging from movies, there seemed to be a lot more fancy events to channel this energy, than we do now. Now we just have weddings.”
I think she’s onto something with this. Beautiful events are just so appealing, from the clothes to the centerpieces. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is why events like Diner en Blanc have become so popular. (PIC and I will be attending #DEBPHL2015 for the first time this year. It’s over a month away and I am already obsessing over how to decorate our table. He’s doing his best to humor me and I am telling him, “Look, wouldn’t you rather I channel my inner centerpiece goddess through this than our future wedding? I need a creative outlet!!!”)
In a similar vein, Chocoholicandcat wrote, “Weddings? Well I’m guilty of pinning a few wedding ideas, cakes, shoes, you name it on my board…” She believes the craziness stems from entitled brides thinking, “It’s my day and I’ve spent X-amount of money so it will be done the way I want it.”
321Jami at Brave Girl Tour added that weddings in general have just gotten out of hand and that we’ve “lost sense of what the actual moment is about.”
My high school BFF, Petitepaumee at Where is My Suitcase? (who is about-get-engaged-any-minute-now) wrote about how cultural expecations are passed on to young girls,
“On a cultural note, I do think that there are certain expectations of the bride that society – usually expressed in the comments of the bride’s family and friends – has. And those expectations add onto a princess-like tale parents tell their daughter – or the daughters spin on their own. I’m sure the desire to feel special isn’t unique to the American wedding culture – but I get a sense that everyone expects the bride to feel entitled. I imagine a century ago such self-focused behavior was not as widely accepted.”
One of the most interesting theories, which linked the Mommy Wars to conspicuous consumption via the modern American wedding, came from Landlord No Longer, aka my mom (who although not a blogger, does have a pretty nifty website for her vacation rental on the Jersey Shore).
“As a florist and self-confessed “part of the ‘wedding industrial complex’ off and on for many years,” she wrote that it was not always this way. “I have seen an explosion of ‘over the top’ weddings from your generation [the Millenials and Generation Y-ers), the same generation that had ‘over the top’ Sweet 16/Quinceaneras/Bat Mitzvahs, etc. Part of the blame has to fall on MY generation [the Baby Boomers], because we usually pay for and encourage the craziness.
“I believe some of this stems from the ‘Mommy Wars,’ beginning with birthday parties held at ‘venues’ instead of at home with a few friends and family members, to 8th grade dances that look like proms, to proms that look like weddings.
“My generation probably had more working moms in stressful corporate/business/finance careers than previous generations (except for the women who took over for men during WW II). Mothers that were able to acquire more discretionary/disposable income. I’m not an anthropologist, but I do know that mothers from my generation competed all the time […] and what better way to subtly tell the world what a great mom you are, what a great family you have DESPITE whatever choice you made (full time stay home to work or full time work elsewhere) then to throw these lavish parties?”
I hadn’t even thought about that but now I can definitely see the link.
(Because conspicuous consumption certainly isn’t new, it was just, you know, usually reserved for royalty.)
My own theory is a bit more cynical. I think the reason that weddings have become such a big deal is because in the 21st century, women don’t have to get married to support themselves. And although plenty of single-by-choice women have to endure awkward holiday dinners and nagging questions from well-meaning but out-of-touch relatives, being unmarried isn’t nearly the taboo that it used to be.
You can have kids on your own (either biologically or through adoption), you can buy a house on your own (patronizing, misogynistic loan officers aside), you can go to college, you can vote, you can travel, you can start a business, you can run for office, you can have sex with whomever you want—why would you want to get married?
Especially if, for example, you like having your own space or don’t want to have to compromise your career for the inevitable complications that come with a lifelong partnership.
Now I’m not saying that I feel this way—I want to get married; I want to raise kids with a partner; I want to spend the rest of my life waking up next to the same person every morning and saying goodnight to same person every night—but at the same time, I’d say we’ve reached a point historically where the “traditional” family, as defined by a monogamous, heterosexual marriage of people who look alike and have as many children as possible is—thankfully— changing.
Institutions, such as marriage, endure because they serve a function in society, and the function of this particular institution isn’t what it used to be.
Which leaves me wondering if some folks don’t need a little candy-coated nudge down the aisle?
Enter Pinterest. The bridal magazines. The reality shows and the big over-the-top blow outs that we’re all trying to emulate because if you get married, you get to have a WEDDING! And if you have a wedding, you get to buy new shoes, and a new dress, and flowers, and get your hair done, and everyone will spend an entire day staring at YOU!
A few years ago, I would have been worried that my desire to get married stemmed from this same, shallow “it’s all about me” party-mania but I have come to see weddings as just one of the many perks (and a small one at that) that come with getting making a lifelong commitment to someone. Just to be sure, I ask myself if I would still want to marry PIC even if it meant having to elope and giving up the “wedding of my dreams.”
The answer is always yes. Irrevocably yes.
But I’m not sure if it is for many of today’s brides. I think weddings have become a rather large incentive in the overall “package” of marriage, especially for people who aren’t particularly in love with their partners or the idea of commitment, or who aren’t all that tempted by the practical benefits of lifelong partnership.
And I think this is exacerbated when the bride in question lacks creative outlets in her “ordinary life” or hasn’t ever gotten to be the “star” of her own show, so to speak.
I know this isn’t the most romantic view of marriage but what can I say? There’s a big old world out there beyond those damn idea boards.