Her Big Day

So, despite all our sage advice, you have committed to marry. Even sensible women, perhaps even your bride to be, not normally given to falling into the Princess trap, seem to be seized by the impulse to become princess for a day when they get married. Who do we have to blame for this? Perhaps childhood toys and stories, that have as a central feature the magical wedding day, the culmination of the fairytale romance. In preparation for this magical day, couples spend many months arguing over the best way to celebrate their union. The families of the bride and groom also get into the act. The average cost of a wedding in 2011 was about $26,500, without including the wedding ring or any honeymoon; so couples who can barely afford to buy a house spend tens of thousands of dollars to celebrate the big day. Guests are expected to go to the trouble and expense of buying wedding gifts or, worse, are coarsely encouraged to donate cash. We’ve known deeply indebted women of moderate income to spend thousands on their wedding dress.

The average age of a woman at time of matrimony is now almost 30 in many countries, but the aging bride seems to be just as insistent on a storybook wedding as her younger and presumably less mature predecessor a generation ago. So, what is wrong with all this? Let us count the ways:

– The marriage day is the beginning of the story, not the end; the first day of a long and challenging relationship. The marriage will only last if each party can act in a sensible and mature fashion, and share the same set of values. Is self-indulgent narcissistic overspending on the first day of the union the best expression of such values?

– If a modest ceremony was substituted for an elaborate one, the resulting savings could be invested in a nicer or less heavily leveraged home for the newlyweds. Or, God forbid, saved for the future, as archaic as that notion sounds.

– Should the first day of the wedding be celebrated in a style that is consistent with the means of the couple to be? It’s one thing for ostentatious tasteless billionaires like Donald Trump to spend a fortune on a wedding – he can afford it. But can you? Celebrate in the same style in which you can afford to live.

– All of that planning and organizing for the big day – the same amount of effort might yield a plan for a new business, a non-profit venture, or some way to help your family or friends other than inviting them to a big party (for which you charge admission in the form of wedding gifts). Is this really the best way to spend time and energy?

Now that you’re engaged, it’s a great time to think through what relationships are really about. You can have a celebration without ostentation, or you can have ostentation if you can really afford it. But getting married is about having a partner for life; not about having a big party for a day.

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