By Stephen Marche
We spend too much on weddings, and it is ruining marriage as a result.
Trolling Kimye is fun, and no one had more fun with it than The New York Post in reporting news of their ridiculously lavish wedding in Versailles and Florence. But is America really in any position to judge them? Kim Kardashian and Kanye West allegedly spent $7 million dollars of their own money on the affair, which is just about 5% of their net worth (the rest is covered by the network televising it later). Unlike so many Americans, they didn't go anywhere near debt for it. They will probably, from the exposure, actually make money.
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The average American, on the other hand, will not be able turn a profit on their wedding. And in fact, they will go into serious debt for it. Depending on how it was calculated, a wedding in 2012 came to either between $15,000 to $30,000 dollars or the solid $27,000, according to a smart analysis by Slate. In New York City, the average cost of a wedding was $76,687 dollars, according to CNN Money.
I'm not a Communist and I like nice things, but that stuff is completely out of control. The cost, needless to say, does not include the six months to a year of energy the couple has to expend. I hate to be that guy, but whenever I see one of these weddings, all I can think about is what else could be done with the money and the time and the energy. Two young Americans, thirty grand, and six months of applied effort--What couldn't they do? What village in some distant third world country could they fix? Even without the virtue angle, lets face it, a young couple setting off in life needs cash. Thirty grand is a goodish way to a downpayment. If you put thirty thousand dollars in an investment fund it will pay a sizeable chunk of a child's private college tuition when it's needed.
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It's not just the money though. The wedding industrial complex is so horrific because of what all the money is there to hide. After you've been through enough wedding seasons, and examined them collectively after the fact, you realize one simple fact: Generally speaking, the bigger the wedding, the less likely the marriage is to succeed. There is, so far, no sociological study that I'm aware of that actually draws this connection. However, it has been established for years that the quantity of consumer debt correlates with the decline of marital satisfaction over time. And increases in assets correlate to a rise in marital satisfaction. Those trends apply to wealthy and to poor couples--getting into a massive amount of debt is the single worst way to start a marriage. Owning something together is the best way to start it. This is common sense. As a study from 2007 on materialism and marital happiness demonstrated, "Materialistic individuals report more financial problems in their marriage and more marital conflict, whether they are rich, poor, or middle-class."
The culture that demands a big wedding hurts the poor worst of all. In 2005's "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage," Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas explained why even women who didn't have much money wanted a lavish wedding. "Having the wherewithal to throw a 'big' wedding is a vivid display that the couple has achieved enough financial security to do more than live from paycheck to paycheck, a stressful situation that most believe leads almost inevitably to divorce. Hosting a "proper" wedding is a sign that the couple only plans to do it once, "given the obvious financial sacrifice." This is the equivalent, financially, of cutting of your arm to demonstrate how strong you are. The needs of a big wedding also leads to poor people marrying later and less often than rich people, which brings with it a host of negative socioeconomic consequences.
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The modern American wedding is a sign of a widespread failure of imagination. Each wedding must be "special" in exactly the same way. The couple creating their wedding must achieve pure self-expression, which means turning themselves into the subject of their own reality television show, while connecting themselves at the same time to an entirely fabricated version of tradition. The "traditions" which bridal magazines spend their vast energies creating are of course pure baloney, mostly derived from the activities of tiny British aristocratic families. You want to know what a traditional wedding is? You get married with guests first thing in the morning at a church, and then you have a wedding breakfast with your family, in which you indulge in a few bottles of champagne. Then you travel to a hotel not too far away from where you live, in order to screw for two weeks straight. That's how both sets of my grandparents got married, and then got on with the business of building houses, running families, making enough money to live and drinking themselves to slow deaths. How much would that wedding cost today? Maybe five grand?
Instead of being the victim of the wedding industry, the best plan is either to avoid it altogether or at least to understand the desires it feeds off of. Everyone wants a wedding that connects their love affairs to the past, with a sense of individual expression. The good news is that the best way to achieve those two goals is also the simplest. Today, the most traditional and the most original way of getting married would be to elope and spend the money on building a real life together.