So, you’re getting married. You’ve successfully sailed over the hurdle of the proposition of marriage and have found yourself swept up in a whirligig of unexpected decisions about colors and center pieces, menus and programs.
Let’s face it: weddings are big business. While every culture, and even region, has their own particular customs, you can guarantee that way more money and merchandise is going to change hands because of the events between your engagement and your wedding day than ever again, in your lifetime.
In order to put this discussion of the “business of weddings” into context, let us look at its origins. Had you grown up a mere 40 years ago, your life would have gone something like this: go to high school (where if you are really lucky, you get to see and touch a nipple before you graduate); get married (if you went to college, postpone the marriage until after graduation or just before the pregnancy is obvious); move in together; work like a dog for the rest of your life to support your family.
Back in these days, the point of the entire wedding process was not only to validate your love in the eyes of the applicable legal and religious systems, it was to help out a couple of kids who were starting out their life together. In that vein, a series of events were held for the purpose of giving the happy couple stuff to fill their homes.
In the modern day wedding, these various cash and gift-giving events go by a variety of names. There is the engagement party, to “announce” the engagement, even though, presumably, everyone there already knows about it. Bring a gift to congratulate them! There may also be a social event (also called a shag or a dance), which is an soiree held in a bar or a hall, organized by the lucky wedding party, to which people buy tickets and pay for drinks in order to raise money to help pay for the wedding. While at the social, there are draws and raffles for prizes to raise even more money.
Closer to the wedding, there is a little something called a shower. For years this torture was reserved for women to provide the new blushing bride with little household things like utensils and tea towels to help her “ set up her home.”
Luckily for you gentlemen, women have caught on to the fact that it is completely unfair that they have to go to all of these showers and you don’t. So the “Jack-and-Jill” showers evolved, where men are invited to join in the fun of giving up their Sunday afternoon football in order to sit in someone’s aunt’s basement and watch the happy couple open more presents.
The inevitable stag/stagette ensues, which generally involves buying about a thousand shooters and trying to do everything you can to potentially bust up the couple, even though you have personally already probably invested between $80-$1000 on a wedding that is not your own (the lower end only if you were invited to all of the pre-wedding events; the upper end of the scale if you are actually a part of the wedding party.
Here is my question to those folks getting married: In this day and age, when it seems that about 8 out of 10 people who get married have already been living together for 1 to 15 years, why is it that the amount of gifts and cash donations you receive up to and including the actual wedding far exceed anything previously expected when a couple actually started with nothing? Is it possible that we have all lost a little perspective here and that the wedding process has turned into a thinly disguised money grab in some situations?
Here is what is difficult to understand: in finding your spouse, you have found the person who you see standing by you through all of the good and bad in life, a partner to give you a hand, love you, and spilt all of the bills with you forever. So, where does this money grab come in? The thing is that people don’t stop and check themselves anymore.
Finding someone who loves you enough to want to spend every waking moment together for the rest of your lives is an amazing gift. It’s like winning the lottery. If you won the lottery, would you expect all of your friends, all of your parents friends, and your old roommate from college who you haven’t spoken to in 10 years, but you were really close once, to throw you a party and bring you gifts to celebrate? Isn’t finding love already a great gift?
I think that they reason that people get married has been lost, like so much else, in a consumer fog. If this day is, at its very essence, about celebrating your love for your spouse, is one more gravy boat really going to make your love that much stronger?
I have heard great aunts (who don’t realize that the “10% of your annual salary” rule now applies to the amount of money your friends will spend on you by the time you’re married) be ridiculed for their cheap gifts; I have heard complaints from a bride about how long it is taking her to write the 130 thank you cards for one of her showers; I have seen more friendships end (with both brides and grooms) because they just expect too much financially and emotionally from their friends during the process.
I have even seen one particular bride wait until the receiving line was done, where everyone presented her with the envelope for their “presentation only” request (for those couples who skip the masquerade that they need anything but your cold hard cash), then proceed to hunt down every single one of her new husband’s friends and let them know that they were never to set foot in her house again (due to a completely innocuous 30 minute trip to the strip joint at his stag).
She wasn’t mad enough to discuss this with them in the two week lag between the stag and the wedding, lest it cut down on their net profit, but once the envelopes were in, the gloves came off.
Some tips to keep you from looking selfish and greedy:
- If you are demanding presentation only, have the courtesy to also list on your invitation if it is a cash bar at the wedding. People shouldn’t be asked to contribute at both ends.
- If you have multiple events that the same people are invited to (for example, showers, engagement parties, etc.), let them know that they do not have to bring a gift to every single event. No one should have to give you more than two gifts (some would say only one) for the privilege of knowing someone who is getting married.
- If you don’t have the class not to complain about anything gift-related at all (including the burdens of writing thank you cards or having to keep going back to your registry and adding things cause it’s all getting bought-up), reserve your comments for your spouse-to-be.
- Don’t minimize your bridal party’s contribution to your wedding with a sense of entitlement that drives you to convince yourself that they are happy to shell out any amount of money in order to make your day extra special. Appreciate them and thank them heartily.
This is not, as it may come off, an anti-wedding diatribe. I have been to some wonderful weddings where the point was clearly not to fleece the crowd, but to throw a great party to celebrate a wonderful decision. All I ask is that couples just try to keep perspective about what they are asking of friends and family, and not end a friendship when a friend has to chose to pay their rent instead of buy a 4th gift in celebration of their blessed union. Now go get hitched!