Saturday, July 25, 2009

on weddings

Six years ago I sat by a fire in Alberta, Canada and tried to convince a friend of mine to buy a piano. He was planning his engagement, and could not decide between spending three thousand dollars on a bit of twisted metal with a shiny rock, and a new piano for his girlfriend: a vocalist and musician. To the pragmatist in me, the choice seemed obvious. A ring is only a symbol, right? And if a more expensive symbol made for a better connection, then it would follow that people like the Trumpmeister would not have made quite so many beautiful, eternal connections over the years.

A piano was practical, fit the situation, and was still a large sacrifice that would very clearly show his commitment. He was a student with loans so it seemed a good thing to do. I think I lost. The pull of culture, especially regarding all things wedding-related, is exceptionally strong. Although there are a lot of counter-cultural people I know who shuffle off the shackles of this consumatorial coil, there are many, many more who make the first large decisions of their lives together as couples in a direction that demonstrates exquisitely clearly that they're thinking not with their heads, but with a mulched-up pile of People magazines. Why?

Why, when as a couple you own sixty thousand dollars of school debt, do you choose to dig the hole deep enough for another truckload of money? Is it defeatism? The average North American wedding today costs around eighteen thousand dollars, and while many are able to bilk their in-laws into shelling it out (which is always an awkwardly mentioned item in drunken father-of-the-bride toasts), very few people stop long enough to ask whether they should be spending quite this much money in quite exactly this way.

I apologize, right off, for my money-grubbing attitude. It is easy to be as controlled by not spending money as it is to be controlled by spending it. I do feel, however, that in light of what we know about the prevalence of extreme poverty and suffering in the world, that we ought to be thinking long and hard about what, exactly, we are celebrating when we commemorate our weddings with orgies of (plasticky, decadent) spending of material goods.

I understand the argument: that this is a big event, and it is a good thing to celebrate big events with big, explosive shindigs. Some of the poorest people in some of the poorest countries go absolutely nutbar with the credit cards for weddings (well, they would if they had them... but you get the point). A marriage is a huge deal, and I agree with the need for a crazy party. I would never try to set a specific amount that would be a good idea for a wedding, nor would I be stupid enough to to suggest that having a dirt-free wedding like my own really says all that much about the value or expected longevity of the marriage. I still think, given the way things are in the world, that a wedding like the one my friend Leland just did (two people and a passing shepherdess on a windswept bluff by the sea in Ireland) is a good idea - but I would never proscribe such a wedding.

To each their own. Make merry like it's your hundred and eleventieth birthday, by all means. But before you do: please, please, please stop long enough to think about why you are wanting to celebrate the way you are, and if maybe (just maybe) it might have something to do with a stack of bridal magazines and too many nights alone with the rom-coms and a box of kleenex.

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