Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Weddings Save American Economy

I recently stood up in a friend’s wedding. It was only the third wedding I have stood up in, but my lack of understanding of the tradition is growing and growing. Aside from my philosophical holdup with the bridal party in general, the giant draining hole in my bank account has become a much greater concern for me. Not only did I have to sacrifice 4 ½ days to party, I paid for it dearly. Let’s examine some of these expenses:

Tuxedo: $150

Golf at bachelor party: $38

Bar tab at bachelor party: $32

Groomsmen round of golf: $32

3 nights in a hotel: $125

modest wedding gift: $45

Gas in and out of town: $40

Beer/food/miscellaneous: $100

That’s a total of $562. Now, I’ve never heard of anyone turning down a request to be in a wedding due to financial needs, but why not? And I got off easy. Some of the other groomsmen flew in from out of town, probably at a cost of about $300, and at the end of the bachelor party, about 20 guys wound up at the strip club and from what I heard, each of them spent anywhere between $100 and $400 there. All this money in the celebration of the union between two people, with a statistical 50% chance of complete failure. I had no duties outside of standing straight, smiling for pictures, and of course paying for my tuxedo. At no point did I need to speak, gesture or even help out in any way. I did get introduced at the reception, and even got paired up with a very attractive bridesmaid, but I suppose any time you drop down a small pile of c-notes, you should be treated with some level of earned respect.

This would not have been so difficult on me had I not just sent an email to a Ugandan friends explaining how I just didn’t have the money to help supplement his schooling. At a whopping $70 a semester, it will now surely require even further faith in Jesus to get me to heaven. “Sorry buddy, I just don’t have the money to give to you at this moment. Good luck…uhh…eating…I guess.”

Considering that I was just one of ten groomsmen, the wedding party of 20 people easily accrued over $10,000 in operating expenses. I’m sure this might sound a little selfish on my part considering that the families of the bride and groom easily doubled this amount of money in funding the wedding and rehearsal dinner. Then when you consider the guest list of around 250 people, largely from out of town, and taking a glance at the extensive registry of the couple, I’d say it’s a conservative ballpark guestimation that somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000 was put into this wedding somewhere along the line. And considering that the combined take home income this past year of the proud couple was surely less than half of this, the whole production seems a little ridiculous. The real winner in this wedding was not the bride and groom, but rather the small town of about 20,000 people where the wedding was held.

In defense of all this, I must say that I had an absolute blast of a time over the entire weekend. It was great to be part of the whole experience of family coming together and letting loose in celebration. My questions lie within the institution itself. Let’s remember that this wedding was performed under the supervision of a Christian church. The bride and groom were forced to take a nine week premarital course and even sign a vow of chastity. I’m not sure what went on in the premarital class, other than discussions on budgeting as a couple and waiting for the wedding night, but it concerns me that churches actually encourage people to get married in such an extravagant fashion. The pastor who conducted the wedding even told me, “there’s next to nothing in the bible on weddings”. So my question is, “Where did all this come from?”

The same pastor told me that the tradition of the groom not seeing the bride before the ceremony stems from arranged marriages. There was a concern that if the groom saw the bride for the first time before the wedding, he might bail and flea from town. There are countless traditions like this that are harmless details of any wedding: the first kiss, the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the bouquet and boutonniere, the toast, and even the bride wearing white. But there are also some traditions that are a little less innocent, namely the ring. It was tradition, and still is in some cultures, for the groom to make a financial sacrifice to the bride’s family (a dowry) in order to display his commitment to his bride. This tradition is out of hand in some places around the world as I have heard of so many fathers selfishly exploiting their daughter’s husband for as much money as he possibly can. The strange irony in America is that the father of the bride now seems to be the person who is left with the largest financial burden when his daughter is taken away in marriage. Somewhere down the line of American tradition, this financial sacrifice of the groom turned into the purchase of a ring, and under the marketing of De Beers, the ring turned into a diamond ring. Somewhere around 100 years ago this became the norm, but in the 1940’s De Beers realized that most couples were selling their engagement rings years after their marriage, creating a large second hand market for diamonds. De Beers then launched the most successful marketing campaign of the 20th century; “A diamond is forever”. The rest is history, as I (and probably you) can’t think of a single American couple to get married without a diamond. As a society people are finally becoming aware of the turmoil caused by “blood diamonds” or diamond companies in general, but what’s amazing to me is that there has been no shortage in the demand for diamonds. The diamond ring stands as the single most important, fundamental detail in the American wedding.

All this coming from an unmarried blogger. Whenever the day comes when I find that special someone and we decide to tie the knot, I’d like to think that maybe we could do something completely different. No wedding showers, no registry, no flowers, no giant cake, no tuxedos and especially no diamond ring. All I want is a beautiful bride, my family and friends, and plenty of wine. We know that these simple things were in the bible and for me anything beyond this would most likely only cloud up such a grand celebration. Make this my official goodbye to any aspiration of getting married the American way. My apologies to the American economy.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Exactly right on the wasteful ridiculousness of too many wedding bashes, Swede! Betsy & I did our best to pay for what was worth it & no more when we got married. We wanted something memorable & beautiful but realized that it wasn't money that adds those things. We spent around $10,000 & didn't ask much from anyone else (no tuxes or bridesmaid dresses, no basically mandatory golfing, we paid for all meals & accommodations out of that $10K). But I didn't figure anything out good about the diamond right, although I COULD have gotten away without it, per Betsy (I was just not happy about the judgment & criticism it would garner from 3rd parties). I wanted to show her that a 1.5 carat center stone & 2 0.3 carat side stones were a lifetime. Yeah, I got a good deal on it (how are blemishes that aren't visible a "bad" thing exactly?) but if I add that to the $10k, then we begin to think about 20.

On the direction you were heading initially, lamenting the expenses you incurred at a groomsman, remember that letting go of the rat race & money gathering game means letting go of the anxiety of using it. You didn't spend it on buying possessions. You spent it on creating happy memories spending time with people that you hopefully will have solid & long-lasting relationships with. That fits your philosophy perfectly, right?