Are weddings worth the time, the hassle and the extraordinary cost?
As I type these words, royal wedding fever is in the air with the recent nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The social media frenzy has most likely led to a boom of ceremonies over the current ‘season’, as couples ride the crest of this indefatigable wave.
According to a 2017 survey, the average cost of a UK wedding was £27,161. A similar poll in the USA for 2016 arrived at a comparable cost of $35,329.
But it was a BBC report on one wedding that caught my eye. The writer of this report – a woman who wished to remain anonymous – spent £50,000 on her wedding, a wedding she now regrets. Yes the day was great, she admits, but how on Earth did she get sucked into the whole ‘princess’ delusion? What made her spend £5000 on an item of clothing that only gets worn once, before ending up in a cardboard box somewhere in the loft?
For the sake of comparison, the UK median house price in 2017 was £215,584 (for a semi-detached property). A pot of £27,000 would have easily covered the cost of a 10% deposit, as well as leaving a healthy sum behind to help furnish the place.
Although the Running Mutty is quite content not being married – in other words, there is no Mrs Running Mutty – I have attended enough weddings to get a pretty good feel of how the industry works. So I feel qualified to join forces with the anonymous BBC woman in asking why people feel the need to go to such outrageous excess for a wedding, especially when the rest of married life – assuming the marriage lasts for any length of time – often becomes an exercise of scrimping and belt-tightening, hoping to keep the wolf from the door.
Do couples ever ask themselves what they really truly want to get out of a wedding? Or do they just get dragged along in the whole tidal wave of extravaganza, treating the wedding as if they had an open cheque book at hand. Why would you want to ruin your perfect day with such humdrum concepts as ‘money’ and ‘budget’? That’s just for commoners surely.
A. Marriage v Wedding
Let’s make it clear what we’re talking about here. The ‘marriage’ is the legally recognised process that unites two people into a partnership. The ‘wedding’ is the subsequent celebration of the marriage. Both marriage and wedding usually occur one-after-the-other on the same day, for the sake of convenience if nothing else.
Both marriage and wedding should also be viewed as optional. In the 21stcentury, at least in developed nations, nobody is forcing you to marry or have a wedding. Couples can and do commit themselves to a long-term relationship without the necessity of going through a legal process, let alone a wedding. Whether these couples have the same rights as married couples is a contentious point, but this is a subject we’ll leave for another time. The main point is that marriage should no longer be seen as mandatory.
If a couple does decide to tie the knot, the simplest and cheapest option is to visit the local marriage registrar, usually housed as part of the town hall. A marriage celebrant will carry out a basic civil ceremony, before entering the marriage details into the local registry. It’s a simple, no fuss option, currently costing in the range of £100 to £500 depending on your local council, how fancy you want the room to be, as well as what day of the week you’d prefer (fun fact: Monday to Thursday is cheaper than Friday and Saturday).
The registration cost may end up being the only cost you incur for the entire process of getting hitched. The ‘wedding’ has now become an optional event. (It might sound like a joke, but the cheapest wedding is not to have one at all.)
I have a few friends who’ve gone down the minimalist route, friends incidentally who are still married and don’t regret their modest nuptials at all. These people are, however, very much in the minority.
Come to think of it, my friends would probably agree with the following ‘formula’ for success: the more bridesmaids you have at the wedding, the greater the chance of the marriage ending in divorce.
B. Wedding Checklist
Although the exact format for a wedding varies from culture to culture, I will stick to the standard ‘western’ version, largely because it’s the version I’m most familiar with. In addition, even though I tend to use the words ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ when referring to the couple, this should not be seen as a veiled attack on same-sex marriage. I fully respect and support the rights of any two people to get married, regardless of gender.
The typical wedding features a combination of traditional elements – venue, catering, speeches, gifts, entertainment – as well as a variety of other silly fluff, such as ‘catching the bride’s garter’. There is some debate as to whether the honeymoon forms part of the overall wedding cost. Given that the honeymoon often turns out to be the most expensive part of the entire process, it’s something that ought to be scrutinised in more detail.
Let’s have a closer look at four of these wedding elements in particular:
While the venue can be anywhere – local or abroad, modern or rustic, indoors or outdoors – rarely is the venue presented in its usual form. Instead, the wedding will transform the venue into a ‘sacred space’ complete with balloons, frilly curtains, tablecloths, pristinely-folded napkins, flowers and glitzy decorations. This may or may not be under the control of an agency brought it to manage the wedding (another hefty cost again).
While there’s no doubt the ‘icing’ has a striking visual impact, who exactly is it all aimed at? Those involved in bridal planning seem to overlook a couple of major points when it comes to wedding guests. Firstly, many guests most likely haven’t seen each other in years, so there will be serious talking and catching-up going on. Secondly, as regrettable as it might sound for those seeing their wedding as a fairytale experience, most of your guests are there for one thing only: to get completely hammered. Nothing more attracts honey bees to the hive than those magical two words: open bar.
Sure, your guests might walk into the venue and make a few brief comments about how the place looks ‘nice’. They might even take a photo or two. Five minutes later, the venue has more or less been forgotten about as people start filling their stomachs with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, catching up with people they haven’t seen for years. Ten minutes later, none of your guests are thinking about your $1000 floral arrangement.
Perhaps then the decorative touches are mainly for the bridal party’s benefit? Most brides and grooms I’ve spoken to barely remember anything from the day due to the manic levels of stress. They hardly have the time nor the motivation to smell the flowers. Even wedding photographers prefer natural outdoor settings. So we ask ourselves again: what is the point of all the little frilly touches? Will anyone seriously complain if they’re not there?
Come to think of it, if weddings weren’t so expensive, brides and grooms would probably feel more relaxed, not having to worry about every single thing being 100% perfect.
Oh God, the speeches. Is there anything more painful than wedding speeches?
Don’t get me wrong, an experienced public speaker is a rare animal, a true artisan at work. He or she can keep an audience captivated for hours, never running shot of humour and self-effacing charm.
I’m going to guess that none of your speakers fall into this category. I’m going to further guess that most of your speakers have never given a public speech in their life.
Fair enough, you might contend, it’s unreasonable to expect every one of your wedding speakers to be a honed professional. However, instead of simply acknowledging their shortcomings by delivering a short and sweet ‘thank you’ speech, the novice speaker ends up delivering a longwinded presentation of the groom’s former exploits, often presented in a laddish, ‘frat boy’ kind of way. Like most tales of drunken exploits, these tales usually only entertain those who were personally involved in the hilarity. The rest sit and squirm, trying to keep themselves occupied by twirling empty beer bottles or wine glasses.
Granted, speeches don’t have any direct monetary cost, except perhaps in the huge surge towards the bar once they’re all over.
Honeymoons tend to be grossly exorbitant affairs, often taking place is some tropical paradise like the Caribbean or the Maldives. Apart from giving the bride and groom a brief taste of how the rich and famous live, these settings also have the pleasing side-effect of delivering maximum impact on social media.
With that in mind, I’m going to make a couple of suggestions that are almost heretical in nature, seeming to undermine the very fabric of the honeymoon. However, I also believe they more accurately capture what a honeymoon should be about.
The main focus of the honeymoon must always be the priceless ‘together time’ it provides for the happy couple. Now is the time for the partners to dig deep into each other’s quirks and foibles without the distractions of work, other people, and normal life. Nowhere in the manual does it state that luxury is required. In fact, I would argue that the luxury is another distraction again, chewing away at the couple’s valuable bonding time. So to save on cost, why not consider a more local option, such as a small cottage or beach apartment within driving distance of home. The location should be far enough away to avoid people you know, but close enough that it doesn’t require a huge commitment of time and money.
I’m now going to make an even more radical suggestion. Why not carry out the honeymoon before the nuptials take place? Independent travel is a time-honoured way for the prospective couple to see if they can really live in each other’s pockets. The problem with normal life is that it can often be comfortable and cushy, especially in the early days of a relationship. In such a setting anyone can have a ‘good sense of humour’.
But life as an entire performance isn’t always so radiant and glowing. Prospective partners should take every opportunity to make sure their beloved will be there for them ‘in sickness and in health’? In other words, don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk.
All couples should be forced to back up their fine words of lovey-dovey bliss with a stern examination of the real world. Independent travel – and we’re talking backpacks, buses, and shoestring budgets – throws up a number of unwelcome challenges, shaking people well out of the comfort zone. How will the couple manage when things start getting a little tough?
And yes, many couples do end up splitting as a result of travelling together. If this seems like a shame, consider the alternative: getting married and discovering they really aren’t compatible with each other. That would be an even greater shame.
Did I also mention that the ideas suggested above cost far, far less than the traditional glamour honeymoon?
Finally we have the obligatory wedding gifts. This is not an expense as such. In fact, it could be seen as an ‘anti-expense’, a way for the couple to partially recoup the enormous cost of the wedding.
In former (quainter) times, weddings were mostly carried out in home towns, so rarely did anyone have to travel far to attend a wedding. In these circumstances, a gift registry was a perfectly sensible idea, helping the bride and groom to kick-start their new life together.
However, this is changing as people with higher levels of disposable income opt for weddings held in far-flung locations. The majority of guests (if not all the guests) will end up having to catch a flight, as well as paying for hotel accommodation. The majority of guests will also have to fork out this expense from their own pockets. In this case, it is unreasonable to ask the guests to contribute towards buying a gift as well. The guests are already making a heavy commitment of time and money just to be there. Gifts should be entirely optional in such cases, with this being expressly stated as part of the wedding invite.
This makes the choice a simple one. Either hold the wedding locally and set up a gift register. Or hold the wedding abroad and dispense with the gift register. The blank chequebook that applies for your wedding is unlikely to extend to your guests.
C. The Perfect Wedding
We conclude with the Running Mutty’s perfect wedding: an old-fashioned elopement. The only way to escape the tiresome aspects of modern life is to run away from them.
You and your rosy-cheeked sweetheart disappear to Iceland and scout around for a tiny chapel. Then you track down a local marriage celebrant to host the ceremony. The only people present will be the happy couple and the celebrant. If witnesses are required, then just drag a few people off the street. Most likely there’ll be plenty of tourists around who’ll jump at the opportunity. (In fact, I’ve just done a quick Google and discovered that while you do need two witnesses to sign your application for an Icelandic wedding, the witnesses do not need to be present at the ceremony.)
Half an hour later, the civil ceremony will be all done and dusted. You then move on to your ‘wedding’ dinner, finding a suitable local restaurant (are they any vegetarian restaurants in Iceland?). Only two people will be invited to this wedding dinner, as it should be.
Once you’re back home, you can casually mention to others that you happened to get married while you were away in Iceland. Your family and friends will congratulate you, relieved that this is one wedding they don’t have to commit any time and expense towards, as well as being secretly jealous that they didn’t think of doing the same thing themselves.
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