RETHINKING WEDDINGS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My son is getting married for the second time. He had a big wedding the first time, complete with a beautiful service in a synagogue, bridesmaids and groomsmen and a formal reception in a local restaurant’s banquet hall with 100 people in attendance.

I helped his first wife find a gorgeous but not outrageously expensive wedding dress. We also found inexpensive ways to decorate the reception room and dinner tables and she cut costs wherever possible. But it was still an expensive undertaking.

With young people drowning in debt these days and with housing costs so high in many parts of the country, I wonder why people are still having big weddings. In addition to the cost, the logistics of organizing every detail of a ceremony and reception can be overwhelming for people who are already overworked and short on free time.

Maybe part of the problem is that it’s hard to find a middle ground between a large, complex, over priced affair and eloping. That’s what my son discovered this time around and he opted, in effect, to elope. He and his fiancé tried to be as frugal as possible in planning an actual wedding ‘event’. They were going to have both the ceremony and the reception at my home, saving lots of money for the venue and decorations.

But they would have to keep the guest list at 60-65 people and that proved to be a problem. Once you start down the slippery slope of inviting one relative, you have to invite them all. The same applies to circles of friends, once one is invited, you’ll hurt everyone else’s feelings if you don’t invite them too.

Then my son found out that it’s not that easy to plan a full meal for 65 people, even lunch. Some caterers are cheaper, but they just bring food, not dishes, glasses or silverware. Others will bring dessert but not coffee. Then there’s the problem of who’s going to set up and man the bar and keep the food platters full. And who clears the meal and sets up the dessert?

No matter how small and simple my son tried to be, the logistics and the costs still got out of hand. That’s why my son and his fiancé decided on a quasi elopement.

They are getting married by a Justice of the Peace (an old family friend), in their living room, with just immediate family and two close friends. There will be thirteen people in all, including the bride and groom. Then we’re all going to a restaurant for lunch. If they take a honeymoon, it will only be for a weekend since they both have to work.

They got beautiful and thoughtful wedding bands and the bride bought a lovely new dress for the occasion. My daughter is flying cross country, from LA, to be at the truncated ceremony. So it will be a special and meaningful day without months of headaches and piles of bills.

Unless a bride and groom have high paying jobs or a wealthy family, it doesn’t make sense to spend hard earned savings on a big wedding extravaganza. Especially if you have to go further into debt for it. And even if you have the money, why waste months and months of your life stressing over wedding details and dealing with the family strife that is usually created?

Weddings used to mark the point when two individuals moved in together to create a joint home and a new family unit. And wedding gifts used to be a way to help young couples stock their new home. Today, many, if not most, couples live together before marriage.

Their households have already been merged and their kitchens fully stocked with all the necessary equipment and tools. When my son moved in with his fiancé, they had to hire an organizer to help them make room for all of my son’s stuff in their small house. They had to get rid of tons of ‘duplicate items’, particularly kitchen items. They have no room for any more ‘stuff.’

Getting married is a big deal, even today. Maybe our traditions celebrating the event should change along with the times. Maybe a small, informal party for close friends and family should be the norm. Something more like a bridal shower but for men too. And instead of gifts, guests should give checks to pay down student loans or to go toward the down payment on a new house. The concept of tangible items as gifts should maybe go the way of the dowry.

I’m not sure what will evolve in the future, but at least for those not in the top 1%, I think wedding celebrations will begin to change in the next few generations.

21 thoughts on “RETHINKING WEDDINGS – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

  1. I desperately wanted to elope. Garry just wouldn’t have it. He was 48 and FINALLY getting married. He wanted the whole thing. soup to nuts. Church, music, food and of course, the bagpiper. He said we’d “work it out.” I eventually learned that means “I’ll take care of it and you’ll show up in a tux.”

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    1. It’s only an issue when one person wants the big wedding experience and the other doesn’t. Tom didn’t care what we did but I wanted a wedding at home that at least included a wedding dress and a wedding cake. And some flowers. And of course, our close friends and family. I kept the numbers down and managed to pull off a beautiful party with a relatively low price tag. But I don’t know if I could do that again with today’s prices. Everything is so expensive these days even a tiny wedding could be prohibitively costly.

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    1. Kids today should be encouraged to put their money towards other things, like paying off student debt, rent or graduate schooling. It’s also a problem today because so many parents of the bride can’t afford to foot the bill for the big wedding any more. Every bride and groom I know about recently has had to at least chip in with some of the expenses, if not most of them.

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  2. I think that the idea of giving cash for a wedding gift is a pretty good idea really. Most people already have a certain amount of stuff by the time they tie the not and don’t really need more, especially things that are not necessarily to their taste. It would relieve the guests of the problem of what to buy the couple who has everything too. I believe the Italians have a tradition of giving money to the bride and groom which is just as well because the Italian weddings I’ve heard about are outrageously expensive. I guess most young people want a big wedding either because they think it is their special day, or because their families expect it or as an excuse for a big party but it seems a lot of money to find when you have a mortgage and other big expenses. It also seems to cause a lot of stress and tension. I don’t think it’s really worth it myself. I have been to some lovely weddings that were very simple and these days that makes a lot of sense.

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    1. I agree that giving cash as a wedding gift should be encouraged. At the very least, it could help defray some of the wedding costs if the bride and groom have had to contribute to the festivities. I never give cash because I can always get away with spending less if I find something expensive looking that really doesn’t cost that much. I’m a pro at that. So it’s much cheaper for me this way. I always feel that you have to give a lot if you give cash or you look cheap!

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  3. My husband and I eloped. I just could not fathom going through all that expense for something that made me feel so uncomfortable as a big wedding–not my style at all. Never have I regretted it for a minute.

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    1. My mother was married twice – both times at the town hall in a suit with her mother and father and maybe one other person. And my mother was the queen of the elegant party! The first time they didn’t have the money and preferred for her parents to pay for a long honeymoon abroad. The second time, my father was gunshy about getting married at 58 for the first time, so he didn’t want any kind of party at all. My mother made up for the lack of a wedding by giving beautiful parties regularly for the rest of her life!

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  4. Ellin, elope as I understand it (E not being my main language) concerns the TWO people and any more is ‘just’ a very small wedding. Totally agree with your reckoning – I watched sometimes videos on YT of brides searching for their wedding dress but I had to stop, I found it incredible, the fuss, expense, the opinions to take in account, the ‘internal wars’….. although I have to admit that it was also highly hilarious, at least some of them, and some downright touching!
    Wishing the couple a happy, content, peaceful future 🙂

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    1. The problem with big weddings is that the whole family gets involved and the couple have to negotiate numerous egos on both sides of the family. If either Tom or I had had a big family, I probably would have eloped. But we avoided all of the family drama and I got to plan things exactly as I wanted with no interference. I was also 52 and on a second marriage, so I had the confidence to avoid being pressured by anyone. Tom had not introduced me to two sets of his friends in the 3 1/2 years we had been together. But he suddenly wanted them at the wedding. I said no – I didn’t want to meet anyone for the first time at my own wedding. If they were really important to him, we’d have seen them over the years we were together. These couples are now close friends and I’m sorry they were not at the wedding. But it made no sense to me at the time.

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      1. I can completely rely on that feeling. When I remarried, we had another problem. My family is way larger than his and so he „had to invite friends“ to equal the numbers…. 😉 But that was ok, we are still friends, all of us.
        The one thing I really wanted, was a reception on a boat. I didn‘t get it, still don‘t know why. But I‘m now looking at our Siver Wedding…… Kiki isn‘t one to give up w/o a VERY STRONG argument 😉 😉

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    1. I think this trend towards ‘elopement’ is catching on with young people today. Newly weds don’t need the pressure of the planning and the stress of the cost when they start married life together.

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  5. I hate weddings, there’s always someone upset about something about it. Our Youngest daughter just went to another city and had a civil ceremony. We weren’t invited and what a relief. She did tells us before hand but it was obvious it was just between them and that was fine with me.
    Leslie

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    1. Your daughter avoided a lot of headaches and expenses. Good for her. As long as the couple is happy, nothing else matters. I think some people need the drama of a wedding and need to be the center of attention. The whole concept of “It’s MY day! It’s the best day of my life!” puts a lot of pressure on everyone. But many women look forward to this big day in their lives and really want something memorable. I can understand that, but then again, something can be small and simple and still be memorable. Giving birth was memorable, but I didn’t have a band, a caterer and a florist on hand for the event!

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      1. But you SHOULD have had a band, a caterer, and one HELL of a party. We always celebrate as if the beginning is the really important part. It isn’t. 20 years later is a lot more important because by then, you MADE IT.

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