This weekend, I saw a couple of pieces I thought I'd share that increase my suspicion that the wedding-industrial complex is more than an atrocity, but a symptom of deeper psychological issues of our time. Hortense at Jezebel had a rather disturbing post about how every minute of the dress acquisition process for a bridesmaid is dictated by the Body Police, which was extremely painful for her, as she's trying to recover from anorexia and has to shut out the Body Police to avoid a relapse. And Melissa Dalton at Salon had a somewhat puzzling piece about how she threw together an "affordable" wedding for a mere $8,000.
This drew me up short. I realize that people spend tens of thousands of dollars on weddings, but I still can't believe that you could set a budget of $8,000 and have anything short of cocaine and champagne baths enough for everyone, and from what I understand, those are two businesses that don't have a separate and higher cost for weddings. Which could be part of the problem---a lack of thinking outside of the box. As was expected at Salon, the comments were appallingly misogynist, with most commenters assuming that wedding prices are escalating to the point where $8,000 is cheap because of those stupid women and their stupid women desires, but I have to point out that men are the stealth beneficiaries here. After all, they aren't expected to do much work, but the entire party is about the groom and his enormous magnificence in sparing this women the indignity of being a Miss instead of a Mrs., an act of generosity that requires a $30,000 party, apparently. That's a lot of fuss made over a man for being big enough to take on someone who'll clean up after him.
Yes, yes, we're celebrating love, but that is often what makes me uneasy about the explosion of bigger and crazier and more "individual" weddings. In my experience, love is self-celebratory, and most of your guests who are supposed to be celebrating you and your love are there for the party. The escalating ego trips of the American wedding draw the word "narcissistic" down on the celebrated lovers more and more often, and frankly, it's hard to disagree when you go to weddings where even the party favors are stamped with the couple's names. And of course, that's the reason that most event planners, caterers, etc. charge two to three times more for weddings. It's partially because they can, but it's also because they know that more often than not, they're signing up to help someone who will take every tiny detail and mishap as a strike against his or her very character. Obviously, not every time, but let's face it: more often than not. Dalton wisely realized that it was cheaper to get her friends and relatives to make His'n'Hers kitsch for them instead of paying someone else to do it:
So we started asking people if they wanted to participate. Anyone with a good idea, and a willingness to get their hands dirty, was welcome to contribute. That's when, like a good old-fashioned barn-raising, our wedding day really began to take shape. Instead of an $800 cake, my fiancé's grandmother wanted to bake our favorite berry pies. My mother cut the fabric for the hand-sewn invitations. My mother-in-law the gardener promised to grow and arrange the flowers. One sister-in-law designed my dress while my brother's wife practiced her harp for when I walk down the aisle. The best part has been telling each person to be creative with their choices, from the song selections to the dress seams to the flowers. We only ask them to do what they think is beautiful or celebratory, or that reminds them of us.
That's when I realized how much the American wedding is exploding in cost and frippery in reaction to the real world explosion in not-married-ness, as opposed to people just morphing into being so self-absorbed that they think that their own romance is as intriguing to outsiders as it is to themselves. After all, the majority of American women now are living without a husband. This isn't an especially alarming fact, as it's the result of women having a lot more choices. You can divorce, delay marriage, live in sin, be a lesbian, or just avoid marriage altogether. But the increasing diversity of possibilities means that marriage seems less stable than it used to, and subsequently the urge is to treat it as if it's more precious because it's just that much rarer. And, outside of admonishments to work on your relationship, the way we as a country are choosing to do this is have more and more outlandish weddings, as if the expense of it will shut out the dark possibility that His'n'Her might not ever really be tied as tightly as the one-flesh vows would have you believe.
That, and the explosion of wedding kitsch and expense is about indulging a fantasy of a benevolent patriarchy, when most women's experience of the patriarchy is negative in their boring day-to-day working world, where being a woman means you get to be special only in that people underestimate your intelligence and overestimate your aggression. The pedestal that women are supposedly put on doesn't materialize much for most women, and obviously it's easier to just buy it on your wedding day than it is to question the myths you were brought up to believe in. But as Hortense aptly points out, the result is often just more of the same ol' shitty patriarchy, where you have to go to dress shops and have nightmarish confrontations with the fact that neither you nor any other woman alive will ever have a good enough body. All of which makes me wonder if there's ever going to be a breaking point where the country as a whole says, "To hell with it all." We've managed to take the piss out of many other institutions that use a lot of pomp to cover up for inadequacies in the system, so I imagine that weddings can't be immune.