The Why and Wherefore

How Else Can One Year’s Salary Last 12 Hours?

Posted on: May 16, 2008

In the past few months, I’ve had reason to study the wedding-industrial complex more closely, as my boyfriend and I edge cautiously towards the precipice. A spate of hand-wringing articles came out last year around this time, upon the publication of Rebecca Mead’s One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding. The average cost of an American wedding, as many now know, is an obscene $27K or so.

Now, I’m not too worried about running that up on my credit card; though I have plenty of my own wedding fantasies, they are more likely to include a post-reception pool party than ice sculptures and monogrammed M&Ms. But I have found myself in the odd position of trying to defend the very concept of a traditional wedding to my decidedly nontraditional beloved, who really would prefer to elope. (My version of “nontraditional,” so far, is a nonwhite dress, an engagement ring under $500, and s’mores at the reception. That last one is nonnegotiable.)

When my “rite of passage” and “frail grandmother” arguments elicited skepticism, I turned to the Internets in a vain attempt to find some sort of well-reasoned, scholarly argument as to why weddings are important. Wedding vendors, of course, will spin all kinds of tales about love, romance, and fantasy, but I wanted, you know, reliable sources. Weddings are a tradition common to nearly all societies, though they are typically more a display of wealth, power and social status rather than a display of how much your love is worth (despite what DeBeers, who invented the engagement ring “tradition” in the 1930s as a marketing ploy, wants you to think).

What I came across was a book by Kamy Wicoff called I Do, But I Don’t: Why the Way We Marry Matters. It’s not a treatise on why weddings matter, though it touches upon the social significance of the ceremony. Instead, it’s an impressively revealing and nuanced discussion of the deeply ingrained gender roles that weddings perpetuate. Wicoff explores the frustration and confusion felt by modern women as they try to balance gender equality with the fantasy of the male proposal, the engagement ring, the handover from father to husband.

More on this in a future post, when I’ve finished the book. But after reading some of her anecdotes, I’m so relieved that I’m not expecting a big diamond, which apparently is the female equivalent of whipping out a ruler.

1 Response to "How Else Can One Year’s Salary Last 12 Hours?"

Sounds like your wedding will be a lot like my sister’s last December. She wore red (hates white), her engagement ring cost $10, and the major decoration was her spectacular hand-crafted snowflakes (winter wedding theme), which guests were fighting over to take home.

And it was a gorgeous wedding.

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