Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Rant About Weddings

A funny thing is happening in my life.

Now that my wedding is over, I find myself thinking and talking about weddings way more than I ever did as I was planning it (although I did talk about it a lot as I was planning it, too).

In college, I majored in American studies (with a minor in gender studies). Let me attempt to summarize some of the most salient points of my major:
  1. The world is messed up in a lot of ways (I know it's American studies, but we talked a lot about the rest of the world, too). Wow, I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of even beginning to describe all the ways the world is messed up.
  2. We can make the world better, if we choose to examine it, question it, and then commit to doing something about it. As cliched as Gandhi's phrase has become, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. Our actions shape the world.
  3. The personal is political. The power structures within families and schools, our consumer habits, what we eat (and how we eat it)--and even our weddings--deeply reflect our assumptions, our values, and our vision for what the world could be. If we want to change the macrocosm (i.e., the big things), we should start with the microcosm (i.e., the small things).
I'm becoming obsessed with weddings because they so brilliantly capture a lot of what is wrong with the world. They illuminate our rampant consumption, our narcissism, and our obliviousness.

Weddings are major events in our lives that should focus on community, connection, commitment, and fun. Instead, many of them have become stage productions. They are often extremely stressful and they "fly by," such that couples are forced to merely relive them through expensive photography and videography.

I don't expect everyone to have a $2,000 wedding. I don't expect everyone to replicate what we did. Our wedding reflected us. That was the point.

We imposed a strict budget on ourselves from the get-go because we didn't want to get consumed by the craziness of the Wedding Industrial Complex. We also knew that we could make the wedding special with sincerity rather than money. We also wanted to save money for a house, and we didn't want to accept any money from our parents because we wanted the wedding to reflect our tastes and preferences, not anyone else's.

When I wax "judgmental," it's not that I'm judging anyone who doesn't have a $2,000 budget. That's not it at all. I'm judging people who get so wrapped up in their own weddings that they neglect to analyze the impact our choices have on the world.

Over at A Practical Wedding, Meg said this today: "To be clear, I'm not very dogmatic about weddings. If having a $5 million fireworks display after your first dance works for you, and you can afford it (and think it is in good taste) I raise my eyebrows at you but you may carry on. There are many, many, resources for you, so I'm not too worried."

I'm sorry, but if anyone wastes $5 million on fireworks for their wedding, I will judge them. As all of us should. Just because some individuals have money does not mean they shouldn't be judged if they waste it in narcissistic, self-indulgent, self-centered ways. That money could feed, clothe, and educate a lot of people, and I'm going to be pissed if it gets spent on a one-day wedding.

Meg continues: "Why is every level of wedding planning fraught with so much judgment (perceived or real) and so much guilt?"

It's up to all of us to sort through the judgment and the guilt.

I went to a very, very expensive wedding during my own engagement, and I met a cousin of the bride. When she found out I was engaged, she cooed, "Ooh! Let me have your hand!" Honestly, I had no idea what she was doing. I really thought she wanted to hold my hand. So I put both my hands into her hand.

Much to my chagrin, I realized she wanted to see a ring. Some sort of big diamond thing, I imagine. I absolutely felt judged when I had nothing to show her.

I didn't want an engagement ring. I only need one ring to represent my commitment to Matt. But a lot of people don't understand that. When I feel judged for having a practical, recycled, synthetic-gem ring, I simply shrug it off.

But if someone is spending a lot of money for a dress they will only wear one time and then store in the closet, they should feel guilt. I know it's a wedding and you're supposed to feel happy, but it's wasteful. And, again, that perfect dress isn't going to make your wedding any more focused on community, connection, commitment, and fun. I'm not saying you shouldn't spend money on a wedding dress. I just think brides-to-be need to question how much they are willing to spend on a one-day dress and figure out what they are going to do with it after the wedding.

I think this type of critical discussion is very important. It forces all of us to reflect on our choices. In the end, we may make the same choices, but at least we've thought about them first.

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Shanee said...

AMEN! This was a great post. I feel the same way. But now comes the ultimate thing, my best friend is getting married and spending way more then I think she should. Talk about being torn. I want her to be happy and that means both now and later.

Anyways now I'm ranting. This was a great post and I see what you mean. We had a 1,000 wedding because we wanted it to be us and to not just do things because people said we should. And I am forever grateful for sticking to my guns on that.

And now later, we expect a baby and once again. Not doing what people think we should and we are happier for it.

Brittany said...

Sara, I am always so happy and proud of you for saying what needs to be said. I know it's going to piss off a lot of brides who really want to have the, "it's MY big day, it's the best day of MY life, I want everything MY way, it's worth the money because it's MY WEDDING!" kind of wedding...

Honestly, you and I and others who feel this way are the minority. I only hope women will hear your words, and actually think about what it means.

Anonymous said...

you are exactly the type of person who judges others that meg is talking about...

Anonymous said...

Wow. You've just got it all figured out, huh? Judgmental blogging and painting brides who spend more than $20 on a wedding dress as vain and shallow = saving the world!

I expected this blog would actually be helpful in planning a budget wedding, but instead it appears that this is merely a place for you to flaunt your black-and-white know-it-all attitude.

Thank God for this enclave of smug superiority in a sea of bridal blogs that only want to celebrate such a big milestone instead of smearing it with judgment.

Go do something productive to help your community/society/the world. When you can itemize your time spent volunteering or your charitable donations in the same way you list your wedding expenses, maybe then you can write something like this without appearing completely shrill and ridiculous. Unsubscribing from your blog.

Cate Subrosa said...

You raise a really important issue here. I appreciate the general attitude shared by most bloggers that we shouldn't judge each other's decisions. However, there is a point when I think it's right to stand up and say "I think this is wrong."

I agree with you that it's wrong to destroy a perfectly good dress that could be sold and the proceeds spent on something worthwhile. I agree that it would be wrong to spend $5 million on fireworks (although I suspect that was hyperbole and Meg has never heard about such a wedding!)

And I think you're absolutely right, if we never judge, how do we change things?

Anonymous said...

I actually agree with you in many respects. The consumerism surrounding weddings is absolutely out of control and that many weddings now border on looking like a big show. At the same time, I think you need to acknowledge the fact that not everybody is you and that the tone of your post does border on judgment. I also believe that as humans, we judge each other for so many things in life...why should we add this to the mix? Also I don't think it's fair to pick on a specific individual person in the way that you did with the author of "A Practical Wedding." You could have made your very valid point without going there.

Meg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meg said...

To be clear, I did not say that I was fine with a $5 million fireworks display, or anything vaguely close to that. In fact, I didn't say I wouldn't judge them (I sort of implied that I would, actually.) I judge a lot of wedding stuff, but most of it I don't judge publicly, since I don't find it terribly conducive to constructive discussion.

But, I think there are different ways to think about these things, and that how you spend your money can be as important as what you spend it on. There are good things about a $20 dress from target: you took the focus off the material, and put it on the emotional. The bad: you probably bought something made with sweat shop labor, and your money went to a multi national corporation (and I shop at Target, so this is just for the sake of argument). Now, if I spend, say $700 on a custom dress, what do we have? The bad: I spend money that I could have potentially (at least theoretically) given to charity, or spent on a house (not a option for me at the moment, but still a valid option for some). And we have (possibly) put more focus on the material. The good: We put the money into supporting a local artist working to make a living contributing beauty to the world (for me this is REALLY important). We've also worked together to create a meaningful ritual garment (also possible with a more affordable dress, of course.) So, my point is, there are lots of ways to think about these things and approach these things.

I absolutely agree that the personal is political, but I don't agree that spending money on weddings is inherently bad - I think it depends how you spend it.

Anonymous said...

For the record, let me state I am not married, divorced, or even engaged. The industry of weddings does interest me though, as do the women it entrances.

I think the real question in this post is, why does money have to oppose sincerity and why do they have to be mutually exclusive? People spend far more, and far less, than you on a wedding; so what? What makes their weddings (or yours, for that matter) more or less sincere? Or, more mainstream or counterculture?

And while I, too, agree that the personal is political and that people should begin examining their actions as they relate to others, are weddings, a one or two day affair, really the appropriate place to begin applying this? What of the longevity? Staying power? I really think your energy might be better used redirecting people's attention to their actions with respect to recycling, eating and consuming locally, giving back to the community. I'd LOVE to read your thoughts on this, in a blog.

I used to enjoy your writings when you talked about how things came together (oh dear, I almost used the dirty word: "details") and the fun you had at your wedding.

I preferred it when you spent less time patting yourself on the back and promoting how wonderful you were for having a two thousand dollar wedding, talking repetitively about the same details in every post in slightly different ways. I know this is the nature of blogging, particularly wedding blogging, but to be honest, it's become stale and imagines your readers are insipid idiots.

Sometimes there is a fine line between critical approaches and judging people. Your last posts are bordering on venomous towards couples who don't conform to your style of thinking on weddings. In the end, no matter which approach you take, it's just a single day.

I think you said it best in your "Planning a Wedding You are Sincerely Thankful for" post;

"Here's my wish for all of you who are planning a wedding: May you create the best possible wedding for you and your fiance.

"Figure out what you want. What you really, really want your wedding to be. And then make it happen, regardless of the influence that other people try to exert over you (why should their tastes and preferences matter more than your own?) and regardless of anyone's skepticism or judgment.

"After all, the Wedding Industrial Complex is right about one thing: it is your day.

I used to think your posts were proud and different. Now I just think you're being contrary and conceited. Best of luck with whatever you are trying to accomplish by this. Perhaps a book deal? More reader traffic?

Anonymous said...

i completely agree with your post, sara, and find the two previous anonymous comments to show what a nerve it touches--which is why, kelly, weddings ARE the place to start: they have an image and an ideal that permeates our culture far too thoroughly, so all our daily decisions generally end up somehow being reflected/affecting the ones made regarding a wedding. this shit starts in high school and earlier: proms? 8th grade graduations? it's RIDICULOUS and disgusting the money spend because it's all about "having the perfect day" (and i'll stay off ranting about the extraordinarily misogynistic elements to these at this moment).

meg brings up a good point about where the money goes, and that debate is absolutely one that needs to happen for each couple--except, it's often not. it's too often about THE RIGHT DRESS as opposed to the dress that i like and whose production i am comfortable with. because the last study i read, which is not completely up to date but was accurate as of 2002, showed that only jessica mcclintock dresses had any semblence of non-workshop labor practices in the actual shops that MAKE the dresses: all other brand-dresses were made in other countries with substandard labor practices. so if you have the means to spend more on a dress that does support an individual or a local community--by all means, do! just as if you are able to pay more for local organic food, you SHOULD! but you need to actually know where you're sending your money. there's a lot of etsy love on the wedding blogs, and that is good, but sometimes it IS important to explain, more explicitly, why.

i fully support sara in saying that JUDGMENT should happen more. the lack of judgment for valid reasons is what has helped create the sweet-16 society! it's not okay just because it makes you feel good! IT IS NOT OKAY, EVEN IF IT'S WHAT YOU WANT, TO DO SOMETHING TOTALLY SELFISH JUST BECAUSE IT'LL MAKE YOUR SPECIAL DAY PERFECT.

i'm not perfect, and i've got a whole lotta priveledge i'm constantly checking, but i'm totally okay with standing on a soap box and saying that couples who willingly participate in the furthering of the oppressive practices of the wedding industry are doing something wrong. and if you feel bad? like sara said: is it guilt? and if so, is it valid? if it is, are you willing to actually do. something. about it.

Jenna said...

I know that you had the wedding you could afford, and you have different priorities than the rest of us, but I hope your criticism extends through every area of life if you are going to level it so harshly upon brides who spend their money differently than you do. In the world you are creating, those who drove luxury vehicles would be looked down upon, and those who buy houses with more bedrooms than people should be scorned for "wasting their money on unnecessary items", good food would never be splurged on (it's even worse than a dress as it is just ONE MEAL that you will just defecate anyways), and all clothes should be bought second hand from a local salvation army because why buy new when there are so many used things that people could wear.

You know what? I am spending about as much on my dress and attire as you are on your ENTIRE WEDDING. And I refuse to let you slam me into the ground for doing so. Your website can be a great resource, but when you start attempting to make other people feel bad for the choices you make you have crossed the line.

I have to agree 100% with the commenter Kelly, above. Who is to say that more or less expensive wedding can be any more sincere? You want to know why I am spending $20,000 on my wedding? Because I have the money to do so, and I have guests paying $2,000 a person just to be there. Because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Because I am giving up the rest of my life to do something courageous in Poland. Because I make the choices I want to make, not the choices someone else tells me to do.

You are going to interpret this comment as someone saying "I will do what I want because it's my wedding" and that is fine. In return I will interpret your attitude as an elitist one that says "The only way to do things is my way. I am the only one who can say what the right kind of wedding is like."

I accept the kind of wedding you chose to have. I hope you can learn to accept the types of wedding the rest of us choose as well.

Los Angeles on a Budget said...

Sara - I really enjoy and respect your blog and commitment to your ideals (wedding, social justice, career and otherwise.) However, I also agree that the tone has veered somewhat towards the judgmental in more recent posts.

Budget/wastefulness discussions are difficult. My ideal wedding would be a weekend picnic adventure with bonfires and camping and community and love. It would be very budget, very authentic, and very me&him. Unfortunately, his amazing mother, (who I adore) is in a wheelchair. My loving Papa is in a wheelchair. And my supportive parents aren't in great health. So camping, or any local picnic variation, is out.

Because I live in a very expensive city and I can't imagine celebrating my wedding without our extensive (and genuine) friend-community, a seemlingly reasonable budget is out. It's elope, or spend ~$30K. That's for an off-the-rack basic white dress, DIY, park-and-rec, BBQ-buffet-style ($18pp), limited-bar i-pod dj, no bridalshower/bachelorette party, no matchy-matchy bridesmaid dress wedding. No joke.

The only things I can seem to cut at this point are photography and hair/makeup. If I have to, I will (I'll save about $2k), but it's the one place in the budget where I even shout out to my personal splurges.

Why are we spending $30K (wedding, rings, camping honeymoon)? I find it absurd and gut wrenching. we're saving now, we'll split costs with both families, and we've agreed it will be a few years down the road (no debt!) But the entire weekend will be focused on what matters to us - family, community, sustainability and joy.

On the surface, it would seem our choices are excessive, but in reality, they defy judgment. I argue my wedding fits your $2k ethos while somehow meeting the national standard of excess.

Judgment is a fine line.

Anonymous said...

Coming from a person who had a $200 wedding..(27 years ago) and now starting to think about her own daughter's wedding...

I hope you don't take this the wrong way--is that my "polite" way of warning you that I disagree??

Anyway, if you have $5 million for fireworks and you earned it, and you're current in your bills and obligations, who is it to say how you can spend YOUR money. Isn't self-determination a vital thing? Isn't that way slaves were freed, that women fought hard for voting rights and the ERA??

Why should someone, who has, through their own hard work, sacrifice and business savy. have to spend it the way someone else thinks they should?

Let me tell you, I have but one daughter--my last child in a line of boys-- and if, after everything was said and done and I had $5 million to blow on fireworks, you'd better believe I'd do it!

Where are the sparklers??
BTW, I tithe to my faith and give generously to local causes, support Autism research, donate to the food bank and other hunger issues and participate regularly in humanitarian aid causes.

Kate said...

Before I start, I am going to pat myself on the back (since we're apparently okay with that here) that I AM in fact, paying almost $2k for a dress that's made by a local dressmaker, I AM paying a ghastly amount to serve my guests organic, tasty, food and I AM doing all I can to DIY my wedding, using local vendors whenever possible. I AM making that decision and I AM STILL spending about 15 times what you did on your wedding.

I think both Kelly and Jenna (and possibly others comments above that I read shortly before theirs) have a good point: you do what you CAN.

Extremists tend to think that if they don't keep their extreme point of view in place - firm, without budging AT ALL - that NOTHING and I repeat, NOTHING will be done about it.

Just as saying something harsh and hurtful towards someone does NOT often get the point across - your negative and condescending attitude seems to have had the same effect. Instead of helping your cause, it creates a communication gap ten miles wide because you'll have to grovel to convince the other people involved that you have their best interest at heart in your intentions.

I have a suggestion, as a bride who's passionately felt an interest in keeping her wedding spending as effective and helpful as possible, that you simply help provide a wealth of knowledge as to HOW to accomplish planning a wedding socially consciously. Condemning a group for bad behavior will NOT grant you the audience that you want, nor will you be able to educate them. Perhaps you could provide a few blog posts on local resources for brides in your area who want to find eco-friendly vendors for their pending nuptials?

Lastly, I have to be honest, even as a bride who's tried to be socially conscious in her planning decisions, I was offended by your tone and elitist attitude in this post.

Anonymous said...

I ditto the AMEN comment!!! Please don't listen to posters that disagree and say stop posting these kinds of posts. There aren't many people saying what you're saying. I said kind of the same thing once on some comments to a weddingbee post (not as eloquently) and everyone jumped on me and someone even called me a "self righteous elitist" because I thought most weddings were wasteful. People don't like to be criticized over their perfect day.

We're having a more expensive wedding than yours, and sometimes I wish we weren't, but we're doing almost everything local/organic or otherwise eco-friendly, we're not registering, hardly using any paper products, etc., and while it's not anywhere close to 100% perfect, I think we've made really good compromises and I'm really proud of what we're doing.

I definitely think the attitude of "it's my money, i've earned it, and i can do what i want with it" is part of the reason we as a country, society, world, and planet are in the trouble we're in. i can buy a big gas guzzling car, and live in a 5000 square foot home with 3 car garage, and leave the lights on, have 3 tv's, etc. ridiculous.

The wedding blogging world needs more people like you. and zoe. I 100% agree with her post too.

rock on with your bad self!

Anonymous said...

A-freakikn' MEN, sista! I giant puffy heart this post.

I posted a few comments similar to what you've written here on local board in my hometown and was virtually flogged and called "mean and judgmental." No one seemed to understand where I was coming from. I don't really care if someone wants a big, poofy, pink platinum wedding...that's their choice. What bothers me, however, is the attitude that goes along with it, "why shouldn't I spend $5000 on a couture gown? It's the most important outfit I'll ever wear!"

That and all the trendy trappings that Brides (and some grooms) think they need to have at the wedding. It just makes me a little sad to see lavish celebrations that are more about the details, and less about the sacred event of marriage between two people.

Anonymous said...

I guess people seem to either love or hate what you wrote, and I'm surprised at all the "30K wedding" brides who are posting comments on a blog about a $2,000 wedding. What is the motivation of a $2000 wardrobe bride to read this blog?: If they're offended, there are plenty of other blogs out there that cater to their type of wedding, lifestyle, and choices.

I, too, think it's wasteful for someone to spend 5 million dollars on fireworks when there are so many people in need and there's so much good that money can do- but I have to respect that the person who made that money has the freedom to spend it as they wish.

Anonymous said...

when i was planning my wedding, a very dear man, who i barely knew, said "think more about your marriage than you do about your wedding." i offer his advice (ever so humbly) as we banter back and forth about what our wedding day decisions mean. we're a close community here (bloggers and blog readers), and it just breaks my heart to see such divisiveness about the choices each of us make for our wedding day. maybe it will help all of us to re-focus on the purpose of the day.

lauren said...

Although the first anonymous poster will not see this post, I have to toot Sara's horn for her (even if she doesn't need me too).

Anonymous writes, "Go do something productive to help your community/society/the world."

Sara is known as a phenonmenal teacher who has contributed to the success of several schools and countless students. She is more "productive" than I could be with a 40 hour day.

On another note, I think the title of this blog, being what it is, makes people think Sara's message is all about the money. I don't see it that way. More than anything in her "judgemental" post, she seems to be judging waste, as she is with the dress issue.

There are NOT enough resources for everyone to consume at the rate we do as a society. Anything we can do to limit our rampant overuse of the Earth's resources, is admirable.

The "I can afford it, so I should spend it" attitude doesn't get to the heart of the matter: "Should you?" "What are the hidden costs of my decisions?"

Think beyond yourself, and if you are still okay with the answers, then at least you have made a conscious, informed decision.

Anonymous said...

You don't have any right to tell another person what they can and can not do with the money that they worked for. When the government starts a welfare program to pay for extravagant weddings and your tax money is going to fund it, then you can raise a stink about it. Until then, it's none of your business what other people do with their money. It really is amazing to me how self righteous women can get when they think people aren't doing what they want them to.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have to agree with some of these posts about the repetitive high-mindedness your blog is turning into. I do really like your blog, and I really liked the ethos behind your wedding. In fact, your blog and a others such as Offbeat Bride has rescued me from being dragged down the aisle in a manner I was extremely uncomfortable with... so thank you! But, you are beginning to make me feel guilty about the $4500 wedding my partner and I are planning and paying for. About the $500 dress my mum is making (lace is expensive), about the ruby I was given by my parents years ago that is now my engagement ring, about wanting to serve good wine and food on real china to our 30 guests because we love them and want them to have a fabulous and special time.

These days, as someone said earlier you just keep saying the same thing and getting more shrill about it. It actually reminds me of a friend of mine who about 7 years ago had a large traditional wedding. It was lovely, buts she still talks ALOT about it. I can't help feel that some of this ongoing/repeated conversation is actually about her needing to justify her decisions and appease some of the guilt and regret about spending her parents travel money (they'd been saving for a trip to Europe to celebrate their retirement).

In a similar way, I am beginning to sense that your repetition is about reminding yourself and making you feel better about the choices you made, because deep down you harbor some envy about other weddings. I am not saying you would want to spend thousands on a dress or millions on fireworks (I agree - obscene and nothing at all to do with a marriage!), but being so vocal about your views has in fact trapped you for fear of being a hypocrite. I say this with alot of experience being an overly opinionated person who has become trapped at times by my vocal views and protestations.

I also think you are using a bit of creative budgeting in your $2000 wedding as many of the items you listed as $0 in fact did cost you or a friend/family member something at some point. But now I am being petty.

Anyway, some sensitivity would be great and some growth in your ideas and topics would be also be great.

And I am sorry things have been stressful with the hurricane and all. Another reminder about what is important in life.

Unknown said...

I didn't have a ring for years but that surely didn't matter.
My husband surprised me with a beautiful diamond which he paid cash, 12 years later.
You know what? It wasn't the ring that made me cry it was the fact that he bought it for me.

Carrie said...

I am a new reader to your blog as I'm just starting to think about wedding planning. I also know what it's like to be criticized for writing the hard things that people don't want to hear. I know the debate has already played out, but I just wanted to tell you that finding your blog has been like entering a refreshing oasis in the frenzied whirlwind of super-spending, obsessive-DIY wedding blogs. I applaud your efforts and thank you for inspiring me to be a better person.

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