A priest once admonished me at a wedding rehearsal that I wasn’t expressing emotion in a way that demonstrated I understood what love is while reading the couple’s selected psalm. “Perhaps you don’t know what it feels like because you don’t have love in your own life,” he continued to reprimand me, to my great humiliation, as a room full of silent people sat awkwardly. Even the flower girls and ring bearer who had been chasing each other through the pews sensed the vibe in the room change and suddenly stopped giggling.
That wasn’t the first — or even the last — time I endured frustration at a wedding or wedding-related event. I could go on for days about overpriced, ill-fitting bridesmaid dresses that went straight to Goodwill the morning after, inconvenient bachelorette parties that took up my entire tax refund or engagement parties with awful, mind-boggling themes like “Vicars and Tarts.”
And yet, I actually do love weddings.
You get to watch people you care about be incredibly happy; everyone looks nice all dressed up; someone always gives an awkward speech to make fun of; and there’s a lot of food plus usually an open bar. (At the risk of sounding like a Chardonnay-swilling Karen about to call the manager, weddings without an open bar are simply not good. That is nonnegotiable.) Plus there’s music and (hopefully) someone’s grandma busting a move on the dance floor. These are all fun things!
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The problem, in my opinion, is how over-the-top wedding celebrations have become and the financial burden it has imposed on friendships. IBISWorld reports that, in 2018, the wedding industry raked in close to $80 billion in revenue. Back in 2013, it was around $50 billion. Since 2009, the average spending per guest has gone from just under $200 to around $300. Which, based on personal experience, I can say the amount guests have had to spend has at least tripled in that time if you’re in the wedding party.
Statistics also say that far fewer people are getting married — but even that still hasn’t slowed the steady rise in wedding spending. Between Pinterest and Instagram, celebrity-style weddings aren’t just a vision board for inspiration, they’ve become an available reality.
The first bachelorette party I ever planned was in the mid aughts and, because everyone involved was good friends, we thought it just made sense to give in to the then-new trend of a getaway bachelorette weekend. We figured that we’d all likely plan a vacation together anyway at some point, so why not?
Well, “why not” turns out to be that the rules get a little fuzzy once enacted. Does everyone cover the bride’s airfare and hotel? What about the meals once you’re there? Does she not pay for a single solitary for three whole days despite, in many case, demanding that everyone else attend? Does doing one bachelorette weekend lead to hurt feelings in our group if we don’t do it for everyone else in the future?
One “fun” bachelorette weekend leads you down a very rocky path of contemplating the return on investment of your friendships, especially when the trip inevitably ends up costing twice what we were all initially anticipating.
I spent many years with that trip as the standard for every bachelorette celebration, trying to keep up an almost-“27 Dresses” level of being the perfect friend in each individual wedding and all the events leading up to it. I wore the bad dresses, ran up credit card debt on gifts and traveling out of town, smiled when someone wanted a “Harry Potter”-themed shower that I had to plan, decorate and pay for.
But I didn’t do it all for the same reason as Katherine Heigl did in the movie; I didn’t feel like it was a quid pro quo for when they’d all be there for my big day. I did it because I didn’t know how to say no to what my friends wanted, even if it might overdraw my bank account or overextend me. The resentment that I fostered from wanting to be the perfect friend when the happy couple of-the-moment required increasingly expensive or inconvenient commitments put a silent strain on my friendships.
The requests being made were sometimes over the top, but I was also to blame for not speaking up and instead mentally calculating how much I could split across my credit cards, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”-style. When my ($15) book came out, many of these brides asked for a free copy, and it took all my strength to not yell, "Did I get a free bridesmaid dress?"
The hardest part of so much of this wedding-going happening in my twenties is that I abided by the traditional thought that you had to say yes to anything your friend wanted or needed for their wedding. I just didn’t have the confidence to have an awkward conversation in which I politely opted out of some things. (And opting out, when done thoughtfully and with consideration, should not wreck a solid friendship. If it does, then you know the money you saved wouldn’t have been well-spent.)
Anyone getting married absolutely has the right to do whatever they want. Whether it’s a bachelorette party in Anguilla with a $400 tasting menu each night, a shower at which everyone is scheduled to go skydiving or a wedding with $500 designer bridesmaid dresses, I say go for it. If it makes you happy, you should do it. And if your over-the-top dream wedding ends up on Reddit to be dissected by the rest of us, that’s fine too. (We all saw the story of the 100 dead goldfish.)
But along with those grandiose plans has to come the reality that friends may not be able to afford these things or be physically able to participate in the more adventurous schemes. I’ve spent my thirties only attending what I can swing on my budget and having heartfelt conversations about it with my friends whose every whim I can’t indulge. Because, yes, weddings and everything that goes into them have gone off the deep end — but I don’t have to go over the cliff with them.