Follow the money. That’s what we are told to do when we want to know what’s really going on. As wedding and prom season approaches, let’s look at the money trail of those events.
Suppose you are simply going to attend a wedding this year. What will that cost you? Business Insider claims the average is $539, up an astounding 59% in just one year. You will probably spend more than $100 just on gifts. Often hotel stays are involved, as well as transportation costs. Don’t forget the price of dining during your travels. Then there are the clothes, shoes, and bling.
Of course, if you are actually in the wedding party, you will cough up even more. The same article puts the estimate at $577. (I’m surprised there isn’t more of a difference between mere guests and members of the bridal parties.)
I guess the first step toward being the person celebrated at matrimaniacal events is attending a prom. The New York Times reported that families this year will spend an average of $1,139 on prom expenses. That’s for one event, for one person, in high school.
I’ve been rolling my eyes at the costs of weddings for a long time, so I’m no longer surprised by those figures. In 2012, the average wedding tab was $28,427.
The real costs of matrimania, though, are not the dollars, but what those dollars represent and where the money is not spend.
What does it say to high school students when they and their parents spend so extravagantly on an event celebrating coupling? What does it say that other achievements (in academics or the arts or outstanding community service, for example) are not commemorated in comparable ways?
No, I don’t think we should up the ante on all realms. I think we should scale back on the message that what matters more than anything else when you are in high school is your prom. We should respect the values of students who are just not into prom night. We should also be sensitive to the students who may love the pomp but can’t manage it, financially. When I was in high school, one of my classmates, for long stretches of time, had exactly two outfits. That’s all her family could afford.
As for the weddings, imagine the possibilities if less were spent on a big wedding blow-out. The money could go toward the cost of further education, or a down payment on a home, or job training, or toward some worthy cause or persons other than just the couple. The possibilities are endless, and many of them offer more enduring benefits than just a day of self-celebration. Your marriage might end after a few months, but that degree after your name is forever.
I think the costs to guests – especially if they are single – of attending weddings has become increasingly hard to justify. There, too, I think it would be a good thing if norms and expectations got tamped down. (Check out this discussion, “Should newlyweds get all the loot,” with Jaclyn Geller, author of Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique.)
Another cost of all of the splurging on proms and wedding parties and weddings is to our valuing of all of the other important people in our lives. Our friends, colleagues, mentors, siblings, parents, cousins and many other relatives and non-romantic relationship partners can matter to us more than we ever acknowledge.
There is, though, something truly instructive about the contemporary wedding scene. When you analyze it closely (as I did in Singled Out), you will end up totally disabused of the myth that it is single people who are self-centered.
Wedding present photo available from Shutterstock