Some newlyweds have come to expect quite a lot from their guests. First, there are shower gifts. Then wedding presents (nothing too cheap, or you will embarrass yourself). Then any other expenses that are sometimes incurred, such as the costs of travel, attire, or even lost wages when attendance requires time off from work. Destination weddings can be particularly pricey.
I already thought all these celebrations were getting out of hand. I had no idea, until I read this story by Julie Bogen in the Atlantic, that some couples start their celebrations before their wedding showers. They throw big parties and charge admission. Known as “stag and does” or “Jack and Jills” (or, among some same-sex couples, “stag and drags”), they are apparently popular in the Northeastern U.S. and in some small towns in Canada.
The point of these pre-wedding parties is to help fund the wedding. Bogen explained that when couples get engaged, they rent a big space, such as a community center or a church hall, then invite hundreds of people to buy tickets to their event. In return, the attendees get food and entertainment.
And they may get hit up again for more money. The parties sometimes include raffles, too.
It is not just the individual partygoers who contribute by paying to come to the party and maybe buying some raffle tickets. Local businesses sometimes donate, too. Catering and raffle items are among the kinds of things they give the couple.
One of the people Bogen interviewed, who organized a pre-wedding party with his bride-to-be, said he had heard of couples making as much as 15 to 20 thousand dollars from their parties.
Pre-wedding parties allow couples to expand their guest list beyond the people they invite to their wedding: “The stag and doe can be especially useful as a way of including in the wedding festivities people who might not have made the cut for an invite to the ceremony itself (or even members of the community whom the couple don’t personally know).”
Julie Bogen said that while interviewing people about her story, she got lots of derogatory comments; some called the pre-wedding parties “tacky” or “money-grabby.” But she also interviewed a sociologist who shamed the shamers: “Passing judgment on people who would ask others to help pay for their wedding…is a way to reproduce class boundaries without explicitly engaging in overt classism.”
I think there are two issues here. The first is about helping people who need help. If a couple can’t afford a wedding without asking for help and other people want to help, then that’s their choice – the couple’s and the people who chip in. It’s more complicated than that, I think. How much of a wedding should a couple feel entitled to ask their friends and relatives, and maybe some ommunity member they don’t even know, to fund? Aren’t there better causes than these celebrations of coupledom? But I’ll leave those matters aside.
I’m interested in the second issue, the entitlement these couples seem to feel because they are no longer single, and the assumption that the single people in their lives (maybe even some they don’t know) should be among the people subsidizing their special status. Especially now when so many people are staying single for decades, and sometimes for life.
Let’s take a closer look at what some of them told Bogen.
“We just wanted to get married and have a party and not pay through the roof for it – not sell out our kids’ education fund,” said one of the men, who was not prepared for the negative response he got to his party announcement online. But look at the assumption in that statement. He and his spouse don’t want to pay for their wedding. They seem to have money, only it is earmarked for their kids’ education. Therefore, other people should pay. Including single people, some of whom will never marry and never ask anyone to fund a big party for them.
Or consider another couple, who already owned a home “and had accumulated much of what people traditionally register for when they get married.” They organized a pre-wedding party and used the proceeds to cover what was left of what they owed for their wedding venue – and had more left over, which they put in savings.
Theirs is not the story of two people struggling to get by. They made a profit on their party. They got to add to their savings. When single people subsidize couples like this one, they are not erasing class boundaries; they are widening the gap between those who are officially married and those who are not. The haves (the married people) are extracting more and more from the have-nots – more money, more adulation, more privilege.
Let me be clear. I’m not telling anyone what to do. Many single people happily shell out all the costs of showers and weddings and probably pre-parties, too. They are delighted to celebrate an important occasion in the life of the couple. I’ve felt that way myself sometimes. And if couples want to ask people to pay for shower gifts, wedding presents and other wedding expenses, and the price of admission to pre-wedding parties, too, well that’s up to them.
But, emboldened by Shani Silver’s badass essay, “Why I’m done celebrating the accomplishments of couples,” I do want to underscore what these practices mean for the marginalizing of people who are single and the enrichment of people who marry. The wedding gifts, shower presents, and pre-wedding party tickets are all transfers of economic resources from people who have fewer of them to people who already have more of them.
Most couples today are not creating a new household together for the first time. They’ve already been living together. Maybe they already have duplicates of all the housewares on their wedding registry from when they first moved in together. So why are they asking their single friends, some who live alone and pay all their bills from one salary, to buy them a Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer? Or contribute toward their honeymoon? Or a down payment on their house?
Personally, I don’t mind the extra expenses of living alone; I cherish having a place of my own. But single people are financially disadvantaged in many systematic ways regardless of their living situation. When they are asked to subsidize couples who marry, and who will never return the favor to their friends and relatives who stay single, that just exacerbates the persistent, significant economic disadvantage that single people face.
Don’t yell at me. It is fine if you want to think about the marriage of the people in your life as a happy occasion to be celebrated in a pure way, untainted by crass considerations of money. But know that the couples are thinking about money. As one of the brides who charged admission for her pre-wedding party told Bogen, “Weddings do not come cheap. I did not want to settle on the happiest day of our lives.”