But that’s not the only trend making wedding headlines. Since 1990, the amount of money spent on the typical American wedding has doubled to $28,000, with Canada not far behind. We take this wedding thing seriously. It remains to be seen, though, whether this means we take marriage seriously.
One recent Big Apple bride, who loves butterflies, paid $10,000 to have live ones released the moment she said her vows. Unfortunately, the freed butterflies made an immediate beeline to the huge spotlights, where they were promptly roasted and toasted, their scorched carcasses adorning the bridesmaids’ dresses and bouquets. All the planning in the world didn’t avert this catastrophe. Yet there’s strong research that says that certain pre-wedding planning does avert catastrophe; namely, couples who take pre-marital counseling are less likely to divorce than couples who do not. Maybe if more couples worked hard at getting ready for the marriage, rather than getting ready for the wedding, our society would be better off.
Of course, many couples believe they don’t need counseling because they’re already prepared. They’ve been living together for years, and so what else is there to learn? It’s precisely these couples, though, who most need to work some things out. Those who live together before they’re married have around a 50% higher chance of divorce than those who don’t. The reasons are complex, but one may be that people have a lower threshold for whom they live with than for whom they marry. In other words, you may move in with someone you wouldn’t consider marrying, but after you’ve lived together for three years, marriage seems the next logical step.
And marriage brings with it a whole bunch of expectations that weren’t there when you were just living together. Family treats you differently. You expect different things from your spouse than you do from your girlfriend or boyfriend. Life can still throw you curveballs. Better to talk some of these issues through beforehand than face heartbreak later.
I wonder, though, if the demographic trend towards cohabitation is part of what is driving weddings to new heights of conspicuous consumption. A wedding once signified a huge change in the couple’s day to day lives. It was important in and of itself. Now that marriage has lost that significance, maybe people are looking to the trappings of the wedding to make the day special.
This whole attitude towards a big budget wedding, though, seems a little counterproductive when it comes to marital success. Florists and bridal salons and chauffeurs can charge outrageous prices precisely because it’s "your day”, and you deserve it. It’s all about you! So live it up.
But marriage isn’t all about you. And if couples launch their new life together thinking that marriage is supposed to bring them bliss, they may fall prey to this happiness folly. Marriage can make you happy; but if you aim for happiness, you’re more likely to get kicked in the head. Marry because you have found a good person to love, you want stability, and you want a family. If you marry instead expecting your new spouse will meet all your needs, then you could be ready to throw him or her overboard before the honeymoon even ends.