What do you want to remember most vividly about your wedding day - the ice sculpture, or the ceremony?
WARNING (1): I'm going to engage in some shameless self-promotion. WARNING (2): It will probably take a while to get around to that part.
Think about a wedding ceremony. What part does it play (or did it play) in the experience of your wedding day? The ceremony represents a small fraction of the entire time spent preparing for and celebrating your marriage, and a smaller fraction of the overall cost of the wedding - but it's what MAKES you married. Without the ceremony, you're just throwing a big, expensive party. This is the moment you get to say that your love is special, and why. This is the moment you get to claim that you have what it takes to make your relationship work for a lifetime. This is the moment you get to thank the people who helped make you the person you are: an adult who is able and willing to commit to loving another adult, what Rilke calls "perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation." Wow. Perhaps this is a bigger deal than we sometimes acknowledge.
So do you want that ceremony to be boilerplate text that says nothing meaningful or memorable to you or your guests, nothing significant about you or your spouse-to-be? Do you want the person conducting the ceremony to waltz in as a complete stranger and mumble the same old same old in a sleep-inducing monotone? Do you want to feel as if your ceremony came out of a vending machine that dispenses countless copies of the same thing to anyone who has the right change?
I didn't think so.
I know that weddings aren't inexpensive, and that lots of individuals are struggling with their budgets in these gloomy economic times. Couples planning their weddings are being far more careful about how they spend their money, trimming back on all the extras and being pretty tight-fisted about the "gotta haves" as well. The wedding industry, of which I am arguably a (small) part, is feeling the pinch, too. My little secret, for which I probably need to apologize in advance to every wedding vendor within 500 miles, is that I'm not all that sorry for the pullback by couples planning a wedding or commitment ceremony. I think it's healthy for couples, healthy for the industry and healthy for our culture as a whole to stop pushing weddings as lavish as Broadway productions. Oh, and don't forget the cost of the honeymoon, the bridal shower, the bachelor and bachelorette parties, the spa visit, the rehearsal dinner, and so it goes, ka-ching, ka-ching. Ouch! - did I say that? Afraid I did.
Well, look - in practical terms, drowning in debt and financial troubles, even when the party was great, is no way to start a marriage. Believe it or not (and I do), more marriages break up over financial conflict than over sex or just about anything else. Why would you want to start your married life trying to scale a mountain of bills from your wedding? Even if someone else, say, Mom and/or Dad, is paying the tab - ESPECIALLY if someone else is paying the tab - being a grownup means not taking advantage of the generosity of those who love you. And if you're paying for the festivities yourself, you know there are always a thousand other financial priorities clamoring for your attention. There's no time like the present to learn the discipline of staying within a workable budget.
Beyond the financial aspect, larger-than-life weddings can take a subtle spiritual and psychological toll on the participants and guests alike. The glitz-and-glam trappings tend to distract from the underlying meaning of the event. They're designed to impress people but not necessarily to reach them where they live. When those fun and pretty extras are marketed to us as necessities, yet we know we can't afford them, we tend to start thinking of ourselves as deprived. The next step is to start thinking of ourselves as entitled. That's when we're vulnerable to whipping out the credit card so we can have the same things "everybody else" has. Including crushing debt.
Don't get me wrong: if your heart's desire is a big, pull-out-all-the-stops, glamorous wedding and you can afford it; if it's meaningful to you and will bring you joyful memories throughout your married life, by all means, go for it. Just don't let wedding industry marketing make you feel as if you aren't having a "real" wedding if you don't pay for ice sculptures, a chocolate fountain, a caterer who puts four-star restaurants to shame, and a tightrope walker teetering overhead at the reception dinner, playing the violin above the guests' Chicken Kiev. The steadfastness of your marital relationship is not measured by the dollars spent on special effects.
With all these warnings to be cautious, thrifty and mature about the scope of weddings, where did my warning about "shameless self-promotion" go? I guess, now that I get to it, I don't want to self-promote as much as I want to promote the ceremony - to a somewhat higher rung on the planning ladder than where it's traditionally been. When you plan a wedding, think carefully about what will create the most joy on the day of your marriage and the most lasting memories for the future. The ice sculpture or the photos? The catering or the flowers? The shoes you'll wear once or the smile you'll wear for weeks as you remember the vows you wrote yourself and exchanged with your dearest and only one?
I hope you'll consider that the ceremony is the beating heart of the whole day. The words you say matter. The words the officiant says matter, and the WAY they are said matters, too. Years after your wedding, you may remember nothing about the food, little about the decorations, and your memory of the shoes may involve only how much they hurt your feet. But you will remember the ceremony - the solemn, holy feeling of that moment suspended in time; the joy of sharing it with your family and friends; the sense that the words said belonged to you and your partner alone.
As for my attempt at self-promotion? Pfffft. Let it go - I never was any good at that stuff. Of course I'd love to have you come talk to me about your wedding; I know what I'm able to do for you and I'm more than pleased to do it. But many other officiants can do wonderful things, too. I'm asking only that you give the choice of your officiant, and planning your ceremony, equal time with planning for flowers and photos and food (and equal consideration in your budget). Make the effort to find the right officiant, one you trust and whose approach serves your needs. Your officiant is the one who escorts you to that doorway which only the two of you can pass through: the land not just of generic marriage, but of YOUR marriage. That's too important a role to entrust to someone who doesn't appreciate the uniqueness of your relationship and the sacredness of the path you've chosen to walk together.
Many blessings and much joy to you! - Diane