Thursday, June 25, 2009


Today I thinking about budgets. The background is a general discomfort with a sense I have of the overriding wedding culture that has developed as a response to the Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC) which is represented by bridal magazines and bridal conventions that say that your wedding must be a spend-fest of strapless poufy white dresses and matching polyester bridesmaid and table number cards at a sit-down dinner in a dedicated event hall with flocked wallpaper and gold-veined mirrors. You know, prom grown-up style. You might be able to tell that I dislike the WIC as much as the next hipster. (However, my brother's wedding that completely matched this model has softened up my disdain quite a bit since it turned out to be just as full of love and personality and good tears as any indie wedding I've ever been to.)

But my discomfort with the WIC has been established since my first wedding 10 years ago when I read Bridal Bargains and it changed my world. My new discomfort is the movement that has grown up out of a community of brides like me that must, understandable, tear down the old model in order to be emotionally ready to design a new one. It is a necessary dynamic but both extremes need to be held in tension or the final cultural outcome is not greater freedom for all couples to do what is most meaningful for them but instead a polarization of only two options for them to choose from: traditional and alternative. I am a huge fan of Ariel and the Offbeat Bride community. Huge fan. I was surfing around and found her Halloween costume where she pulls together indie bride trends into one costume and it illustrates the less familiar extreme perfectly. Ariel is so impressive because she manages to celebrate individual couples' choices while also noting that trends emerge. And I agree: trends are totally fine. That is, as long as they stay trends and do not become new norms that must be followed if the wedding is to be considered "genuine" and "a perfect reflection of our personality."

One of these trends to choose a wedding style that involves rounding up all of your fabulously crafty and artistic friends and having everyone pitch in to pull this thing together for less than $2,000 or $5,000 or $10,000. And today that has me thinking about budgets.

I'm going to trace out the internet map of my reading this morning and then I'm going to discuss it a little. First, I read about this wedding in which a couple got married in the barn at Praire Crossings, where their Community Supported Agriculture farm is located. Awesome. I love shit like this. Especially the board games for folks that wanted to stick around but didn't want to dance. Like all of the weddings featured on this website, it follows a template of simple questions to tell the details of the wedding story. I've been reading for months but didn't notice that one of the questions was "What makes this wedding thrifty?" Like I said in the comments, this made me deflate a little since we're spending a fair amount of money on our wedding for a variety of reasons. I think everyone on these blogs has little dreams of having their own wedding featured someday and I was a little disappointed to realize that I probably shouldn't even ask since we're not really thrifty. (Which may not be true, as I think about it more.) Still, those were my feelings at the time. Magically, though, the next post I read was this one that railed against the very same low-budget-centric vibes that have been getting me down and was I felt flated again. Then, I left a comment on the first post and got a nice reply from the author affirming what I said and pointing out that the question in its complete form is "What makes this wedding thrifty, whatever that means to you?" and welcoming me to the community. Then, in my normal blog-reading routine, I found this post that perfectly illustrated the culture that I'm frustrated with. Don't get me wrong, this is a lovely couple and I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with their relationship or their wedding. I especially like her simple dress embroidered with the story of their relationship in pictures. But when they say:
"We started the wedding planning process by declaring a strict and modest budget: $2,000 to be exact. We wanted our wedding to be about sincerity, authenticity, connection, and a celebration and proclamation of love and commitment. We didn’t want it to be about monogrammed napkins and excessive amounts of fondant,"
with all the idealistic zeal of evangelists, it's easy to hear that a wedding that cost more than that would not be about sincerity, authenticity, or connection and that the monogrammed napkins and fondant would be more important than the celebration and proclamation of their love.

Now, I am positive that these are good people and they would not ever want to make someone feel bad for having a different kind of wedding than they have. But, as any good psychoanalyst will tell you, it's not always important what was said: let's focus on what you heard. There's a good chance this says more about my own insecurities than anything else.

But the thing is, we're spending $15,000 on our wedding and there will not be a monogrammed napkin in sight. In fact, we have about 7 line items in our budget: location, band, officiants, outfits, flowers for a bouquet and some boutonnieres, some judaica for the ceremony and food that can be provided without servers: cheese trays, cupcakes and champagne. We're simply doing without everything else. Chicago is expensive, yo. And we are the type of people who develop large, deep friend networks and value our extended familes. A wedding with only 80 guests would leave out some very important people and would not "reflect who we really are." We've set our priorities and are spending our money on those things. Have we planned them as cheaply as possible?


But I'd rather spend the money on vendors than be a project manager for this event. Because, in the end, it's just one day. A very special day. But one day and one party. Again, this decision reflects who we are as a couple. Our relationship would be in tatters by the time we got to that day if I had to be a project manager, herding our friends into doing jobs to save us money.

My cousin had a wedding in this style that was amazingly lovely two weeks ago. But when her mom fell in the middle of the night 12 hours before the wedding, cracked three ribs and punctured her lung and none of us knew if they would release her for the hospital in time, the conversation revolved around whether or not the wedding would go ahead without her. The bride's mother! And I agreed with both sides. One said that none of the plans, none of the white christmas lights the homemade centerpieces or the song the couple sang to the crowd instead of a first dance would be worth it if her mother wasn't there. The other side said that marriages have to overcome a lot of disappointments and can only do so if they are actually a marriage. In fact, Jewish law holds that once a date has been set, nothing can postpone a wedding, even a death in the immediate family. What God is bringing together, let no one get in the way, indeed.

So, I am resolute that I will not sacrifice our relationship for a few thousand dollars. It will not reflect badly upon us and our relationship if strangers prepare the food and no one will believe it is inauthentic if there are not cute, hand-lettered signs all over the place. I DIYed the hell out of my first wedding to the delight of my guests who still tell me that it was the best wedding they have ever attended: bingo, homemade flowers, self-chosen bridesmaids' dresses, invitations created on our home printer, several small cakes, Halloween candy, no veil, costume rehearsal dinner, cartoon logo, Walt Whitman readings and CDs instead of a DJ long before iPods were even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye. A great performance does not guarantee a good marriage. And when it comes down to it, I would marry Jacob at the courthouse tomorrow. But this wedding isn't about me.

It is about us. More importantly - and I really do mean more importantly - it is about validating the community that produced and shaped us. Why invite anyone or spend any money on a celebration if it is not about telling those people that their effort has been worthwhile? That their own marriages contributed in some way to this happiness? That their loneliness which gave them wisdom to share had purpose? That the lessons based on their own experience - taught through example, conversations and arguments - have produced fruit?

Their presence helps Jacob and I to understand on a deep soul level that despite disagreements and because of the moments where we share hearts and minds, they will continue being our community. They are committing to shape us and be shaped by us just like Jacob and I are committing to shape each other and to allow ourselves to be shaped in order to accomplish our common goal of mending the world: tikkun olam.

This is worth $15,000.

Besides, I can't marry Jacob at the courthouse tomorrow anyway. I will be doing the flowers for my friend's DIY wedding with a $4,000 budget. ---grin---


Anonymous said...

Your wedding is just that. And you are making it the start of what I know will be a wonderful marriage. Phooey to the worries!Phooey I say!

Anonymous said...

You know I love this. "Authenticity" is such a sneaky, problematic word. And you only need answer to yourselves, not the internet peanut gallery.

Also, if I may be a gossip for a minute, I will say that much as I really do enjoy the blog you discuss in your entry, I actually find it really, really holier-than-thou, and so similarly problematic. I've kind of stopped reading it for that reason. I have been running in my little activist circles for a long time and I no longer have much patience for the "aren't we so virtuous" crowd--now THAT is inauthentic to me. :) I know I try to write about ethics and my wedding while explicating what bugs me and what I am grappling with but without trying to push a "so if you aren't doing it my way, you must be greedy/inauthentic/buying into the system" bent. I don't know if I pull it off, but I do hop we can talk ethics/money without being that way.