Monday, May 21, 2007

How do they afford it?

Salon features a worthwhile interview today with One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding author Rebecca Mead on the subject of the modern wedding, now shaped by an entire industry of wedding apparel, wedding planning, wedding gift registry, honeymoons, etc. What I've heard anecdotally about weddings leads me to believe that they are incredibly pricey, time-consuming affairs to plan, and the Salon article confirms this. The average American wedding today costs $27,852. Even factoring in the dollar-value of all of the wedding gifts a couple receives, 28K must make a dent in the bank accounts of most Americans, who on average earn $46,326 a year.

All of this returns me to the question that nags American consumerism as it drives the sputtering engine of the U.S. economy: how do people afford all of this expense, and why do they submit themselves to this costly racket? What is the use in putting so much time, energy, and money into a one-day affair? I imagine some of it is driven by the impulse to keep up with the Joneses and some of it by the desire to have something to do in an age when consumerism is an ersatz hobby. Having weathered the same sort of excess for B nai Mitzvah, I don't look forward to witnessing the spending contest to which peers will submit as they plan the American wedding.

Aside from the nupital narcissim, I never understood how people could work up so much excitement over wedding dresses and floral arrangments. Being subject to protracted discussions about wedding details is painful, particularly for one who is not planning on getting married soon or has never been married, and therefore can find little relevance in conversation about beads, lace, and strapless vs. sleeveless or whether to get a custom made dress or go to Filene's Basement's annual wedding sale, or whatever else engagees find themselves obligated to discuss ad nauseum.

Finally, let's not forget the hefty expenses to which friends and family of brides and bridegrooms are subject, without question, in the form of gifts--for the wedding and the bridal shower-- traveling expenses, bachelor or bachelorette party expenses, and wedding wear. And why must there be an engagement ring and a wedding ring? Especially when engagement rings are a relatively new tradition--one-third of brides did not marry with an engagement ring in 1939--one egged on by jewlers and diamond advertisers.

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