5 Thoughts On The Wedding Industrial Complex From A Bride-To-Be On Valentine’s Day

1. It’s Valentine’s Day, which is something we don’t usually celebrate — thought it feels at this point like eschewing Valentine’s Day is actually more cliché and boring than celebrating it. We all get it, it’s a capitalist invention designed to make people spend money, feel inadequate, and falsely speed up the trajectories of new relationships. That has been established, and repeated ad nauseam. And while I definitely feel that avoiding things like special menus, stressful ~*~experiences~*~, and generally treating the day as the one time per year you’re supposed to cram in all things romantic, I also feel that taking a day to celebrate and remind yourself of your love is never a bad thing. You can eschew all that’s bad about the day, and still have fun (our plan is going to see a documentary, then going to eat at the bar of one of our favorite restaurants, because bar-eating is  t h e  b e s t). But in that way — that notion that you can take what is good and still be very lucid about all that is bad — Valentine’s Day feels very similar, to me, to weddings.

2. I’m engaged, as I’m sure you know. It’s been a few months, and we’ve been lucky enough to have a smattering of intimate and lovely celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic to toast our engagement. Marc and I designed a ring together with what is undoubtedly my favorite jewelry designer, and we’ve generally had a wonderful experience with the whole thing thusfar. We are planning to be married in summer of 2018, so we have plenty of time to plan, and the wedding itself won’t exceed 25 people, so it all feels manageable. In the meantime, we’re in the active stages of planning our “bachelor/bachelorette,” which will largely just be a slightly amped-up version of the yearly retreat we go on with our friends from both the States and Europe. I think that in many ways, the fact that our loved ones are so spread out, and we’ve had to make a second job of getting everyone together on even a yearly basis, we’re very attuned to this logistical process, and haven’t felt overwhelmed by it. And more importantly, we realize what I believe is important, and what I believe often gets missed in the chaos and expectations of weddings: seeing the people you love together, and making sure they all have a fantastic time.

I personally have no interest in a fancy dress or flowers or decor, we don’t and won’t have any kind of registry, and I’ve not given a second thought to things like formal invitations or stationery. And of course this is in part necessitated by the fact that getting everyone together, logistically, is in and of itself a huge time-suck. But I think what’s been shocking to me in all of this is how much I don’t miss anything. I have no desire to do what feel like “bridal” things, no desire for bridesmaids or all of the gendered fussing that goes with them. I thought that I might feel some inexplicable pull towards this stuff once I was finally, actually engaged, but it has largely been the opposite. The only thing of any importance to me has been getting people together, eating food, and drinking lots of great wine. And I really do wonder how many brides might feel the same if they didn’t feel they had to participate in any of the excess.

3. Similarly, I know that many women are able to sort of tune out the aspects of traditional weddings that feel steeped in cringeworthy gender norms, but I find myself personally incapable of separating “harmless tradition” from “symbolic gesture upon which I find it offensive to found a union.” When I think, for example, of the idea of my father symbolically — in front of a large group of loved ones! — “giving” me to Marc, the political reaction I feel is almost physical. There are so many traditions to navigate that center around the woman as virginal chattel, given from one man to another while her peers and elders look on, and they feel like something I hope we can shake in this generation, or at least in the next. Much of what I find so offensive, and so damaging, about the Wedding Industrial Complex, is its insistence that women — no matter how they may live their day-to-day lives — must come back to this concept of essential femininity in order to properly demonstrate their love. We are expected to preen and swan around, to dress up like dolls and fuss over every detail, and to submit to being “given” from one man to another — and if we deviate from those things, we are suddenly the quirky or odd ones, instead of the ones who are celebrating our union largely the way we live our lives: as equals.

4. But perhaps the biggest and most offensive issue with the Wedding Industrial Complex, and this very much ties into the issues we all seem to take with Valentine’s Day, is the sheer, galling cost of it all. Of course, my sensitivity on this issue is somewhat amplified by the fact that I run a website about money, but the numbers don’t lie: the average wedding costs $31,000 in America, and without even scratching the surface of what you could do with that money instead, simply comparing it against the average amount of student debt in this country — $29,000 — the dynamic speaks for itself. Almost literally every wedding I’ve been to has been an elaborate, lavish ceremony in which one or both members of the couple was burdened with debt. This is not at all an indictment of them as individuals: this is simply the norm.

Parents feel more apt to give for a wedding than to help free their children from debt, spending tens of thousands of dollars on venues and flowers and centerpieces feels more natural than putting that money towards a home, and generally spending in a way that we would never normally permit ourselves to is the expectation. And while I don’t think that this means that people shouldn’t have weddings — they are beautiful, important celebrations! — radically redefining what those celebrations have to be feels beyond critical in an era where wages are depressed and debt is at an all-time high. There are a thousand ways to drastically reduce the cost of a ceremony and a reception, none of which would sacrifice the essence of being with the people you love. It is up to us to determine the value of every single dollar, and to most importantly never let a bridal magazine or Pinterest board or acquaintance’s Instagram post dictate what is valuable to us.

5. One thing I have been pleasantly surprised by in this whole process, though, has been how easy it is to do things on your own terms when you are clear, direct, and unsentimental about it all. We are simply not having a big wedding with extended family — Marc and I have, between us, over 20 aunt and uncles, and twice that in cousins. Our guests are going to have to make a serious voyage, take several days off work, and lodging alone is going to be a logistical nightmare. We are, by necessity, having an extremely small wedding, and some kind of informal cocktail party in each country after the fact to toast it, to which people can come, or not come. We aren’t having any sort of bridesmaids/groomsmen, just a simple witness to sign the paperwork. My goal is to spend no more than $200 on a dress — something I’ll find when I find it, off the rack — and to have it be something I can wear again frequently. And because these things have been clear and up-front since the beginning, there has been almost no pushback. Yes, there are people whose weddings we attended whom we can’t invite, but you can find other ways to make it up to them, and explaining to them in an honest and forthright way is more than enough. The idea with creating the wedding you want is to own it totally, to always be kind and respectful but to remember that you are a grown woman who doesn’t have to spend countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars to please everyone else. I have found that all of this mythical pressure people warned me of is largely nonexistent if you show people from day one that it serves no purpose — you can be the bride you want to be, but only if you insist on it.

Image via Pexels

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  • HK4

    As you seem to be someone who has a general disdain towards most of the “wedding-industrial-complex,” as you phrase it, why did you get an engagement ring? I find it very confusing when women denounce being given away and all the other archaic gender roles concerning weddings, but are then the first to rush out and get a fancy expensive engagement ring, which, IMO, is probably THE MOST money-grubbing, brainwashed, and societal-constructed piece of the wedding-industrial-complex. And it’s extremely ironic coming from this website which, as I understand it, is all about eschewing spending large sums of money on things simply because you feel pressured to by social media and society in general.

    I understand this comment might come off as bratty and judgey – but please understand that is not what my aim is. I am genuinely curious because I find it a bit off-brand for you, Chelsea, and I would like to hear your opinion about it. If the reason is simply that you just want a pretty piece of jewelry, that’s fine with me! I would rather women be honest about it than spewing some BS about how it’s a ~symbol of love and commitment~ when, HELLO that’s literally what your wedding ring is for.

    • chelseafagan

      For me, it’s simple: a wedding is an event in which everything I spend on will be done in a day, or a few days, so I want to be very judicious about spending that money — an engagement ring is something I will wear every day of my life, so broken down into cost-per-use it’s actually quite a steal! And as someone who doesn’t really wear jewelry, it’s nice to have the guess work taken out of it every day.

      • HK4

        The cost-reasoning makes sense, but you kind of skipped the question about WHY you have one. You will also wear your wedding ring for the rest of your life – so why not put the money into that. Why two rings? If you aren’t getting a wedding ring, and just essentially allowing your engagement ring to become the wedding ring, why wear it before the wedding? You are so quick to shoot down being given from one man to another during a ceremony as sexist and ridiculous, but what is the purpose of wearing a ring before the wedding takes place other than marking yourself as claimed? Does Marc wear something to designate himself as ~engaged~? If not, then why not? Isn’t he engaged too? It just doesn’t hold up based on almost everything else you said in the article.

        • chelseafagan

          I have one because it’s literally the only “real” piece of nice jewelry I own, aside from a few heirloom things that are too distinct to wear regularly, and it seemed like a good occasion to finally invest in something that I’ll wear every day. I *personally* find the idea of wearing a symbolic piece of jewelry less loaded than having my father physically hand me off to the man I’m marrying, but as I say in the article, I understand that not everyone has the same issues or finds fault in the same traditions. I more than understand why one person might not want an engagement or even a wedding ring, but I do find investing in something you wear literally every day of your life a bit different than spending on a party, from a purely financial perspective — which, as I say in the article, is my biggest issue with the “complex.”

          • HK4

            Missing the point again. Why an engagement ring? And why wear it before you actually get married? Why not make the investment in the wedding ring? The wedding ring is the symbol of your relationship you were every day – not the engagement ring.

          • chelseafagan

            Hey, I don’t think I’m going to give you a satisfying answer here, but again, I totally understand how someone could look at that choice and be like, “That is dumb and pointless.” We definitely don’t have to agree!

          • Emily

            I think it’s time to back off. Chelsea’s responded to you several times and been way more polite about it than I think many women would have been, given the tone of your initial comment. She doesn’t have to justify a personal choice to you, especially because it seems like you’re not going to be happy with any answer she gives.

          • HK4

            She responded but she did not answer the question I asked with every single comment. I would have been satisfied with any honest answer, which I explained in my original comment, but she refuses to provide one. If you are going to publicly post your personal opinions and choices on the internet, and profit off of them, then you need to be able to explain your reasoning when people call you out for slamming one thing and then turning around and doing that exact same thing in a different form.

          • GBee

            She wanted an engagement ring. She bought one. End of story.
            She’s already explained why she feels differently about a ring vs. other traditions.

          • SN

            My god, what a loaded topic! Did you know that in India, men also wear engagement rings? But there’s also that whole dowry concept, which is as vile and misogynistic as you can get. So I think it’s ridiculous to look at one singular tradition and be like “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? THIS IS GROSS” because everyone’s concepts of tradition and celebration is, and should be, different. I think it’s totally ok to pick and choose traditions you like – since my fiancé and I come from different cultural backgrounds, that is exactly what we’re doing. Not everyone needs a specific, compelling reason to do one thing or the other – sometimes it’s just because you like the idea of it.

    • wow dude. it might not have been your intention to be bratty and judgey, but wooo boy, is that how it comes off! i understand your question here, but perhaps you could have put in a little more care into your wording? yikes.

      • HK4

        Engagement rings and several other constructs of modern weddings are something I feel strongly about and have a lot of opinions on. Sorry if you were offended, but if we are going to talk honestly about the wedding industrial complex, I think it’s important to have frank discussions about why women want these things.

        • hey, i ALSO am strongly opposed to weddings, period. i personally would never be caught dead at anything that resembles an altar. but that’s me! would i utilize this disdain to attack someone else? no, definitely not. you want to have a discussion? great! let’s follow some simple rules of respect, if not decorum…there are ways to ask these questions without being quite so accusatory.

          i’d also think you’d get a more fruitful response if you didn’t straight up imply she was a “money-grubbing, brainwashed” human. you don’t think that’s pretty rough? maybe just a little uncalled for?

          ps SORRY chelsea i’ll get out of your comments now i just couldn’t let this one go. bye!

          • chelseafagan

            No need to be sorry, hah! Re: “money-grubbing, brainwashed” comments, I know that this is a topic that elicits very heated and personal reactions, so I try to take everything with a grain of salt. 🙂

          • HK4

            I did not call Chelsea brainwashed or money-grubbing. That’s what I called the engagement ring tradition. Because that’s what it is. This website is all about talking honestly about money. Engagement rings are, honestly, the literal result of a monopolizing, money-grubbing company brainwashing people into believing that they need to invest in not just one ring to symbolize their relationship, but two. With the second traditionally comprised of materials with falsely inflated costs.

            I did not attack her. I asked her to explain something that I felt did not mesh well with the philosophy of this website and her personal philosophy that she explained in the article.

            I like to ask this question in case maybe I am missing something about engagement rings. So far no one has been able to enlighten me as to why they are necessary.

          • sara

            People wear/want engagement rings for many reasons. My engagement ring is a combination/fusion of my and my husband’s moms. I’ll treasure it always for sentimental reasons and wear it everyday. FYI – the grand total to add some stones to my mom’s ring and re-size it was under $350.

          • I like to ask this question in case maybe I am missing something about engagement rings. So far no one has been able to enlighten me as to why they are necessary.

            ————

            What you are missing is a life.

          • Jackie Onorato

            They’re not necessary. They are shiny, pretty things that some people want, some people don’t. Chelsea wanted one. Neither option is wrong.

          • Kdlaf

            She clearly stated she is getting a ring because she wanted one…as a symbolic piece of jewelry for her upcoming marriage for the rest of her life. To my knowledge she didnt say she was getting something absurdly expensive – hell, she didnt even give us a price range. It could be some $40 custom ring from etsy or some super expensive rare diamond – either way she’s been really candid about her choices since starting this site, and I think youre crossing a boundary here….

            Also, what do you mean by this not ‘meshing with the philosophy of this site’? To my knowledge its about making the best financial decisions for you, your budget, goals, etc not living like a hermit and never spending money on anything including one of the most important/symbolic moments of your life!!

            /rant

          • tbh i knew you’d ~rise~ above it but i guess some of us like to, you know, occasionally muck around down here in the trenches.

            also i do think it’s important to point out the implication incase they didn’t realize it was there? it was there! words are real! side note: i did enjoy this one (as much as i can enjoy anything about weddings!!) more power to you to dude. smash the wedding complex!

          • chelseafagan

            Hell yea!!

    • I would rather women be honest about it than spewing some BS about how it’s a ~symbol of love and commitment~ when, HELLO that’s literally what your wedding ring is for.

      ———–

      Anything you choose to make a ~symbol of love and commitment~ is a ~symbol of love and commitment~. I asked my ex for a ~Dior bag~ instead of a ~diamond ring~ and whose business is it? That was my symbol of love and commitment. Unless you are the President of the office of policing other people’s affairs I’m curious as to what it means to you.

      Happy people hardly care the reasons why people are doing things different from what they expect or if their choices seem contradictory to what they’ve said in the past. They’re too busy, you know, being happy. Working towards being happy is probably a better use of your time.

  • Lauren

    The older I get, the more I realize two things: I want a tiny wedding, and I am not at all insulted when I’m not invited to someone’s wedding, because each guest is so expensive.

  • Margaret Bonaparte

    I would love to hear Lauren’s perspective here. I know she got married last year and am so curious to hear what she prioritized and how she went about wedding planning while being money conscious.

    • Tara

      I am really interested in Lauren’s perspective too and was hoping she’d write about her wedding in more detail. I’m especially interested in it in light of Chelsea’s strong feelings about small vs. large vs. performative vs. quiet weddings. If I recall Lauren had a fairly large Italian wedding.

      • chelseafagan

        Well, first and foremost Lauren is a designer who doesn’t write very frequently, and doesn’t naturally err towards channeling her thoughts and choices into writing the way I do, but I know that for a lot of people, talking about a wedding in any detailed way is sensitive because it involves so many other people, financially and personally. She did indeed have a big (and very fun!) wedding, and it was a communal effort and investment with their respective families, as many weddings are — I understand that that makes it a more sensitive topic to discuss openly, since you are not implicating just yourself and your own choices.

        • Tara

          Yeah, understandable that she doesn’t want to air specifics of finances for privacy reasons. TFD has had a few wedding breakdowns in the past, though, which is why I thought hers would fit in. And I know Lauren doesn’t write much, but I enjoy it when she does!

        • Rebecca

          I too was also hoping Lauren would talk about her wedding and how they budgeted for it.

          • Rebecca

            And that she would see these comments and respond.

  • Jessica

    Since I am engaged, as well, I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Maybe it will provide some insight for others. My fiancé and I are getting married on June 9, 2017. We knew before we got engaged what areas we would like to invest in, as well as the areas in which we would like to cut back. For us, photography was high on the priority list. I love photographs and being able to look back on special moments. We also prioritized good food, plenty of drinks, and a great DJ. A big area of focus for us is ensuring that everyone we love and care about will have a great time celebrating the big day. We chose to spend much less on flowers and decor. We also chose to forego having a bridal party and groomsmen. Although planning a wedding is quite expensive regardless of the route you choose to go, I’m proud that we have stuck to our plan and have spent wisely based on our personal needs as a couple.

    In regards to the “sexist and offensive side” of the “Wedding-Industrial-Complex”, I have no shame in allowing my brother to give me away on the big day. My dad passed away from a heart attack when I was 16-years-old, and if he were still alive, I would absolutely have him give me away. In fact, it breaks my heart that he won’t be here to do that. I don’t think of the phrase “giving me away” in a literal, offensive sense; I see it more in a symbolic light.

    Chelsea, please do not take what I am about to say in the wrong way. I have been a huge TFD fan for a few years now; I am an everyday reader. I love checking in to see what new articles you guys have written because I find that a lot of them apply to me personally. I just want to say that in the midst of all of the recent election and political debates, I find that your writing style has swayed tremendously. You now speak, in my opinion, from a very liberal, feminist perspective, as opposed to a much broader perspective that plenty of people can relate to. I think that when you write about finance and relatable, everyday topics, it’s important to consider how diverse your audience truly is.

    I am in NO way saying that you aren’t entitled to your political opinions and beliefs, and I commend you for your honesty. It’s just that I sense an almost forceful liberal presence behind your writing voice now. I personally think that, as a courtesy, you should consider that not everyone is a liberal thinker like you are and not everyone deems traditions and norms as sexist or cringeworthy, especially those in the wedding industry. This is simply an opinion from a devoted reader. I hope that you take to it kindly and constructively.

    • chelseafagan

      Hey Jessica, no offense taken. But you’re right — I’m an active socialist and feminist, and those beliefs color all of my choices. I have gotten more vocal about it post-election because I genuinely believe that many aspects of our democracy are under siege, and particularly as women, the need to protect ourselves (politically, financially, reproductively) is more vital than ever. I understand that for many people, “all this political talk” as I see it frequently referred to on my social feeds can be jarring or exhausting. But I am a political person because I feel it is an obligation to be so, both to my immediate community, the greater community of New York (which is full of people much more vulnerable than myself), and to women as a whole. I totally understand that my politics may be off-putting to some, and I’m not at all offended if you choose to steer clear of myself as a result — we try to create a space with TFD where an incredibly diverse range of voices have a platform, and I am sure that there are many other TFD contributors (or even team members!) whose tone you might find much more palatable.

      • SN

        “You now speak, in my opinion, from a very liberal, feminist perspective” – I’m like, hell yeah she does.

    • Mj D’Arco

      i agree with you! i generally stopped reading this site because it seems like a hostile place for people who are more moderate or conservative… i hope your wedding is amazing

  • Congrats again Chelsea, on getting engaged, on you and Marc planning your wedding on your own terms, and on sharing part of the journey with us. You don’t owe anyone much of an explanation, enjoy your lives together!

  • I’m also planning a tiny wedding, in expensive NYC, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. Would love to see how other people are planning a NY wedding on their own dime.

    The problem with wedding averages is those numbers are self-reported to bridal magazines, and those brides are way more likely to spend more, skewing the averages. Then I see people feeling proud for spending “only $25k” on their wedding because it’s “less than the average”, when the average is already rigged.

    The wedding industry has such a strong foothold on us, I’m not gonna lie: it’s been a struggle dealing with people’s opinions on my wedding. Because everyone has an opinion on your wedding, and someone will always be annoyed that you didn’t do x,y and z. I’m not doing a bridal party, not having pre-wedding events (the wedding IS the event), dress is off the rack (like yours), and it will be during the daytime to save money. Even my “modern” friends kind of wrinkle their nose and say, “How can you really celebrate during the daytime??” And then I have to tell them that fun people are fun no matter what time of day.

    • Sarah

      I am also in the process of planning a wedding in NYC this year… it’s so damn hard and stupid because I don’t even like weddings but both our families have put pressure and money towards helping us. We are trying to keep it at $20k for 50 people and even at that “the industry” puts a stupid amount of pressure on more, more, more!!

      • OMG, we have to discuss. I feel like I have no one to talk to about this stuff except strangers from the Internet. Anyway, planning a wedding in NYC is the ultimate personal finance challenge! I’ve been planning since November and I feel like I’ve not only looked under every rock for budget options, but every goddamn pebble. For our 32 person wedding, we’re currently in the $12k range, but once you start writing out checks, that scope creep starts happening…But I think $20k for 50 people totally sounds doable here. I’ve discovered planning a smaller wedding doesn’t actually save you that much money, but I don’t mind spoiling people I’m close to 🙂

        I feel you on the the wedding industry pressure. I just saw a NYMag article that talks about having circus performers and belly dancers at your wedding. Um, that’s a hard no.

        • Sarah

          One thing we saved on that i’ll share – instead of a $500 wedding cake, our favorite Italian pastry store in brooklyn is making us a very large 2 tier ricotta cheesecake for $150. A small win 🙂 … and agree on smaller wedding costing the same! I don’t think it would of mattered if we had 30 or 70, most of the small venues i found had a high minimum spend! … what are you doing about flowers? because god damn i had no idea they were soooo expensive!

          • Nice! I’m doing something similar re: cake. I looked up a Lady M wedding cake and it’s $750. So I’m just going to get a couple of their 1-tier regular cakes for about $150. Same thing, just not as Instagram-worthy. The minimum spends for food made my jaw drop on some venues, and I’m actually in flowers hell right now. I have a million thoughts on the flowers so email me at theluxestrategist at gmail!

  • dlapidous

    Wow. First, I loved this piece and I thought you hit the nail on the head when you said something like avoiding Valentine’s Day *because* we know how “bad” it is is now more boring and cliché than just celebrating it. My feelings about Valentine’s Day are slightly weird because right now I have a great partner (with whom I am seeing the Lego Batman movie tonight hahaha) but I read all the pieces about ‘being single on Valentine’s Day and loving yourself’ and find myself amen-ing to them all, because that is more my identity. This is kind of dark humor, but I honestly think what made me more chill about the whole thing was that someone I was seriously dating passed away almost three years ago (when we were both 20 years old). Since then, my experience has been both a forced crash-course in *you now have to replicate that love yourself, for yourself, or you will not survive this* and hey, when I do have love (with another person), might as well appreciate and celebrate it because you never know where life will lead in small and big ways.

    Anyways, second, I just love this whole comment thread. It is refreshing to see people *actually discussing* rather than just trolling (mostly). Why do some traditions feel better to some people, in comparison to other traditions? Valid question. The answer that…they just do? Valid answer. I admire your commitment to actually responding to your readers in a thoughtful way on this forum, and I also support both your needs to express your values and your spreading of the message that people are free to read those they connect with.

    XOXO, Your fellow member of the socialist-and-feminists-still-have-a-lot-of-fun club.

    • Holly Trantham

      The Lego Batman movie sounds like an awesome way to celebrate IMO!

  • Jackie Onorato

    Personally, I’m going for a you can have your cake and eat it too wedding. With exception to the photographer (because holy hell they’re expensive) everything so far I have been able to get within reason. You just have to do the leg work.

  • jdub

    This is such a loaded topic. My best friend literally is planning a wedding ceremony within the next month, and what started out as “let’s go to city hall and get hitched and maybe celebrate after before we go on vacation!” has now turned into a morning civil ceremony, followed by photos and a brunch.

    Even if you desperately want to minimize it, sometimes your family has these notions so deeply ingrained that it can feel like a personal insult to not want them included in a celebration of your love.

    That said, congratulations Chelsea!! I’m so glad you get to plan out exactly how you want to celebrate that day, and you’re doing only the things that are important to the two of you as a couple and your new little family.

    • disqus_9yySBjaFFn

      The morning brunch wedding is still small and modern compared to everything that Pinterest shames us into seeing. Kudos to your friend for still keeping it realistic when the pressure for picture-perfect weddings is higher than ever in all of history.

  • disqus_9yySBjaFFn

    Thank you for publishing this mindset –let’s bring weddings back down to a dull roar. Women are supposed to be more evolved than ever, right?

  • Barbara Thomas

    “The anna edit” on utube. Anna just celebrated a wedding similar in tone and size (27) that you described.