I recently received an email from a friend concerned about a mutual friend’s wedding. It appears that our friends, both with children and in their 30’s, are asking for money instead of gifts for their wedding. It sounds simple enough, until you read on. These friends are asking for money to PAY for their wedding. They have, in fact, set up an online bank account asking people to donate money to help pay for their wedding. My friend was horrified. “Who does this?”, they remarked.
In fact the more I shared this concept with friends and family the more negative responses I received. “How Tacky?”, said one friend. A family member remarked, “If they can’t afford a wedding, then they shouldn’t be getting married.” Owch. These comments were aside from the multitude of remarks regarding just who should pay for the wedding, her parents.
Let’s look at this from a sociocultural historical context. In other words, let’s look at the time in history and place this is happening. But first a bit of a history lesson. Why is it that the bride takes the husband’s last name? My students often remark, “it’s tradition!”. Well certainly, it is tradition, but just where did this tradition come from?
Traditionally it was the parents who decided who their children would marry. Let’s be more specific, it was the father. The father of the bride would make arrangements, usually economic but sometimes political, for the daughter to wed. The father would agree on a sum, usually involving cash but also livestock and other forms of wealth, with either the groom’s father or the groom. After the sum was agreed upon, the dowry, the economic exchange would take place in the form of a ritual ceremony, the wedding. As part of this ritual the father of the bride would offer a fest of celebration to the happy couple and local villagers. During the wedding ceremony the daughter was through ritual and rite exchanged in ownership from the father to the husband. As his property, she took his last name. (Much the same as slaves took on the last names of their masters.) You know the tradition of the father “giving the bride away”? Well this is literally what happened during traditional Christian wedding ceremonies.
Fast forward several hundred years and we find ourselves in 2011. Around two-thirds of adult women are in the work force. During the Renaissance and Victorian era’s, the very idea of women working was preposterous! Today, more and more women are becoming college educated. In fact, as a college instructor I can tell you, there are more women in college than men these days. There is a new era of 21st century, I can do it on my own, women.
In fact women are choosing to get married later and later in life. The average age for first time brides is now at 27, while first time grooms is 29. Both men and women are choosing to establish their careers and households, prior to tying the not. Couples are still getting married, but today we marry for love, not at our parents will. (Let’s not forget this idea is barely a century old!)
Let’s get back to our couple at hand. These 30-somethings are both well established in their careers. Prior to meeting they both maintained households as single parents. Do they really need a third toaster? Or another set of silverware? If anything this couple is in need of a garage sale!
In a day in age where the unemployment rate in Michigan is still over 11%, housing values have dropped nearly 60% in some areas, and many of us lost half our 401k’s and savings, is being frugal such a bad thing? Traditions today are constantly being reshaped and reformed. Many brides are being walked down the isle by both parents, their siblings, or even close friends. If a bride has a well established household, is it still permissible to run to her parents for money all the time? Then why should she ask them to pay for the wedding? Let’s face it weddings are pricey. And, if your friends like to drink, that bar tab is enough to cause anxiety in anybody.
Weddings should not be about gifts, but rather a celebration of love. If that couple is being financially responsible by not going into debt to pay for their wedding, is the gift of money such a bad thing? After all, isn’t debt what caused half this economic mess? Let us not forget the standard wedding day gift is usually a monetary amount at the very least equivalent to the cost of your meal. What makes it such a faux pas for the couple to ask for it a few months early?
After all, what is more absurd, a couple asking you to pick part of your bar tab, or $500 per place setting China?