The Saints are pretty good at spotting blatant attacks on the family. But, recently, I realized that I had been completely unaware of a subtle yet profound attack on marriage and family.
The average American wedding costs 26,000 dollars (by comparison, the average household income is 43,000 dollars). That’s an incredible financial burden for a family to take on. I think our initial impulse might be to be less-than-sympathetic: after all, no one has to fork over almost 30K for a wedding. But it is a little more complicated than that. Let’s say that your social circle consists of people primarily from the same tax bracket as you. (I belive this is generally true for most people, roughly speaking.) You’ve spent the last few decades attending their costly weddings. Now it is time for your own daughter’s wedding. I am afraid that the implication, if you don’t spend what they spent, is that you are cheap. After all, they somehow managed to afford the 30K wedding–why can’t you? There is, I think, something a little churlish about eating rubbery chicken cordon bleu at everyone else’s weddings and then serving punch and mints at yours. So the cycle is perpetuated, with families taking on enormous debts in order not to offend their friends and family.
“OK, OK,” you say. “So many Americans are trapped in a system they can’t graciously back out of. I don’t think Mormons have this problem. Why should I care?” And I reply, “Here’s why:”
(1) Forgive me for getting personal, but if you asked the average Mormon male or female what the most significant change was that resulted from their wedding (and you could somehow get an honest answer out of them), I think most would say, “We got to have sex!” But I think many nonmembers might say, “We got to have debt!” You have to admit that that 26K (an increasing percentage of which, by the way, is paid for by the couple and not the bride’s parents) albatross is not a particularly pleasant honeymoon souveneir. And while I may be overstating its emotional impact, the fact remains that many marriages are handicapped by consumer debt from day one. And we all know the effect that money issues can have on a marriage . . .
(2) I have personally been guilty on at least two occassions at scoffing at nonmembers who have told me that they really wanted to get married but couldn’t afford to. I didn’t realize that they weren’t just making excuses. I wish I had been more sympathetic and even offered some help–making favors, centerpieces, etc. for their wedding.
(3) Stop complaining about the LDS weddings that you go to that involve watered-down punch and mints under a basketball hoop festooned with pastel streamers. Stop comparing them to the nonLDS weddings that you attend. I’m guilty of this, too. I just about fell on the floor when I attended the wedding of the daughter of a well-off (and I mean well-off) LDS family and there wasn’t a sit-down dinner. On another occasion, I was stunned to find myself at the wedding of the daughter of a wealthy member where the food was being prepared by the friends of the mother of the bride. I wasn’t sure it was legal not to hire a caterer. (Where I come from, plumbers’ daughters have sit-down, catered dinners for 300 people.) I am going to make a concerted effort from now on to be proud of thrifty LDS weddings. And if you are considering having an expensive wedding, even if you are in a position to pay for it outright, perhaps you should consider what effect it will have on your friends and family when you set the bar higher.
(4) As I was discussing this with my husband, we realized that the problem (if you will) with weddings is that the entire focus of the reception is a sit-down meal (which doesn’t come cheap–at least 40$/person in most areas). We were brainstorming with what that might be replaced. One thought was with a band and dancing (I’ve always wondered why there isn’t much family dancing in LDS culture–this is common where I come from and there’s really nothing like slow dancing with your grandfather.) Another thought was to ask all of the bride’s and groom’s families to bring their own wedding albums for perusing. (These should have a crotchety maiden aunt hovering over them to be sure that no nasty children spill watery punch on them.)
Seymour Skinner once commented on Edna Krabappel’s ability to be “personally offended by broad social trends.” No point in doing that, really, unless you are going to use what little influence you have to change them.