A couple of years ago, I visited Istanbul with my extended family. I remember the blue roughs of the Bosphorus Strait and the oppressive humidity of a summer in Turkey.
The hotel where I stayed had many conference rooms, along with an outdoor dance floor. For the first two days, they collected dust.
That all changed on the third night, when eight to fifteen limousines pulled up at around 4 p.m. My father asked the bellhop what was going on. “A wedding,” he responded.
We later discovered that Turkish weddings range from 200 to 400 guests. That’s normal.
I’ve never been to a wedding of that size. However, I do understand the desire for such an expensive affair: the initiation of permanence.
Stephen Marche, blogging for Esquire, criticizes the American “wedding industrial complex” in one of his latest posts. According to Marche, we spend an average of $15,000 to $30,000 on our ceremonies.
“That shit,” as Marche exclaims, “is completely out of control.”
Fair enough. It’s true that Americans place too much emphasis on “self-expression” with their wedding plans, especially with ludicrous proposal schemes involving flash mobs and world travel.
Those who obsess over creating “epic” proposals and weddings spend themselves into thousands of dollars in debt, which Marche accurately describes as harmful to the institution of marriage itself.
Yet he goes too far in his conclusion that people should simply elope to be “original” and “traditional.”
Forget originality; let’s focus on tradition. What does Christianity, the historical religion of Western civilization, say about weddings?
As a Catholic, I will borrow the language of the Catechism.
According to the Church, the wedding ceremony establishes “a partnership of the whole of life.” It’s meant to symbolize permanent union, a parallel to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church itself.
In light of that definition, eloping is selfish because it rejects solidarity with direct and extended families.
Marriage is not just a union between two people; it unites multiple generations of fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins.
Engaged couples spend lavishly for two purposes: 1) to primarily celebrate the beginning of their permanent “real life” together and 2) to secondarily welcome two clans into the same bloodline.
Obviously, both purposes should have equal importance. To responsibly execute both, all couples should make prudent decisions about their spending.
Prudence goes both ways: nobody should spend enough to buy a small house, but, simultaneously, nobody should reject the companionship of the family unit. Both are poles of a continuum.
What we need is a golden mean: a responsible celebration signifying the permanent union of two souls into one unit. It’s okay to spend $10,000 on a church and a reception room; it will only happen once.
Marche thinks that we should save all that money for “building a real life together.” But marriage is real life: it’s the first day of the rest of a new one.