Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Marriage-Industrial Complex

I admit: I love weddings.

As a case in point, when I was four years old, I fell while climbing over a fence and sliced my head open on a rock. Minutes later, with my dad speeding through traffic to get me to the ER and my mom holding towels to my head to stem the bleeding, I abruptly stopped crying when we drove past a church and I saw a bride and groom walking out. My head was gashed open, I had dried blood all over my face, and everything from the neck up hurt like hell -- but the moment I saw that wedding party, I forgot about all of it. I was quite possibly the most gruesome passer-by ever.

So this summer, after my phenomenal boyfriend popped the question and became my phenomenal fiancé, I ran to a magazine rack as fast as my little legs could carry me. I sat down, surrounded by a stack of bridal magazines, excited to get to work, and...was utterly appalled.

"I'm supposed to do what?" I muttered while looking at 8-tier, multi-color cakes bedecked with roses and sugar-appliqué sunbursts.

"A theme? How do I come up with a Goddamn theme?"

"The average wedding costs how much?! This has to be a joke. Who do they think I am? Oprah?"

Midway through one magazine, I was both sputtering with disbelief and scared shitless.

I'd helped some friends plan their weddings in years past, but I was never involved with the intimate details. Now those intimate details were staring at me. In fact, they were fucking mocking me. Mercilessly. "Weddings cost at least 25K," they said. "You have to do all this if you don't want your wedding to turn into some God-awful event that makes everyone judge you, hate you, or both."

Then I had an epiphany. As he was leaving the presidency, Dwight Eisenhower gave a farewell speech in which he warned of a trend he called the military-industrial complex. The military-industrial complex (or MIC, since here in Washington we live and die by acronyms) is the idea that there's a whole industry that supports the military -- but that same industry feeds the military build-up, so it's a self-reinforcing cycle.

Looking at the bridal magazines, I realized: there's a marriage-industrial complex designed to make us think that we have to spend $25,000 on our weddings for it to be a worthwhile event. The bridal industry makes its bread and butter by supporting weddings, and that same industry feeds the wedding frenzy. This whole extravaganza has us convinced that this is the most important day of our entire lives and that everything must be perfect. Obviously, the only way to do that is to spend more on one day than some people do on all four years of college tuition.

At first I felt overwhelmed. How, exactly, was I going to pull this off? I'm trying to pay off my student loans and live in an expensive city, and now I have to go into debt just to get married? My head spun as I tried to think of ways to get my hands on that sort of money. I came up with a largely unsavory list of possibilities.

Option 1: Ingratiate myself to a rich and, conveniently, half-dead relative who'll make me the beneficiary on their life insurance policy.

Option 2: Prostitution.

Problem posed by Option 1: I have no phenomenally rich relatives. There's also that whole ethical/moral/legal issue presented by insurance fraud, dice.

Problem posed by Option 2: Prostitution is almost universally regarded as being bad for one's marriage. Also, the legal/moral/ethical issue rears it ugly head. Again. I seriously don't know how people subsidize these things without a flaming pile of debt or jail time.

This led me to...

Option 3: Eloping. Plenty of people in my family have eloped and remained happily married -- so why not follow in their footsteps? They are, after all, cheap footsteps that won't send me into a downward spiral of fiscal misery and woe. Plus, it's neither illegal nor unethical! Yaaaaay, not illegal!

Problem posed by Option 3: My Betrothed and I want to be surrounded by the people we care about as we make a lifetime commitment to each other. If, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, then it would be nice to have our respective villages involved in (or at least invited to) the day when we start our new life together. Also, I'm pretty sure my mom will stab me in the heart if I elope. And personally, I'd prefer to remain alive.

At that point, I had a second epiphany: the marriage-industrial complex is complete shit.

A wedding isn't about the cake, the dress, the flowers, or the total cost of the blessed event. It's about two people who love each other making a commitment to spend their lives together. It's about being surrounded and supported by friends and family when that commitment is made. Nothing else.

With that, I knew: the marriage-industrial complex is both ridiculous and unnecessary. It's time to debunk the myth that no one will love you if you don't have an expensive wedding, and to show that you don't have to re-mortgage your house to pull off this blessed event. Because let's face it: the marriage-industrial complex has pulled a fast one on us -- now it's time for us to return the favor.

Cheap brides, unite!


  1. Good for you, Lillian, for figuring out the MIC so quickly! It is a bunch of hooey! Any wedding is a dream wedding if your beloved is there with you. And you're right that it's the marriage that matters, not the wedding.

    Scott and I bailed on the whole MIC too and planned a small ceremony, with friends serving as clergy, caterer and musical entertainment. We paid for it ourselves and kept the cost to a bare minimum. If I remember correctly, Scott's suit was the single most expensive item. I made my dress, so I know it cost less than his suit did. Mind you, this was back in the stone age before the age of event weddings. The principle still holds though.

    So, thumb your nose at the MIC and have fun figuring out what works for the two of you. It is your day, after all.

  2. Yay for a blogging Lillian!
    Girlie, you have come to the right place: a single Seminarian. :)

    Call me...we'll talk. :)

    Love and congrats (and no option 2),


  3. Amen sista soultrain!

    Your *goals* of debunking the new MIC and writing about it are excellent and I'm looking forward to reading more!

  4. I just found your blog through a friend and I love this. I went over 5K in debt on my first wedding that ended before I even finished paying for it. My second wedding cost me less than $300 most of that was the license and officiant.

    Good for you scrapping the worlds plans. I look forward to reading more. :-)