Monday, January 31, 2011

Them's my values

So I'm planning a wedding. This is neither the high point of my existence nor something that causes me excruciating torment. I'm by nature a list-maker and an information gatherer--and I've got oceans of time and not a lot of felt imperatives about what a wedding should be.

My guiding principles are these:
  1. All other things being equal, I'd prefer to throw some kind of party and invite people beyond our immediate family members.
  2. I refuse to spend much money. Some years ago I heard that the average American wedding costs $10,000. Apparently that figure is now $20,000. I believe that number (if you want to be very afraid, go to the comments on this post), but that's not our ball game.
Given items 1 & 2, here's what I care about:
  • A church wedding. Although the Catholic church fucks up almost everything having to do with sex, sexuality, and gender, I think it gets some important things right in defining marriage as a sacrament. (Also: my church is gorgeous. Church wedding = pagentrial loveliness for very little $$.)
  • As for the reception, my values are these: open bar, good music, and enough food to keep people on the dance floor and from passing out drunk.
That's about it, really.

I don't care about flowers, photography, or a sit-down meal, much less about hair & makeup or a big white dress. Other people have other values, and that's fine; I get why those with larger budgets might pay upwards of $3,000 for a great photographer. But I really dislike the fact that there seem to be three dominant wedding discourses in this country: you're a traditionalist, or you're "making your own traditions," or you care fuck-all about weddings.

The first two tend to amount to the same thing, and often the same price: every detail is imagined as having huge personal significance and reflecting the couple's unique taste and sensibility--whether it's a princessy dress and 12 attendants in matching frocks and tailcoats or a rockabilly biker theme.

And if you're not consumed by such details, you're imagined as someone who officially Doesn't Care About Weddings, and you get married at City Hall.

All three kinds of weddings can be lovely, but they're not the only (or mutually-exclusive) options. Dudes. I'm getting married in a church in a blue-green cocktail dress from the 1960s. There will be a bunch of people and a party in a rented space, but it might involve hamburgers, an iPod, and former students acting as bartenders. That's not my special uniqueness; that's just what's happening.


squadratomagico said...

Sounds lovely -- especially the dress!

One thing I've heard people do for photography is to put out a basket of disposable cameras (I think you can get ones with decent quality nowadays) and ask guests to photograph and then leave them. I've heard you can end up getting some unique shots because you have lots of different perspectives on the event. OTOH, nearly everyone has a digital camera of their own these days, and you simply could ask everyone to bring and then share on a photodump site.

Flavia said...

Heh. I thought you'd like the dress, Squadrato! Pictures surely to follow, eventually.

squadratomagico said...

Hah! I just remembered! If you *really* want nightmares, check out the show *Four Weddings.* Four brides compete for a fancy honeymoon by attending one another's weddings and rating their rivals. They always have four different "types:" 100K black-tie country-club affair, versus "free-spirited" barefoot wedding on the beach, versus very religious wedding, versus budget-conscious do-it-yourselfers. There is no better illustration of your point about how much obsessive attention to detail these events inspire.

And thanks for promising to show the dress!

Miss Self-Important said...

I bet you end up spending the $10k regardless. You may not care about flowers, but you probably do care about decorations of some sort, which will cost as much as flowers. And the student bartenders need some compensation, if only a free meal (add to the head count for the caterer...). Plus there is space rental, which is always obscenely expensive even for lame places, but something like20% tax and gratuity. And then they have all these rules about who can cater and what the minimum for alcohol can be. Even stupid little invites and thank you notes cost a couple hundred dollars.

The moral is that you can be apathetic about wedding planning, but wedding planning is not apathetic about you. Just wait until you find yourself with a color scheme. It happens. And I had a city hall ceremony, so I too considered myself an unlikely candidate for such predations once.

heu mihi said...

Eh, you can keep it under 10k. (We clocked in at about 3k, I think, including food and a beer, wine, and gin reception.) Flowers: I spent $80 on Gerber daisies at the grocery store the morning of the wedding, and we stuck them into every vase we could find; they looked beautiful. The reception was in my mom's backyard (we rented a couple of tents for about $400 total--we didn't need them in the end, but it kept me from fearing the rain). Ipod and speaker system for the music (who needs a band?). A friend volunteered the photography. Etc etc etc. And yes, it wasn't about Making Our Own Traditions, it was about Wanting A Fun Party That Wasn't Pointlessly Expensive.

Have fun!!

Janice said...

Two thumbs way up on your dress! I wanted to make my own dress (sewing is a hobby) but as the marriage was in the summer of my first year, tenure-track, I gave into my father's request & bought something. Traditional and froofy. Blech!

The list of "must-haves" for a wedding is crazy as well as crazy expensive. I was just reading that cakes can easily cost $800. Really? We didn't have one because neither of us like cake & we thought it was a waste.

An open bar, food, music and place to have fun? That sounds perfect.

Flavia said...

MSI: sure, we all get interpellated as brides if we decide to have any sort of ceremony/reception, and I'm expecting little stuff to add up more than I now anticipate--I've got a spreadsheet started to itemize every niggling thing (tips, postage for invites, fees for birth certificates so we can pay the fee for the wedding license, etc.).

But I have the church and the reception site rented already, for $1,250 total, and we're buying/bringing our own food. I think $3,000 might theoretically still be doable (thanks, heu mihi!), but if it hits $5,000 or a bit more, that's not the end of the world.

In any case, I promise to report the final figure. (Transparency is what this pseudonymous blog is about, yo.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this sounds like lots and lots of fun! My mom got married in an 80's turquoise skirt suit, and was devastated when it didn't fit me 20 years later. Our wedding spiraled out of proportion, but we sort of decided to let it, and we really liked what we ended up with, so there's that. The big thing I learned about weddings is that people make the difference - you, your families, the guests, and everyone you rely on to pull it off (no matter how insignificant). Also, I'd splurge on photography, even if only for the ceremony; a wedding is something you want to remember, and, well, they're fun to have around. Especially in a gorgeous blue dress!

(Also, people just want to talk about their own weddings (see above), so you can listen selectively.)

- A sometime lurker

moria said...

This post brings me unaccountable relief.

To you, savvy event-planning, and your future happiness. Chin-chin.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a relief this post is. Seriously, I saw the title and was bracing for another female academic going on about how unique and anti-establishment her wedding will be because she's wearing a champagne gown and her ring has rubies in it and her maid of honor is a MAN!

We're all getting married, so it's about as traditional as you can get. The rest is just noise.

Flavia said...

Anon 7.42:

Thanks! Yes, that's my point. Anyone who throws a wedding--gay, straight, feminist, whatever--is buying a particular bill of goods, and it's an inherently traditionalist one. That's not a bad thing: it's that sense of tradition that gives weddings their power and makes so many people want to hold them in the first place.

Sure, you can dress up in Star Trek costumes or hold the ceremony at a rodeo, if those things are meaningful to you. Knock yourself out. But merely buying different stuff--and letting your narcissism take different, exquisitely curated forms--does not mean you're bucking capitalism, the patriarchy, or anything else.

Renaissance Girl said...

Love this post, and the post-exchange. And I agree that what you care about is what should be there, no matter how it does or doesn't match up with someone else's wedding fantasy. And since, as lurker Anonymous notes, everyone just wants to talk about their own, I'll just say that I've had two weddings, and each time I only cared about food (and I must say, the food was spectacular both times, though not exorbitant ($5K first wedding for 200, $1K second wedding, for 28--totally doable for $3K)). Indeed, when an invitee to my second wedding complained that there wasn't going to be any alcohol or dancing or DJ, I said, "Throw your own damn wedding. Buon appetito."

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, and best of luck. I'm delighted to hear you're having your wedding in a church. I'm considered deeply unfashionable and unintellectual by some of my colleagues because not only was I married in church, but I still worship in church every Sunday. I got married when I was 21, and I had the wedding that made me (and my slightly older husband) happy at that stage of our lives. I wouldn't have the same wedding now, at age 40, but I would still marry the same man (with whom I'll celebrate our 20th anniversary later this year), and I would still marry him in church.

Susan said...

Good luck with all this. The wedding industry is incredible, but 25 years ago I managed to get married on around $1200 (I can't remember what I paid for flowers). We had 50 guests, the wedding was at my church, as was the reception (buffet lunch, tons of food, leftovers to a soup kitchen). I got a local dressmaker to make my dress.

Over the years of going to weddings I've come to like the more homespun better than the fancy ones. That's because it's hard with all the focus on "your special day" to remember it's about a marriage, not a wedding. The wedding is a big party you have to make sure your friends are there to help you with the marriage.

Oh, and I've never managed to watch 4 weddings (just the trailers, which are bad enough) but "Say Yes to the Dress" is also truly dire.

Bardiac said...

Felicitations! Wishing you, your families, and your guests a wonderful time.

I'm pretty convinced that guests make the wedding: the happier the guests are about the couple, the happier and more fun the wedding.

Flavia said...

Anon 9.03:

You make a good point about the differences in the kinds of weddings we might have had at different ages. Even five years ago--to say nothing of ten years ago!--I probably would have taken it as a given that I needed to spend more money in order to throw a wedding; the idea of not having a caterer, for example, simply wouldn't have occurred to me. (And because I love paper products, I probably would have spent a FORTUNE on invitations. Invitations--and save-the-date cards and programs--will still be a bigger portion of my budget than they might be for other people, but I'm buying all that shit on Etsy, and we're talking maybe $300.)

It's not so much that my tastes have changed as that I've been to more weddings and have a wider sense of what's possible and a firmer idea of what matters to me; it's also easier to filter out other people's well-intentioned suggestions.

And maybe more importantly: for the first time in my life I'm thinking seriously about buying a house--so any money saved on a wedding has a more appealing alternate destination!

Doctor Cleveland said...

I'm a big fan of this post. I think something like the Prom Principle is at work here: the idea that every detail matters and must be perfect because today is the Most Important Day of Your Life pretty much guarantees disappointment. I doubt many people are entirely happy with their "perfect" weddings, because once the napkin rings become an expression of your deepest personal aspirations, how could any conceivable napkin rings be good enough?

And I think we all know the Bridal Industry, like the Prom-Industrial Complex, is largely aimed at getting women to invest their energy in things that don't benefit them much. My two cents.

DDB said...

Having done both a big church wedding, and a small informal one (both of which you attended, oddly enough), I can say that both have their merits. Having a big church wedding with the formal reception afterwards with all the flowers, the photography, the DJ, etc just seems to be something that you do when you get married in your 20's. I am glad I had the experience, and it was nice, but the planning and the coordinating and such made it so that I barely remember it.

The small informal one was inexpensive, with only the closest friends and family. I can say that all of the things that I thought were important to do in my first wedding weren't even really considerations for the second. And the reduced stress and laid-back nature of the planning really let me enjoy the day much more.

In short, the planning can expand to take as much time as you let it. Err on the side of having a good time yourself, and the rest falls into place (which sounds like what you are doing!)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've never been married and never even really fantasized about getting married or being married. But I did go read the comments on that post about wedding prices, and, just, wow. I had no idea.

i said...

Love this topic.

When I was little, my dream wedding involved four people: me, the groom, the officiant, and a witness. I not only did not want a big wedding, I didn't really want *anyone* there.

Unfortunately, as a single child, I couldn't really get away with that. Luckily, my husband's older sister eloped, so his parents were eager to help in all ways. What came out of it was a bigger wedding than I would have planned (or paid for) myself, but it really was one of the most fabulous weekends of my life -- even though I had really never expected it to be.

Here's the kicker: you stick to your values, and you don't apologize for it. Since most of our guests had to travel (some quite far) to get to our wedding, it was important to me that they not have to pay for anything on that weekend: we covered (rustic) housing, all food, all beer and wine. We said we didn't expect presents, but did get quite a few cash gifts from the local guests and from family, most of which went towards the wedding costs. We both also really, really wanted to have no curfew on the party. This meant extra costs, but it was totally worth it -- husband and I essentially had no wedding night, because we closed out the party at 8:30 a.m. That was *after* the group skinny dip and the dancing in towels.

What we didn't spend money on: fancy invitations, decorations (a relative of his did them with borrowed materials, and it was her gift to us), music (a friend DJ'ed, other friends sang or played music), professional photography (we asked some people to be in charge of certain moments, and then used to consolidate), my nails or hair or makeup, place cards (did the calligraphy myself), party favours (there were none), etc. etc. We had no wedding showers, and solicited no wedding shower presents. I almost wore my mom's wedding dress, thus not paying for any of that, but at the last moment I did go to the mall and drop $400 on a Betsey Johnson dress (which I plan to wear again). Shoes were from the discount rack at DSW (in a moment of miserliness, I even bargained for a 15% discount because of a small stain). One of the biggest expenses was the amount of paperwork it took to marry us -- that involved the governments of four different nations, a flight to New York, multiple official translations, and international couriering. But that wasn't really to be avoided.

The result is that I don't have the ridiculously good-looking wedding photos that so many American women do. I was still a bit tipsy when I woke up on my wedding day, it rained, and no one photoshopped any of the records. But my photos look like me, in my glorious, happy, unphotogenic self. (I'm not sure if there are any pictures of the skinny dipping.) We got a few presents, but not a ton. But the memories are really, really good. For us, throwing a damn good party was the priority, not looking perfect or having a colour scheme. And it was a damn good party.

(Now if you want to hear about alternative honeymoons..... just ask.)

Anonymous said...

do you read because it's about the only corner of sanity on this subject on the internet, as far as i can tell.

scr said...

Whenever C and I chat about weddings, we generally agree that all you need is an open bar and some friends. As long as everyone has a good time, it's a good party. What do I care if a guest embarrasses himself? Not my problem, won't hurt my feelings!

Captcha: 'outful'. As in, I'm feeling awfully outful today. Thank god DADT has been repealed!

Flavia said...

Irina: oh, I heard about your wedding! And I may have seen some pictures on Facebook, too. It sounds like the party to end all parties, but I love what you say about photos in particular. The event and the experience are the thing, really. If we wind up with *one* good picture of us together, and a handful that capture the event, that's enough for me.

RG and DDB: I like your reflections on first vs. second weddings. I used to think that second weddings tended to be smaller and/or more laid-back because, well, you already had the big 'do the first time. But I'm inclined to think it's at least as much a function of age and having different priorities. I've been to several (first) weddings now of people in their mid/late 30s, some big, some small, but all thrown together in just a few months and without the drama that we're told has to accompany the process.

SCR: My own captcha is "gymazo." As in, what I'll look like if I working out fiercely in the months leading up to the wedding.

i said...

Flavia, the truth is, after the fact I did have mixed feelings on the whole photo thing. Every now and then someone manages to take a photo of me that I like, but I'm usually remarkably unphotogenic. So I can understand the desire so many have to have a set of photos in which they are made up, dolled up, and photoshopped -- basically the treatment that celebrities get all the time. But... then what? I don't come from a family that ever hung photos of ourselves around the house. If I put any pictures of family on my walls it's going to be of adorable children I'm related to, certainly not of myself, and absolutely not from my wedding. So why spend the thousands of dollars I don't have?

And anyway, I have some pretty cool photos from the group-camping-honeymoon. Like me and six friends drinking beer on the steps in front of the papal palace in Avignon. Or of me and my husband perched on rocks in front of the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct magnificently reflected in the water. Or riding white horses through the Camargue. And in none of these pictures do we look like celebrities.

the rebel lettriste said...

Late to this, of course, but I wanted to chime in and say that my parents (married June of 1968) spent all of $11 on their wedding. I think that covered punch and cookies, for the reception held in someone's backyard. There was no photographer. My mom wore a red linen minidress.

But, then again, Quakers don't go all out for wedding-materialistic-narcissicism.

I don't know what my brother and his wife spent, but I suspect it was less than $10K. They were married and had their reception in a public park.

Historiann said...

What everyone else said, especially heu mihi, Dr. Cleveland, and Susan. 1997 wedding, about $4,000 bucks. It wasn't perrrrfect, but I didn't care as much about getting *the perfect wedding* as much as getting the right groom.

Like Susan, I think modest weddings are nicer and more relaxed. A lot of the "big deal" weddings I attended back in my 20s and 30s all seemed like the same party, with the same wedding guests making sometimes snarky and competitive comments about how they were going to do it at their wedding instead. It all reminds me of how on HGTV everyone who's looking to buy a house says that they want something unique and special, but then they turn up their noses at the houses that don't have the great room, the granite countertops, the stainless appliances, and a huge adjoining master bath and bedroom. That's what a lot of those big deal weddings I attended were like, anyway.

rachel said...

hey flavia -- am catching up on my blog-reading (i am not as at the end of the internets as you are just yet) and wanted to comment a bit later than the rest..

a year ago, when we first got engaged, i had the same idea, right down to the dress (mine's also blue-green, though it's not vintage)... a year later, and 5 months away from the big day, our budget and guestlist have expanded manyfold and we are having an all-out wedding. it has to do, in part, with the uniqueness of our situation, and our families showing more interest than we had expected.

i'm looking forward to what will no doubt be an awesome and insanely fun and crazy day, but i miss the simplicity factor. the way i'm justifying it is by creating a day that's not really about 'us' and is more about everyone -- celebrating how we're entering into each other's lives as family and community.

hope you stay in your budget, and that you have a great day!

PG said...

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