“Begin as you mean to go on,” the saying goes. That’s especially true about getting married. Right or wrong, a wedding is often seen as a statement on the couple being wed.
I’ve been to a lot of weddings — as a guest, as a best man, even as a courtesy-invited ex. Some have been disasters. Some have been beautiful.
I like how my wife and I got married best.
Many will disagree vehemently, but I’ve always been of the opinion that weddings are more about putting on a show than celebrating two people. All the focus is put into the guests —finding the perfect date, the perfect venue, seating charts, dinners, gift bags, music selection, place settings, and so forth.
The last people who should be saddled with those plans are the bride and groom. They should be focused on the commitment they’re about to make, not about whether Aunt Ida is going to be offended if we seat her near cousin Harold, or if the band’s playlist is too risqué.
And that doesn’t even touch the expense. The cost of the average U.S. wedding is $27, 764. That strikes me as insane. Especially for young couples, that’s a burden they don’t need. Add to that the studies that show a strong inverse correlation between how much is spent on the wedding and happy marriages. Couples who spend over $20K are twice as likely to get divorced, while couples who spend less than $1000 on the wedding have the lowest divorce rate.
Why? I think it’s because lavish weddings are incredible acts of organization and stress, with zero focus on what happens the next day. There is an inevitable let-down. And should any little thing go wrong, it gets the marriage off on the wrong foot.
It also places the couples focus on the wrong things. This one day becomes the be all and end all, when they should be thinking about all the days after.
In short, for at least half of the weddings I’ve been to, the ceremony is less about the couple than about the event itself. A big wedding is a show put on for others, a display, like a play.
Speaking of plays, my wife and I met on stage. We’ve been married enough times in theatre that we felt no need whatsoever to do it again in our private lives. Add to that the fact that she had already had the big wedding once, with a reception on top of the Sears Tower no less. Much as she hates being a statistic, her first marriage ended in divorce in less than three years. She talks now of the reservations she had in the days before the wedding, but the pressure put on her by friends made her go through with the ceremony.
So neither of us were keen on a big wedding. After a year together, we decided to get a license and go to city hall, then tell our parents afterwards. The date we’d chosen was September 14th, 2001.
As you might imagine, events of that week made us decide against it. The last thing we wanted was to have 9/11 be our wedding memory. Thank heavens we hadn’t made a big deal out of getting hitched! That wedding would have had a pall over it from the start.
But we had the license, which was good until the end of April. We waited until the last minute, but on a Friday in April 2002 we took a friend as witness and headed to the courthouse and got married. We made the judge laugh with our vows, me heavily inflecting “for poorer” and her giving some real spin to “till death us do part.”
All of this sounds rather bland, I know. It’s what we did next that I like.
We went out to dinner with our parents and told them. Then we hopped a plane and went on our European honeymoon.
For three and a half months.
You see, we took all the money we might have spent on a wedding and used it instead to build a lifetime’s worth of memories. It certainly took as much planning as a big wedding. We started in Athens, then sailed to Crete, then back to the mainland to visit Delphi. From Patras we took a ferry to Brinsidi, and from there we went to Pompeii and Napoli, then Rome, Florence, Ravenna, and Verona. A long night train took us to Paris, then we flew to Dublin and rented a car to drive around Ireland. Returning the car, we flew to Edinburgh, then took a train to Bath and Stratford, and ended the trip in London.
Three and a half months, and we still tell stories from that trip. We have a private shorthand (“I hate 5 am in Greece”, “Gnocchi is Italian for baby”, and “What are you doin’ with him?” said in an Irish accent). We learned that we travel well together, a real skill. We dined with Marxists and had coffee with a Count. Our wedding was accidentally blessed by the pope. We explored shared interests, she tolerated my research for my first novel, and we made friends we have to this day.
For the same cost of a big wedding, we had fifteen weeks of experience.
Then, when we got home, our families threw us a huge party. I got a tux, Jan got a great wedding dress, but that was the extent of our planning. It was a party for us, not by us.
This clearly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some people are devoted to the idea of a traditional wedding. Even if the couple is not, often the parents are. I’ve had some very angry people tell me we were selfish. That seems insane to me, and only proves my point. If we’re selfish by choosing not to have a wedding, what does that say about weddings, and who they are for?
“Begin as you mean to go on.” Our wedding was about us, and how we wanted to live our lives. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
David Blixt is an author, actor, and fight director based in Chicago, where he’s allowed to co-exist with an awesome woman and a pair of really cool kids. His new book, WHAT GIRLS ARE GOOD FOR: A Novel of Nellie Bly, is available now on Amazon Kindle and print. Follow David on Twitter @David_Blixt, on Facebook here, and on his website at www.davidblixt.com. Sign up for David’s Mailing List here for free books and more!