My husband proposed to me at sunset outside the 900-year-old cathedral in my university town, on a balmy July evening. He veered me off-course from our walk home, after a gorgeous dinner, and plonked me down on a bench where we sat and talked about life and stuff before he popped The Question. It was, quite simply, perfect.
When we broke the news to our delighted family and friends, one of the first questions a lot of people asked was: “Did you get a picture?” They are, of course, referring to that age-old philosophical quandry: If a tree falls in a forest and someone isn’t there to take a photo for Instagram, did it actually happen? Sadly, there wasn’t a photographer on hand to get a soft-focus snapshot of my lerpy blond other half on bended knee, which proved most disappointing to our nearest and dearest.
This, it transpired, was only my first, minor brush with the great capitalistic colossus we call “the wedding industry.”
A month or so after we got engaged, I started to actually think about The Wedding. Like many other brides-to-be with access to the Internet and a passing interest in fashion, I became obsessed with wedding blogs—partly because I had no idea how to “do” a wedding, and mostly because all those kitschy-beautiful images of cupcake stacks and floating lanterns drew my attention like a magpie to a gold coin.
But unfortunately, my mind isn’t as neatly organised as my Pinterest account, and it all became far too confusing, if not downright irksome. Sites showed grinning brides with Rapunzel tresses and bespoke (designer) gowns, flouncing around their DIY wonderland of floral bunting and driftwood signs. They made it look so chic and effortless, like it all just fell into place. But the thing with weddings is that for everything to look so effortless, it takes a tremendous, if not painful, amount of effort. All the miscellaneous gumf that we take for granted as part and parcel of the perfect big day—when you get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s utterly mind-boggling.
Wedding planning, in actuality, was a world away from the cute scrapbooks and vintage boutiques that I had imagined. I was utterly lost in a world full of cakes and save-the-dates. After a couple of months of gradually sinking into this mire of confusion, the final straw came when I contacted a photographer—the photographer, the perfect man for the job—and he quoted over $1,000 to shoot our wedding. One thousand dollars, just for the photos.
I took a step back, and implored my other half: Do we need all this? The answer was a unanimous “No.”
Interestingly, around the same time, one of my best friends told me that diamond engagement rings are less of an age-old tradition, and more a clever marketing ploy. De Beers ran one of the most successful marketing and public manipulation campaigns of the 20th century: “A diamond is forever.” Henceforth, the diamond engagement ring became a cultural myth, implying a direct correlation between the gesture of love and expense of the stone. Over time, engagement rings became standard practice in the ritual of marriage.
As my eyes were opened, I found it increasingly difficult to maintain a balance between my own romantic nature and my newfound cynicism. I love love, but the whole wedding industry left a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted to get married to the man I loved—nothing more, nothing less. I wanted to celebrate with my husband, our friends and family. I did not want to take out a bank loan we could barely repay because we wanted some blog-worthy photographs, or so that we could buy tiny boxes of expensive candy for hundreds of guests.
So we resolved to cut out the excess. We ended up getting married outside a registry office in the sunshine, with a handful of guests, who stood by as we said our vows. I wore an off-white maxi dress that we found the night before the wedding at a fraction of its original retail price. I flat-ironed my hair. The photos were taken by the guests. Afterwards, my husband and I drove off in a vintage car that was lent to us, and we met everyone at a little Italian restaurant, where we sat for hours, eating and celebrating. And it was absolutely perfect.
When I look back on that day, never will I lament the fact that we never did do that beach wedding in Coronado, nor will I flip through the photos wishing we’d spent that extra thousand dollars for a few more angles and a bit more retouching. I really do mean it when I say I wouldn’t change a thing. It was such a happy day and the first of many happy days since. And that is no thanks to all the added pressure to spend every penny we had (and didn’t have) on all the sprinkles and trinkets that people have grown to expect from a wedding.
Now, I am not sitting here on my high horse, verbally smiting all couples who choose to take the modern-traditional wedding route. It’s none of my business if you really, sincerely want to add all the trimmings and flourishes to your big day; if you’re into it, then that’s awesome. What I am saying, however, is to keep your wits about you. You might start out—as I did—by gawping in horror at the overwhelming amount of stuff that goes into planning a wedding. Take that step back, future Bridezilla: all that stuff isn’t necessarily necessary. It’s just stuff that the wedding industry dangles in front of you, covered in cute bows and edible glitter, to lure you into spending more money.
Do I think there’s anything wrong with bows and edible glitter? Not at all. But only if you can afford them. Only if you can see the difference between simply wanting them and feeling like you need them. Don’t let anyone dictate what you do and don’t need—not your friends and family, not strangers on Pinterest, and definitely not the wedding industry itself. Technically, you don’t need anything except a registrar, a witness, yourself and your other half. The things you spend on for your wedding—they are no reflection of your lifestyle or your love. The size of the diamond in the ring is not correlated to the love between two people. And you can spend all the money in the world on a “shabby-chic” wedding ceremony, but that is no match for a good old shindig with the people you love most. With or without the bunting.
The picture-perfect wedding might be picture-perfect, but regardless of whether you marry in a shack or in a palace, remember: the commitment is still the same. Remember that the wedding industry is, at the end of the day, an industry. And whatever your wedding costs, remember that a good marriage is truly priceless.