One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a minister is doling out advice, solicited or not. I have an opinion on just about everything and never hesitate to share it with others. On any given day, I might tell someone how to vote, what to think, where to live, who to date, and whether to marry. Sometimes, if people aren’t taking my advice as seriously as they should, I’ll throw in a Bible verse or two to bolster my argument. It seldom works, since most of the people I advise are Quakers, who are the cats of the spiritual realm and do what they want no matter what I say.
After 36 years of trying to bend Quakers to my will with little success, I have decided to broaden my sphere of influence and tell you, my dear readers, how to live your lives. What I am about to say will prove helpful, perhaps even life-changing, to anyone contemplating marriage. My counsel is inspired by an article I recently read noting the average cost of a wedding in the United States is now $33,931. While I don’t know your financial circumstances, that’s a boatload of money in my world, cash better spent on a house, a 401K, college tuition, or even better, a 1949 Series C Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle.
When my wife and I were married in 1984, our wedding cost $720. That included the buttermints, mixed nuts, cake, and punch. Allowing for inflation, the same wedding today would cost $1,771.64. Compared to some weddings I’ve officiated at, I was spending money like a drunken sailor when I got married. I’ve done probably a dozen weddings in our living room. People were nicely dressed, but not overly so. No string quartet, rehearsal dinner, cake, marriage planner, or venue rental. I don’t charge anyone for the use of our house, even though I have to vacuum, dust, and pick up clutter before the happy couple arrives. Most of them slip me $50 on their way out the door, which I split with my wife, who sometimes makes a pan of brownies for the occasion. It’s quite a racket we have going.
A good number of my living-room weddings have been same-gender marriages. After the way gays and lesbians have been treated by some churches, many of them don’t want to go anywhere near a church building, and I don’t blame them. There’s a beauty to these simple ceremonies in my house. In some cases, the couples have waited years to marry and come to my place alone because their families have disowned them. I draft a few sympathetic witnesses to sign the marriage license. Then afterwards, we sit at our kitchen table and eat brownies and I ask them how they met and what they love about one another. One thing I’ve noticed about gay couples is that a lot of folks aren’t interested in their relationship, except to condemn it, so they’re usually grateful to share their story. It reminds me of my own eagerness to tell people how I met my wife while visiting a jail.
These low-budget nuptials are exceptions to the rule, however. Most weddings I officiate tend toward the higher end, sometimes screaming past $35,000 when you include the honeymoon. The screaming, of course, is done by the bride’s father, who’s usually footing the bill by dipping into his retirement fund. This is no doubt a holdover from the dowry days when the bride’s family paid the groom to take her off their hands. It’s a sexist, misogynistic tradition that should have ended with the Enlightenment, but didn’t. The cost of a wedding would drop tenfold if the couple had to pay for it, which they should, since a wedding is the cultural event that signals one’s transition to adulthood. There’s no better way to learn the meaning of adulthood than to pay your own bills.
I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the rise of wedding costs and the proliferation of wedding planners. The larger and more complicated the wedding becomes, the more wedding planners get paid. It should be noted that the people urging us to have larger and more complicated weddings are the wedding planners. (Wedding planners who wish to berate me can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The “H” stands for Henry, after my grandfather, whose wedding cost $6.)
When you’re so in love you can’t see straight, the Holiday Inn in Evansville is every bit as romantic as Cancun.
Wedding planners aren’t solely to blame, though. I noticed weddings went upscale after Princess Diana and Prince Charles got hitched. The intelligence of the average royal was so dimmed from centuries of inbreeding, they didn’t realize the marriage was doomed to fail, what with Prince Charles still googly-eyed over that British barfly, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Nevertheless, every bride and groom, from Paris to Paoli, thought they too should be married in the manner of royalty. And here we are, bankrupting ourselves over marriages that are kaput before the rice has gone stale. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that couples whose weddings cost more than $20,000 are 1.6 times more likely to end up divorced than those couples whose weddings were simpler.
Can I tell you what drives me, and every other pastor, bonkers? After the marriage proposal has been made and accepted, it is up to the couple to phone the minister. This is not the job for the parents. Period. If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to phone the pastor without help from your mother. Whenever a parent phones me to see if I will conduct their child’s wedding, it makes me think the couple has so little investment in their marriage they won’t even bother to pick up the phone to dial the one call that will make it happen. I don’t know if that’s accurate, it’s just how I feel, and how every other pastor I’ve ever spoken to feels. Brides and grooms, brides and brides, grooms and grooms, do the legwork yourself. There’s no better way to start a marriage than to be reminded that its success depends upon you doing the work, not someone else.
Now let’s discuss the ill-advised trend of asking your college roommate Tyler, the one who drank six beers in five minutes, to get ordained by an internet church so he can perform your wedding. Is Tyler trained to notice signs of physical and emotional abuse? Will Tyler help you make the most significant decision of your life? How good is Tyler at spotting signs of addiction? What experience does Tyler have dealing with overbearing parents or a best man who shows up drunk? Step aside, Tyler, your degree in exercise science is of little help here. This is a job for professionals.
If this column were longer, I’d mention how stupid it is to spend $200 on a tux you’ll only wear once and to pay $10,000 for a venue. When you’re in love, when you’re so in love you can’t see straight, the Holiday Inn in Evansville is every bit as romantic as Cancun, and can be reached on the 1949 Vincent Black Shadow you bought with all the money you saved.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. Back Home Again chronicles his views on life in Indiana.