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The price of the wedding

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An "old-fashioned" wedding, as I envision it, would be one in which the spending would be restricted to an amount determined by one's ability to pay and the sheer force of reason. But the more I read and hear about it, those days are long gone in the wedding business. The lavish receptions that society has come to expect mean that "ability to pay" has become irrelevant. And "reason" has nothing to do with it, because it has simply flown out the window.

And the costs, unfortunately, are only the beginning. I came across an eye-opening article in a recent issue of Newsweek in which Rebecca Mead, who analyzes the bridal industry in her new book One Perfect Day, fears that a psychological sea-change is taking place in the way we look at weddings. Sad to say, I think she's on to something.

Mead believes that today the young woman getting married has become not so much a bride as a consumer of bridal products. The more conspicuous the consumption, the better. And if that involves a lot of spending, so be it.

The unhappy truth, in Mead's thesis, is that a wedding is no longer what it once was, due to the lessening influence of organized religion on the lives of young people and a decided change in the moral climate. As she expressed it to Raina Kelley in the Newsweek article:

"A wedding once marked a major transition in a person's life - the first time you slept with your spouse, lived with your spouse. Today, you're just not that different the day after the wedding."

In the majority of cases, the sad fact is that all of what she says is true. It's not the marriage, it's the wedding. In a celebrity-saturated culture, the bride becomes the biggest celebrity of all. The wedding planner reigns supreme.

"So," the interviewer asked Mead, "we've been leaching all the meaning out of a wedding?"

"Definitely," she replied. "As a culture, we're losing sight of what a wedding is really about. Matching your chair tie-backs to the lining of your "Save the Date" envelopes is not going to prepare you for marriage, unless you're going into the catering business."

How can the trend be reversed? It's not that easy, given the consumerist society in which we find ourselves. As Rebecca Mead puts it, the bridal industry has turned the wedding into a shopping expedition - and a pricey one, at that.

For those of us who look at things differently - and, I would hope, that includes all the friends of The Christophers who are reading these words - we can start by reinvigorating the whole planning process, one wedding by one. (True, this begins with the brides and grooms themselves. Prayer and a bit of counter-culturalist wisdom might have to be called on here.)

Then, by all means, let's have an old-fashioned wedding. It can - still - be done.

- - -

Dennis Heaney is president of The Christophers

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For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, "Getting to Know You: Thoughts for Engaged Couples," write: The Christophers, 12 East 48th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.

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