Pair-bonding – the species neutral term for marriage or social monogamy – is one of the things ingrained in our very being and is as natural to us as breathing. It’s something all of us are programmed to partake in. Believe it or not, that’s more of a feature, strengthened with every one of our procreative iterations, than a vestige. Simply put, people with a knack for pair-bonding ended up living long enough for the successful survival of their immediate descendants and for a good reason – we suck at everything. Apart from our incredible thinking capabilities, there is nothing we can do that other animals couldn’t better. The survival of humanity isn’t simply enhanced by this practice; we don’t stand a chance without it. As long as a significant portion of the human population keep doing it, we can be assured that humans will exist long enough to have a few of them deny that they descended from us, the way creationists do with primordial apes.
I guess what I’m trying to say is humans would pair-bond with or without the institutionalisation. Marriage, as commoners know it, is simply built upon this natural tendency. That’s one thing I don’t like about being human – we attach connotations to everything. We like to believe somethings mean more than they actually do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rituals are as much a part of a thriving society as are the attributes granted to us by genetics. But once in a while, an unchecked mindless practice ends up costing more than their worth. Weddings are all that and more.
First, a few clarifications. We need to understand the difference between a marriage and a wedding. Yes, they are two separate things. (Their Wikipedia pages don’t redirect to one another – always the strongest indicator of that fact.) Okay, maybe not separate; wedding is perhaps a superset of marriage.
A marriage is a legal contract between two consenting people to remain pair-bonded until the contract is in effect. (That sounded a bit too grim as I read it. The only way I could make that more cheerful is at an expense of accuracy.) It is a social construct aimed at establishing the participants’ rights and duties toward one another. It’s how the human species handles conflicts in pair-bonding. Instead of fighting to the death like [other] animals, they point at the physical signifier on their spouse’s person, usually rings, chains or similar artefacts (which are far more handy than carrying your marriage contract with you at all times). Depending on your culture, it also absolves you and your spouse of the imaginary crime of “living in sin”. It saves you from a whole range of dangers, including dirty stares and stoning.
What’s a wedding then? Well, it’s literally every other activity that accompanies most marriages with absolutely no bearing on the marriage itself. It doesn’t enhance or deprive the marriage of any meaning. In the eyes of the law, no two married couples are treated any different. An extravagant wedding is just as inconsequential to a marriage as is a normal wedding or a quieter wedding or no wedding.
What’s so bad about weddings?
In a nutshell, weddings are elaborate. They’re almost always far too much to handle for those involved in the hosting. It takes usually a few months to a few years of planning. There will be people, a lot of food, and a lot of spending. Do you see the problem yet?
Let me just describe a standard wedding. You’ll be inviting a lot of people. That includes all of your living ascendants and all their descendants. So, everyone in your family tree upto and including your third cousins will be there. You’ll be seeing an equal number of new faces from your spouse’s side on the wedding day and never again except during funerals. Tens will introduce themselves to you for the first time and you’ll have to fake being interested in all the “great things they’ve heard about you”. (That’s guaranteed to eventually exhaust even a narcissist. Believe me, I know.) And that was just family, if you weren’t attentive enough.
You certainly cannot forget your friends. How many of them can you invite though? Will it just be your closest friends? I bet your less closer friends would be resentful if you didn’t invite them. Then you’d have to invite your colleagues and your boss, hoping all the while they don’t make it, yet many of them will seep through. We’ve somehow come to rely too much on an arguably graceful rejection of invitation than, the more fail-proof, not inviting those damn people in the first place. I find just the thought of having so many people around nauseating.
You’ll have to arrange for reception and catering proportional to the number of guests you’ve invited. Many take the smarter route and book a dedicated wedding venue and hire dedicated wedding caterers. Wait?! So, we’ve got venues and caterers for all sorts of events and then we’ve got venues and caterers specifically for weddings? Their business relies entirely on weddings being a thing and nothing else? Do they even have a contingency plan? Nope. They know as long as there are weddings, they’ll never run out of business. It’s actually pretty brilliant. As far as services go, no other occupation guarantees success.
So what? That’s how all weddings are.
Yes, that’s the biggest problem I have with weddings. We’ve been through them so many times, that we’ve accepted most parts of a standard wedding as mandatory. We’ve convinced ourselves that there isn’t anything wrong with unthinkingly following a script written for us by society. We’re willing to spend a sizeable amount of money on that one special day. For many that means they’ll be tapping into their savings (which would mostly consist of their parents’ money). For some that might even mean taking a mortgage on everything they own; they’ll be paying for it for a few decades. But it’ll all be worth it, right?
Wrong. Why on earth would one spend that much money? Are they doing it for their guests? Who exactly are your guests?
Let’s see. There’s that aunt you hate, the aunt who hates you, and the aunt you don’t know hates you yet. To balance all that hate there will come a lady who likes you back as much as you like her; you refer her to as ‘aunty’ but she really is just your mother’s best friend. Just as things seem to get better, that uncle, who thinks his child is better than you in every way, arrives; he wastes no time backhandedly reminding you of your relative worthlessness. That one grandfather who disapproves of your friends (you know he does) will be there. A dozen of your cousins will be there too; that includes the creepy semi-incestuous one (who you know will stare at you throughout the ceremony), but excludes the only one you’ve learnt to tolerate over the years (likely stuck abroad for their exams). You see, there hasn’t been a family in existence, stocked only with well-wishers.
A lot of your friends would be distraught. They’d either want their wedding to be better than yours (or be disappointed your wedding turned out better), or wish your marriage failed at some point in the future. The friends of your spouse would, no doubt, include a few of their former lovers, suitors or crushes. You know this to be true because even you would invite those of yours. Back at your guest-list, there are two people, who were once friends and are now sworn enemies; they’re somehow, in a weird twist of irony, the only ones who truly wish you the best. The whole thing is a total clusterfuck. You might want to call me out for putting forth a worst case wedding guest list scenario, but it’s not an exaggeration; that’s just how people are.
You’ll have to feed all your guests. This would normally constitute a predetermined selection of food items, most likely a buffet. However, all your guests do not conform to the same dietary practices and that would drive up the costs. There would be vegetarians (ethical and religious), vegans, people with medical conditions, and those with obscure food allergies. Your food menu will have to be designed around these restrictions, unless you’re trying to get a few of them upset or killed. You have absolutely no idea how much they would consume (because some people starve themselves for a day prior to a wedding); you’ll have to arrange for a surplus, but that will inevitably lead to wastage. You could just as easily have the reception at a restaurant; everyone could simply get what they’d like to eat, and you’d have to pay only for what they’ve asked for, but that opens up a different can of worms, figuratively. Knowing one could have whatever they’d like, many would make sure it’s the priciest thing they can get, either because they couldn’t normally afford it or just out of spite. It would also, by no means, solve the wastage problem.
Summing it up
You’ve called people whom you don’t like and people who don’t like you. You’ve spent a lot of money on them. You’ve had to undo years of hard work to make all of this happen.
The net result: you got married, and… well… nothing else. Nothing else changed that day. Your relatives have not got any closer to you and neither have any of your friends. You just got in and out of it and lost a lot of money. Yes, you did manage to please a few of your elders by doing the same things they did ages ago. You still didn’t do anything notably different, and thus your wedding doesn’t particularly stand out, therefore it isn’t particularly memorable. For an incredibly average wedding, you threw away money you could’ve spent on literally anything else. You could’ve rather burnt an equivalent amount in cash and had the satisfaction you didn’t spend it on those you didn’t really like.
But, you don’t really care about that, do you? You are content even after voluntarily having incurred a loss. The only valid consolation you can offer yourself is ‘It has always been like this.’ You can maybe take some semblance of comfort, in knowing that tens of those who attended your wedding will eventually get married and suffer the same fate.
Give it some rational thought
Think about it. Why are we doing this? Why are we subjecting ourselves to such a practice when there is nothing in it for us? Was all that really necessary? Was a wedding essential to the marriage? What purpose did it serve?
It didn’t. You could’ve just simply got married and, once done with, announced it via email or your favourite social network (or a post card or a letter if you really like those media). You could’ve thrown a small party and only have your favourite relatives and friends with you, as opposed to a massive gathering of people, half of whom you won’t even remember after the event. Better yet, you could’ve made it a week long vacation far far away from home.
Weddings are one of those things everyone does simply because everyone else is doing it. We’d like to think we’re participating in something special, beautiful and meaningful, when in fact, we’re really not. Try and abide by this axiom of life: ‘If everyone is doing it, no one is doing it.’ It isn’t special if it’s common. You’ll, at best, end up as just another statistic somewhere, if ever.
It all okay for some people. There do exist parents who set aside a savings account specifically for their child’s wedding. If burning through all that money is the way to go then I certainly have no objections. Still, you might want to think of the millions who will inevitably end up indebted just to conform to societal pressure. You may have only suffered a minor setback and, at worst, will have to retire a few years later than planned. To the poorer, this is money the newlyweds could’ve spent on a new home. That was money they could’ve spent ordering takeout for a few years. That was money that one could use as a capital for a small business. That was money that could’ve been invested in property.
To me, the most irrational thing people ever do is wed. Don’t get me wrong. Marriage still gets my blessings, figuratively. Civil union as recognised by the law is fine; getting a certificate is okay. Merging finances and getting tax breaks is all good. Most importantly, marriage as we know it, lets one practice in peace what they’ve been programmed for.
You don’t need a wedding to validate your marriage. That said, if I’m invited to a wedding, I’ll try to make it as inconvenient for you as humanly possible. Cheers!