We had planned to get married for a long time before we did. We talked at length about what making that commitment meant to us, and made serious, concrete plans for our shared life. We talked about where we would live and what we wanted to accomplish individually, and how our goals would fit together and even complement each other. We talked about our excitement about actually saying vows and tying the knot, and looked forward to referring to each other as husband and wife.
But the conversation never once turned to what kind of party we would have. Even in the midst of making all these grand plans for the future, we never thought about venues, a guest list, flower arrangements, or bridesmaid’s dresses. I never found myself wishing for an elaborate proposal or a big sparkly ring (I’ll save my thoughts on engagement rings for another occasion).
Truthfully, the prospect of marrying Steve has always felt to me like a perfect fit, but having a traditional wedding never has.
Honestly, fighting over guest lists and dealing with details that don’t matter is truly the last thing either of us wants to expend mental energy on. The thought of friends and distant relatives feeling obligated to buy us gifts to wish us well made us squirm. And most of all, the idea of 150 pairs of eyes on us as we shared the most intimate moment of our lives filled us with dread. It felt wrong.
While money definitely wasn’t the first reason we didn’t want a big wedding, it was also a factor. It’s fairly typical in our hometowns to spend $50,000 on a middle-class wedding.
I’d like to take a second to point out how absurd a price tag that is for a single party no one will care about a fraction as much as you do. Nevermind that it’s about a full year’s after-tax professional salary and the months of your own time you spend planning, the lost opportunity cost on $50,000 that early in your life together is staggering. At a 6% interest rate, $50,000 would grow to $301,128.76 in 30 years. Without you lifting a finger. Without you contributing a penny more. If married at 30, that’s $301,128.76 you won’t have for retirement at age 60. That’s literally YEARS tacked onto your working life. It’s money you won’t have to put your kids through university. It’s the reason middle-class people can’t make ends meet in retirement.
Even if we DID want a big party to celebrate our marriage, the cost of such an elaborate occasion alone would have given us pause.
The only reason we didn’t elope sooner was that we didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Eventually, we came to our senses and realized that the people we care about know us better than we give them credit for. My parents know I don’t like to be the center of attention. I still turn beet red during Happy Birthday every year. Steve’s parents know he feels the same way. We have been discussing our plans to live a simple life with our families for years, and while they might not always share our philosophy, we are very fortunate that they respect our lifestyle.
The key to not upsetting your family is letting them in on your thoughts, and clearly explaining why you’ve made this decision and how it fits in with your plans and lifestyle. Communicating this to our families has actually strengthened our connection with them, and helped us progress to sharing a more adult relationship with our parents.
Your wedding day sets the tone for your marriage, and many people understandably want to start their life together with a bang. But is spending $50,000 dollars on a one-day party isn’t the only way.
If planning a big wedding is a source of stress and frustration for you and doesn’t bring you joy, you should consider other options. The purpose of a wedding is not to compete with your friends or impress distant family members. You’re marrying your best friend, making the most important and permanent commitment of your life, and vowing to support and love each other throughout your long life together. If you’re crying over flower arrangements, fighting over wedding invitation (is this a thing people do?) or having a meltdown over your seating plan, maybe it’s not worth it.
You don’t have to do it the way it’s always been done. You can pick and choose the traditions that suit you, and forego the ones that cause you stress. Or, you can shrug off tradition altogether and elope, like we did. Hell, you don’t even have to get married at all if it isn’t important to you. We have friends who are happy to live as a committed couple without getting married at all, friends who have turned their wedding day into a charitable event, and friends who have had more traditional weddings and simply dropped the traditions that don’t make them happy. It goes without saying that wedding planning is a personal choice, but you owe it to yourself and your marriage to consider the real impact tens of thousands of dollars and months of planning will have on your marriage. The kind of mental and financial commitment required to throw an elaborate modern wedding can have a disastrous impact on your relationship with your partner, friends and family; your financial health; your sanity; and even your career goals.
At the end of the day, a private marriage ceremony was a perfect reflection of us and our values. It allowed us to focus intensely on our emotions and on our commitment to each other. The whole day felt like the most romantic date of our lives: we woke up, walked to city hall to pick up our marriage license, went for breakfast, and went back to our room to get ready. We walked to the park near the first apartment we lived in together to meet our officiant. We got married overlooking the Rideau Canal at 11 a.m. on a cold, sunny March morning. During the ceremony, we both felt like the only people in the world, and I can’t imagine having been distracted from that feeling by hundreds of eyes on us. We spent the next few days enjoying each other’s company, and planning for the future.
Living simply isn’t just about making the financially responsible decision; it’s about setting priorities and refusing to spend energy and money on things that don’t bring you joy. In our case, choosing to forego the stress of planning a big wedding forced us to examine our priorities as a family. It was liberating. We were free to enjoy what turned out to be the most powerful bonding experience we have ever had.