Saturday, 27 June 2015

A celebration of marriage or an ostentatious pantomime? - the social dichotomy of weddings

For many, marriage is a social and often cultural rite of passage. While I don’t agree with the pressure that places on an individual as an unwarranted measure of success, I’m certainly not anti-marriage. Nonetheless, my personal views are that there are much bigger commitments a couple can make to each other than a wedding. Having children, jointly buying a property and above all consciously making the decision to coexist in a shared life, all represent bigger commitments to each other than a ceremony. Furthermore, that stance and decision to share a life together should precede any proposal, engagement or indeed wedding. For that reason, a wedding and subsequent marriage is really a formalising of the aforementioned rather than the key to a long and prosperous relationship. And by that token, one could question the sanctity of marriage versus the commitment a couple make to each other regardless of a wedding.

As a result, for anyone that feels a significant difference in their relationship once married, or hopes for one, they’re probably not onto the most secure start in married life. Though many marriage proposals are fuelled by just that. The sentiment that a gesture as romantic as a grand proposal, an ornate ring, an engagement, a lavish (and often extravagant) wedding and a subsequent honeymoon will revitalise a relationship is folly to say the least. Yet I’ve seen couples make that very mistake in perceiving a wedding as a tool of denial for a relationship that isn’t working. It’s a sad reality and one that I’ve seen more so from women (and less so men due to fewer social pressures upon them), that feel they need to be married. So they find a partner who seems ‘decent enough’ and despite there being no spark whatsoever, they pursue marriage as a distraction from a void and contrived relationship with an equally obliging companion.

I know women that are desperately chasing marriage, some that are even engaged and planning weddings, because of the unfair and antiquated social pressure placed upon them to do so. Admittedly, I cannot fully empathise as a man and from a culture where such pressures are not as acute as those placed on others. Yet said women are sadly in denial. Conversely, I’ve seen women break off relationships that aren’t going anywhere despite the pressures upon them to promptly get married. It takes serious cojones to make that decision and they deserve major kudos. But understandably it’s easier much easier said than done.

Similarly, I’ve seen men seek to inject life into a crumbling relationship, that seemingly has no longevity, with a proposal. The idea of getting married and the trappings of a wedding become what the couple are in love with rather than each other. If your relationship is showing no signs of compatibility and longevity, a ring and party in the form of a wedding is hardly likely to make a difference.

The apparent dichotomy of weddings therefore begs the question of what weddings represent. Not to be confused with marriage as a commitment between two people, weddings can crudely be considered as little more than a pantomime. A party to celebrate a marriage where the reason behind it can often get lost in the wedding itself. Regardless, weddings are great events and the celebration of two people’s union is one deserving of such festivities. Though when used as a vehicle for blocking out the fact that one is in an ineffectual relationship, it’s often a case of the bigger the diamond, the bigger the wedding and the more ostentatious the event, the bigger the distraction being sought.

Multiple events, exorbitant spending beyond one’s means and pomp and splendour that could rival the coronation of a new monarch, can often signal the lack of belief in a relationship being masked by such opulence. But when the hype has ended, the guests have gone home and you return to reality, what happens when the sheen has become sullied by the reality of an empty relationship? Do you seek further distraction via an equally flamboyant honeymoon? Perhaps consequently children? In a relationship that needs such distractions, it’s merely the prolonging of living a lie. However, said individuals certainly shouldn’t necessarily be besmirched without exception. Rather society and the pressures that they succumb to should be rebuked.

Just as a dog isn’t just for Christmas, a marriage isn’t intended to be just for the duration of a wedding. The hope and intention with every marriage is that it is a lifelong union. And that realisation needs to come before a wedding itself. A relationship needs to be realised as successful, not contrived. Although that can’t be achieved when the focus is on having a wedding rather than a marriage.

In an era that is increasingly liberal and gradually freeing itself from some of the more archaic shackles of tradition, weddings have surprisingly managed to weather the storm of social modernity. Married couples to be want their friends and families to share in the celebration of their marriage and rightly so. Although the focus on this has shifted. Instead of a celebration of marriage, weddings have become an opportunity to showcase social one-upmanship. Couples and their families often seek to put on an event that is grander than the one they attended previously. No expense is spared, even at the risk of unmanageable debt, just so that couples can out-do the perceived competition.

Weddings have become increasingly about keeping up with the Joneses. And not only with those that crassly seek to flaunt their socio-economic prowess and spending power but also those that are clearly punching above their weight in trying to do the same. If the celebration of marriage was the primary aim of all weddings, perhaps for many they’d be slimmed down and more appropriate affairs. After all, what is there to prove unless you’re trying to prove the viability of your relationship to yourself and others?

Friends fans and aficionados will recall when Monica’s parents spent her ‘wedding fund’ on their beach house, leaving Monica’s vision of her dream wedding in tatters unless Chandler was willing to imprudently spend all of his savings to fund it. Monica was so in love with the ideal of her dream wedding that it took Chandler articulating the joint future he saw for them for her to realise what was really important and that it wasn’t a grandiose wedding. If others could do the same, they’d have a renewed sense of perspective when it came to their own weddings.

On balance, some of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen have been within unmarried couples. And if and when they decide to tie the knot, it’s really a formality symbolising where they and others know their relationship is. There’s isn’t anything wrong with the pantomime of a wedding, but that’s ultimately all it is. After all, the marriage a wedding celebrates is intended to continue and grow long after all the guests have gone home.
© iamalaw

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