The price of love

Amy Wu says a tour of the world of wedding planning has convinced her that a celebration of the union of two people shouldn't carry a price tag

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 3:54am

I used to be a sucker for romance - blame it on an overdose of Hollywood movies; Casablanca, Sleepless in Seattle and, more recently, Love Actually and Eat Pray Love, to name a few.

But I'm now fast discovering cupid's downside: the reality of 21st-century wedding commercialism. In the months following my Facebook-announced engagement, I foolishly followed my recently wedded friend and Real Simple magazine's must-do checklist, which totalled 80-plus entries. A nine-month timeline included "meet with your hairstylist and make-up artist", "consult with an invitation specialist" - and plan for both a bride's cake and a bridegroom's cake. Talk about the icing on the cake.

Today, the average American wedding costs over US$25,000 and anyone spending under about US$15,000 is considered a "budget bride", hardly a flattering title. And it's clear that the pressures of the modern-day wedding transcend time zones and cultures. Wedding packages in China are becoming increasingly extravagant, never mind the laundry list of requirements for the bridegroom, including, at the bare minimum, having a mortgage in place.

It does beg the question of whether it's actually more of a business transaction than an exchange of loving vows.

For about three weeks, being in the land of the engaged was fun; I was showered with exclusive invitations to bridal shows. Then came the onslaught of phone calls from retailers (how did they get my name?). Soon after came the mountain of e-mails and calls from potential DJs, photographers and wedding planners.

The low point during the deluge of wedding commercialism came when my fiancé and I found ourselves squabbling over the budget, whether to have a DJ, and what kind (read price) of wedding ring to go for.

A good friend noted that marriage is one of the most important events in a person's life, and the planning, thought and money spent on the event - the emotional and financial price tag - is an indicator of the importance of the marriage itself.

Should there be a price put on happiness? If not, then the price tag of the wedding itself shouldn't matter, right? I remember what my grandmother and some other, older friends have said, that a wedding is a celebration of love and joy between two people shared by their loved ones.

So, for all my love of romance as once defined by red roses, trips to Paris and a fairytale Cinderella-like gown and carriage, in the end I find myself sticking with the "make it simple" mantra. The competitive streak in me is left in the dust as I discover that it's not about cost, when all the bells and whistles have been stripped away - it's about the nuts and bolts of marriage.

A good friend told me that her wedding cost less than US$1,000; she had a civil ceremony followed by a very good dinner with loved ones. "As I tell my daughter, it's not about the wedding, it's about the marriage," she said.

This doesn't mean the romance has dissolved. The older and wiser me has accepted that a long-lasting cupid comes with fewer expectations and pageantry. I'll leave the fantasy for the movies.

Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator