I look forward to TLC’s Friday Brideday the way kids look forward to Christmas. Whether with my best girl friends on campus or at home with my mom and sister, perennial favorites like Say Yes to the Dress draw me in like a moth to the flame.
Websites like Pinterest—which devotes a whole category to weddings—only fuel the wedding obsession, so much so that I know more than a handful of people who are nowhere close to getting married, but have their nuptials planned nonetheless.
Let’s be real: Weddings are fun, and matrimony is certainly something to celebrate. But beyond the lavish white gowns and DIY orchid boutonnières exists a grimmer reality. Often unbeknownst to us is that fact that in indulging our romantic visions, we denigrate the very institution they are meant to celebrate. Our wedding-obsessed culture is not celebrating marriage, but commodifying it.
The most popular resources, it seems, focus almost exclusively on planning weddings, not planning marriages.
Consider some of our own campus traditions. The “ring by spring” for many upperclassmen overwhelmed by leaving Notre Dame becomes more about having a significant other than having the right significant other. “Basilica Monday,” the first Monday in March in which the reservation lines are open for highly coveted wedding slots, always turns up stories of couples employing friends and family to call and fight for reservations on their behalf. Students are likewise familiar with legends of single peers who reserve a wedding every year, but cancel when they still have not met a significant other.
Contrary to what campus lore may lead you to believe, a Washington Post article titled “More Couples Choose to Wed Their Way” reveals that since 1970, Catholic wedding ceremonies have decreased by 50 percent, falling from 426,000 to 212,456 in 2005. That means even fewer Catholic couples are exposed to Pre-Cana, and thus miss out on crucial teachings about the sacrament of matrimony, spirituality, finances, sexuality and natural family planning (NFP).
This sentiment also holds true beyond Catholic circles. According to the USAToday article “Civil marriage on the rise across USA,” civil marriages increased from 30 percent of all marriages in 1980 to 40 percent in 2001.
Perhaps a correlation exists between the rise of strictly civil marriages and the perceived societal push for customizing and individualizing every possible aspect of a wedding. Pinterest commonly features such items as custom gowns and custom rings, as well as custom vows—why should planning a custom ceremony that defies antiquated or restrictive religious traditions be any different?
But the customization does not stop there. Thanks to the internet, almost anyone can obtain instant certification to legally witness marriages. Television mogul Tori Spelling once decided on a whim to become a wedding planner and officiant on her reality show. In one episode, she excitedly hosted a same-sex wedding.
It is indeed curious to think that in a time in which conjugal marriages, especially those that are religious in nature, are on the decline, popular support for same-sex marriage appears to be gaining momentum. When society reduces marriage from an indissoluble union between a man and a woman for the purpose of producing children, to a party, a legal contract and an exit clause through no-fault divorce, support for same-sex marriage becomes so easy to justify for so many.
The mainstream media loves to toss around that the oft-touted 50 percent divorce rate is simply too big of a risk for young couples. With cultural acceptance of cohabitation, children born out of wedlock, outright endorsement of premarital sex and new feminism telling women that marrying young and having a family will somehow limit their value, it is no wonder that these substitutes for marriage are more popular than ever before.
The catch-all 50 percent statistic is hardly a truthful snapshot of American marriage today. For example, Focus on the Family reports that active churchgoers of various Judeo-Christian traditions are between 10 and 97 percent less likely to divorce than those with no affiliation, with practicing Catholics averaging a 31 percent decrease in divorce probability.
Graduate student Linda Kawentel wrote in “The Catholic Conversation,” a sociology blog on the university’s Blog Network, that for couples practicing NFP, Catholic or not, the divorce rate topped off at a mere 5 percent. Among couples that contracept, the 50 percent divorce statistic is a sad reality.
With this breakdown of numbers, why aren’t more young men and women challenging social norms and taking seriously preparations for marriage? Sometimes divorce is inevitable, but imagine how many marital unions would endure if couples discerned marriage with more care and attention, knew the full implications of different family planning methods and, dare I say, oriented their marriages towards some higher good.
These decisions are neither as glamorous nor as easily measured as wedding details, but they will inevitably benefit the relationship more than saying yes to the dress. I recently asked my mom about the day she and my dad got married. She really did not remember much about the small details of their day, and to my amazement, that did not bother her in the slightest—24 years of marital bliss later, the fleeting details are inconsequential.
If we spent as much time meditating on marriage as we did fantasizing about weddings, perhaps we would have similar perspective. Yes, weddings mark a major milestone, and matrimony deserves to be celebrated. But before we begin ogling engagement rings and wedding cakes, we must consider the true meaning of marital bliss.
Lilia Draime is a junior history major who enjoys Lifetime movies, chocolate peanut Häagen-Dazs and trying to coax Margo, her new cat, out from under her bed. Contact her at email@example.com.