Nik and I met in college on a foggy New York night seven years ago. Today we ride the subway side by side, sharing the headphones to his iPod. We like to brainstorm names for our future babies and titles for our future movies; we make video documentaries together.
Sounds like the perfect 21st-century romance, right? Except we can't stomach the idea of getting married.
It's not that we are afraid of commitment. That cut-and-run instinct was drained from us long ago. It's not that we don't have our families' support. My mom has a folder in her desk titled "wedding???" filled with articles she's torn out of a collection of women's magazines – "just in case." Nor do we particularly feel that the traditional institution of marriage has outgrown modern practices.
Truth be told, we avoid the topic of walking down the aisle because it is so inextricably tied up with gross, conspicuous consumption. We have watched friends get sucked into the tidal wave that is the emotionally manipulative wedding industry – now totaling $50 billion in sales a year. Their weddings were beautiful. But, and forgive me for sounding so crass, just not beautiful enough.
This ritual – one of the last that our übermodern, telecommuting civilization still performs – has turned into a circus of decadence. The cost of the average wedding has been rising steadily since Nik and I were born. In 1980, most couples shelled out a modest $4,376. In 1990, presumably pressured by the ethos of the bigger-more-now 80s, that number shot up to $15,208. Today, simply saying "I do" puts the average couple back $22,360 – enough to pay for the expected private college tuition of their future child if they invested it at 10 percent annual return rate.
Not only is the egregious spending offensive in a world where too many have too little, but the meaning of the ritual is all but lost amid the designer dresses and lobster dinners. Weddings are supposed to be about love, commitment, and family – not Vera Wang. Young couples hardly interested in their vows leave that task up to ministers they hardly know, while they obsess over every last knife and breadmaker in the registry.
How did we get so far from the original idea of a sacred promise in the presence of a cherished community? Our obsession with opulent weddings, in fact, can be seen as a reflection of our society's growing preoccupation with keeping up appearances.