The wedding was pot luck, which didn’t have to be a bad thing. We all love and hope for an open bar, but of course I understand that celebrating a wedding is about more than the pomp of the party.
I showed up in the afternoon after a five-hour drive, a little sweaty and exhausted, carrying my contributions to the wedding “feast” on each arm. Friends jumped up to put their arms around me, a strange situation that left me dangling a grocery bag on either side and unable to reciprocate their greetings. In one hand, I carried six—six!—bottles of wine. In the other, a bag with approximately $75 worth of artisan cheese and three baguettes. I had signed up for cheese and wine, and I don’t mess around when it comes to weddings or wine.
These friends had gotten married about six months before—or, rather, un-married, as they didn’t sign a gift certificate—and the ceremony itself was incredibly intimate: two witnesses and an officiant. The bride wore a beautiful gown and the men were fully-decked out, but the ceremony was otherwise simple, somewhere in the forest that didn’t cost any money. The biggest splurge was a professional photographer, and the irony is not lost on me that they wanted a simple, tiny, intimate wedding that they could then rub all over the Internet to show everybody else.
Research shows that there is a sweet spot for wedding expenditures: expensive engagement rings come with a higher likelihood of divorce, and the sweet spot for wedding-spending is between $5,000 and $15,000. But then, there is another threshold: spend too little, and you’re also more likely to split.
To me, this wasn’t just a potluck picnic. I went out of my way for these friends simply because they called this picnic their “wedding reception.” I used time and energy—and a tank of gas—to drive down to the party. I contributed generously to the pot luck with about $150 in wine and cheese, and I brought a cash gift, my favorite thing to give to the new couple: a crisp $100 bill folded into an origami heart. I usually write a little wish that they will spend it on their honeymoon because I like to promote travel, but I also hate conditional giving.
And I didn’t give any of these things to the couple because I wanted to be extravagantly generous or to prove a point. No, I had expected my behavior to be the norm.
Instead, there were no balloons to mark the entrance to the wedding, which took place in a friend’s parents’ exquisite backyard space, where the yard is arranged into a multi-layered meadow with ample room to spread out and explore. There were no Pintersety little signs about how much they love each other, no display of baby photos, no wedding album to poke through set up on a pretty table with candles.
Was this the right place?
The bride had bragged on Facebook about her awesome wedding playlist, but all I could hear was Dave Matthews playing through a bluetooth speaker—a strange thing, considering her husband is both a musician and a music engineer and just by looking around, there were many people sitting on the grass whom I knew would be glad to stand up and sing a few songs. None of them were doing so, and in fact, none of them seemed to have brought any food, either. There was a bag of Cape Cod potato chips on the ground in front of them. I was beginning to see that I had read this all wrong—and I had completely overspent.
No one had helped me with the bag of cheese or the bottle of wine because no one knew what to do with it: there was no designated table for drinks and in fact, there were no cups either, disposable or otherwise. I had seen the artful and crafted details of their actual wedding day—where were these considerations now? Was this a wedding celebration, or was this just an excuse to collect gifts? I was feeling tempted not to hand over the card I had brought, but eventually I set it on the table (there was no basket for a more formal collection) where it sat for hours under a little bowl of guacamole brought by another guest, until the bride found it and opened it right in front of me, pocketing the cash and asking if I had drawn the picture on the card. Of course, I had not—I had driven 5 hours to their wedding and at this point was out close to three hundred bucks, which, judging by the looks of the picnic, was a lot more money than they had spent.
It wasn’t too long before that I attended a wedding as a plus-one, having never met the couple, and I sort of giggled over the intensity of the wedding preparation, the cheesy thumb-print guestbook and the hundreds and hundreds of photos of the happy couple, tracing their love from its inception in ninth grade to the day of their wedding. I had almost rolled my eyes at their little advice cards—trust me, you don’t want my advice about marriage—and their silly photo booth with the paper costumes.
But the couple, whom I didn’t even know, were quite obviously there to do one thing: to marry each other. It wasn’t just some party to them; it was explicitly about commitment. And a couple of months later, as I looked around this backyard barbecue for signs of love and happiness for this couple, I felt that maybe all those Pinterest decorations had meaning after all. They hadn’t necessarily cost a lot of money, but they did cost a little, they were thoughtful, and they showed care. And I realized that it mattered to me, as the wedding guest, whether or not the couple seemed to love each other.
In fact, for all my teasing, I missed those Pinterest decorations and the silly, standard hashtag and the bad DJ. I wanted to celebrate, to dance. Wasn’t this a wedding?
Worst of all, perhaps, was the way the bride spent time whining about people who hadn’t bothered to come. One of her good friends had skipped the day to stay in the city for Pride. Another was just down the road, apparently Snapchatting from a short distance away. But that’s what you get for sending the invite over Facebook.
“You should have sent paper invitations,” I said. “People take that more seriously.”
“It was way too expensive,” she said back, shaking her head as if incredulous.
I nodded, looking at the un-clothed picnic table and the people sitting in a small cluster under a tree in this otherwise beautiful yard. I didn’t say it, but I thought that for every dollar she had spent on wedding invitations, she would have received a check for at least $50 in the mail. It would have been far better to send the invitations to people you didn’t even want to come, knowing they would be happy to oblige. People like to be generous at weddings. It’s our time to show you how much we love you and believe in your love for each other as a good thing for the world. She deprived them of this opportunity to be generous, and, in turn, deprived herself of the benefit of starting her life with her new husband without such a significant financial strain.
Later that night, people crashed on couches and in chairs, like an eighth grade sleepover, and I pulled out my sleeping bag and camped on the floor. The bride woke us up at seven-thirty, sharp, to go out for breakfast, because the place would be crowded. As people piled into cars, she asked if everyone had money with them. And that was when it happened: when I realized that we were about to descend, twenty guests, on an unsuspecting small town breakfast cafe and each have to pay a separate check, I decided enough was enough. I faked an excuse and ducked out of the car and waved them off. It wasn’t that breakfast was too expensive; it was the feeling that I had already spent more than I budgeted for on this wedding, and it was time to draw the line.
So I waved them goodbye, and I wished them a world of happiness. And I took the rest of the wine bottles and went home.