Bridezilla Revisited

The Perks of a Low-Tech Wedding

When Ryan and Jill got engaged, they had only one strong opinion about their wedding: they wanted to be married by the end of it. They were familiar with the wedding scene, but nothing about it had inspired aesthetic or sentimental visions for either of them. They didn’t want to oblige their friends to pay for travel, lodging, and expensive, single-use clothes. And although they did want to have a good time with people they cared about on their wedding day, they were finishing college and did not resemble Croesus. The only piece of wedding housekeeping that resonated with them was the venue. They would get married in church. The rest . . . well, what was the rest, anyway?

Impediments to Marriage, Real & Perceived

Marriage has taken a beating over the last fifty years, but weddings are still going strong. They have shaken off problems like identical bridesmaid dresses, weird hats, stuffy and prescribed ceremonies, and pastel mints. Kate Middleton saved a world of brides from the cruel strapless gown trend, and with Obergefell v. Hodges the Roberts court did away with the quaint custom of requiring the nuptial party to include a bride and a groom. The only things people really expect from weddings now are a few boutique decrees from the couple (don’t wear jeans, don’t bring kids), and a gift table or a Venmo code.

We know what some of the problems are: unstable families of origin inhibit the formation of new families; people prioritize careers over marriage; phone-addled youngsters find it hard to form relationships; families lack social support; and weddings are way too expensive. Googling the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. will make normal people wonder how anyone affords to get married. In 2015, Slate tech writer Will Oremus investigated the hits that come up for this search and identified a number of problems with that “average wedding cost” figure. The biggest one is that an average dollar amount shows what the middle of the spending field looks like but doesn’t tell you what most couples are spending. You need the median wedding cost —the amount most commonly paid by couples —for that information.

Oremus found that the median wedding cost was considerably lower than the average cost in most locations. Most couples spent around 30 percent less than commonly cited average costs, because rarer, extravagant weddings drive up the average. Additionally, these numbers come from surveys of wedding-website users, so the real median is likely lower. Even for people who would like something beyond an elopement or a rubber stamp from the county courthouse, a wedding doesn’t have to cost as much as a Prius.

If costs aren’t as bad as we think, then we’re left with a catastrophically dysfunctional society as the explanation of the impediments to weddings. That’s hard to get around in the same way that it’s hard to spend zero money on a wedding (even a marriage license has a price tag, and you might want a clean shirt that day, too).

The Many-Guests, Low-Cost Option

Interestingly, a 2014 study found two things associated with lasting marriages: a larger guest list, and a lower wedding bill. Commenting on this research at the Institute for Family Studies, Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades suggest, “The benefits of having more witnesses at your wedding may come from both the psychological consequences of making a very public declaration of commitment (which should increase follow-through), and from having more friends and family who see your relationship as something to rally around, root for, and support.” This support goes a long way toward counteracting careerism, poor marriage models, and radical autonomy. It marks a marriage built not on pageantry and purchased goodwill, but on a large infrastructure of committed relationships, all connected to the bride and groom.

But aren’t guests expensive? How is a couple supposed to achieve this big-crowd, low-cost wedding? Ryan and Jill weren’t looking to improve their odds; they were just busy and broke. So they found a way: they got married during a Sunday-morning service at Jill’s church. Close friends and family traveled to be there, understanding that there wasn’t going to be an open bar or a DJ. Most of the people in attendance did not know they would be witnessing a wedding that morning. The ceremony itself was straight out of the liturgical agenda used at the church and was similar in length to the baptisms that are often included in worship services there. The pastor called Ryan and Jill to the front after the sermon, conducted the marriage rite, and sent them back to their pew to sing the Te Deum with the rest of the congregation. The couple had over 200 guests without stationery or postage, hard decisions about invitations, or RSVP headaches.

This isn’t to say there was no partying. A lady from the congregation heard about the plan and offered to bake some cakes for the Bible-study hour after the service, so the de facto guests got to spend time together. A friend with a decent camera made a gift of the photos he took. Then friends and family went back to Jill’s parents’ house for sandwiches, pinatas, and a backyard Home Run Derby. Their total expenses, which included lunch, pinatas, altar flowers, and Jill’s dress, were under $300. (The pastor refused an honorarium, stating that he wished all the weddings he performed were like this one; the organist, like the guests, was just there doing what she always does on Sunday morning and took home her regular check.) Ryan and Jill went on a honeymoon five years later.

The Sacred Moment

Another outcome of the wedding-customs overhaul is that it avoids the Bridezilla effect —the fiancée who declares that since this is Her Day, things are going to go her way. If degrees of Bridezilla behaviors are tolerated with respect to expenditures, exhibitionism, and demands placed on guests, surely there is room for the bride and groom who decide that what they want is to not deal with any of that.

Faithful marriage desperately needs to be seen and praised for all its inherent goods, and a wedding is an opportunity to testify to the importance of marriage with a generous celebration. For Christians, Sunday mornings are a sacred time, the church is a sacred place, and the gathering of God’s people provides a sacred setting. Engaged couples considering their options could do a lot worse. (And of course, a bigger party than Ryan and Jill’s can still happen afterwards if that’s what the couple wants.)

Ryan and Jill report no regrets. Planning a wedding was the last thing they had time or energy for in their final year of college. Even the median cost of a wedding was out of their budget, and a typical wedding didn’t appeal to either of them, anyway. They’ve been married more than 20 years now and have well surpassed the average and median number of children.

Rumor has it that Ryan’s mom told their oldest daughter she’d better not do something like that, but she has never argued with the results. Jill would adjust one thing. She would skip the formal dress she wore that day and instead buy fabric for Ryan’s mom to make her one. Ryan wouldn’t change a thing. “All most men want at their wedding,” he says, “is the bride and beer and Doritos.”

is coauthor of LadyLike (Concordia 2015). She has written for a variety of websites, magazines, and books. Her day job is housewife, church lady, and school mom. 

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #68, Spring 2024 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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