Is this the golden formula of marriage?


Natalie Reilly

Here's some affirming news for anyone who has ever had to stop their eyes from rolling at an ostentatious wedding: a study undertaken last month of over 3,300 heterosexual people in the US has found that marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony.  

Or, to put it in the parlance of that pillar of sex and success, Samantha Jones, 'Big ring? Big wedding? Bad relationship, honey.' Only, Samantha would never have said such a thing, for she, like so many - both on and off the TV show that defined aspirational relationships for bourgeois, heterosexual women - have held fast to conspicuous consumption as a key indicator of romance.

But if you've ever attended the nuptials of a couple with the persistent sense that Baz Luhrmann could jump out at any given moment from behind a chandelier to yell 'ACTION!' and throw gold-plated glitter on everyone before leading a small orchestra in an instrumental of Drunk in Love atop a pontoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, then you know that these days, the course of true love is usually paved with a bloated proof of purchase.

Let us bow our heads and dive into the details of the research paper for further reassurance. According to the study, women with weddings that cost more than $US 20,000, (23,000 AUD) divorced 3.5 times as often as women who paid between $US 5,000 and $US 10,000. Well, back up that horse-drawn carriage because before the ceremony, he's gotta put a ring on it. And survey says that the dudes who spent $2000 to $4000 on a rock (2200-4500 AUD) were 1.3 times more likely to divorce than the men who paid between $500 and $2,000. 


Um, I'm not sure how to put this so I'm just going to let it lay here on the screen you're looking at: the average amount spent on engagement rings in Australia is $10,000. And the average wedding here costs $36,200. Meanwhile, the wedding industry in Australia is inching toward $5 billion.  

When this study was reported on over at Jezebel, a few commenters surmised that the correlation between expensive weddings and short marriages occurred because a union made in that much debt was sure to end in heartbreak. But you don't have to know Kanye West personally to guess that when a person or persons are pouring that much cash into one single day there's probably more than a smidge of overcompensation going on -- a longing for validation that runs deeper than the love for the significant other. The wedding industrial complex understands this longing, (Bridal Expo, anyone?) they have to, in order to capitalise on it.

As the researchers pointed out in their paper: 

In 1959, Bride's magazine recommended that couples set aside 2 months to prepare for their wedding and published a checklist with 22 tasks for them to complete. By the 1990s, the magazine recommended 12 months of wedding preparation and published a checklist with 44 tasks to complete.

Acclaimed author and grumpy old man Jonathan Franzen put it this way,'You can all supply your own favourite, most nauseating examples of the commodification of love. Mine include the wedding industry ... and the particularly grotesque equation of diamond jewellery with everlasting devotion. The message, in each case, is that if you love somebody you should buy stuff.'

Now, we all know on an intellectual level that this just isn't true. But a quick scan of our social media feeds, (including that most lavish of mediums, Instagram), along with the prices mentioned above, suggests otherwise. Few people set out to hold an overblown wedding. 'I just want something simple' has become 'the 'I don't mind as long as its healthy' of impending nuptials.

But then you sit down with Mum who says it wouldn't be a wedding without Aunty June and Uncle Nath there. And then the photographer says he needs a deposit of $1000 to take a polaroid of your foreheads in the sunset to make sure the light is ok. Then the florist says that the minimum spend is $5000 and before you know it, you've pissed away your honeymoon money.

We live in a celebritised culture where anything that mimics how the famous behave is imbued with elevated significance. This goes some way to explaining the rise in wedding costs and extravagance. (I bet my own bridal dress that the

Aman Canal Grande in Venice has been booked out for the next decade). 

But what's missing from the survey, and what is probably at the heart of the entire mechanism, is motivations. You can have a 'backyard wedding' with a cake from Michel's Patisserie but if you feel in your heart of hearts that nobody can take away your deep sense of superiority now that you're married; or if you notice that a couple of members of your wedding party are displaying symptoms of IBS due to stress, or you've been looking forward to spending the rest of your life secure in the knowledge that for one shining moment, you were the centre of attention, then, yeah, your wedding might've been a bargain but it doesn't necessarily mean you've married for all the right reasons. The current rate of divorce in Australia is 32 per cent, which suggests that not every breakup is about the dolleurz, it is - if you'll permit a dad joke on this occasion - about the sense.