Fancy white dress. Beautiful flowers. Ornate, tiered cake. And a handsome Prince Charming waiting at the end of the aisle to declare his eternal love to you before an adoring, teary-eyed crowd. Here comes the bride. She's just so beautiful and special! And for generations, the dream of a "fairytale wedding day" has been sold to little girls as the number one romantic aspiration of successful womanhood.
Yet, for all of the "til death do us part" swooniness, and the $51 billion wedding industry that relentlessly perpetuates it, the national marital divorce rate consistently holds steady at a dreary 50 percent. And, despite the promise that your "happily ever after" is waiting at the altar, it turns out that women actually initiate two-thirds of divorces, 37 percent of them confessing that they had serious doubts on their wedding day about whether they were ready for the commitment or whether they were marrying the right person. Why, pray tell, did they go through with their something borrowed-something blue "I do" then? Many women said they felt significant external pressure from parents, peers, their partner, or societal expectations. Or they believed they wouldn't find anyone else to marry. In short, they thought it better to have the socially coveted status of being married, even unhappily, than not be married at all.
Which begs the question – why do we keep selling our daughters this antiquated fairytale?
For all the progress women have made in the world, why is a wedding still the one and only socially valued ritual our girls have to look forward to? Think about it. A wedding is the one and only time in a young woman's life when everyone she knows (plus one) happily show up, even flying in from out of country, just to be there for her "special day." A wedding is the one "life accomplishment" that friends and family willingly, collectively, and extravagantly invest their time and money towards. And a wedding is the one occasion when we dress our daughters up beautifully and shower them publically with gifts, advice, and attention.
Is it any wonder a girl might dream of a magical day like that her entire life?
She looks forward to it to such a degree that when her inner voice warns that she's not ready for the commitment looming beyond the ceremony, she might swallow that truth and proceed anyway. She goes ahead with the plan just so that she can have her one shot at experiencing that once-in-a-lifetime, all-about-me, loving attention, acceptance, and support for a day.
Maybe it's time to ask ourselves if the fairytale traditional wedding ritual is not specifically contributing to our daughters' actual happiness in marriage (and the pressure to have a wedding might even be encouraging some to knowingly enter marriage unhappily), perhaps it's time we separate the two and change the narrative to create a new rite of passage that a young woman can dream about from girlhood. One that might actually better prepare her for relationship success down the road if she actually does, at some point, choose to marry.
What might such a re-imagined ceremony look like?
Well, not too far off from a standard wedding actually, if that's the fairytale dream experience a girl is pining for. Only instead of our daughters' worth being celebrated for her (finally) being chosen and deemed worthy of love by someone else, the I've-been-dreaming-of-it-since-I-was-a-little-girl pivotal ritual in every young woman's life might become a ceremony where friends, family, and community gather to celebrate her public commitment to honor and cherish herself.
Instead of fathers giving their daughters away for another man to care for, imagine proud parents hugging their daughter and symbolically sending her out into the world, confident they've prepared her to stand on her own two feet. Imagine if bridesmaids became a young woman's Soul Circle, serving as a core group of special friends who promise to serve as positive reflections of a young woman's light and beauty as she journeys forth into a world that can often be discouraging and harsh. (And hey, forcing those gal pals to all to dress in pricey, matching taffeta dresses is still optional if that's your thing.)
What if guests, instead of bearing witness to vows between a couple, gathered around a young woman to witness her public declaration of her commitment to remaining true to her values, to her goals, to her integrity, and to honoring herself? Imagine showering such a girl with gifts to help her begin her new life, whether that be a toaster for her new apartment, or luggage for her internship abroad.
Would such a ceremony retain a measure of status? Sure, the $51 billion wedding industry would have to find something new to occupy itself with, but if "I want the fanciest party of them all" is her objective, go for it: Poufy dress, floral bouquets, 3-tiered cakes, bring it all on! Or, the woman of honor can wear some other special outfit that shows off her unique style and beauty. She can adorn the room in pesticide-free roses is she wants. And cater a buffet of sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free culinary delights if that's important to her. The point is … the day is all about her. About giving our daughters a celebratory rite of passage where they feel infinitely seen, celebrated, and special, while simultaneously honoring their journey to go forth to discover and become more of who they truly are.
Because a young woman who first spends time in the world committed to being her true self will be better prepared to make healthy choices about eventually stepping into a committed partnership with someone else later.
Does that mean no wedding ceremonies ever?
No, of course not. If a couple mutually chooses to have some sort of wedding ceremony to share their commitment and love with the world, more power to them. But, it's worth pondering how marriages might be more successful if entered into with eyes wide open and with the pomp and pageantry of a traditional wedding ceremony stripped away. How many couples would still choose to legally say "I do" if all we, as a society, focused on is the sweet yet serious commitment they make on the big day as opposed to their wedding theme colors? If we let the romance and the reality of that precious promise made between two souls become something privately and subtly celebrated, would our girls rush in? After all, it is the couple on their own who must uphold their vows long after the $80-per-plate-guests go home.
Might marriage rates decrease?
Quite likely. But with the average wedding costing $30,000 and the average divorce costing $15,000 - $20,000, maybe fewer marriages entered into prematurely or with uncertainty would be a good thing. Research shows that that couples who wait until after the age of 25 to marry are 24 percent less likely to divorce, reduced even more by those who delay childrearing, obtain a college education, and achieve a level of financial security and self-awareness prior to marriage. Yes, couples who spend time figuring out who they are, take time to experience life, and learn to face the realities of standing on their own two feet for awhile are far better at approaching marriage with the maturity it requires.
So, if it is truly marital happiness and stability that we want for our daughters, perhaps the best way to support that outcome is to stop saving for her wedding and start using that money and effort to invest in her.
What do you think? Would young girls be better off having a new life milestone ritual to look forward to insteady of a wedding being her one "big day"? Or is a wedding one of the can't miss rituals of adulthood? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Matt Damon met Luciana Barroso while she was tending bar in Miami in 2003, and ten years later, they have four beautiful daughters together.
More juicy content from YourTango: