Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is Marriage About Affordability? Part 1!

After the Baccalaureate Mass on Friday night, the University hosted a reception at the J.C. Williams Center. At this reception, I was blessed to talk with the family of one of my friends who is getting married this summer. This woman’s mother spoke with me about the importance of simplicity, of recognizing the Sacrament of Marriage, and not worrying about dishing out a large expense for the wedding. Two years earlier, my parents and I often talked about this very thing as we wedding-planned. After this conversation, I knew that I had to write a blog post about this.

On Wednesday afternoon, I sat in a hard-backed chair in the downtown library, preparing to finish off this blog post. It wasn’t long before I was joined at my table by a group of four adults: two men, two women, all who looked to be in their thirties and forties. I began to chat with these individuals, and it wasn’t long before the librarian had to quiet down our animated conversation!

At one point, I casually mentioned that I had been in the process of writing a blog post to debunk the myth of “I can’t afford to get married.” One of the women—I’ll call her Angel—had mentioned that she had gotten married two months ago. At my words, Angel looked me like I was an alien. “What? But I just got married, and it was practically free!” This woman and her husband (who was also in our group) both experience the poverty characteristic of downtown Steubenville. But they still got married anyway! Angel mentioned that they paid for the wedding license, she bought a fancy dress for $5, her friends put together a bouquet for her, and she and her husband had a fun, joyful ceremony at Urban Mission, a Christian-run organization downtown. Angel couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that there are many people in this world who think that they can’t afford to get married.

Everyone has a unique situation and a particular story. I’ve had heartbreaking conversations with people who postpone an engagement and wedding because of money. I really, truly sympathize with people who feel the need to do this, and are responsible and mature enough to reason through it. Postponing an engagement may be the best and most prudent course of action in some cases, and I applaud the couples who make that wise decision—but we need to let go of the automatic idea of “I can’t afford to get married.” Because, honestly, so many people seem to automatically say, “Well, I really can’t afford to get married because of x, y, and z.” And then, some of these people choose cohabitation (totally unacceptable!). Other people never get married. And others postpone marriage for several years. 

I got engaged when Jacob and I were a whopping nineteen-years-old, after the first week of our sophomore year in college. The summer before, he had worked odd jobs around town, and I had been a Totus Tuus teacher (code word: local missionary). In other words, neither of us had much money. But we had prayed, reasoned, and discerned that God wanted us to get married—and that we were at peace with being married college students. When we were engaged, there were a couple of people scattered around who didn’t know how we could afford to get married and live the vocation, all while being full-time college students at a private university.

Well, last weekend, we graduated college after being married for nearly two years. And you know what? We never ended up living in a cardboard box, we always had food on the table, and we had a crazy good time being poor,married college students together.  So I’m here to tell you that—even if you don’t realize it—marriage isn’t about affordability.

I’m going to go out on a limb and presume that when many people say “I can’t afford to get married,” what they really mean is “I can’t afford to have a fancy wedding.” So you may not be able to afford a super expensive catered meal, a high-priced wedding photographer, and a $1000 wedding dress. That’s okay. Actually, a few months ago, I heard radio hosts on a secular talk show discuss how many people with expensive weddings have unhappy marriages, and how many people with inexpensive weddings have happier marriages. A couple professors at EmoryUniversity even did a study on this. And CNN wrote a whole article about it:

“Specifically, the study found that women whose wedding cost more than $20,000 divorced at a rate roughly 1.6 times higher than women whose wedding cost between $5,000 and $10,000. And couples who spent $1,000 or less on their big day had a lower than average rate of divorce.
The study won't be cheered by the booming wedding industry, which encourages couples to spend freely on everything from invitations and flowers to videographers and Champagne. Couples in the United States spent an average of $29,858 for their big day in 2013 -- a record high -- according to a survey of 13,000 brides and grooms by wedding website”

In the introduction to their study, the professors, Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, mention something they found in their research:   

“In 1959, Bride’s 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.”

I’m not saying that people with expensive weddings are doomed to a sad marriage, or that people with inexpensive weddings automatically have a great marriage. But, this conversation provides much interesting food for thought. When I mentioned this article to my “library buddies” on Wednesday, one of them said something like, “Well, that makes sense—because if you’re focused less on material things, you’ll focus more on what really matters, and on each other.”

The media and our culture swamp people with “must haves” when it comes to weddings, and these all skyrocket the cost. If God desires that you get married, I want y’all to have amazing, fun, joy-filled marriages—and epic weddings to kick the sacramental adventure off.

Here are some tidbits that I learned and/or upheld during my engagement and wedding preparations a couple of years ago, and continue to strive for in my married life:

Focus on the sacrament. All of the wedding hoopla, from the flowers to the reception, can be super fun. It can be really easy to get obsessed with all of the little details or monetary things. When I was wedding-planning, my fiancĂ© and I weren’t too hung up on the reception stuff. We really cared about making sure that the Nuptial Mass would be awesome, because that’s what was most important to us. In our minds, the reception would just be a fun celebration to chill out. We delegated different reception details to different people (my mom was very awesome at figuring out stuff!), and tried to make sure that everyone involved was keeping the Sacrament of Marriage at the forefront. Because we were so super excited about the Sacrament of Marriage, we didn’t care to spend gobs of money on decorations, food, or entertainment. Remember: keep the party AWESOME, but the Mass and Sacraments come first in priority.

Remember: “Two can live as cheaply as one.” My mom often repeated this to me, and, speaking from experience, it’s quite true. We live in an off-campus apartment, which other people have paid full price on for one person. We pay this same price for two people. Utilities are about the same (for the most part) for one person as they are for two people. I grew up cooking for a family of 8 people, so I’m used to cooking large quantities of food with a miniscule amount of money. Plus, since we are married and try to be responsible with our money, I have found that I’m less crazy with my spending than when I was a single girl. I never was too crazy with money, but the fact that our bank account is supporting two people causes me to really think and communicate about purchases, which has caused me to spend less.

Will you let money put a hold on your vocation??? Marriage is a vocation. I think it’s about time we all recognize this and proclaim it to the world! I know that some people have had to postpone their entrance to a religious order because of college debt, since they won’t exactly be earning money once they enter. But I also know of people who find a way to make money and take control of their financial situation, so they can enter a religious order or become a missionary within a reasonable time. There are still other people whose families are so excited about their pursuit of the priesthood, religious life, or missionary life, that no one really makes money an issue! Why does marriage have to take a backseat to all of this? Like I already said, we all have different stories, and God is asking different things from each of us-we need to discern (which includes prayer and reasoning logically) though it, and see what He wants. But I want you to remember: marriage is a vocation, and God ALWAYS provides. Each and every time. Also, while you won’t really make money to pay off debt in a religious order, chances are—you will when you’re married. Please don’t let money automatically restrain you from living out this vocation. 

 I think that this is a good place to end for the day, but stay tuned for Part 2!

Photo courtesy of Marshall Photography

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