Are Weddings About the Glitz or the Actual Union of Two Souls?

09/30/2010 12:48 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Perfection. Isn't that what its all about? The perfect day, the perfect weather, no one noticing Uncle Sid passed out snoring in the magnolia's. Yet what makes the perfect wedding?

The wedding industry's apparent answer is near-rabid consumerism. Brides, grooms and their families are encouraged to spare no expense. Through a bombardment of multimedia messages via magazines and online, shops and shows, couples are exhorted to buy perfection -- from diamonds and dresses to flowers and favors. Now worth $72 billion per year in the U.S. alone, this huge industry is clearly succeeding in its mission of happiness and joy. Or is it?

Is the implication of perfect princesses and Prince Charmings, enjoying a perfect day actually serving the best interests of those soon to be wed? Or is perhaps the wedding industry establishing an accepted template for fairytale-style happiness and perfection, which is actually unobtainable, eclipsing the actual occasion making it less about the couple and their very real unique relationship.

Also the money that couples can spend on the wedding (averaging $31,000) may create great pressure for them and their families for years to come. Money is one of the main causes of stress and friction, even in the most loving and understanding of relationships. So it is ironic that the costs of weddings themselves have become a trigger for widespread financial stress on the very couples and families that are supposed to be made happy by the occasion.

In addition to the financial burdens, many wedding products and services are of dubious quality and ethics. Suppliers in this unusual industry are often able to neglect service and value in the constant chase for new business. And behind the glitz and glamor of products and services lies some horribly underpaid workers -- particularly in the developing world for things as basic as food, drinks and cotton. (A recent report on sweatshop labor in the clothing industry in general.)

So what to do? In my opinion the key here is for the couple to plan a wedding that's entirely about them and their values, rather than any sense of what perfection should look like in a wedding magazine.

Indeed an excellent exercise for a young couple is to explicitly work out together what their shared values actually are. Simply writing down and sharing values is a powerful exercise in connecting that is all too frequently left out of the marriage compact these days.

There is also a great opportunity to consider the story behind every choice made for the wedding day. Every single element can support and communicate the things that are important to the couple and their hopes for the world.

Couples can use their LOAF (local, organic and Fairtrade) to lead to some great, unique suppliers that can help them to create a unique experience, rather than working with a pre-determined formula. Indeed many of the people behind Fairtrade come with remarkable stories of love, empowerment and celebration.

In the words of Sira Souko from the Batimakana Co-operative, Mali, "Fair trade has put money into the hands of women to meet our children's needs. We can buy pens and notebooks so they can go to school. We have bought seeds to grow vegetables and improve our family's diet." (Source: Fairgift Producer )

What couple would wish to have a picture book wedding if the underlying reality was expenses that could not be afforded and products that were produced through environmental and human degradation?

What better way to celebrate a union of two souls than to have a wedding that reflects values rather than cheesy glitz. That reflects commitment not just to each other but to the whole world? Such a wedding could not be more meaningful and beautiful and also more impactful in a positive way and if more people make better choices then the wedding industry will also move to support these new trends and clean up its act.