08/02/2010 11:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Chelsea Clinton's Wedding Might Be Excusable

The other night, my fiancé and I realized that we are terrible people. We are getting married in Manhattan in a few months, and we somehow, until that moment, hadn't fully understood exactly what that meant. We hadn't been completely naïve about it, of course, but we hadn't understood the full weight of the situation. We hadn't understood just how many vendors it was completely necessary to involve, and exactly how much the services of those vendors would cost. For the record, it costs A LOT of money. As in, if you are getting married in October in Manhattan, unless you're planning a ceremony with twelve guests in Central Park (catering courtesy of a nearby hot dog cart), or making a quick trip to City Hall with your photographer (who is also your best friend), you're going to end up spending an amount of money that could probably guarantee an impoverished family a brilliant new beginning. Or save a small, starving nation from ruin.

So we are definitely immoral. Our wedding has become its own entity. It's this monstrous, billowing, gorgeously adorned creature, scattering peach and white rose petals in its massive wake. It tries to eat all of my time. It's completely self-centered. It wants me to devote most of my attention to a debate about whether or not there should be molten chocolate cupcakes present at the reception.

Meanwhile, I'm so disorganized in real life that I can't even manage to get to the Time Warner Cable website every few months to pay my eternally late cable bill.

But one thing is making me feel better. The Clinton wedding. My fiancé sent me an article about it today, saying, "At least we're not doing this." Which is not to say that we could come close to affording to do that. But it still feels good to imagine that we wouldn't, even if we could.

In department stores with my mother, shopping for her mother-of-the-bride gown, the salespeople referred to Chelsea Clinton's nuptials simply as "The Wedding." It's supposed to cost between $2 million and $3 million. Which sounds funny to me. There's a big difference between those numbers. A million dollars, to be precise. And maybe that's appropriate in some way, for the families involved. It's proportionate, at least. They're very wealthy, so a $3 million wedding isn't such a big deal for them. And I know very well how quickly things add up when you invite all of the people who would be hurt if they weren't invited, and all of the people who didn't expect to be invited but are terribly flattered that you thought of them, and all of the people who you'd like to impress a little by inviting them. I know how that works. And the Clintons must have a ridiculous amount of people who they absolutely must invite, because if they offend those people, there might be a war. Or something.

But the Clinton wedding reveals more than how many friends and how much money the two families involved have. It speaks to the way that many people approach weddings in general. There's this sense that it's worth spending a lot of money to make sure a perfectly coordinated performance is put on for the guests. To make sure that all of the napkins are exactly the right shade of ivory, and all of the food is both modern enough and standard enough. And to make sure you bring absolutely everyone together to witness this most important of occasions.

Which is not really such bad motivation, after all. The last part, I mean. Bringing everyone together to celebrate and honor something as essential and exciting and meaningful as love and partnership.

It'd be nice if the community stuck around afterward as well, to help when the couple hit a rough patch, or considered divorce. As Hillary says, it takes a village. But still, the impulse to create community and to hold community there, in a single place, for a single day, to support a couple as they make a really, really big decision--all that is commendable. It might even be basic. And it's unfortunate that it has to cost so very, very much in so many situations.

So I don't know that in the end I can really rail against Chelsea and Marc for their extravagance, though I think it'd be nice if they donated just as much money as they spent. Or at least a sizable chunk of it. That would be a great wedding tradition to start. A wedding is a good time in life to make a statement that goes beyond what the industry suggests. It's a point of transformation. A juncture at which a different kind of life begins, and new values are adopted. And because a wedding, especially when it's large, is about community, perhaps it should be adapted to include a gesture towards a bigger one-- the human community. Maybe, precisely because a wedding is cause for extravagant spending, it should also be cause for reflection on money, and our responsibilities toward our resources and our world, regardless of what our financial situations are. A wedding has the potential to be a wakeup call, and even an epiphany.

I do owe the happy couple a sincere thank you, for alleviating my own guilty conscience a little. And for making my own wedding look so tiny, modest, and forgivable in comparison.

I'm not convinced it really is entirely forgivable. It's still a lot of money that could be otherwise allocated to more admirable causes. But I am pretty sure that if the severe discomfort produced by that realization inspires me to think more carefully about my relationship to the rest of the world, and about the things that really matter in my life, having a slightly absurd Manhattan wedding might be OK. Anyway, I'll be wearing shoes I bought for $10 at H&M. So that's something.