In the past week, a snapshot has gone viral of three girls on a couch showing off their engagement rings while a fourth girl holds her fingers like a gun to her head. I feel her pain.
My second year of law school at Berkeley, when I was broke beyond compare, I was in three weddings -- one in Indiana, one in Chicago and one in Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii. I have completely lost touch with two of those brides, and am merely Facebook friends with the third, and for the record, none of them are still married. In fact, of the seven weddings in which I've stood up beside the bride, only two of the marriages have lasted.
Hey, can I have back the thousands of dollars I spent being in your weddings? Because the wedding really is the problem, or more precisely, the desire for a wedding.
If you search Wikipedia for "Wedding Television Shows," you get 32 results. Thirty-two television shows about weddings! About dresses and cakes and venues and bridezillas, venerating the practice of spending more than the cost of a year's education or a house downpayment on a party.
I look at the girls in the picture described above (and I use the word "girls" deliberately), and I feel sorry for them that their engagements have already been so marred by the ubiquity of this photo, but I also can't help but wonder if all of the varied responses might help each one stop and ask whether she's ready to be a wife, or merely ready to be a bride. Because there is an enormous difference.
Imagine for a moment if weddings were prohibited, or better yet, if you could only have one after 10 years of marriage. How much money would be saved? More importantly, how many ill-advised unions would never happen in the first place? I swear, weddings are the leading cause of divorce. If some girl wasn't fulfilling her childhood fantasy of being a princess, holding court in the perfect gown with the perfect hair and perfect flowers, on a day dedicated solely to celebrating her ability to land a man, how much more effort would she put into finding the right mate, since the reward for doing so would be a lifetime together, rather than a coronation?
And what if, as a society, we celebrated other milestones instead? Wouldn't it be amazing if college graduations were given the wedding treatment? If the commencement ceremony included a $3,000 dress and a $70-a-plate dinner for friends and family who came in from all over the country? Photographers, flowers, dancing, a band? "You've got to see my graduation video. It was so beautiful!" What would be the outcome if little girls had 32 television shows to watch about that? Would that give them something else to aspire to? To dream about?
Which leads to the subject of baby showers. Not all baby showers. Most baby showers are lovely, but can we please end baby showers for teen moms? These, too, make the guest of honor "Queen for a Day," with no regard to the hard work that follows. These, too, send the message that getting pregnant is the pinnacle of achievement, as opposed to the beginning of 18 years of hard labor.
I've been to a handful of these showers, and the unmistakable fact is that the guest list is mostly other teenage girls, all cooing and fawning over their corpulent friend or cousin, shrieking excitedly as they present her with the beautiful bassinet that they all pitched in for, ignoring the fact that the endeavor she is embarking on will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and stunt her career opportunities for the rest of her life, not to mention the devastating impact on her social life.
I used to live in a very blue collar part of Oakland, California where there were more baby showers than graduation parties. One family who I was very close to had four daughters. The three oldest got pregnant before graduating from high school and dropped out, and the fourth was hell bent on getting her college education.
For the three oldest girls, there were big, splashy baby showers with thousands of dollars in gifts. For the fourth, she was sent off to Santa Monica College (a vortex of collegiate Darwinism) with little fanfare and virtually no help. Where was her College Shower, to give her a laptop, a bookbag, sheets and towels, gift cards and cash and whatever else she might have needed to strike out on her own? Where was the whole family coming together to lionize her achievement, and set an example for younger ones of how you're revered when you further your education? No wonder she got pregnant and dropped out her freshman year. That was something at least she knew her family would celebrate.
It makes me wonder what our world would look like if female accomplishments other than becoming a wife and mother were equally exalted. If we had First Job Showers, gifting briefcases and business suits, or Promotion Ceremonies, with hundreds of guests flying in to commemorate a woman's move to the C-suites. How about teen entrepreneur shows, instead of six (six!) different television shows about teen moms, which makes some girls want to get pregnant, so they can get on TV?
I'm all for marriage. I've spent the last five years working for everyone's right to marriage. Being married has been one of the greatest joys of my life, but we had exactly one guest plus the officiant at our wedding, and seven years later, I have pretty much the happiest marriage of anyone I know, with the possible exception of our one wedding guest.
However, I still felt the need to fulfill the fantasy, so a year after exchanging vows, we had a big reception for 125 of our closest family and friends. No band, no DJ, no cake, just a nice dinner with an open bar, and I did wear a wedding dress, because I knew it would be my one and only chance. It was fine, but if I'm being honest, there were better ways to spend $15,000.
Celebrations are a huge, important part of life, but the worst mistake a girl can make is to enter into a lifetime commitment just to get a party. The husband and the baby are around long after all the guests go home, so you'd better be ready for that part of it. Here's a tip: if you're demanding an engagement ring for Christmas, chances are you aren't ready to be married (and he certainly isn't).
Try to make the life decisions your 37-year-old self would want you to make, not the ones the seven-year-old you fantasized about. Want the marriage, knowing all that it will demand of you. Want the child, realizing that her needs will come first for the next 20 years. Choose the man who will take care of the laundry and change the baby's diapers when you've got the flu, rather than the one who spent a month choreographing his proposal so that the video of it would go viral. Understand what you're getting into and put your energy into planning your union, not planning your wedding. That's the key to a happy marriage and a happy life.
For a guidebook in achieving lasting, permanent happiness, check out "Happiness as a Second Language," a Happiness Top Seller on Amazon. For added fun, watch The Happiest Book Trailer Ever, and for even more happiness, please visit Speak Happiness.com, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter.
For more by Valerie Alexander on Huffington Post, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.
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