Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yours, Mine and Ours

That Jewish wedding costs are escalating out of control is a given. Much has been written, including here, about the problem and about some ways to rein in the spending. But perhaps we need to discuss a very different question before we can get answers to the spending problem. The question is "Whose wedding is it?"

I know the question seems kind of simplistic, but it's not really. "A choson and a kallah are getting married so of course it is their wedding" you answer me. Is it?

When I was young and dating there was a joke going around. A kallah was very frustrated with the shopping and detailed preparation for her wedding and she snapped in frustration at her mother: "What are you doing to my wedding?!" Her mother calmly answered: "This isn't your wedding; it's mine. When I got married that was my mother's wedding. If you want a wedding of your own, have a daughter and that will be your wedding." The irony of the story is surely not lost on those who hear it.

Look at the language used in describing weddings. Parents are said to be "making" a wedding or "giving" a wedding. In almost all cases in the frum world, parents are the hosts, paying for the wedding and deciding its myriad details. The choson and kallah are the "guests of honor" so to speak, and while they may have some input, they are not the "top bananas."

This is further complicated by there being two sets of hosts--her parents and his parents. Even here there is a hierarchy. If the kallah's parents are paying for the whole wedding, they may ask for suggestions from the choson's parents, but they are the final deciders. If parents are splitting the costs traditionally, with the choson's side paying the FLOP--flowers, liquor, orchestra and photography--the kallah's side still has precedence. If the wedding costs are being split evenly then decisions have to be thrashed out jointly but there are still some that are traditionally considered as belonging to the kallah's side--like the color scheme. So, where money is involved, the "whose wedding is it" question is answered "the parents."

Deciding on the guest list is also an example of how the "whose wedding is it" question plays out. Who are those people sitting and watching the chupah? Who are those people who are seated at the dinner tables? Who are the people who are only invited to a simchas choson v'kallah?

Now let's go back to my original question: Whose wedding is it? Everyone gives lip service to its being the choson and kallah's wedding, but when it comes down to choosing the guest list this is not always the case. Parents who are paying for the wedding frequently consider their own guest list first. After deciding whom they will invite they then assign the "left over" seats to the choson and kallah. The choson and kallah are frequently unhappy about this, considering that the wedding is "theirs" and that their friends should take precedence over many of the people their parents are inviting.

One parent with whom I discussed this question shrugged his shoulders when asked if the children's friends shouldn't take precedence. He also said this: "People don't like to talk about it but it's there anyway. Make a wedding and the choson and kallah get wedding presents. Invite your family and they all give gifts. Invite your friends and they all give gifts. Invite your business associates and they all give gifts. Invite the kids friends and they all give you a mazel tov."

So yes, we need to ask and answer "Whose wedding is it?" And maybe we also should ask "What's a wedding for?"


Anonymous said...

Oh come on. No one makes up a guest list based on whether the person will give a present or not. I think the best way would be for everyone to decide what the top number of people at the wedding will be, divide it in four and then then give one fourth to each set of parents and one fourth to the choson and one fourth to the kallah. That way everyone will be happy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I'm not saying it's right but it's not any worse then saying everyone who was in your grade from highschool and sem has to be invited. There were girls I really didn't like in high school but the whole class is supposed to be invited. When my parents limited me in the number of people I could invite (we didn't have a simchas choson v'kallah) I only invited those I really was close with. There has to be some way to limit the people.

Orthonomics said...

Since I paid for more than 1/2 of our wedding, I guess I can rightfully say the wedding was somewhat ours. :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous I don't think you're doing the math right. You're giving half the guest list to 2 people and the other half to 4 people. You should be dividing the list by six at least. That would give the parents 2/3 and the choson and kallah 1/3. The dividing is usually not that equal though. From my experience each parent gets 20% and the chosn and kallah get 10% each. If a wedding has 300 guests choson and kallah would get 60 of them.

Anonymous said...

Sad but true but money is what decides whose wedding it is. It's who pays for the wedding who gets to decide on the guest list. My parents gave me a certain number of people I could invite who they paid for. After that, if I wanted more I was going to have to pay for them. You know what? I discovered that if I had to pay $50 per person for those extra people I really didn't need all of them at the wedding. It was only when my parents were paying that I insisted I had to have them all.

Looking Forward said...

y'know... in some ways I think its sad, but in some ways its not.

But on the whole, I really think that it would be a lot more harmonious process if the parent's set a limit on how much they could afford, and the couple were allowed to make the decisions.

They're more likely to be considerate instead of rude, selfish, hatefull and stupid when inviting people.

Like one shver who kept on sending back the invitation to his muchatanim with the same spelling and grammar errors... I got shrieked at for like 2 hours for that... because I was there and turned a nice color.

But then on, the gemorah says that derech eretz is for the community (and specificaly for a major figuire like the rabbi) to pay for and decide the details of the wedding. (using midrashim about adam's wedding as a precident.)

Sure makes a whole lot more sense than to have the family pay for it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone needs to point out to a choson and kallah that the family members which they keep putting as guests that their parents are inviting are also their family? Those aren't just the parents' guests. If a choson and kallah got to do all the deciding themselves wouldn't they feel obligated to invite their grandparents? Their aunts and uncles and cousins? How about their own siblings? The real argument is about how many friends the choson and kallah can inviteafter you add up the family members.

Looking Forward said...

rjn, in a time when family members alone can account for 300 people, there should not be an obligation to invite them.

... and from my perspective, as the child of a ger, I am nervous about my wedding, which in all likelihood will have all of maybe 20 guests from my side, and possibly between 1 and 2 hundred guests on the girls side, and that is if all of my parents and family and people who are segnificant in my life choose to go, which I doubt will happen. More than likely I'll have maybe 5 in my party, maybe 6, to their several hundred...

awefully lonely that.

SaraK said...

It's an endless cycle. If your parents are invited to many weddings and give gifts, then they feel obligated to invite those people to their own children's weddings and "get the gifts back" (so to speak, you know what I mean, right?). If it was up to me, would I invite first cousins of my parents? No. But if my parents are paying, they want to invite those people. No, weddings should not be for getting gifts but when people give gifts to other people, they want to be reciprocated. In a perfect world, the bride & groom would have control over who is invited and other decisions, but I can't see that happening in the frum world.

Anonymous said...

In a perfect world, the bride & groom would have control over who is invited and other decisions, but I can't see that happening in the frum world.

Sara, I work with lots of non frum Jews and lots of non Jews. We've talked about weddings. For most of them, they got engaged and then waited for 1-3 years to get married because they were saving up to pay for the wedding. yes they made all the decisions but they also paid for everything. Sometimes their parents chipped in some money or bought the wedding dress or something like that. They were surprised at how short our engagements are and that parents pay for everything. I guess we have a tradeoff---less of our friends at the wedding but we don't have to pay and we don't have to wait.

Bas~Melech said...

I personally think that if the parents are paying, then let it be "their" wedding -- who cares. Maybe my opinion will change when it's my turn, iy"H, but I don't plan on it. You're busy getting married; who cares what color the flowers are or which cousins came. The chasan and kallah's real friends will always make the cut, and there are always enough other friends to ensure a leibedik wedding (unless they were real hermits or far from home or something)

Don't know about chasanim, but kallas certainly would gain a lot of peace of mind by leaving the technicalities up to others.

Anonymous said...

As a parent I can tell you that I do not want my daughters to just alope. I want them to have a wedding and both my husband and I want to throw that wedding party for them.

My daughters would rather take that money for a down payment or something.

But hubby and I can't image no wedding for our girls. And it was always that way. It was parents who made a wedding because parent were selebrating the marriage of their children. A marrying couple has nothing to celebrate, yet. They are just starting out.

Anonymous said...

I laughed when I read this. I only wish that our wedding had belonged to our parents. My husband and I were both in NY studying when we met. Our parents live out of town. For reasons of convenience and friends and family our wedding was in NY. Because our parents were not living here my choson and I--actually mostly me, were the ones who had to make most of the decisions and take care of all the details. I would have given anything to have someone else to take care of all the details and do the running around. And all this while we were trying to find an apartment and buy things for our home and do all the things to prepare for a marriage. Here's my advice--be really grateful if someone else, anyone else takes care of the wedding. Let it be their wedding!

Lion of Zion said...

i personally believe that people should pay for their own weddings.