My husband and I got hitched this past June, which I can honestly say was one of the happiest and most transcendent experiences of my life. However, we both agree that whereas the wedding was awesome, the wedding planning process was decidedly not awesome. Navigating the wedding industry can be quite frustrating, in part because of the relentless pressure to spend fantastic amounts of money on anything and everything wedding-related. As a relationships researcher, I was particularly interested in, and baffled by, the rhetoric that many vendors use in order to sell wedding services and products.
Many of the sales pitches boil down to the idea that couples in love should want expensive weddings. Vendors will argue that if you truly love your partner, you should be willing to go to any lengths (at least monetarily) to properly celebrate that love on your “special day”. For example, maybe you want to show your love for your partner by getting a fancy gilded guestbook for your guests to sign, or personally monogrammed hand towels for the reception bathroom. Sometimes the rhetoric even goes so far as to suggest that an expensive wedding guarantees you true love. With a perfectly straight face, some vendors will tell you that your wedding day will “set the tone” for your marriage, and you should be willing to do anything it takes to start your marriage off “on the right foot”. For example, perhaps you should set the right tone by hiring a 20-piece orchestra for your ceremony, or limos to transport all your guests to the reception.
Examples of this sort of advertising can be traced back to the 1940s, when De Beers diamond company launched their infamous “Diamonds are forever” campaign. Indeed, many of the social norms around marriage proposals—such as the arbitrary benchmark of two months’ salary that men should spend on an engagement ring—come from De Beers’ successful advertising efforts. Like the wedding industry more broadly, the diamond industry relies on the premise that spending a great deal of money shows love for your partner and predicts relationship success. This idea is widespread in our culture, likely because it is a marketer’s dream: who wouldn’t pay any price to ensure marital bliss? What’s less clear is how accurate these notions are. To what extent do high levels of spending actually predict marital bliss?