This weekend I went to my sixth wedding of the year. I also got invited to my sixth wedding of next year. At this point, I should probably buy some shares in Premier Inn.
I’m lucky in that I split the cost of going to most weddings with my boyfriend, although arguably it’s partly his fault. Even between two, it costs a lot. There are the hen or stag parties, the outfits (or at least the dry-cleaning), the travel, the taxis, the rounds of drinks, somewhere to stay overnight and the underestimated outlay of hangover train snacks or an airport Burger King the next day.
And then there’s the wedding present, of course. These days it tends to take the form of a ‘donation’, often politely requested, normally in aid of the honeymoon. But there is also a rise in couples crowdfunding their weddings. Not a contribution towards candlelit cocktails on the beach, or hiring a car for a road trip, but straight-up cash for the big day itself.
Personally, I don’t have a problem giving money as a wedding gift, or at least no more than I would a toaster. When it comes to giving a wedding gift, it doesn’t matter very much to me whether it’s in the form of a bank transfer or a set of spoons. But on reading recently that it might become the norm to be tapped up ahead of time to pay for my own bunting and wildflower jam jar arrangement, it riled me, not because I think asking for money is vulgar compared to a traditional wedding list, but because it feels like the responsibility for someone else’s decision is being passed onto me.
It is perhaps particularly British thing to be embarrassed by the cold hard cash of it all. While the UK has stuck with crockery, gravy boats and soup tureens, plenty of other countries have long-standing traditions of giving money to a marrying couple: China, Poland, Japan, Italy, Ireland and Nigeria.
Clicking the button for a three-hour honeymoon boat trip is just as likely to end up paying off the credit card bill for that extra hour of security at the end of the night
Technology is supposedly making it easier for couples to ask for money: online platforms like Patchwork allow couples to ask for money by virtually spending your donations on specifics, like skydiving or renovating a house. It’s quite cute to decide to buy your friend a few bathroom tiles and I expect to see my name engraved on them like I’ve sponsored a seat at the theatre.
But if I’m handing over money anyway, does it really matter what it’s going towards? Realistically, even when couples ask for contributions for something definitive, it’s all going into the same pot, and clicking the button for a three-hour honeymoon boat trip is just as likely to end up paying off the credit card bill for that extra hour of security at the end of the night.
Of course, this isn’t quite the newfangled twist on tradition we’re being told it is. People have always counted on friends and family to help out with their big day to make some savings, whether it’s conveniently having bestie who also happens to be an expert florist/baker/candlestick-maker, secretly borrowing chairs and tables from the school someone works at or getting your DJ brother on the decks. One of my favourite wedding moments of this year was a low-key service where the groom’s incredibly talented musician friends performed – heartfelt, personal and better than everyone else trying to warble through a hymn they don’t know. Perhaps asking for financial contributions to a wedding is just a way for your least talented and skilled friends to be a part of it too.
Generally, I find ways to justify the cost of attending weddings, because I love the people who are getting married, but I imagine that being harder if it involved paying for the actual celebration as well. One of the many reasons I don’t want to get married is horror at the idea of having to organise an event where I’m the centre of attention, so I can’t help but feel that if you’ve decided you’re up to to tying the knot, it’s also up to you to decide what colour ribbon you can afford.