The Marrying Kind

Not only can you put a price on love—you can set that price sky-high and make a killing.

By Susan Anspach  •  Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

City Sprawl by Susan Anspach
Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Not only can you put a price on love—you can set that price sky-high and make a killing.

Spring used to be wedding season. Then I turned 29. Now the next 10 years of my life is wedding season.

No one’s happier about it than the wedding industry, a Northern Virginia corporate fat cat. We should all be so lucky for a swipe at the cream. If you’re a bridal vendor in the greater metropolitan region, well done you, whatever you do for a living. If you sling signature cocktails, if you chauffeur bachelorettes, if you design tiny pillows for the backsides of ring bearer Pomeranians, you’ve tapped into an industry with no upper spending limit.

Am I above it? Not an inch. I’ve been in five weddings—thrice a bridesmaid, once a bride, once a “flower child”—and loved every minute. The hot lights! Everyone wants your photograph! You make speeches! People listen to them for a change! You’re a star for a day and nothing can change that, short of forgetting the marriage certificate, which did happen two of the five times.

These people know their work. I feel like a celebrity attending a wedding and have been known to hog the photo booth accordingly. My life isn’t glamorous enough for other events requiring videographers and save the date notifications. I have two dresses I wear, alternatingly, for weddings. They’re the only clothing I own that’s seen the inside of a dry-cleaner.             

Your own wedding, though. That’s your special day. And that’s where they get you. Even the people who say they don’t care, care a little. Most of us know we can’t make our wedding the most elaborate. So we tell ourselves we’ll have the most fun wedding, or the quirkiest, the most Hawaiian. Some superlative must be hard won, the thinking seems to go, or else it won’t be special. I met a girl who bragged to me about her boyfriend proposing with a Ring Pop. Although it wasn’t about the Ring Pop. She lied; It was about her having told him nine years ago that if he proposed to her, she wanted a Ring Pop. Also she could blog about it, and intended to later.

I am married. I would even go so far as to describe myself as pro-marriage, or at least pro-marriage for me, since keeping my married buddy around cuts down on the risks of eating Cheetos for dinner and ever having to live with roommates again. Our wedding and reception were scheduled a year apart because my husband and I had reason to do the Dew fast. If I had to award our wedding a superlative, it would be most slapdash. We were engaged for two weeks and planned the ceremony in the space of one afternoon. I started planning the party for the bumper-car pavilion at Glen Echo Park, the amusement park-turned-arts center over the border in Maryland. I guess at the time I thought we’d be the most retro, or spunky. (I’m not either of those things.) Then I traveled for a writing conference to Prague where I heard an American couple talking about their wedding reception at the bumper-car pavilion at Glen Echo Park. “It was perfect,” I overheard the wife telling their new friend. Her exact words: totally unique.

We scrapped the reception and went ahead with the wedding, which we held in my parents’ backyard in Manassas. We met with the officiant, whom we’d selected off the courthouse-provided list for having the most utterly badass name either of us had ever heard, eight minutes before the ceremony. Ulysses Xerxes White said he’d be announcing us at the end of the ceremony as Mr. and Mrs. Born and when I told him I’d be keeping my maiden name he told me he’d be announcing us as Mr. and Mrs. Born. Afterwards we toasted with plastic cups and about 30 people, and when we got hungry we ordered Red Hot & Blue. A share of what my parents did have set aside for my wedding day now plops quietly into my Roth IRA each January. It’s not conventionally romantic but Red Hot & Blue wasn’t not romantic; I have a love affair with pulled pork that’s 15-years strong.

When did the wedding grow into an industry? I don’t think I actually deserve an award for having a backyard wedding. There are lots of people who do it and I’m just glad mine wasn’t next to an above-ground pool. Still, there are fewer people who do it now than there used to be. My parents got married in the local church and drank store-bought wine afterward on my grandparents’ patio. They honeymooned in Colonial Williamsburg. Meanwhile I was recently invited to two weddings, one in New York City and one in London. They are for the same bride, who is honeymooning in neither location.

And yet there is a strange emphasis on tradition the wedding industry upholds. It’s strange because of the ones they picked to keep around. Wearing white, connoting virginal status? Absolutely. Throwing the garter, letting the bride’s father, uncles and first cousins know that underneath that virginal exterior, she does indeed have a saucy side? But of course. Drinking cheap wine in a place you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars on a single night’s rent? Questionable.

For the sake of tradition, I did opt to carry a bouquet, an acquisition I assumed I could procure at a florist, directly and somewhat quickly (a week seemed reasonable to secure a ribbon around four hydrangeas). When I suggested as much at the florist’s, however, the salesperson was nothing short of disgusted. For weddings, she told me, you need an appointment. Forget it’s a wedding, I said. Pretend it’s a birthday bouquet. I need four pink hydrangeas for my 3-year-old nephew. She pulled out her date book. I’d never walked out on a salesperson before. Their jaws really do drop like for Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.”

I don’t mind telling you what the party would have cost, especially since it was considered low end: $15,000. For that kind of money, my husband maintained, the champagne bottles should uncork themselves. Instead our caterer advised us to sneak our booze onto the grounds of Glen Echo the evening before the reception. Technically we weren’t allowed access before the day of, but if we didn’t want to pay an additional storage fee she assured us we could manage under the cloak of night.

In the end, the wedding, sans reception, came to about a tenth of that cost, and I still think about all the things $1,500 could buy, including some used cars, a laptop and one-half of a Greek cruise. Also one fantastic wedding day, since I wouldn’t take back a dime and realize that most of the people who spend tens of thousands on their ceremonies and receptions wouldn’t choose to, either.

Accordingly, I will party down. I’ve got big plans to be at every wedding I’m invited to in my 30s, short of the ones for the same couple in London and New York. I’ll just explain to the bride I can’t swing double airfare—that it’s amazing what thousands of dollars won’t buy.

@CitySprawlNVMag is on Twitter, and follows the makers of Ring Pops there.

(April 2014)