Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Help, We Can’t Stop Fighting Over Our Wedding!

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Long time reader, first time writing in. My fiancé (22) and I (23) have been together for a lovely 5 years, have never had a single fight and have been fairly good at communicating. Our wedding is scheduled for mid next year and we have of course got into the intensive planning phase. 

She knows I’m tight with my money and don’t like to spend carelessly, but she’s always had a dream of a fancy (and expensive) wedding. I always thought that people that spent $20k-$25k or more on a wedding were insane and wasteful, especially in a world where people have so little. However, I was ok with picking a venue that costed $15k (which included the space, food, open bar, etc.) even if it was beyond my original budget (my attempt of compromising). 

However, we got a price estimate for changing the chairs to a nicer style and the total cost for switching the chairs would have added over $1000 to the wedding price. My red alert goes off as this is a complete scam, why would we pay for this? I make my feelings known and she agrees to not do the chairs…until later that night she is crying (literally) about how the wedding isn’t going to be everything she dreamed of already and she misses her dad (who passed away when she was young) makes me feel terrible so I let her decide on whether she really wants the chairs. 

This is really nagging at the principled part of me though that looks at how much time and energy I would have to spend to make $1000 just for chairs, and how so many people around the world barely have anything. She’s paying for a majority of the wedding (with money from her father’s passing) so I keep trying to tell myself, “It’s her money she can spend it however she wants.” The other part of me can’t believe that she’s just like, “well we have the money so we can spend it.” 

Am I thinking to much about this? Is this standard marriage stress getting to me? Or is the principled part of me right to think that $1000 for chairs that no one will care about besides her is ridiculously wasteful? 

Thanks for your advice,

Stereotypical Wedding Issues

DEAR STEREOTYPICAL WEDDING ISSUES: This is a problem with layers, SWI. Because, as with many issues I see come across my desk, the fight you’re having isn’t the fight you think you’re having.

Let’s start with the absolute surface issue before we get into the underlying problems.

So I’m someone who had a fairly spiffy wedding with no regrets SWI, but I’m on your side here: weddings tend to be vastly overpriced affairs that often leads to unnecessary fights, conflicts and drama — not to mention debt. And you aren’t wrong that weddings bring out not just the price gouging but also the upselling. I suspect that if you were to go and price out everything — the same venue, the same decorations, etc. — and called it a family reunion instead of a wedding, you’d see a significant difference in price.

Now here’s the thing about weddings: you won’t remember 90% of it. Years down the line (hell, months, even), you’ll look back and say “Wait… we had chairs?”  But what you remember and what your fiancé will remember are two very different things. Part of the way to make getting married a (somewhat) less stressful mess is to pick the things that you’ll know you’ll remember and push for those. I couldn’t tell you the color scheme of mine, what the cutlery or dishware looked like or what flowers we had because I wasn’t concerned about those things. I knew that I would remember the food, the ceremony, the cake and the music, so those were the areas where I pushed the hardest. If the chairs aren’t important to you and you can afford them… well honestly, I don’t think that’s a fight worth having. I think you can let that go in the name of nuptial bliss.

But that isn’t really what this fight is about. You and your fiancé are having two entirely different fights. This is coming from a place of what’s important to you, what aligns most with your values and what this wedding means to you. You are seeing this as a frivolous expense and one that’s costing money that the two of you could be investing in your future together ($15k could be the down payment on a house! Or a car!) while your fiancé is seeing the chance to live a dream that she’s likely had since childhood. While I agree, I think $1000 is a hell of an upcharge for chairs, this isn’t about the chairs to her; this is about what they represent. She’s not upset about the chairs — y’all didn’t know they existed until the venue upsold you on them — but whether or not she’s going to get one day to live in a fairy tale. A fairy tale that is already a little bittersweet for her, considering that her father passed away and won’t be there to see it.  So in this case, the question you need to ask is whether or not $1000 is going to make that much of a difference, or whether that’s a small price to pay for a dream.

So, no. On a strictly practical level, I don’t think this is a fight you need to have. While I agree that this is money that you could probably use to better effect elsewhere, if this isn’t going to mean the difference between being able to pay the rent or disrupting your plans for the future together, then it’s something I think you can give on.

But with all that having been said, there’s a third layer to this whole conflict and frankly that’s the fact that the two of you are getting married when neither of you are old enough to rent a car yet. That’s going to be a bigger issue, especially in the long run, then however much you spend on this wedding. To be perfectly blunt: I think getting married this young is a mistake. You two are at a stage where you’re only just starting to develop as adults. This is, in many ways, the chrysalis stage; school starts the process, but your early 20s tend to finish it. You’re going to be facing challenges and experiences that will change you and make you realize that you who are and who you think you are can be two entirely different things. That can change your outlook on a whole lot of issues… including your values, and your relationships. What is important to you now is likely not going to be as important to you three, four or even five years down the line… and they won’t for your fiancé either. That often takes a toll on relationships and marriages. In fact, marrying young tends to correlate with getting divorced young.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not telling you that that divorce is inevitable and that you should break up. What I am saying is that you should put things on pause — especially while you can still get the deposit back. What I would recommend is a long engagement… possibly even until you two hit 25, which seems to be the sweet spot for marriage. This has a number of advantages for the two of you. To start with, it gives you both firmer footing to start a life together; you’ll have more of a chance to establish yourselves financially and emotionally as adults. You’ll have more time to decide just what is actually important to the two of you and more perspective on whether you would rather have the big fancy party or just nip off to the courthouse and use savings for a vacation, a new house or an investment in a future business venture. And if you do decide to have the big party with the cake and the food and all the trimmings… you’ll have a better idea of just what will really matter to the two of you.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com)