National Edition

Here comes the debt: How media is changing the way we wed

Published: Thursday, April 24 2014 11:55 p.m. MDT

“There’s a growing marriage divide in America,” Wilcox said. “I think one reason is that over-the-top weddings are a barrier to entry into marriage for the working class and poor Americans.”

Elevated ideals, serious consequences

Romanticized ideas of marriage and weddings not only play out in the media, but can also have major consequences for new couples that buy into them.

Mary Claire Allvine is a financial adviser who wrote "The Family CFO," for young couples planning their future. She says the media pressure on couples is real and so are the financial ramifications.

“Anytime you see a wedding whether it’s in a movie or it’s on a television show, these are enormous, complicated affairs. It causes people to become de-linked from their own value structure,” Allvine said. “The ‘Today Show’ will give someone a fantasy wedding. When you put a label on it of ‘reality’ presented on a news show and don’t say this is a massive trade-off where this couple may never get out of credit card debt.”

But the struggle also lies with us, she added. As a bride 13 years ago, Allvine got a firsthand look at the pressure the wedding industry puts on couples when she went into the Macy’s bridal boutique. She said she found a staff eager to show her gowns that began at $1,500. Allvine walked out.

“I was 35 years old. If I had been 25 and intimidated by the way they said, ‘a lot of girls,’ it’s harder to do that,” Allvine said. “If you or your future partner doesn’t say, ‘That’s out of our reach,’ at what point is it not the movies’ fault but the fault of your own process?”

The younger the couple, the more vulnerable they can be to the message. Lisa Firestone is a California-based clinical psychologist and director of research at the Glendon Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing suicide, abuse and troubled relationships.

“You don’t see older people who are getting married worrying quite so much about this whole thing,” Firestone said. “Younger people have grown up where everything about your life is shown in pictures online. Some young people today have grown up with parents having broken marriages and they may be buying into this romanticized idea of the perfect, forever kind of wedding.”

That “forever” kind of wedding portrayed so often in the media is a fantasy that can veil real problems.

“It becomes a very shallow focus when we get into the fantasy of the relationships instead of caring about the real content,” Firestone said. “It makes people feel like their relationship isn’t good enough if they can’t do the big, expensive wedding.”

Unfortunately, brides and grooms aren’t encountering a lot of moderation in either the media or the retail world.

“What you need is a gaggle of women sitting around saying: ‘You would look so good retired someday,” Allvine said. “Where’s the cheerleading crowd for that?”

Malone, whose Puerto Rico-based wedding business has been the subject of the reality show, “Wedding Island,” said the media attention isn't all bad.

“There are a lot of TV shows out there that are setting expectations very high. I don’t know that that’s bad. There’s nothing wrong with young girls dreaming about their weddings,” Malone said. “We’re looking at an industry that’s grown when the economy has consistently gone downhill. People may be giving up their cable TV and Starbucks may be full of people that don’t have Wi-Fi at home, but they are not giving up on their weddings.”

Balancing fantasy and reality

As weddings continue to fascinate through television and social media, many couples are taking matters into their own hands.

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