Firstly, I would like to state the positives. Weddings are a beautiful affair. The idea of celebrating the love of a couple, off to start their new lives together, is lovely. Another amazing element is the wonderful, unique cultural traditions that all come to collide in a wedding. This includes, in Afghan weddings at least, aromatic dishes, colorful extravagant dresses, mesmerizing dances, enchanting décor, etc. In theory, weddings are a joyous tradition many couples can look forward to.
Where do I start? This celebration is often tainted with overwhelmingly suffocating expectations, demands and pressure to satisfy and run our bank accounts dry.
The very fact of it being nearly impossible to skip having a wedding entirely is a depressing reality. Basically, if you don’t care for a wedding at all, there is no escape route. Especially if you are born into a traditional family, holding a lavish wedding can be literally forced upon you and if you refuse, your relationship might not be seen as legitimate.
The expenses are outrageous. For those of you who haven’t had to count pennies anytime in your life, feel free to skip to the next point. For the rest of us, how does it make any sense to spend thousands of dollars on a dress that will only be worn for a couple of hours? What if I have college debt left to pay off? What if I could otherwise take care of a root canal? What if I would rather spend that money on my furniture… or not at all? Apparently, this is all shameful and somehow risks appearing “cheap” if you have a modest dress and overall, a modest wedding. There is an unspoken competition between Afghan families at home and the diaspora to organize the most elaborate weddings, often at the expense of investing in the future of the family.
I’m writing from a bride’s perspective, and usually there is less pressure on the bride’s family or herself to spend on the wedding. The expenses are mostly paid by the groom and his family, so I can only imagine how many men avoid getting married because it has become too costly or feel immense pressure because of this duty society has placed on them. Unfortunately, these pressures often lead to fights and fractures in the relationship between the bride and groom. This problem can be exacerbated in more traditional families where because the groom’s family has spent an enormous amount of money on the wedding, they assume they now own the bride and she must pay back by bringing children to the world or doing all the house chores without help. There shouldn’t be so much stress about finances and/or societal pressures in order to have a married life with someone you love.
There are too many rules about what the wedding “has to be” like, that there is little space for creativity. Additionally, there are so many pieces to a wedding and so much “stuff” one has to acquire. I’ve learned that much of this “stuff” is not necessary at all. The never-ending list of stuff takes away much of the personalization and intimacy of a wedding. This demand is what has shot up prices in flowers, venues, décor, etc. Before planning my wedding, I had no idea how expensive centerpieces are or that a cake is in the hundreds! How can one avoid checking every single box of requirements for a wedding without facing resistance or worrying what the guests will say? Is it really horrific to have a warm, small backyard wedding and nearly everything homemade and DIY? According to your typical Afghan parent, this is absolutely embarrassing to even consider.
For many diaspora families, there is immense pressure to get the weddings “culturally right”. Growing up in another country outside of your original culture’s wedding expectations can sometimes be an uncomfortable reminder of how you are not fully equipped to handle it. What if up until the point of my wedding, I never learned how to dance properly? What if I don’t have a lot of close first cousins to do the attan dance like some other large families do? What if I don’t have a traditional dress from Afghanistan? It takes a serious amount of planning and experience on how-tos, if you want to do it “culturally right” as you’re mostly pressured to. Realizing you largely lack that support system can be anxiety-inducing.
Having said all this, I do enjoy attending weddings, except for the overly loud music. However, I wish we would make a conscious and collective effort to clean up the toxic expectations that come with wedding planning. I hope we will stop viewing weddings as opportunities to show off our wealth or status or compete with relatives and instead focus on the love and warmth. The most important part of a wedding is to start your new life with a loved one. Why ruin all that with a stressful to-do list and emptied bank accounts?
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