This isn't the juiciest letter in this week's Dear Prudence, but it is the one on which I disagreed with Prudence most heartily. It's about gay marriage, weddings, and financial obligations.
My partner and I recently got engaged and have begun the wedding planning. While we both agree that we would prefer a low-key, inexpensive event, some amount of money is still going to be spent, and we are having trouble raising the funds on our own. I know that it is typical for the father of the bride to pay for the majority of the expenses, but being that there is no bride, this makes things more difficult. My fiancé’s parents are well off and very supportive, but my own parents, especially my father, are not as well off. My question is: How do I go about asking either parent for financial support for this wedding? If I want this wedding to go the way I'd like, I need some type of financial aid. Gay marriage is fairly new, so there doesn't seem to be any precedent set for this.
The Supreme Court, in their historic decisions about gay marriage last week, neglected to address the pressing issue of just who is going to pay for the bashes. So in lieu of the high court, I will provide the lone opinion that whatever the gender of the couples involved, the precedent should be that if your dreams and your finances are at odds, then it’s your dreams that need modification. Liza Mundy has a fascinating piece in the Atlantic about what gay couples have to teach heterosexual couples about gender stereotypes and equality. Since many wedding rituals come from the time when women were handed over from their fathers to their husbands, gay and lesbian couples who marry have a chance to help blow up these anachronistic assumptions—including that the bride's family pays (which is falling by the wayside anyway). It’s lovely if any engaged couple has parents who are willing and able to help underwrite the celebration. What’s not lovely is for people old enough to get married to pressure their aging parents to jeopardize their own bank accounts to pay for a party. You say your parents are of limited means. That means you don’t hit them up to pay for a wedding you can’t afford. If your future in-laws offer to contribute, accept what they give without telling them you consider it a starting offer. You and your partner are embarking upon a life together. One of the first things you need to do is learn how to make a budget and stick to it.
While I agree that lavish, over-the-top weddings are unnecessary and annoying expenditures, I think this is a case where the tradition re: parent contributions has "transformed" a bit. At least where I'm from, the groom's family usually covers rehearsal dinner and other various non-day-of expenditures, and may pitch in for the wedding day itself depending on what's needed. I get that the whole "bride's family pays!" thing is left over from the days where women were *literally* being given away, but these days, weddings are about having a big celebration focused on the joining of families — or at least, that's how it is in my family/neck of the woods. If weddings are a family event, it makes sense that the family takes some of the burden for footing the bill. (I say this as someone who comes from a huge family where it's full expected that every relative in our sprawling clan be invited to every wedding — it wouldn't be fair to expect young brides and grooms alone to front the bill for that.)
While I think it is interesting to consider the gender dynamics at play when the wedding is not between a man and a woman, pragmatically, that doesn't necessarily help these guys. Prudie could have offered more straightforward advice about how to raise this conversation with the groom's parents who may be more than willing/able to help. Talking about money sucks, and advice on how to do it is helpful, and just because the parents haven't offered doesn't mean they wouldn't if they knew it would ease some of the strain on the grooms.
Basically, brides get the benefit of a pre-established system where parents may not need to be "asked" explicitly for help because most people generally understand that there will be some sort of obligation to assist, unless told otherwise. It doesn't seem fair that the response to two grooms working on wedding planning is "deal with it."