The Common Good

Love and Marriage: A Kardashian Cautionary Tale

Over the course of 72 days, a baseball team can finish its season strong, then squander its lead in the playoffs (see: the Red Sox); the government of an Arab nation can fall (see: Egypt), and a marriage can fall apart (see: Kim Kardashian).

But even though few of us have squandered millions on a marriage that disintegrated in a matter of weeks, we all can learn some lessons about what it means to love well from Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.  

What kind of lessons? 

Wedding cakes at a bridal "expo" in Seattle.
Wedding cakes at a bridal "expo" in Seattle. Image via Wiki Commons.

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Well, here are a few reflections:

Counsel Before The Wedding To Avoid A Psychologist After:

Religious professionals worth their non-Lot’s-wife salt spend time getting to know the couple they’re going to unite as one. 

Even when they know them prior to the engagement, most traditions require that the officiant spend six to ten hours conducting pre-marital counseling before the wedding day. This provides an opportunity for religious professionals to learn about how the couple understands marriage, money, intimacy, and the role of children in their relationship. 

In short, pre-marital counseling becomes an opportunity for couples to discover any unresolved issues in their relationship prior to 72 days after, “Til death do us part.” It also provides an opportunity for the officiant to assess whether the couple has a steady enough foundation to withstand the hurricanes of future years.  

Kris and Kim’s pastor, Joel Johnson, admitted he met the bride only once, for an hour on the day before the wedding. He never should have officiated a wedding without pre-marital counseling. 

If, as one might surmise, the couple were unable to make time for the sessions due to their busy professional schedules or the responsibilities of planning a $5 million nuptial affair, then this should have set off warning alarms for Pastor Johnson about where Kris and Kim’s priorities lay.

Plan For Life, Not For Flowers:

I have a challenge for you: Go up to a bride-to-be, any bride-to-be, and ask her what part of the wedding is most time-consuming. 

I wager she will answer one of the following:

A. Finding a reception location;

B. The flower arrangements; 

C. Handcrafting invitations; 

D. The seating chart; 

E. Picking out music for the DJ or band.  

What do all of these share in common? They’re all related to the reception. Not to the wedding ceremony. The reception.

In a majority of weddings, what comes after the vows takes precedence over what comes before.

Most wedding receptions last four hours. Most wedding ceremonies last between fifteen and forty-five minutes. 

Most wedding receptions cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.Most wedding ceremonies can be completed for under a thousand. 

Most couples spend a great deal of time personalizing the reception by picking out a poignant first dance or a signature drink. Many couples may not even see the wedding ceremony's plan before it happens, with the exception of a brief overview during a premarital counseling session, provided their officiant offers that service (see above).

Put bluntly, to spend hours discerning flower arrangements while signing on to a pre-determined wedding ritual with vows and readings that may or may not reflect one’s personal beliefs insults not only the institution of marriage but the couple being wed themselves. 

Both those who supported the Kardashians and our society at large need to be much more intentional about the emphasis we place on the actual wedding ceremony, otherwise we are all to blame when marriages fall apart.

The Day Is About The Marriage The Marriage Is Not About The Day:

Since 1990, the cost of the average wedding has increased by 73 percent. 

That means that today’s average wedding, which costs $24,070, would have cost, if my math is correct, $13,913 back in 1990. 

This 73-percent increase does not correlate with increases in other segments of the economy — of salaries, groceries, or clothes. The dollar did not inflate by 73 percent over the last twenty years. Only the price of weddings has and that means the cost of weddings outpaced the cost of living.

Why can businesses get away with this kind of price gouging? 

Because Americans love the romanticism and the magic of weddings. Seeing that bride walk down the aisle and seeing her father shed a tear, suspends our disbelief, distracts us from a cancer diagnosis or two years of unemployment or the falling numbers in that 401K so that for at least a moment, we escape reality and enter a fairytale.  

Want to know why 5 million people tuned into see Kim Kardashian’s wedding and why executives knew their $20 million investment in the ill-fated affair would pay off? 

Well, now you know.

Yet, this kind of emphasis on the wedding day doesn’t lead to long-term happiness for couples. In fact, many of the recently wedded — especially brides — suffer from Wedding Hangover, as I like to call it. The excitement of the wedding day contrasted with the seemingly mundane reality of marriage forms a kind of low-grade depression. 

Where are the compliments? Where are the flowers and the candlelit catering hall? Where are all those friends who flew in from out of town? 

They’re gone. There’s nothing left but the two of you. 

Sigh.  

It’s easy, after the adrenaline blast of a wedding, to overlook the simplicity — and simple joys — of married life. And yet, perhaps the greatest myth is that those seemingly mundane days themselves compose the real magic of marriage. 

The fact that one person loves another with constancy, despite his or her imperfections, is romantic, beautiful, miraculous. Ironically, that part of a relationship is not what we as a culture celebrate. 

It is not something guests see on a wedding day, because it becomes visible only over the course of days and years. Perhaps, the big party should be celebrated at a 25th anniversary or a 30th, not at the moment of commitment.

You Can Have A Gift When You’ve Earned It:

Years ago, I attended a wedding where registry gifts averaged $250, which, in addition to being a hefty price tag, was deeply troublesome as I was certain the couple would divorce.  

“I want an insurance policy on this gift,” I told a friend, frustrated as I scrolled through the internet registry, searching for the lowest priced item.

“This couple isn’t even going to make it,” I languished, clicking the button for a two hundred dollar set of seving tongs.

The couple divorced two years later. I don’t know who got the tongs when they separated.

Guests at weddings are accustomed to feeling as if they need to give lavish gifts to show their affection. 

At Kim Kardashian’s affair, the registry included a $7,500 Baccarat vase, a $375 candy jar and $840 ashtrays, presumably so that someone can give herself lung cancer with class. 

But maybe we should revamp the gift-giving system as a way to reinforce that friends and family do not celebrate a wedding; rather they celebrate a marriage.  

So here’s what I suggest: At the wedding, do not give a gift. 

At the one-year anniversary, send a small present or a savings bond that can be cashed later. 

At the five-year anniversary, send a larger gift. At that point, the couple has shown their fidelity to one another, but likely they’ve also encountered their fair share of difficulties. 

They may have children, a mortgage, or already have suffered an untimely illness. Maybe they haven’t taken a vacation since the honeymoon. 

Regardless of the specifics, chances are they need the support of friends and relatives more than they did the day they exchanged their vows. 

And while gift giving isn’t the only way to show affection, sharing our abundance with others in this way would be a sign to those we love that we value their relationship, not just the free drinks and cake on their wedding day.

It’s tempting for us to scoff at Kris and Kim’s downfall, but the reality is that their marriage failed at least in part because of our society’s views of nuptial bliss. That makes us all implicitly responsible, and it encourages us all to do a better job of loving our neighbors well, not just on their wedding day but on all the days that follow. 

If we do that, maybe we’ll find that instead of trying to keep up with the Kardashians, they’ll follow in our footsteps.

tumminio headshotDanielle Elizabeth Tumminio lectures at Yale University on theology and the Harry Potter series and writes on the intersection of religion and popular culture. She is also an Episcopal priest and certified life coach.

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