People Who Don't Marry Deserve Big Parties Too

Exchanging vows shouldn’t be the only occasion that merits a blowout that friends and family will spend hundreds of dollars to attend.

It’s now September and wedding season has mercifully come to an end. Most nuptials happen in the summer months, which explains why your social media feeds have been clogged with photos of couples holding champagne flutes under hashtags such as #johnpluseric or #MrandMrsCollingwood.

Don’t worry, this isn’t an anti-marriage column.

I’m all for throwing a big party to celebrate love, especially when there’s an open bar. I might even have one myself someday. But exchanging vows shouldn’t be the only occasion that merits a blowout that friends and family will spend hundreds of dollars to attend.

Many people now value friendships, careers and familial relationships more than marital bliss. Those achievements deserve wedding-level festivities too, yet marriage still holds a monopoly on Most Important Life Celebration. As marriage becomes a less-dominant institution, we need to foster a culture that honors other accomplishments.

Single people outnumber married people in the U.S. and almost a quarter of coupled millennials have not stood at an alter. While exchanging vows was once a necessary way for families to achieve financial security, it has become a custom that many feel violates the principle of equal rights. To name a few problems, society excluded LGBT people from marriage for most of our history, allowed husbands to legally rape their wives until the early 1980s and still expects a woman to take a man’s last name. Then there’s the fact that over 40 percent of American marriages end in divorce. Yet we still treat marriage as the only achievement worthy of a truly opulent celebration (the average American wedding has 139 guests and costs over $32,000).

I’m not saying weddings should be held in living rooms and catered by Domino’s (though that sounds like a great time). The lavishness of these events is part of their appeal: Uncle Doug certainly wouldn’t fly in from Florida to see his niece get married in jean shorts. But we should value other accomplishments enough to mark them just as luxuriously.

Not everyone prioritizes lifelong romantic partnership. For some, friendship is just as important. My college friends and I have stayed so close that more than 10 years after meeting, we still take an annual “family” vacation and talk everyday through group text messages. It would have been easy to lose our tight bond off-campus, but we’ve worked hard to stay close, making regular visits and phone calls despite our distance.

This month a New York woman “married” her community by taking a collective vow along with the 100 most important people in her life. Good on her. Why are friendships that span decades any less worthy of celebration than two lovebirds who have known each other for a few years?

Then there are those who prioritize family members. Why can’t we celebrate a daughter who’s devoted her retirement years to caring for her sick and aging father? 

Others devote more time to their careers than to relationships. Someone who spends most of their waking hours saving lives, writing books, changing laws or feeding people – work that often makes intimate partnerships difficult – should be rewarded with more than a retirement plaque and store-bought cake. But unless they win the Nobel Prize, those who have dedicated their lives to work aren’t encouraged to rent a hall, dress up and soak in adulation from friends and family. Yet their labour undoubtedly has a bigger impact on the world than any marriage.

Weddings are joyful occasions we shouldn’t give up. But marriage no longer holds the central place in our society that it did generations ago. It’s time to acknowledge that other accomplishments now hold the same significance as lifelong partnership and are also worthy of grandiose celebration. Otherwise we send a dangerous and outdated message that marriage is the highest form of achievement. 

 *This column previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen