Fionola Meredith: Forget the love: over-the-top weddings are now all about showing off on social media
Narcissistic modern nuptials are focusing on the surface rather than the substance, says Fionola Meredith
Why have weddings turned so huge and ugly? In the past - and I'm definitely talking within living memory here, just a few generations back - they were pretty simple occasions.
Two people who loved each other came to church or the registry office in the presence of their closest family and friends to swear their lifelong devotion to one another. Afterwards there would maybe be tea and buns in the parish hall or a party in a pub. Perhaps a little do in a local hotel if funds allowed. And that was it.
Sure, the bride would likely be wearing a lovely white dress and flowers in her hair, and there might be a photographer to take a few posed pictures. It was an important occasion after all, something to be planned and saved up for and remembered afterwards.
But everyone understood that the point of the day was the marriage ceremony itself: the vital moment when you both say "I do". All the rest was just superficial extras. The icing on the cake, if you will.
Well, now the superficial extras have become the point of the whole show. It's all about the icing: a saccharine-sweet confection of glitz, pomp and attempted glamour to be religiously posted on social media for the whole world to see - and hopefully envy.
Surface has won out over substance. This is how too many couples unite in the me, me, me age of celebrity narcissism.
You see the same hyper-extravagant mentality at work in First Communion celebrations, which have become like mini-weddings - the expensive outfits and the big party, not the sacrament itself. An "empty show", as one priest put it.
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End-of-school prom nights are equally ostentatious, requiring industrial quantities of fake tan (somehow it is essential for girls to be a weird shade of orange on these occasions), jewellery, designer dresses and limousines. Again, it's fuelled by social media oneupmanship. But at least prom nights don't involve any legally-binding oaths.
The part of the wedding where the betrothed couple actually make their solemn commitment to each other is over in a flash.
It's not really that important, you know, more of an opportunity for modelling the chosen wedding apparel before the assembled guests as the bride - high on out-of-control princess fantasies, possibly harboured since childhood - sashays up the catwalk of the aisle.
The real focus is the lavish post-ceremony celebrations, with their obligatory video booths or chocolate fountains or popcorn machines, not to mention the hours upon hours of official photographs.
The photographer plays such a central role in the modern wedding because it has become all about the image.
How it looks. Not how it feels. And least of all what it means.
You'll surely understand what I'm saying if you have recently been exposed to one of these day-long festivals of conspicuous consumption - as you may well have been, since we're currently in peak wedding season.
The average cost of a UK wedding is now over £30,000. Yup. Thirty grand blown. On one single day of your life. Hope all those colour-coordinated napkins and sugared almonds were worth it. The vulture-like wedding industry, which feasts on the extravagant fantasies of aspirational couples, certainly thinks it is.
I've been told I'm cynical for saying stuff like this. In fact, the reason I find such weddings depressing is because I'm a true romantic. I believe that life is better with your loved one at your side.
But where is romance in these crude, crass and commercialised displays?
How does dressing up, showing off and pretending to be a celebrity or a member of the royal family for a day have anything to do with love?
It's certainly got nothing to do with the life you'll live as a married couple, and I can't imagine that the enormous debt that many people saddle themselves with in order to finance the whole operation helps much with that.
A few years ago, the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, then canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, controversially announced that such ego-driven weddings were becoming a threat to marriage itself.
He said: "Love is a movement away from the idea that everything in life is all about you. Which is why so many modern weddings are a travesty. For, in becoming great celebrations of the ego, they are a threat to the very thing they are supposed to be all about."
Giles Fraser said that, in his experience, simple weddings were the most beautiful, because when you strip away the expensive rubbish, you are better able to see the love that two people have for one another.
Amen to that.