Oohing and aahing as the bride-to-be opens beautifully wrapped gifts at her shower are customary. Snickering and holding back snorts of laughter certainly are not.
Fine china . . . for Chinese takeout? Deluxe barbecue grills . . . for the couple’s deck-less, one-bedroom apartment? Crystal platters . . . for M&Ms?
As I bridesmaid-ed at several showers this year and watched my bride-to-be friends feign excitement for their supposed domesticity to come, I couldn’t help but wonder, why does this feel so off?
Looking around the rooms, though, the hilarity of the tradition was totally lost on the tables of great aunts, grandmas and moms at the showers. Maybe this is why: The average age for marriage in the United States is 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 and 22 in 1960. Today, more than 65 percent of first marriages start out with the couple living together, up from 10 percent 50 years ago. More than 47 percent of millennials hold postsecondary degrees, more than any other generation of young adults in the past. And the homeownership rate of Americans younger than 35 is at a record low of just 34 percent.
These are a lot of new twists in the traditional trajectory of moving directly from your parents’ house to one you own with your spouse.
My friends are mostly 27 to 30 years old, and for the past year my fridge has been a wall of save-the-dates and invitations. We’re the ripe age for marriage, post-grad school and first jobs, and my eight friends who were all engaged at once fit the stats: late 20s, moved or moving in together first, all with demanding careers and none owning homes.
But even though millennials are delaying getting hitched, many of the cultural traditions surrounding marriage haven’t changed.
Bridal showers started in 16th century Holland as an alternative to the dowry system. Today, when you move in together first, you buy household essentials. Or, if the couple lived separately, they already have a lot of that stuff. My friends boxed up many of their shower presents and put them into storage units or their parents’ basements to await future houses.
Perhaps showers will ultimately be replaced by the now- popular engagement party, which started far differently in ancient Greece as a contractual meeting between the bride’s father and the groom. Today, these parties tend to happen closer to the time of a couple moving in together and are bigger in size the further away the wedding date is. It’s a time better suited for receiving domestic gifts for the new abode or monetary gifts to help pay for the upcoming wedding.
Choosing a bridal party, a tricky tradition that involves ranking your friends and family and picking whom you’re closest with to stand by your side on the big day, began because Ancient Roman law required 10 witnesses to be present to confuse spirits or jealous suitors. I’ve been very honored every time I’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid, but the reality is, we’re not warding off spirits anymore and I would be there celebrating either way.
There’s already a better way to involve your close friends in your wedding. Bachelor and bachelorette parties, which have gone from just dinner and a night out to trips away with big groups, allow brides and grooms to celebrate with friends “at their side” without hurting feelings or forcing them into pricey gowns they’ll never wear again (sorry girls!).
There are plenty of couples who have bucked tradition with gift-less showers and small bridal parties. But for those who still respect the traditions, I hope wedding customs evolve to fit modern lives as they have from ancient times.
That’ll be something to ooh and ahh about.
Amanda Fiscina is a web producer for Newsday Opinion.