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Does the Sinking Economy Spell the Doom of Big, Fat Weddings?

The average U.S. wedding costs $30,000 -- in today's economic climate, eloping is looking better and better.

Famous and ordinary, fictional and real, lovers are fleeing from big, fat, traditional weddings right now. Credit the bridezilla-backlash, the new postnuptial depression phenomena, or the global financial meltdown's arrival on Main Street.

Which leaves a lot of today's newlyweds with more in their bank accounts and less mental wear and tear. Some will swear eloping is just more romantic.

In last summer's Sex and the City movie, Carrie Bradshaw planned a giant, fairy tale wedding for her and her Mr. Big, only to have its ideological and social weight collapse their relationship. They reconciled, after realizing the true cause of their misery -- the wedding itself -- then spontaneously eloped to city hall one afternoon. "I don't want a wedding, I just want you," said the groom, coining a phrase for the new movement and making small the new big.

More recently, though arguably a giant PR stunt, two of the world's least favorite celebrities, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, eloped to Mexico (then released their private, intimate vows and photos to the media).

Back in reality world, last month, two friends of mine got married in a "hybrid-elopement," which meant immediate family only, in a Vancouver coffee shop, followed a month later by a Facebook-invite, cocktail party in their apartment.

Run away!

The New York Times reports a big increase in elopements in over the last six to 12 months. In fact, one Humanist chaplain says she's performed twice as many as usual this year.

Elopement used to be scandalous, according to Rebecca Mead in her book, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding. But with the average cost of U.S. weddings approaching $30,000 (yes, the average), and the stigma of elopement now gone, many people are now using that money for a down payment, or just saving it for other things that actually provide more happiness than One Insane Day, unless that one day really happens to float your meringue.

This echoes a New York Times report about one couple that had originally planned to have what is erroneously known as a traditional (i.e. big, expensive) event, but found themselves resenting the money and effort required. They didn't want the financial or organizational stress to ruin the ceremony, so got married on a mountaintop with only a photographer and a marriage commissioner, and found it "a more intimate experience" in the end.

'Postnuptial depression'

Then there's a new phenomenon known as postnuptial depression, which seems to be putting people off, too. The BBC reports that bridal magazines promote fantasies that rival any fairy tale. So, with so much time and money invested into The Biggest and Happiest Day Of Your Life, "people experience a comedown" or big anticlimax.

Time reports that one in 10 newlyweds now seeks counseling for the syndrome. "The problem may be that after months consumed by wedding preparations and feeling like the center of attention, the sudden shift back to everyday life can be a shock."

Common law for common folk

The interesting thing about the traditional wedding is that the tradition is a myth. In her book, Mead writes that even as late as the 1930s, it was common to have only a ceremony, without a reception.

"Our laws all go back to England where only the rich could officially marry in a ceremony, which was conducted by a church person," says Fred C. Lowther, a Vancouver family lawyer who's been practicing for 28 years. "Most people couldn't afford anything like that. They would just announce 'Me and Matilda are getting joined,' then everyone would get together in the square for a party, then they were considered married."

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