My wife was raised in a home where sometimes the breast milk meant for her little sister was the closest thing she ever got to packed lunch. When she finally made it to adulthood, her mother was almost crushed under the weight of all the loans it took to afford something like a decent life. I was an orphan who had just spent the last 8 years of his life failing time and again to afford the best healthcare my late father could have. The day we decided to get married, we knew there was one inescapable truth we were going to have to face; Mommy and Daddy were not going to pay for our wedding. If we were going to get married, we would have to find a way to afford it on our own.
When you have already lived together for 4 years, have joint bank accounts and own a business together, going down on one knee feels a tad dramatic. I guess we got engaged the moment my wife proposed we sell the playstation gathering dust in our sitting room and use the money to pay for our wedding. I loved it. An hour later some guy she found on Facebook paid us Ksh 31,000 for my Playstation 4. He got a great deal and we bagged 70% of our wedding budget. The other 30% came from a combination of our savings and my sister being too stubborn to listen to us when we said we don’t need any donations from friends and family. So yes, our wedding cost Ksh 46,000 in total; everything including the dress, the ring and the tiered cake.
Do you know what the starter pack for any wedding is? The bare minimum? The least you need to get married? A license, an officiant and a couple of witnesses. That’s it.
Anything more than those three requirements is a matter of choice. A surplus you decide to carry based on your values and beliefs. For us, getting married at the Attorney General’s Office aligned best with our values. We were growing into two practical adults who were beginning to learn the difference between the things we actually needed and the things society convinced us was important. If it was important to have a wedding dress, she decided to buy one that she could also wear on a fun night out. It cost us Ksh 1900, four hundred shillings less than her wedding ring. We learnt that there are two people who care most about a wedding ring; the person selling it and the person buying it. Everyone else may think it’s pretty but they’ll never lose sleep over it.
Hiring a decorated motorcade to impress unbothered pedestrians was way out of our budget. She got an Uber and I drove my rickety Mitsubishi to the ceremony. Of course she was late, that didn’t surprise me one bit. What stole my breath was that in a room full of brides waiting for the registrar to make their marriage official, it was my wife-to-be who was turning heads. Her and her cheap ass dress.
If it had been up to our families, we would have had 3 goat-eating ceremonies before the wedding. One for my long lost cousins to ‘inspect’ her traditional home. Another for our families to officially meet. And the last one to pay a handsome dowry negotiated by strangers I was meant to believe were my village elders. It was exhausting trying to explain that we could not afford all this without either plunging into serious debt or crippling our friends and family with a fundraising that wasn’t a matter of life and death. We wanted to get married, but not at the cost of our own values. It’s not my friends’ job to make my dream wedding come true, if we can’t pay for it ourselves then we can’t afford it. We weren’t going to share our wedding day with anyone who couldn’t understand this. So this is how it came to be that our guest list at the registrar’s office had two witnesses and five friends.
Even her own parents weren’t there to watch her get married. But don’t feel bad for them, we told them a month later and they got upset for about 5 minutes. People move on. Your wedding really isn’t that big of a deal unless you choose to make it. We got married in a room half full of people who accepted us for who we were. That was the part that mattered. Anything else would have felt like we were getting married at someone else’s wedding. You can say that we disrespected our tradition, but you can’t say that we did not have the wedding we wanted. If we could choose a thousand times again, our decision would remain the same every single time.
The truth is that the day of our wedding was a single day in a 5 year relationship. It might stick out because it’s the day the government finally recognised us as a couple, but we didn’t need to prove our commitment to each other by reciting a few vows. Commitment is something only action can prove. Yes, I said ‘in sickness and in health’ but I would be very disappointed if I fell into an irreversible coma and my wife refused to find happiness with someone else. Our love is not binding. If a day comes that we not only incompatible but also a danger to each other’s mental health, I won’t stay because I recited vows. Divorce is not a problem, it is a solution to the actual problem. I have never placed great meaning in words, so the most important action on the day of my wedding was signing our marriage certificate. The registrar was nice enough to remind us that this was a legally binding document. It’s the last thing he said before pronouncing us husband and wife.
It wasn’t the most important day of my life, not nearly, but I remember my wedding day being a lot of fun. I didn’t spend hours of the day stuck in traffic or shaking hundreds of strange hands at a high table. We took our witnesses to a house that was 10 minutes away from the registrar’s office and treated them to drinks and a buffet. My best man surprised us by how good he was at charades and my brother started a heated argument about who’s the greatest Kenyan MC of all time. It’s Abbas, don’t @me. We played The Newlyweds Game with our couple friends and determined without a shadow of a doubt that women fart way more times than men. My sister-in-law made us cry when she gave a speech about how much we have helped her gain confidence in herself. We partied till late at night then drove 20 minutes to our apartment where we had our own version of a honeymoon by binging on the left over cake.
We woke up the next day and didn’t suddenly become different people. We didn’t love each other any more or any less because a wedding doesn’t define your marriage. You don’t need it to remind you how much your partner means to you. The days that truly matter are the days when she spends all day helping you apply for jobs. The days that you work together towards a common goal of becoming debt-free. The days when you sit down to figure out how you are going to survive for the next six months without a job. Those days matter way more than any wedding day ever will. That is why your wedding needs to be something you do on your own terms. Outside the two of you, no one else is going to have to live with the consequences of the choices you make.
The most absurd notion you can buy into is the idea that, as different as we all are, we can live up to the same standards of what a society believes a wedding should be. You don’t have to start the rest of your life with a financial handicap. If it doesn’t sound like what you want, you don’t have to break your back for a year while you get ready to spend 3 months worth of mortgage on a single day of mind-numbing festivities. You can choose what works for you and look forward to living the rest of your life without any regrets. It can and has been done by couples who know that it’s your actions and not your wedding that will determine how happy the life you share will be.
The real work is not in an abstract concept of a wedding. It is in the living, breathing entity you call your partner.