I had a complete meltdown the other night about tableware and glassware rentals. A chest-wrenching, uncontrollable sobfest over how many glasses to rent/buy/beg/borrow/steal for our wedding*, mixed with a desperate attempt to convince Jason, my mother, and myself that plastic** tableware is a perfectly acceptable serving option for a wedding. We're not getting married in a ballroom, we're getting married in a rustic setting with taco truck catering, for goodness sake. Plastic tableware might actually suit the event better than anything else. And, even if it weren't a simple nature-fulled, taco truck event, who cares what the food and drinks are served in, so long as they're free and tasty, right?
Yeah, I care. But due to practical concerns (budget, logistics, staffing needs vs DIY) I am willing to get over it. But I haaaaate that I care, and by care I mean I really truly care. And I hate that other people care (which they do, and have already expressed to me) and that they'll judge me for those practical choices. And I hate that I'm letting other people affect my practical-minded decision making. Because, at some level, I'm fully aware that this is all about appearances and not substance. Personally, I wouldn't blink twice at a wedding with plastic utensils so long as the utensils enabled me to eat tasty food. Especially now that I know that our bare-bones rental estimate for basic chairs, plates, dessert plates, glasses utensils and tablecloths is currently running around $3,000.
To anyone not in the throes of wedding planning, a sobfest over plastic cups probably seems a bit excessive. But to those of us in the middle of this mess, we know it isn't really about glasses, budgets or so-called bridezeilla behavior. It's about a whole lot more. Namely, class.
Jason and I both grew up in upper middle class neighborhoods and circles, although both our families are probably more accurately described as financially middle class. Therefore, we both grew up with an interesting combination of upper middle class social expectations and comparatively constrained family finances. (I want to make it clear I'm not boo-hooing. I feel incredibly lucky about the home, family and community I grew up in.) Although neither Jason nor I ever felt like our life was lacking, I think we're both highly attuned to upper class class expectations. And those expectations, in case you're wondering, are costly. They are far more costly than our current financial state would permit spending (again, we feel incredibly lucky, just not wealthy).
Frankly, however, I don't give a fig about modern American upper middle class cultural norms and their associated costs. Jason and I want what we want, not what we're "supposed to" want. We've worked through a lot of hard conversations and decisions about our economic, social, social justice, job-related, time-related, and personal values to get here. We're comfortable with our decisions, even though some go against the grain of our upbringing and, yes, our class origins.
Or, more accurately, we were comfortable with our decisions, until the d*mn wedding came along. And now we're "supposed to" provide an elegant, class-appropriate wedding for our families and friends, despite the fact that we're not elegant and that we're not earning upper middle class salaries. (Heck, I'd even argue that the standard wedding expectations plastered all over blogs and magazines aim for upper middle class/upper class sensibilities when most of us aren't earning the salaries to support it.) Professional florals, musical entertainment, open bars, ballgown dresses, professional photography, coordinated details, and plated meals are expensive. Upper middle class expensive. They are not remotely attainable for the majority of us without some serious DIY and creativity, and yet that's what our "cheapness" is being judged against.
Our wedding is expensive, despite the fact that we're pushing back against standard wedding expectations. We are decidedly not in the $10,000 budget range, though I initially had fleeting dreams of achieving that mythical budget. With 150 people in Los Angeles and a serious aversion to DIY catering, there's no way we're getting out for much less than $10,000 on food, drink and staff alone (yes, that's taco truck catering and beer/wine pricing at a DIY/BYOB/anything goes location). But we've decided to spend $10,000 on food/drink/minimal service because I'm not cooking for 150 people or asking my friends to clean at the end of the party. It's a lot of money, even before I add in the costs for everything that isn't food or drink related. I feel like I'm constantly worried about money - not because we don't have it, but because it's the most I've ever spent on a single thing in my entire life and it's terrifying.
But now, I also have this added pressure of feeling cheap because I wondered if maybe, just maybe, we could use plastic plates, utensils and glasses. Unfortunately, it feels cheap to some key players involved in this wedding. And, although I recognize the feeling of cheapness myself, I think there's something truly wrong with this situation. When you can't have a wedding with your large family in a large city without spending between $20,000-30,000 on an event that still feels cheap to particular class sensibilities, there's something really warped about our social expectations. We are not cheap. We have cut a lot of excess and made some really hard decisions about our priorities and values, but we ultimately valued a community-filled celebration and we're spending a pretty penny to achieve it. We are stretching to the edge of our financial comfort zone to provide a tasty, boozy, safe, and fun wedding for a ton of people.
Yet I still have to defend my plastic cup suggestions against perceptions of cheapness. Granted, the cups are blue because they're the only legitimately eco-friendly, reusable plastic cups I could find*** but, as the wise blogger Accordions and Lace once pointed out, aesthetics are not ethics. In choosing wallet-friendly, waste-and-chemical-friendly cups as an alternative to petroleum-based, BPA-laden disposable plastics that go straight to our landfills, I am apparently displaying cheapness by betraying standard wedding aesthetics. I can't believe this is a battle I need to fight when looking at $3,000 rental quotes and $10,000 food and drink estimates. I can't believe this matters anymore when we know so many people who have been affected by this ongoing, no-real-end-in-sight recession. I can't believe that I'm feeling pressure to prioritize waste (since clear, less ugly, disposable plastic would be a more acceptable option, apparently) over my genuine commitment to more sustainable living. And I refuse to believe that ugly-but-sustainable plastic cups or asking guests to reuse glass cups are a real betrayal of anything that truly matters in the world, aside from outdated cultural expectations of class and aspirational living that I'd hoped had shifted with the onset of the recent economic sea change. But no, I'm still battling with being perceived as cheap, tacky, and classless despite my attempts at graciously hosting a giant mass of people.
In my humble, wedding-stressed opinion, all references to "cheap" or "tacky" weddings and the imputed "classiness" can go to heck because this is my real financial life and I am trying to live honestly and within my darn means. And that's not an impulse that ever deserves public scorn.
*in case you were wondering, it's about three wine glasses, three beer glasses, one water glass, and one non-alcoholic beverage glass per person, since no one remembers to hold onto their alcohol glasses at parties and no one really cares about water. I tried to suggest wine glass charms/reusing the same glasses and was entirely shot down.
**we were focused on eco-friendly plastic/alternatives to disposables, since sustainability is an important issue for me. I'm going to talk more about specific sustainable tableware options and the pros/cons of each option in an upcoming post. But I found one particular plastic to be the most sustainable/best for our needs.
***Yes, I know about compostable cups that come in more palatable colors than blue. But we don't have an industrial composting option in Los Angeles, so the cups would go straight to the landfill, where nothing biodegrades, including theoretically biodegradable items like food scraps, wood, etc.