What's in a ring? How young people today view weddings

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What you need to know:

  • Frank argues that many people kick start their matrimonial lives with huge debt burdens that sometimes take them a lifetime to offset, only because they wanted a wedding.

  • For him, a wedding gives a woman a standard of expectations for the course of that union, which, he argues, if a man is not well prepared for, might plunge him into a deeper financial hole that he may never come out of.

Since the beginning of time, marriage has been regarded as an important institution, and weddings – the entrance door – have always been seen as the ultimate symbol of love and commitment. Indeed, weddings are usually grand celebrations filled with pomp and colour, and more often than not, come with a hefty price tag.

However, in this day and age, especially for Gen Zs and younger millennials, weddings are no longer the be-all and end-all of relationships. With more than a third of marriages ending up in divorce globally, young adults are reinventing the general worldview of marriages and weddings.

Although some still choose to wed, many young couples today are opting for a more casual, low-key approach to sealing their love. Why this shift? And what is the ultimate determinant of how marriages are sealed today? This week, young couples share how they sealed their unions and why they chose that route.

Photo credit: Pool

Frank Agape, 26 and Eva Omondi, 23
It was fate that brought Frank and Eva together at a church function over three years ago. Like a moth to a flame, Frank was immediately drawn to Eva’s captivating aura. He knew that he couldn’t let her slip away. He took an aim. 

While they were both young and naïve, Frank and Eva had no guesses about each other. That’s why when the unexpected happened and they found themselves expectant merely a year and a half into their relationship, their conscience was clear on what they had to do. Even with their studies still ongoing, they knew that they were destined to be together and vowed to take the plunge. They tied the proverbial knot with conviction and grace, except, it was not how people around them had expected them to.

“My mom pressured me so much. Since she herself was married in a church wedding and I was her only son, holding my arm as I walked down the aisle was one of her biggest life dreams. She struggled to accept that I didn’t want that,” Frank says.

Indeed, like every couple, Frank and Eva had disagreed on a couple of things, but on this, they were in harmony. They didn’t want a wedding, and not their parents, friends, or the church was going to talk them into it. Their parents finally found the serenity to accept that there was no changing their minds. But, the church didn’t move on. They were excommunicated for going against the church’s doctrine, but not even that shook their stance. So, what had they against a good old white wedding?

“There’s always a chance that a marriage won’t work. A wedding isn’t going to make a marriage work, is it?” poses Frank. “Why should I spend a lot of money on a wedding if it’s not going to add any value to my marriage, yet I could use it to do something else that could improve my life?”

Frank argues that many people kick start their matrimonial lives with huge debt burdens that sometimes take them a lifetime to offset, only because they wanted a wedding. For him, a wedding gives a woman a standard of expectations for the course of that union, which, he argues, if a man is not well prepared for, might plunge him into a deeper financial hole that he may never come out of.

For Eva, her distaste for a wedding had little to do with the financial weight it would put on them, but much more to do with her own dislike and phobia for the limelight. She says she’s a naturally nonchalant person and even with all the money in the world, she still would’ve chosen to walk subtly into the institution of marriage.

Frank and Eva still have plans to formalise their union at the Attorney-General’s office, but like his own name, Agape – God’s undying love for humanity – Frank’s affection for his wife hasn’t changed a bit, and he believes it never will.

Photo credit: Pool

Lizza Anyango 27 and Movyll Aenda 34
When Movyll first saw Lizza in 2015, he intuitively felt convinced that she was the one. He emphatically went after her, but she wouldn’t take any of it. She was just beginning her university studies and didn’t want to lose focus. For her, love could and had to wait. But Movyll relentlessly pursued her, eventually turning her assertive No into a resounding Yes two years later, in 2017.

After dating for about four years, they decided it was time to start a family. With their parents’ blessings and unwavering love for each other, they were ready to move on to the next phase of their lives and, they both knew it had to begin with a church wedding. However, they were both struggling to stay financially afloat at the time and would’ve never financed a typical white wedding even with their life’s savings. Regardless, they were determined to try.

“We wanted to start a family with God, so we had to do a church wedding. It wasn’t all about the celebrations, what was important for us was having a pastor pray for us as we began our union,” says Lizza.

With support from a few friends and family, they settled for a simple wedding that they didn’t have to rob a bank for. It was nothing like traditional white weddings which are usually marked by a day full of pomp, colour, revelries, heavy feasting, and of course, a bulky bill. Theirs merely involved a brief session of prayer and exchanging vows during a normal church proceeding and a dinner with friends and family later.

Now, a year into their marriage, they have no doubts that despite spending just a fraction of what weddings often cost, they wouldn’t have done it any better. They are convinced that although it is important to have a wedding, the wedding itself doesn’t make a marriage. They both believe that even if circumstances had conspired against them and they were completely unable to have a church wedding, their feelings for one another would have remained untainted and their union would still have stood.

“It is the values that people hold that determine how successful the marriage will be and the essence and value-addition that wedding will have, if any,” argues Movyll.

For them, those who opt not to wed due to the financial burden weddings are known to put on people do not know what a wedding really is, and theirs is unwarranted fear.

“A wedding is basically a union between two parties in the presence of God and witnesses. The reception, which is what worries people the most, is in itself not a wedding. It’s just a celebration that you can always do without,” says Movyll.

Photo credit: Pool

James Kuria 37 and Grace Wangui 26
Grace and James had been stealing gazes at each other for nearly three years before he finally found the words to profess his feelings to her. By then, they had both mastered the anatomy of hopeless relationships, and they knew this was headed somewhere from the very instance they got into it.

For James, Grace was not a mere silhouette of the woman he had prayed for. She was the perfect, clear picture of his dream woman to the last detail, and so was he to Grace. After dating for a year, they decided to take the plunge and exchange vows in a church wedding in 2019, which, by the standards of many, may not have qualified as pompous or colourful, but was good enough for both of them, and that had nothing to do with the cost.

Grace was just graduating from university, but James had worked for some time and had saved enough money to bankroll as big a wedding as practically possible. Instead, he chose a rather simple, low-priced ceremony. In fact, he wanted it to be so simple that he was prepared to take a matatu to his own wedding had his brother not come through with a five-seater vehicle that ferried him and his entire family.

“A wedding is all about you and your partner and your commitment to God. All the pomp and colour is just to please other people, but absolutely meaningless,” says James.

The cost notwithstanding, they argue that a wedding is very important. According to them, if you’re a Christian, there’s no bargain. You have to get married the Christian way, which is only through a church wedding. They also believe a wedding brings honour to someone and makes them respectable in church and society. Both of them admit that had their partner expressed the slightest distaste for a church wedding, they would’ve walked away from the relationship without looking back. For them, marriage is too important an institution to walk into casually.

“The wedding and the process of planning it is very essential for you to get to know the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, and you can’t put a price on that,” argues Grace.

“If you chose a rather subtle way of walking into a marriage, you may never know if your man has another wife somewhere, or a child with someone else, or if he’s a gangster. You may never even know if their people will love and accept you.”

For them, despite the waning popularity of weddings among young couples today, they still are, or should be, the ultimate culmination of all relationships and no one should want or settle for less.

Sharon Konyokie 25 and David Tasur 28
Sharon had always envisioned a memorable wedding, a celebration bursting with colour and flair, but her dream was eclipsed by love when she succumbed to David’s long, unyielding charm offensive. Her long-held fantasy of walking down the aisle faded into the background, and she accepted a subtler path into matrimony. It wasn’t too big a price to pay for a love so true.

David had pursued her since she was a teenager. At first, she mistook him for a love-struck youth who would sooner than later relent and move on. But after years of pursuit, it was apparent that David had eyes only for her and she finally decided to take that path with him and see where it led.

When David popped the question in 2021, Sharon knew saying “yes” would mean no wedding because they were both financially and psychologically unprepared for it, but she said it anyway. He was at the time an interning nurse and she had just graduated, but they were certain their love was strong enough to build a lifetime of bliss, and they went for it. They chose to seal their union at the Attorney-General’s office, utterly disappointing her parents.

“My parents were really hurt. They had hoped that I would finish my degree and get married in a beautiful wedding ceremony and when I told them there wouldn’t be one, they couldn’t believe it,” Sharon recounts.

For David, a wedding had never been a top priority, but he had no particular objections to it. They were both ready to settle down with each other and they saw no point breaking their backs to raise money for a wedding when all they needed to start a family was each other. Although they knew her parents would be disappointed, they chose the low-key path because, for them, the destination was the same.

“I know if I had insisted on a wedding, he would have moved mountains to make it happen. But love is all about acceptance and commitment. That’s what holds a marriage,” says Sharon.

“Once you agree to spend the rest of your life with someone you love, everything else pales. Whether you wed or not, it's the acceptance that truly matters.”

Sharon says she would never trade the family they’ve built together for the pompous wedding she’d once envisioned, but she still believes weddings aren’t entirely meaningless and whoever can do it shouldn’t shy away. Despite not standing at the altar to exchange vows with her husband, they both wear wedding rings as a reminder of their love and commitment to one another and a testimony that they have nothing against a good old white wedding.