Taking a Wedding Private: How Mark Zuckerberg Forever Changed the American WeddingSasha Pasulka

Mark Zuckerberg is no stranger to disrupting industries.

In his handful of post-adolescent years, Zuckerberg has turned the global communications industry on its head, disrupting photo, video, advertising, social, search, email and publishing, just to name a few. When a NASDAQ computer glitch botched Facebook’s IPO last Friday, Mark Zuckerberg added Wall Street to the list of industries he’s sent scrambling. The IPO put his net worth at around $20B.

Which industry will this tech wunderkind’s influence rock next?

Will it be education? Medicine? Ecommerce?

I think it’s weddings.

Taking a Wedding Private

Facebook’s IPO is a big deal, but, for anyone who didn’t actually invest in it, the really interesting stuff happened the following day, when the freshly-minted billionaire married the freshly-Dr. Priscilla Chan in a backyard ceremony at his house.

The wedding had fewer than 100 guests, who’d arrived under the impression they were attending Priscilla’s med-school graduation party. The bride wore an off-the-rack dress she purchased at the Little White Dress Bridal Shop in Denver. Guests ate from family-style plates from the couple’s fave sushi and Mexican joints, and, instead of cake, they served chocolate “mice,” a hat-tip to their first date.

As for bling-bling? Dr. Chan walked away from the ceremony with a simple (or, as a flabbergasted TMZ put it, “SIMPLE”) ruby ring, which Zuck reportedly designed himself.

The message is clear: Priscilla’s love don’t cost a thing.

But the message goes even deeper than that: This was clearly not a ceremony in which Dr. Priscilla Chan was being purchased.

A Quick Review of the History of Weddings

We have a lot of really great wedding traditions! These traditions are super special mostly because of how far back they date. In fact, most of them pre-date the very recent historical era in which women are not property.

For instance, a groom’s best man used to have duties beyond hiring the strippers. When the groom rode into a neighboring village in the middle of the night to abduct his bride from her home and family, he was going to need backup. He definitely used his “best” man for this mission.

At the wedding ceremony, he needed someone to stand next to him, well armed, to protect him if the bride’s family launched a rescue mission. (The bride stands to the left of the groom at a wedding so that his right hand is free to grab a weapon.)

When this charming groom took his bride back to his home to consummate the marriage, his best man stood watch so that the groom could defile his bride without interference from her concerned family. (The groom carries the bride over the threshold of the bedroom not as a chivalrous gesture, but because she was often terrified and unwilling to go voluntarily.)

When a marriage was agreed to by a bride’s father, it was customary for the groom to give him a precious stone as a part of the dowry, to signal his sincere intent to go through with the marriage. Diamond engagement rings come out of this tradition of men buying and selling women.

All those flowers you absolutely have to shell out thousands for? That’s thanks to the tradition of women walking down the aisle with a bouquet of garlic and herbs to drive away evil spirits.

Tying shoes to the back of the getaway car is a friendly reminder of the days when a bride’s father took her shoes away on her wedding day and gave them to the groom. It was a symbol of the transfer of power: Now she answers to her husband. It sends a convenient second message: She can’t run away. They took her shoes.

Blatant misogyny aside, the “traditional” American wedding – the one that averages $26,000 today – didn’t exist until the mid-1800s. A growing American middle class saw Queen Victoria marry Prince Albert in a stunning white satin gown, and an entire industry cropped up around weddings, with a new breed of professional cranking out cookie-cutter special days for hefty fees.

After the social upheaval of the 1960s, some ‘70s brides opted for alternative and unique weddings, but Princess Di’s fairytale wedding in 1981 put a quick kibosh on that. We went straight back to whitewashed extravagance.

Weddings by Mark Zuckerberg

In a questionable economy, with soaring credit card debt and stagnant real estate values, most couples don’t have $26,000 – or even really $5000 – to put toward a wedding. But they go into debt to do it.

Why?

Because it’s a very important tradition that everybody does.

The Zuckerbergs – who could have hosted their ceremony on the White House lawn and their reception on the moon and then served bars of gold alongside the surf and turf – chose a simple wedding that focused on their unity as a couple, their respect for one another, and on the support of their inner circle of friends.

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  1. Re-shaping the American wedding? Lots of people get married this way. Just because he’s a billionaire doesn’t make the idea unique.

  2. TMZ is redonculous! I love that her ring is “SIMPLE!”. I was never interested in a ring with so much crust on it that you I’d have to take it off every 5 seconds. Plus it has to go with everything you wear for the rest of your life! THAT’S a big commitment;) I’m also a fan of interesting rings, and combinations. (I have a classic engagement ring paired with a black band, and I love it:)

  3. I couldn’t agree more with this article! Weddings in America and elsewhere have become SO much more about, well, the wedding rather than the marriage. Aamir Khan (a famous Indian actor) just wrote a great article on the exact same thing- as he says “It’s your entire life — not just an event” :)http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/article3439626.ece

  4. Her “off the rack” dress is a Claire Pettibone and costs around $4,700. While not an INSANE amount that some brides pay, it’s also not within the average cost of $800. They had handcrafted chocolate mice. Individual sculpted chocolate for each guest isn’t a price saver over a cake. Also, it was at his 5,617-square-foot 7 million dollar home. So ya, it’s easy to fit 100 people in the backyard.

    Engagement rings date back to the Egyptians, and the diamond is also said to be from the Archduke of Austria. Flowers were also worn and carried because people didn’t bathe all that much so it helped the situation. Traditions come from many places for different cultures.

    Back to the Zuckerberg’s wedding. While it wasn’t a crazy over the top wedding, it still cost a pretty penny. Weddings are different for everyone. I went to a wedding of 500+ people. The groom was friends with everyone, and being Italian, the family took up a chunk of that as well. It was fun and everyone felt like they were there to support the couple. Was the food stellar? No. But they saved where they could to have a large venue and all the people they loved. She didn’t have a 5,000 gown, or custom chocolate, but they did invite everyone they cared about and wanted to share the day with. Like everyone said above, traditions and weddings can mean a lot to people, and just because the Zucks did it in their backyard doesn’t mean it’s the “better” way to show their love for each other!

  5. I get where this article is coming from, and I do agree that many people go overboard with weddings to the point where they no longer even enjoy the process or the day, but I think it comes off as slightly shaming anyone who likes tradition and acts like traditions cannot change meaning. Remember, that precious jewel is no longer given to the father- it’s given to the woman. And do we really think that having a best man still means he’s just there to make sure no one rescues the bride from a terrible fate? Obviously not. A couple should have a wedding that makes them happy. If that means a small, backyard wedding with a buffet from your favorite local restaurant, that’s great. But if it means a grand ballroom with a specialty cake and a menu you spent months planning, that shouldn’t be frowned upon. It’s a special day, so why not have it in a special location, with special food, special decorations, etc? I don’t think we should judge people for that. Plus, we need to remember that wanting to avoid the media was surely a factor in Zuckerberg and Chan’s decision. As long as the wedding is a celebration of the love a couple has together and is the type of celebration they want, that’s all that should matter.

  6. That wedding photo looks a little bit like the famous painting American Gothic.

    “It sends a convenient second message: She can’t run away. They took her shoes.” – but now we’ve got the bare foot running trend sooo….

  7. Good for them. The wedding industry has gotten out of control. Time to reel it back in and focus on what’s important: the people, not the lavish decor. IMHO the bigger the wedding the shorter the marriage…

  8. I gave a talk about a year ago on how Facebook advertising increases the pressure on single women to buy into the extravagant wedding-industrial complex. I’m delighted that these newlyweds (who have pretty much been married for years anyway) decided to wholeheartedly reject that nonsense.

    My only objection to your article is that you credit Zuckerberg with that rejection. But the reality is that Ms. Chan is just as praiseworthy. For one thing, she loved him before he’d made a cent on Facebook. For another, I doubt she’d have gone for the backyard ceremony if she wasn’t equally committed to keeping it simple.

    In any case, they really do make a lovely couple. :-)

  9. Umm. My husband and I had a surprise wedding on 5/5 (that cost less than $3K) so Mark Zuckerberg is hardly a trailblazer in that arena. So if you ignore the fact that couples are spending much less on weddings as stated in the comments above (as well as wanting to be more fun than stuffy), then, yeah, I’d agree with you on Zuckerberg changing the face of the wedding industry. =)

    Anonymous | 5/24/2012 02:05 pm
    • Congratulations on your wedding! It’s true that a simple wedding is hardly revolutionary when everyday people like you and I do it. But it is revolutionary when someone whose net worth is in the tens of billions does it – they could have been insanely extravagant, but they weren’t. And that’s mega classy. :-)

  10. Now would be the perfect time to introduce you to the blog I indulge in… Other peoples weddings make me so happy!

    http://offbeatbride.com/

    xxx

    • Yet another site I came across during research. I totally got lost in it. Great stuff.

      Sasha Pasulka | 5/24/2012 02:05 pm
  11. It’s just a shame he didn’t use the new Facebook app, Weduary.com, to create his wedding site. What a perfect solution that would have been for him! :)

    • Brit — too funny, I came across your site (and your FAB promo video!) while researching this piece. Definitely a much-needed product you’re building out!

      Sasha Pasulka | 5/24/2012 02:05 pm
  12. with all due respect to the article and author, not everyone wants a simple wedding. I’m getting married in October and I have a very large Italian family. It would have killed my father if I had a simple backyard wedding. It’s just tradition. My fiance and I wanted to elope, but if this makes our families happy that’s fine, at the end of the day we’ll still be married.

    • I don’t think she’s insulting big weddings, but pointing out that there is a bias. Lots of people do have small weddings, and people do tend to get on your case about it. We didn’t go to city hall, because it was cheap but because we aren’t good at standing in front of a crowd PDA-ing it up;) We had a garden party in my Mom’s yard and a camp out. It was amazing, but there were people that judged, and had comments. I think the point here is that everyone should do what’s right for them, and not feel pushed into something they don’t want. Mark is surrounded by people all day who are there for money, good for him for finding a way to celebrate the most important things in life without those people around.

  13. Aside from the secret nature of it, this is exactly the kind of wedding I’ve always wanted. I don’t want a large wedding because I see it as a waste of money that could be better spent on something more permanent (say, a down payment for a house). Also, I don’t feel the need to invite everyone I’ve ever known in my life to watch me get married. My philosophy is, if they don’t know my birthday without checking Facebook first then they shouldn’t be at my wedding.

    That being said, this idea’s been around long before Mark Zuckerberg. My parents had this kind of wedding in 1982; a college roommate had this kind of wedding in 2005; it even was featured in an episode of How I Met Your Mother.

  14. I think it’s a shame that TMZ is announcing disappointment in her ring. How many celebrities with gigantic rings break up in less than a year?

  15. It’s interesting to see it this way, but I don’t think it’s the case. A lot more people have been spending less on weddings in general (that I know) even before the recession hit. My husband and I got married a month ago and we spend a grand total of 3000, which isn’t pocket money but it’s also not absurd. I think more people are realizing that a wedding is a celebration of a couple and not just some party where you can “show off” to your friends.

  16. so nice :)

  17. <3 in the truest of meanings.