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For Asians, it's no more 'Til death do us part'

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, fewer couples are registering for the Sacrament of Matrimony in parishes
A couple march past a ‘LOVE’ decoration during a mass wedding as part of Valentine's Day celebrations in Philippine capital Manila on Feb. 14, 2019

A couple march past a ‘LOVE’ decoration during a mass wedding as part of Valentine's Day celebrations in Philippine capital Manila on Feb. 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 24, 2022 03:43 AM GMT
Updated: November 16, 2022 11:56 AM GMT

The ancient Romans waited until the end of May, the festival of the goddess of chastity, for marriages. On the first day of June, they would go to the streets and celebrate in honor of Juno, wife of Jupiter and the goddess of marriage and childbirth.

That's how the “June bride” concept came to be, continued through Victorian times, and evolved into the Western idea of fashion weddings. Also in June, the most gorgeous flowers were in bloom and the custom of carrying a bouquet down the aisle began.

All year round, one gets to read in the life and leisure sections of the dailies “marriage trends” or “Til death do us part” ads. What those ads actually mean is to promote new trends in wedding venues, ring, and dresses, which leads me to differentiate a marriage from a wedding.

In the Asian context, a wedding is a ritual or ceremony of getting married, while a marriage is a lifelong human institution that starts on the wedding day. Thus, it is right to invite guests for a wedding but incorrect to have them for the marriage.

My old grey matter tells me that the wedding ads today just create an emotionally satisfying romantic image of marriage, even in the absence of love and romance.

When you see a “model couple” or a couple who are models posing for a lips-to-lips kiss shot, or the groom dressed in formal attire lifting the bride in an immaculate white bridal gown in his arms, what you see is a wedding trend, not a marriage.

It's not great enough because the sad truth remains that the solemn marriage between two people in love is changing, and the number of couples who enter into a lifetime commitment is decreasing

When you see a photograph of an Asian bride in an immaculate white bridal gown and veil, promoted as symbolizing a fresh beginning of blissful marriage and family life, it is most likely a visualization of a Western mass-produced commodity marketed for a blast.

After monitoring several online shopping aggregators and collating data on Google searches using Google Keyword Planner, look what I discovered. First, Filipinos were the most interested in weddings in Southeast Asia in the post-pandemic period.

Second, Filipinos did the most searches on all wedding-related keywords, followed by Singaporeans, Hong Kongers, Malaysians, Thais and Indonesians.

And third, the number of Google searches among Southeast Asians for wedding-related keywords has increased. Among the most searched keywords today are “bridal dresses,” “engagement and wedding rings” and “wedding venues.” We are talking here of searches reaching 10 million in 2021 among Filipino couples alone.

Does it mean that Southeast Asians, particularly Filipinos, are getting more romantic, genuinely falling in love, or taking the marital vow of “Til death do us part” more seriously? We have no reason to believe so. One thing is sure, though: the marketing designs and ads for fashion trends on weddings are doing great, but not great enough.

It's not great enough because the sad truth remains that the solemn marriage between two people in love is changing, and the number of couples who enter into a lifetime commitment is decreasing.

The mean age of marriage in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and in many urban centers of the rest of Asia has risen sharply in the past 10 years, published data shows.

The number of working and professional women seeking careers has increased and this factor somehow alters the traditional marriage patterns.

Asians have traditionally regarded the wedding event as a form of permanent bonding of families rather than individuals, partially rooted in the cultural traditions of Asian communities

More Asian women are postponing getting hitched until they are 30 because to be married and working at the same time is a real challenge, say, in Japan. In particular, women, even those fully employed, are traditionally the caregivers of their children and aging parents.

Are they getting more pragmatic or wiser? Do Asian women today get to understand that the glamor of “fashion weddings” is poles apart from the realities of the lifetime covenant called marriage?

Do people of the new millennium, specifically the youth, now see that the prenuptial shots of the carefully made-up bride, expertly handled by a fashion wedding specialist, albeit getting more attention than the solemn exchange of marital vows, are just a ploy of “fashion weddings”?

So, what happens now to Mignon McLaughlin’s aphorism that “a successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person” when people are not marrying at all?

Traditional marriages indeed are in transition. In the predominantly Catholic nation of the Philippines, fewer couples register for the Sacrament of Matrimony in parishes. You would notice that the rates of those who freely enter this marriage covenant — characterized by monogamy and a lifetime commitment between two heterosexual partners — are falling.

Live-in partnerships are becoming commonplace and one can easily find heterosexual couples who, under one roof, have been happily together for many years, though they remain unmarried.

Indeed, the glamor of “fashion weddings” and the falling rates of traditional marriages pose a ginormous pastoral challenge for the Philippine Church, historically known as the bastion of Christianity in the Far East.

* Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano is the author of ‘The Signs of the Times and the Social Doctrine of the Church’ (Salesiana, 1991) and ‘The Church can Handle the Truth’ (Claretian, 2017). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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