Dawn of the Dh8m wedding: how egos trump love in UAE's modern marriages

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It’s not hard to see why more and more young Emirati men are being put off marriage – wedding costs are spiralling into the millions of dirhams.

One young, eligible, bachelor I interviewed recently told me he daren't consider marriage, as he could not bear the debt. Another, who spent much of his fortune on a lavish wedding, divorced his wife after six months citing her unreasonable (and expensive) demands.

Both of these young men might have taken some heart in this week’s Friday sermon, which urged Muslims not to spend excessively on their nuptials, advising that modest celebrations were more likely to lead to family stability.

The Prophet Mohammed said that when a man gives his future wife a dowry he should be able to afford that amount, and that he should provide it out of love.

Yet I suspect many dowries nowadays are less about love and more about men showing off their wealth.

A contemporary of mine recently received a dowry of Dh250,000, dwarfing the amount paid to her cousins, and backing up my suspicion that the average dowry has doubled in the past five years.

The dowry system requires a husband to pay his future wife, and the richer he is, the more he pays. Some people assume the amount reflects how worthy the future wife is – yet the increases I have noticed cannot be because today’s women are more worthy than their predecessors. Rather, egos are stoking inflation.

If dowries have doubled in cost, weddings have tripled.

The wedding of the girl above cost Dh8 million, while even a modest ceremony nowadays is in the Dh1-2m range.

Why so pricey?

It’s in part due to a trend in having more than one special day.

First there are the pre-events; the engagement party and the “melcha”, when the bride and groom sign the wedding contract. Then there is the event itself – the wedding “fever”, which takes place over a hectic period of three or four days.

Sometimes there is one day when the bride appears in white and another day when she dresses traditionally with henna applied to her hands and feet. Another popular day – a “meksar” – involves the bride’s family viewing their daughter’s new clothes.

Yet more days are optional, depending on the family.

With so many days, costs mount quickly – and that’s before the bling comes in.

Let’s say as a bride I want a simple dress for my big day. Most designers demand Dh60,000 just for the cut. Perhaps I want to add some lace? That’s another Dh50,000. Now, let’s try adding some crystals. Another Dh80,000.

Already, my dress alone has cost almost Dh200,000, the price of a decent car, and this is before the venue for the multiple days, the catering and the many dresses and matching jewellery all the women must wear are taken into account.

Put like this, it’s easy to see how that family ended up paying Dh8 million.

Perhaps women could learn from the men, who have just one day where they all meet up, dance and eat, in a far less extravagant fashion.

After all, what purpose does an expensive wedding serve?

Long ago, weddings were far more low-key. The bride would get ready at her father’s house, put on a necklace and apply henna before walking over to the home of her husband-to-be.

No fuss about the dress or the cost.

Of course, even then, rich families would have bigger budgets, but the point of the celebrations – for rich or poor – was to show a family’s happiness, rather than how much was in their bank.

That is not the case nowadays, where for many the wedding is a competition eclipsing the marriage itself.

But while many use weddings to show off their well, the painful truth is that many who show off are not well off. Desperate to outdo their neighbours many people overstretch themselves, and countless couples begin married life in large amounts of debt.

Not a great start.

One of my friends has a brother who is already regretting his engagement on the grounds of how much it is costing him. Not only must he pay for an extravagant ceremony, the bride's family expect him to buy a new home.

Personally, I see no point in embarking on a new life with a man who is up to his eyeballs in debt because he felt the need to provide me with a few moments of glamour.

And if I could see the point, what would that say about my marriage?

I expect it would say that sooner or later, it would be headed for ruin.