On the new Netflix reality series Marriage Or Mortgage, engaged couples choose between throwing their dream wedding or buying a Nashville starter home. First, wedding planner Sarah Miller walks them through their dream venues, gets food from their dream late-night food trucks, and sometimes even takes them shopping for their dream dresses. Then, real estate agent Nichole Holmes shows them houses they could buy for roughly the same cost as their wedding (around $25K), usually always a little farther out of town than they hoped or with slightly older appliances.
The hosts make the show work by relentlessly scoring discounts for their clients and by never disparaging the other option. Miller doesn’t judge the couples for spending money on a wedding instead of a long-term asset, and Holmes won’t call them boring for foregoing a giant party in order to put down roots. To them, new houses and big days are just different varieties of a new chapter. The house is an investment in the future; the wedding is a celebration of right now.
Still, the compromise is a depressing one. How did we get so comfortable with the notion that a couple can only reasonably afford a house or a wedding that we’ve made a full show about the trade off? Even the option contestants choose often requires concessions. Though some do find or build their “forever” homes, others realize that what they’ve saved isn’t enough to support the life they imagined. It’s not simply a matter of marriage or mortgage, but indulgence or sacrifice: live in a “good enough” house until you have enough money to climb the next rung of the property ladder, or splurge now on a wedding that lives up to the fantasy.
The couples themselves are lovely and diverse, and it’s hard not to wish them all their hearts’ desire knowing full well that they can’t afford it. Netflix has yet to announce if Marriage or Mortgage will return for a second season, and though Holmes recently told PureWow that she’s hopeful, the coronavirus pandemic will inevitably worsen contestants’ circumstances if it does. The show, of course, will remain reliably optimistic. The houses won’t get smaller, but cozier; the weddings will be more intimate. Whatever the circumstances, new chapters must begin.