Proms, graduation parties, weddings: Do these rites of passage still signal the way our culture celebrates life's significant moments?
Or have the events associated with such occasions become an increasingly contorted way of assessing, judging and competing with those closest to us?
Have we stopped inviting guests, for example, and started inviting backers?
It seems as if both sacred and secular rituals have been reduced to an excuse for spending months on Facebook, StumbleUpon and Pinterest to see how strangers are being unique so that their original ideas can be pilfered.
Call me sentimental, but I don't think "Kickstart" and "honeymoon" should ever appear together in the same sentence.
Linking "crowdfunding" and "baby shower" is even worse.
Sure, gifts have always been associated with festivities, but at least at an Italian wedding, the bride and groom had to go around to every table with her holding the little satin purse if they collected money.
It was more personal. It was tradition. It was extortion, but you actually got to talk with the happy couple and besides, there was a Viennese Table.
Have we swapped praise for appraisal and substituted moneymaking for merrymaking?
I don't regard it a sign of burgeoning adult independence for the new graduate to inform his or her relatives that cash is preferable to gifts. Now is not the time pass the hat or the mortarboard. Say "thanks for sitting through the graduation ceremony without passing out" and mean it. An education is not a game show. You don't get a monetary prize for answering questions correctly.
Is form replacing function? Have we become so focused on compliance and competition that every party becomes a pageant complete with tiaras and some poor soul who ends up in tears?
I just saw advertised a clingy, hand-beaded prom dress that would make any young person wearing it look a candidate for the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The dress cost more than $700. For that price, you could send the kid to Paris.
For many of us, proms were less Walt Disney's "Cinderella" and more Stephen King's "Carrie." The less we spent on them, the better.
I'm not joking: Spending less on every kind of party might ensure a better outcome. According to a study reported last year by two economists from Emory University, Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, the length and strength of a marriage is "inversely associated with spending" on wedding ceremony.
The less you spend, the longer you stay together.
Makes you want say "no" to the dress, doesn't it?
Here's where it gets tricky: A friend's daughter recently got engaged and he's worried about paying for the kind of wedding she's dreamed about since she was a little girl.
So determined is this devoted father to provide his only child with the day of her dreams, he's considering a second mortgage on the family house. His wife and his daughter think it's a great idea.
The only one who doesn't agree is his future-son-law; his sanity gives me hope. His reluctance to place his in-laws' financial security in jeopardy so that some old pals from college can belly up to an open bar indicates both perspective and wisdom.
After all, the test of a wedding isn't in the event itself, it's in the happiness of marriage that follows it.
Preparation and pressure don't guarantee perfection any more than a steep price tag attached to an event guarantees the participants will be grateful, enjoy themselves or offer their sincere wishes to whoever is at the heart of the party.
Here's to those who want their friends and family to make a day memorable through their true generosity, flinging open the doors wide and saying, "Celebrate this with us! Haven't we been fortunate to have a measure of success, a taste of love, a chance to use our talents and cross a new threshold! Here's to raising a glass and breaking bread, to marking a day as magnificent because we have the privilege of being part of this cherished community. Authentic joy is always increased when it's shared. There's no better way to say 'to life' than to cheer the living of it."
And you don't need a pricey dress, a rented suit or PayPal account to make that work.
The Hartford Courant