The Happily Ever After Syndrome

A couple named David and Nicole recently made headlines for their "Princess Bride" themed wedding; the bride dressed as Buttercup and the groom as Westley the Dread Pirate Roberts. The guests wore costumes such as the film's story-telling grandfather (who officiated) and the medicine man, Miracle Max.

This fairy tale wedding isn't an anomaly. In 2012, bride Jamie Chandler, 26, and her groom Christopher Chandler, 28, threw a Disney-themed wedding in O'Fallon, MO with Jamie dressed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Eric as her Prince. He proposed in front of Cinderella's castle at Disney World and the bridal party wore Snow White, Tinker Bell, and Sleeping Beauty costumes.

These are just two examples of a new breed of bride who's waiting to be swept off her feet, horse-drawn carriage and all. But in a world where women are dominating the work force, using sperm donors in droves, and marrying later than ever before, why are women throwing such frou-frou nuptials? Chalk it up, in part, to evolution. "I see plenty of female patients who have high-powered careers during the day but in their relationships they want a chivalrous man who can protect them," says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Back in the day, women were drawn to powerful men who could provide and protect the family. And even though we've evolved since the cavemen era, biology is a tough thing to shake. Fast-forward to a childhood reading fairy tales and graduating to rom-coms where couples sail off into the sunset despite seemingly insurmountable odds, the message is clear: Life isn't complete until Prince Charming shows up.

Pop culture plays a role, too. Television shows like The Bachelor (unbelievably in its 16 season) are not just guilty pleasures—they provide blueprints for what relationships are "supposed" to look like. One surprising study conducted at Colorado State University at Pueblo found that 18-25-year-olds watch these types of shows to experience their romantic storyline second-hand. And the over-the-top romantic dates, sticky-sweet gestures, and heightened rose ceremonies have a trickle-down effect on women, even subconsciously. "Weddings are becoming more elaborate and showy," says Alpert. "It's almost become a contest to see who can throw the most romantic wedding of all time. And if yours makes the morning talk show circuit, all the better." One possible reason is that these days, couples tend to pay for their own nuptials. "Often times, what people lack in finances, they compensate for in creativity," says Alpert. "So throwing an ultra-romantic bash may be a couple's way of saying, 'We don't have a lot but we do have true love."

And finally, the popularity of social media—where with one click, you can see everyone's carefully crafted versions of their lives—Marriage proposals! Anniversary dates! Wedding photos!—ups the competition factor, says Alpert. Perceiving other people's lives as perfect may fuel the desire to wear a fluffy white gown and be princess for a day.

Whether or not these couples stay together for the long haul is hard to say. Our advice: Prioritizing your relationship over the wedding is the best way to live happily ever after.