Offbeat Bride + Traditional Groom = ?!?

Original photo by Flickr user owenstache. Altered by Creative Commons License
I finished Offbeat Bride in just two sittings because I just couldn't put it down.

My only disappointment was that there weren't any suggestions on how to handle being an offbeat bride with a traditional groom.

How do you have an offbeat wedding without crossing the line?

How to have a traditional ceremony that won't make me feel like I'm at someone else's wedding? -Becky

Becky, this is a great question, and absolutely a topic that should have been in the book! I lucked out by having a groom whose wedding visions were as hallucinogenic as mine, but your situation is infinitely more common — just because two people are engaged doesn't mean they're somehow a brain-unit with matching Christmas sweaters and 100% aligned opinions.

There are some general conflict mediation issues that I touch on in my book that you could use when negotiating with a traditional groom (ie, the "Why instead of No technique") but compromising with your fiance is certainly different than dealing with a family member.

First of all, take a moment to appreciate your fiance having opinions about the wedding and wanting to be involved in the planning process. It's weird how, even in offbeat wedding planning, there's this sadly stereotypical gender divide. All too often, grooms just resign themselves to whatever their bride wants ("…it's her special daaay…"), and while that's sort of awesome in a fucked up way (who doesn't like getting what she wants?) from a gender-egalitarian perspective it's really a blessing that your fiance is invested in the planning of the wedding.

My advice would be to do a writing exercise where each of you sit down and brainstorm separately about what you want from your wedding. What are your three deal-breakers, the things you really REALLY want to have at your wedding? Don't focus on things you don't want — that can be a recipe for conflict. It's always more useful to be proactive instead of reactive. What three things do you really REALLY want at your offbeat wedding? And what three things does he really REALLY want at his more traditional wedding?

What are your three deal-breakers, the things you really REALLY want to have at your wedding? Don't focus on things you don't want — that can be a recipe for conflict. It's always more useful to be proactive instead of reactive.

Once you've each got your lists together, you can come to the negotiation table and see how things line up. If you're really lucky, the deal-breakers aren't mutually exclusive — i.e. he wants to have readings from Corinthians and you want your father to do a reading. That's easy: have your father read from Corinthians. But more likely there will be a few head-butting differences, i.e. he wants to be in a church and you want to be outside; he wants to have groomsmen and you want to stand alone. This is where you can get into some negotiations, ie, making sure each of you have at least two of your deal-breakers represented in the wedding.

I realize this sounds ridiculously over-structured and formalized, but I think it can be really helpful to have tools like this when you're talking over your plans and priorities. By having these deal-breaker items, you'll hopefully be able to stand at your wedding and look around and see a few of the things that are really important to you, knowing that you compromised on certain aspects, but that your deal-breakers are accounted for. Good luck!

  1. Thank you so much! This is the wonderful advice I was looking for. I knew cooperation was the key, I just didn't know the best method. Thank you for helping me feel like we both have a chance to have the wedding of our dreams.

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  2. I second the advice on this article! I also promote this "the things you really REALLY want" mindset in the article I had written in 2005 called, "Forget the Countdown and Think What's Relevant"

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  3. As a male, I've found the non-traditional elements my wife-to-be has planned to be very liberating. As strange as it is to explain, there is a lot of pressure on us guys to "not care", which means pretend to have no opinions and default to traditions. What started as an offhand comment about how I can't stand Wagner's wedding march turned out to be the impetus for really communicating and making the ceremony our own. Now I don't feel like I'll be playing the part of a trained monkey in a suit and I'm looking forward to it!

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  4. I think you just need to get your groom more involved in the wedding process. If he's a traditional groom, he's not going to get involved regardless if you are offbeat! Anyway, I'm getting married – I'm pretty traditional but my fiancee – not so much. We're compromising – we're doing an adventure honeymoon instead. check out groomgroove.com – it helped me get involved. p.

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  5. Yeah, but…what if he wants a religious ceremony and I'm a raging anti-jesus atheist? My boyfriend and I are at the point where we don't even want a ceremony b/c we can't compromise on that…

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    • I don't know if this might help but my Grandfather who officiated our wedding actually handed me the papers he reads from and his gift to me was that I got the chance to re-write the entire ceremony. I'm not big on religious Jesus, God, Almighty-every-other-word kind of weddings so I re-wrote the whole thing in a tasteful and charming manner that included traditional wedding exchanges, but never mentioned God once. I even threw in a handfasting ceremony that both of my grandmothers (one is a die-hard southern babptist) were super-excited in participating.

      Is there any chance you can compromise with an officiant to make your own wedding ceremony with an equal amount of religious and non-religious readings? My handfasting ceremony featured the "cord of three stands is not easily broken" bible reading…like you can include not just beautiful literary pieces, but religious quotes from proverbs or Song of Psalms. Our vows were my favorite mirrored poems of "The passionate Shepard to his love" and "The Nymph's reply to the Shepard" I really hope this helps maybe!

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      • I'm really curious about your choice of those poems. I love them, too, buthe nymph is telling the Shepherd she can't be with him. How did you incorporate those into your wedding vows?

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    • I was in a slightly different situation (both of us athiest/agnostic, but with some important family members who are religious), but perhaps our solution could work for you. What we did was to take a very traditional wedding service (Book of Common Prayer) and just delete every reference to a deity or religion. We also had our service performed by a Unitarian Universalist minister. Perhaps something like that may work for you guys? Having the nod to religion without actually bringing God into it made everyone happy in our case. If you are interested I'd be happy to e-mail you the text we used.

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      • Ella, your situation sounds a lot like ours. Our wedding is in three weeks, and the touchy question of how to leave religion out of the ceremony while not offending those closest to us has us completely stalled! If you would be willing to share your solution with us, I would be most grateful.

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    • I have a similar issue myself, my husband to be is Catholic, where as I, myself am Buddhist. I've already agreed to do a church ceremony, but suggested I may ask for the "who gives this woman" part to be removed and he's ended up flying off the handle because of it

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    • Tough situation, there. But it's not impossible to navigate. Could you have a civil wedding and a blessing from his priest/pastor/minister?

      My FH's sister got married two years ago in a civil ceremony — which was not completely unlike a Catholic mass ceremony with the readings and candle-lighting so nobody was left in confusion as to what was happening, and everybody was there to support them so it was an awesome atmosphere. FH's eldest sister (a nun, probably the youngest in Ireland) said Grace before we started the meal, and everybody participated or stood respectfully while it was said.

      The important things to remember are that you love eachother and want to be together for the rest of your lives. What and where the ceremony is, is just gravy.

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  6. mj, how about you and your husband each write your own vows? That way, he can include as much god as he wants in his vows to you, and you can be as atheistic as you want in yours.

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  7. I'm having precisely the same issue! My husband to be is quite conservative PLUS I let myself get pushed around by some of my more straitlaced/religious family members, so I'm left with a church ceremony/white wedding dress/150 guest traditional event, and I now have to come up with a way not to feel like I'm planning someone elses wedding, and He's alternating between telling me my ideas are "weird" and that all he wants is for me to have whatever I want,

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    • Thank the others for their input, and then do what you want!

      As for FH, be honest with him. Tell him that you feel this is turning into someone else's wedding and that while what he wants is important, so is what you want. See if you can compromise on some things (be it vows, ceremony style, music, anything that is nightmare fuel for you), and remember why you're getting married in the first place.

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  8. Thanks for this entry! I am in a somewhat similar boat, but would call my fiance more conventional than conservative. I too get the strange looks for many of my ideas!

    He is not comfortable with having unconventional food because his family might not like it, he want there to be an even number of attendants, he was a bit disappointed that I did not want a diamond ring – though he respects my reasoning – etc, etc.

    I find our wedding moving more towards the vanilla, but I think we are finding a comfortable middle ground. I am going to get the dress I want (not a wedding dress), we are having mostly live plants instead of flowers, AND he agreed to at least meet with an awesome flavorful Mediterranean/Greek/Lebanese caterer!

    I have found the best way to convince him is to SHOW him how classy "weird" ideas can look. For example, I had him look around on this site with me. :) While it didn't completely convince him, he had to admit that when an idea is well planned and executed it looks good!

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    • They won't like the food? How will they know if they won't try it?

      My dad is of the won't-eat-anything-I-can't-pronounce mindset. A meal has to have potatoes or it's not a proper dinner. But at the same time, he's surprised us all by sneaking a few bites of a Chinese takeaway – admittedly after a few drinks, but it's still major progress!

      I find that weddings are a perfect time to do something different. And in all honesty, who remembers a boring meat-and-two-veg meal unless it's really bad?

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  9. My husband-to-be is the exact same way. He wants the most traditional wedding, where I just want a party. So we've compromised our way through the enire planning which I actually find great, because we have really made it "ours". For example, he wants me in white…it's just gotta be white. So I got a dress that is white in the front and black in the back. So he's happy, I'm happy. He didn't like the idea I had for the wedding cake so instead of having a "Bride's Cake" and a "Groom's Cake" we are having 1 cake with elements that we both came up with. You may not get the wedding of your dreams, but you will get the wedding of you and your future husband's dreams and that is much more special.

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  10. I have been having similar problems with my soon to be husband, but with us we are both off beat… just in opposite directions. His ideal wedding would have been in a grave yard wearing a cape where as i swing for a 1950's tea party. Luckily we have both been able to compromise on what was really important to us both. Although now he wants us to be married by a priest in traditional robes and the idea just makes me laugh…. HELP!

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  11. Holy crap! I'm not the only one! My fiance is meat-and-potatoes; crispy on the outside but tender and juicy on the inside whereas I'm the goofy fruitbat who wants a craft table and a tattoo-themed wedding cake. He's a little apprehensive when I bring up my ideas, but lets me run with them. I really want our day to be OUR day, and maybe showing him all the great ideas on the website might help. Good suggestion!

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  12. So I searched the first 17 pages of advice to find just this! my fiancee has been married 3 times before with 3 VERY traditional weddings. I don't want a traditional wedding because 1) the simple fact that it's different from the last 3, and 2) i don't agree with the "why" of the traditional stuff (i.e. why does the father walk his daughter down the aisle). Thanks Ariel.

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  13. This is really great article. I suppose many couples have this problem, and it is important to find an agreement. Thanks for posting

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  14. I haven't come across this problem as much as many commenters are describing; however, my fiance does have more conventional tastes than me. What I have found is that explaining why I want certain things really helps. Explaining that the outfit I want is important to represent my personality and make me feel like the wedding is my event, not just a magazine spread I've stepped into, has helped him be cool with the non-conventional look I'm planning. I also came up with the idea to do a handfasting (after seeing it on this site), and at first he was like "What is that? You just tie ropes on your arms? Is that some weird pagan thing? My family is going to laugh at us." But now that I have told him more about the tradition, the symbolism, and showed him some weddings that included handfastings, he actually says he really likes the idea and prefers it over others. I think for some brides-to-be, you will find that if you just talk to your FH about your ideas a little more, he will be more open to them.

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  15. It also might help brides to remind your partners that they're marrying YOU, not some traditional bride. Shouldn't the wedding reflect the person ze fell in love with, in all hir offbeat glory?

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    • Don't forget that in this case, she is also marrying him, not some offbeat groom, and the wedding should also reflect the person you fell in love with, in all his traditional/conservative glory.

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  16. Yeah, my fiance isn't so much conservative as he doesn't want people to think he's a weirdo (although for some reason, he thinks that having someone sing during your ceremony is weird).
    We had a chat the week after getting engaged about each of our top three priorities for the wedding. His were doing as little public speaking as possible/not writing his own vows, the food and the bar; mine were the wedding's overall feel (casual), the photography and the food. Sure, I had to ditch my ideas about individually written tearjerker vows (instead I wrote a set we'll both say), but otherwise, all we had to do was agree on a caterer.
    In exchange for free reign over the rest of the wedding (sans his bar), he's in charge of the honeymoon planning. It all works out. :)

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  17. Thankyou thankyou thankyou!!
    I like the other commenters are having ezactly this problem. You've mede me feel better about the traditional stuff that my partner insists on having in our wedding. All I want is for our wedding NOT to be a carbon copy of every other wedding we have been to – a wedding that truly reflects who we are not just something 'we had to do bacause thats the way its done'.
    I know I have been lucky so far.. we're getting married outside but my partner wanted to get married in a church, we're having a weird and wonderful topsy turvy cake after both of us comprimising and agreeing on a cake style we both liked.
    I must admit though there are some things I have kepts secret from him until the big day (eg my shoes and bouquet) but he loves me and he'll understand and marry me anyway =)

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  18. My love and I are in this situation. We've two months to go and we've each given up things. We're going to do a traditional state ceremony (his), with our own vows and readings (ours), but then I get to nerd up the reception (mine!!!). I originally wanted a Jedi or Harry Potter themed wedding, but hes really big on the whole tux and white dress thing, but with no mention of a higher power. I've snuck in one pagan reading, but it is something I will say, so hes fine with it.
    I tried to throw the "I'm the bride" card around, but it seemed selfish and petty considering we're making vows of equality and love. Also, were it not for his meticulous saving, we'd not have money for the wedding at all.

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  19. There's a lot of good stuff in here! Asking "why" is the best thing. Also, there's usually a way to artfully meld disparate styles.

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  20. This is a great article! My fiance had only been to traditional weddings in the past, and so he had a narrow idea of what a wedding was supposed to be. At the beginning of the process, he accused me of "picking weird stuff just to be weird". Which, honestly, I kind of was. We've since met in the middle. If a traditional element is important to him, I don't try to change his mind just because it's not offbeat. And he is much more open to those offbeat elements that are important to me. For instance, we took all of the "man and wife" stuff out of the traditional wedding script that our pastor gave us. He's slightly more religious than me, but it was really important to both of us not to encourage the "marriage is only for a man and a woman" even in a more traditional setting. At first he didn't want to mess with it, but agreed with me that it didn't sit right with our personal agenda.

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  21. Thank you! It's good to know we aren't the only mish mash pair. Though Chris is more traditional than me he is pretty relaxed, to the point of "hey if it makes you happy and gets us married we're all good" So we have compromised on some things, I'm not getting to roll in the mystery machine but I am getting married in a fort. I guess he loves me cause I'm different so he can't expect me to fit in use because it's wedding o'clock ;)

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  22. WOW! I love these ideas! It's a great way to get both parties involved and see what are the must-haves for each person. You're definitely right that too often than not grooms may wash their hands of responsibility due to gender expectations while brides take this standard as a way to get everything they want without thinking about the other person. I think compromise is crucial in planning a wedding, just like anything else in a healthy relationship.

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  23. Oh I also had an idea/tip that I thought could help.

    To help people on the lists, I would start with both people coming up with a description of what their "ideal" wedding would be like and then deciding/picking what out of that is the most important to have. That way you have an easier time writing your dealbreakers. You've already thought it through and have picked what's a must.

    Plus, maybe you and your partner could share these ideal descriptions with each other to get a feel for what the other person wants rather than just having a "I want this" "NO we can't have that" type of conversation. Just a thought! Hope it helps!

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  24. Our big offbeat vs. traditional issue was he had a vision of a long white dress, and I wanted a short dress in literally any color other than white. If I said, "Ivory?" he insisted, "White!"

    Our compromise was to have a short white dress made, after I showed him the typical price tag for a long dress. I'm planning to dye my dress at some point so I can wear it again!

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