When your culture is counter-culture: Lovingly explaining your more traditional wedding choices

Guestpost by Rebecca on Jan. 21st

Have you thought about not wearing a veil? You know you can make your own wedding dress. And do you REALLY need both pairs of shoes? In fact, maybe getting married at all is too mainstream! (Photo by Durban Rhame Photography)

My husband and I are from small towns, and we work in corporate offices, so sometimes we seem kind of traditional and conservative. But we're also creative types who make art and like to hang around with others who do, too, so sometimes we seem kind of quirky and unconventional. Sometimes I'm the only person at a reading wearing pantyhose; sometimes I'm the only person in the office who goes to readings.

So we had plenty of people in our lives who were expecting us to get married in their idea of the traditional way — matching bridesmaids, a light touch of religion, and a hyperactive DJ. And we had plenty of people who weren't really expecting us to get married at all, or at least, not have a wedding. Certainly no one was mean to me in the run-up to my wedding, but I did hear some comments and suggestions that made me realize that cultural norms can be very strong even when the culture is the counter-culture.

Despite being very susceptible to suggestions, I did manage to stand firm on how I wanted the wedding to be. Offbeat Bride has some wonderful, "Thank you for your interest but I've already decided" conflict resolution posts that apply to pretty much anything. But here are some specific scenarios if you, like me, find yourself a little bit too onbeat for others' likings.

"Aren't you uncomfortable with the patriarchal implications of a veil/being walked down the aisle/taking his name?"

Sometimes, it's helpful to keep the discussion on the personal level — this isn't about all women everywhere, just about me. When asked, I was happy to say the reason I walked down the aisle with my father is that I knew he was looking forward to it, and he has never treated me like chattel. I believed that there was little chance, in our specific case, of the gesture being misconstrued. However, with more distant friends — folks who weren't actually invited to the wedding — I had to recognize that not everyone knows, or needs to know, the whole story.

Here's a good, very general, answer to the "patriarchy question" that I co-opted from my sister-in-law: Weddings used to be a transfer of a non-voting, non-working, often teenaged female from the custodianship of her father to the custodianship of her husband. So yes, there are things about weddings that seem symbolic of the patriarchy. But since being married in my culture no longer means a wife must "obey" her husband, many of the other woman-unfriendly connotations may have dissolved as well.

"You could make decorations/clothes/accessories yourself, you know."

I should admit that I'm a little touchy about my lack of crafting ability, and I sometimes felt offended by the above statement when I really shouldn't have. Often, what people really meant was, "I can help you make that" or even "I would love to make that for you" and I was eventually able to accept some of these offers gratefully.

Still, there were times when I'd chosen to do without something, or to purchase it off-the-shelf, for a reason. Mainly, I didn't want the wedding to be a huge project that would divert everyone's energies into work as opposed to celebration — and that's exactly what I told people. I do sometimes enjoy crafts, but in the end there were showers and a bachelorette, and I have limited free time. I wanted to have fun and celebrate my wedding, not fret at how much I suck with hot-glue, or how guilty I felt offloading the hot-glue onto friends.

"Why would you waste all that money on one day?"

I heard this one a lot and I do get it — money's tight for a lot of people these days, and when you don't have enough, it can sting to see someone spending a lot on something you think unnecessary. I'm a big fan of potluck weddings, breakfast weddings, picnic weddings, and myriad lower-cost options, but there were reasons why they weren't right for us. We ended up saving up and having a sit-down dinner and dance, complete with open bar. It was a lot of money, but people had a fantastic time, and so did we.

Around a month before the wedding, my husband lost his job and I got my good answer to this question — feel free to tweak it for yourself. "Even with much less financial leeway, I realized we still were really happy with all the wedding plans. We didn't spend money on anything that wasn't important to us. That's when I knew we'd made the right choices for us."

"Why would you want to get the government involved in your relationship?"

Argh. This is such a loaded question, and I had to really think it through. First of all, you don't owe anyone an explanation, but I found I felt calmer if I had one in my head. I realized that although our love is private and personal, our relationship is part of a community much larger than just the two of us, and we wanted to formally commit not just to each other but to each other's families and friends and world.

I was also very happy to be joining an institution that had done well by a lot of people in our lives. Both his parents and mine have been happily married for 40 years, and his siblings and many of our friends are in wonderful marriages that inspire us with their kindness and generosity and love. Among our community, marriage is a large and convivial team, one we wanted to join.

Ultimately, I don't think folks necessarily want to know what you're thinking so much as that you are thinking — that you're not just following tradition blindly. That's a good thing for any bride or groom to know, actually. Marriage can mean so many different things, it's worth considering what it actually means to you.