Why it's totally okay to plan a wedding your way… even when you're told otherwise

September 28 | Guest post by Andrea Wrobel  
Photos by: Jeremy Ashley
Once upon a time in a beautiful forest...
Thanks to Christie for uploading this to the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool | Photo by Jeremy Ashley

So I'm engaged… and I'm getting married in 612 days.

I never thought I'd ever say that out loud to anyone, let alone type it down and stare at it. There's no quick explanation on why I never thought I'd get married. For a long laundry list of reasons, I just didn't want to. I never thought about what my wedding would look like. I never wanted to be a "bride," however I defined it. I could never picture it. The white dress… I still can't. My wedding just didn't exist in my head. And then I met my partner Brian.

One of the first things Brian said to me when I asked them to marry me was that they'd always wanted to get married but never thought they would. We are both fiercely independent people who have spent a lot of time in relationships with people who didn't quite get us. We're artists who even our families don't completely understand, and we have very particular ideas about our lives and how we navigate them; choices that our families simultaneously wish we'd give up for desk jobs and succeeded at stardom beyond their expectations (neither of which we'll ever promise them).

Of creating a safe and loving space with someone else, instead of doing it all alone. This is what marriage means to me.

But meeting this person who mirrors my values and lifestyle, accepts, listens, and supports my beliefs, and struggles with minimalism, vegetarianism, speciesism, ageism, wicca… it allowed me to reconsider the quiet fantasy of having a family with another adult. Of creating a safe and loving space with someone else, instead of doing it all alone. This is what marriage means to me.

When I asked Brian to marry me, we were on Toronto Island, staring out at the city skyline reading poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and listening to the Lake Ontario waters lap up on the beach. Tranquil and quiet energy swirled around us. Given the rush of living in a city of over five million, it brought a calm strangeness to know that no one was around.

When Brian agreed to spend their life with me, we both put on our matching walnut and birch rings. I wanted to create something earthy for us, something handmade and full of positive light. I had the words "I believe in you" inscribed inside both rings, mostly for those dark moments when we'd find ourselves looking for nothing but a sad song and box of donuts to soothe our souls. It's worked a few times, already.

Our quiet serenity on that beach on Toronto island slipped away from me so fast, I went looking for it in all the wrong places.

In all the perfection that this was for us, I didn't expect the whirlwind that would come — the questions, assumptions, unsolicited advice, and all the "good things" that go along with an engagement in two large and loving families. Our quiet serenity on that beach on Toronto island slipped away from me so fast, I went looking for it in all the wrong places. I went looking for it in supposed-to's:

  • "Woah, you're BOTH wearing rings?" Wait — are we not supposed to? I wanted to be part of this engagement too…
  • "You don't have a date set? I don't think you want to have a very long engagement, right?" Huh? We don't? How long is an engagement supposed to be?
  • "You'll consider our church, right? You really want to have a classy wedding." Are we supposed to want that? Can't it be calm and fun and meditative and outside and still be classy?
  • "Am I going to be in your wedding party?"
  • "Are you going to have kids?"
  • "Do you want to have it at our beach house?"
  • "Can my child be your flower bearer?"
  • "Are you going to get real wedding rings?"

We agreed on one reply: "We haven't talked about it yet, but when we do, we will let you know."

After many tears from pressure I couldn't calculate, Brian and I agreed on one reply: "We haven't talked about it yet, but when we do, we will let you know."

At our first wedding planning meeting, we agreed that we didn't want most of what people thought we would want for our wedding. We made a list of words to describe what it would feel like: natural, outdoors, sustainable, welcoming, homey, spiritual, inclusive, artistic…

We decided that it would be outside and probably in the woods because that's where we feel the most at home. We decided it would be on Sunday because Mercury isn't in retrograde, the moon is waxing, and our first full day of marriage would be on the anniversary of the day we met (and also a full moon!).

We decided that we'd continue to be partners, or Andrea and Brian, because binaries like bride and groom are just not for us. I decided that I wouldn't be wearing white, and Brian decided that they wouldn't wear a tux. We decided that we'd have a wedding party and that we wouldn't have "sides." We decided that we would make each decision for a reason, and we'd discuss each reason to ensure it's the right one, and that we could explain it to our questioning relatives.

I never thought for a second about my wedding, I only thought of support my partner's dreams of having a wedding and a marriage. In the process I've learned to define those things for myself, too. And like most things we do, we want to use our wedding as a conversation starter: this is why we're "partners," this is why we chose handmade rings, this is why…

Getting engaged has taught me that I feel an unrelenting pressure to please…

Getting engaged has taught me that I feel an unrelenting pressure to please; that this need is often the root of my many anxiety attacks.

It's reminded me of my values, hopes, and first loves. It's reminded me that we don't need a lot to feel loved, that harmony, for us, comes from the earth, and that Brian and I can do this together, whatever way we want.

"Brian wants to get married in a circle," I told my cousin. "To me that's odd," she laughed, "But the thing is, Andrea, no one would question it. It's very… you."

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  1. This is an interesting topic for me as I too am getting married next year and have gone for a non-traditional type wedding, much to the delight (sarcasm) of my family! My fiance and I are in no way traditional and wanted something totally different to your normal churchy wedding so we decided to get married in Las Vegas. We have been called selfish for wanting to get married abroad and "how on earth can anyone afford to go" and "why don't you get married here and celebrate in Vegas" remarks. We also wanted to go for a Sten Do (joint stag and hen) so that everyone can come together and celebrate our wedding together with some really fun activities. This was very much so frowned upon, more so from my older sister, who is married and has a family and had the wedding that she wanted. She has had her way for so long that I think there may have been a little element of jealousy there but we have stuck to her guns and will be getting married and will have our fun Sten do, without the negative energies in our lives.

    2 agree
    • Thanks for reading and sharing your experience Tracey! Love the idea of a Sten Do, and it sounds like something Brian and I would love to do together, too. Hope your sister comes around, I'm sure she'd have a great time at the Sten Do 🙂

    • My brother and sis-in-law had a Sten Do (the boys had whiskey and dinner at one bar, the gals had wine and dinner at a restaurant, and then we all came together for epic karaoke). It was fantastic good fun, and better than every bachelorette/hen party I've ever been to. Stick to your guns and do what makes you happy- the naysayers may just be surprised that it makes them happy, too. 🙂

  2. YES I have perfected the "We haven't even discussed it" response. However, I use it less as a total deflection tactic and more as a roundabout way to say "Hey, this thing that is apparently Very Important to you about weddings is not important to us or our wedding."

    1 agrees
    • Yeah, it's funny to me how many opinions there can be. When they're not totally overwhelming to me, I find they help us make decisions because, if we're instinctually opposed or our first response is "no thanks!" to an idea, it means it's not 'us' and that we best not plan that!

  3. The pressure about what weddings "should" be is insane! We are a slightly offbeat couple who had a slightly offbeat wedding, and it was crazy how much pressure I got (lets be real, my husband barely got any). I had my choices questioned, I was told I was spending too much, too little, I cared too much about it, too little, that I shouldn't be so offbeat, and my favorite which I got a lot; that I shouldn't be so traditional. It's insane! I got to the point where I stopped telling my SIL anything since she would question everything in a tone I took as criticism (I've now learned that she didn't mean it that way, WITH EXCEPTION of her criticism of my ribbon and candy bouquets, she just has no filter or tack to say that she has different tastes than mine). It seems that even if you're an offbeat couple, they expect you to have a really normal wedding (or a REALLY offbeat wedding), and don't understand that it's not going to happen. The biggest rule of thumb I learned is to just not tell certain people things about the wedding, I mean really they just need to know when to show up and potentially what to wear. However at the same time I got a lot of great tips and insight from especially married friends, so also don't shy away from talking about it. You learn pretty fast who's going to be critical and who's going to be supportive (I found engaged couples to be THE WORST for criticizing other weddings, and newly married couples to be the best lol). Another thing which will help is to not criticize "normal" weddings. It just makes people defensive and want to argue that they did what was best. Saying "we like the mix-matched look for outfits" rather than "I hate when brides make everyone buy the same dress, I refuse to be so tacky" for example. Good luck and happy wedding!

    • Amazing tips, thanks Vaseydaisy! It's really important to be mindful of others experiences, I agree. Sometimes we easily forget when it all seems so overwhelming and critical of our ideas but I definitely agree it's important to realize that no one is really doing it WRONG… we're all different! We have different ideas! And that's okay. 🙂

  4. "One of the first things Brian said to me when I asked them to marry me was that they'd always wanted to get married but never thought they would."

    Who's "they" ?

    2 agree
  5. Thanks for sharing this. As someone recently on the other side of planning and executing an offbeat wedding, I want you to know: you are going to get through this. We had a lot of little (and not so little) discussions about our wedding decisions. From both wearing engagement rings (I proposed, he said yes.) to choosing a new last name together (we adore being "the Kinswood family") people had a lot to say.
    I love love love your "one response" and it will get you through a lot. (We used similar language based on various copy-paste wordings from OBB.) Remember: whatever happens, people will stick with you. Our biggest hurdle was the name change. My family cottoned-on right away. But his dad and paternal aunt were both deeply offended and hurt. (His dad because people would think he was a wimp for not keeping his name. His aunt because I wasn't being "feminist enough" for not keeping mine.) In the end, they both came around and were a loving part of our ceremony.
    So, people may kick and fuss. Let them. It is most important to have a wedding that feels right to you.

    2 agree
    • Thanks so much Celeste! I love this – "Remember: whatever happens, people will stick with you." It hard to remember this sometimes when it feels you're on the verge of offending someone if you don't go with what they think! But we're quite unconventional, I guess, and we forget because that's our "normal."

      Thanks for sharing your experience with your name change. We are going to create our own last name as well. I think our families think we're kidding when we say that but I guess they're realize we're not, eventually! I'll remember your advice when I hear their thoughts on it all. 🙂

  6. This is amazing! I'm getting married in Nov. 2016. I have had the same attitude as you and it seems many others from the comments!! I have anxiety and had to find a healthy way to say, "NO!" and get people to listen. I have done so and feel much more confident in my decisions and actions. I have grown in the process of getting married. We made the wedding about what we wanted out of the wedding because like you said It's a celebration of our love and union. We are combining families, friends, and souls. We hope our celebration we reflect us!!

    • Do you mind sharing the way you found to get people to listen and respect your "No!"? I'm just starting to plan for next year (October-ish) and am already worrying about whether my anxiety will take over and convince me to agree to ideas I'm really not interested in. (I don't want to deal with holding a bouquet, my mom apparently has her heart set on me carrying *something* up the aisle…)

      • I would love to share. I have a ton of stories where I just said "F*** it!!" because people wouldn't stop trying to control the wedding. What it comes down to is that you have to keep the mindset that this is YOUR wedding. Anytime someone tells you that you HAVE to do something. You can politely tell them, "Thank you for the input. I will keep that in mind." Then in your head say, "It isn't about YOU, it's about ME and MY FIANCE!!" If the person continues, you would need to have a sit down with them and tell them how you feel. This has been a hard learning experience for me and I have pushed a few people away in the process because they don't respect me or my feelings, but that is part of life. I have so far fired a bridesmaid, fired a makeup artist and 2 hair stylists, and almost had my dad never talk to me again. I in no way consider myself a bridezilla, but I have grown more confident.

        To the story…My dad wants to walk me down the aisle. I feel that I'm closer to my brother and he should do it since my dad was never there. I made the decision that both my brother and dad would walk me down the aisle. I broke the news to my dad last month. He was very upset and threatened not to come to the wedding or ever talk to me again. I sat down with him and told him that this was his choice. He was making that decision as I had made a decision. I also told him that I would not feel guilty for my decision. I had good reasons to for my decision. He has come around to my side, but he is still upset.

        My fiance's initials spell CAT and Mine will spell HAT. Our guest book is going to be the CAT in the HAT book. My mom hates the idea. For the first few weeks after the idea she kept trying to convince me to change my mind. She even bought a guest book. I told her to return it because I wasn't changing my mind. I explained that is was about us and explained my reason of why we choose this guest book and she has since resigned because it suits us as a couple and makes sense for our wedding.

        MOST of the time when I have talked to the person giving me issues or guilting me, they understand and back off. Sometimes people get pushy and that's when things get ugly. My "Give a S*** Tank" is on empty…and I have just been telling it as it is. I don't want to be pushed around or made to feel guilty when what I want makes sense for US as a couple. At the end of the day it's about Me and my other half. I hope this helps.

        • That "Thanks for the input, I'll keep that in mind" response sounds PERFECT. It'll be awesome to not feel like I have to give a yes or no response right away (because in that situation my tendency would be toward saying "yes" and avoiding conflict), plus give me time to think and talk with the fiance about what we actually want. "This wedding is about me and my fiance" might need to become my mantra for the next year.

          For what it's worth, I think the "Cat in the Hat" guestbook idea is amazing!!

          • I love this conversation Katherine and Holly! Thanks for sharing. I agree, a great approach is to not say yes or no but to thank the person for their suggestion and say you'll consider it. I think people just want to be involved and it's upsetting when you want to be involved in something so badly but the person organizing doesn't like any of your ideas! It doesn't mean they're not liked, just that we want to do it a little differently. Weddings are tough because everyone approaches them in their own way and weddings can mean so many different things to different people. Kudos to you Holly for standing up for yourself in a kind and respectful way. I'm finding it hard but doable! I hope your wedding goes well next month and your planning, Katherine!

      • I don't if this would work with your family/friends but what we did was basically plan everything ourselves, behind closed doors, and then just told people the way it was going to be. If they ask about something you haven't decided on yet you can say "We haven't discussed that yet" then listen to their ideas and take them with a grain of salt. If they ask about something you have decided on and you don't feel like getting into it with them you can say "We've already decided on that and are keeping it a surprise for the day." We also found that listening to opinions and then saying "I'm glad you shared your opinion with me but the decision has been made and we're not changing our minds" usually put an end to the conversation.

        • Yeah, I agree! It's key to let the person know you're listening. People will have so much excitement about your big day that they just want to feel like they're a part of it so giving them the courtesy of listening is important to remember – and sometimes difficult! 🙂

          1 agrees
      • I think the "Thanks for the input, I'll keep that in mind" is a good route to go down, and make a point of noting down the idea and who gave it to you. People will see that you're taking them seriously, and if they bring it up again later you can say "well, we considered it, but we went with this because of price/venue/allergies/time/it was more US." Usually, the people who make one "must have" suggestion make twenty, so you can also say "well, we didn't go with that, but we love your idea for seasonal fruit centrepieces and we'll definitely have those". Sometimes these things come back around too – if your venue doesn't allow the balloons you had your heart set on Great Aunt Petunia's obsession with giant bouquets that you hated the idea of carrying might lead you to a florist who can recreate the balloon atmosphere with the decorations instead

        • I agree Mina!! Acknowledgment is key, out of respect and happiness. You're right that things come back around… Already we've been asked the same questions by the same people or follow up questions by them because – even though 2 months have passed – they're still thinking about it. It's funny how important it is for people to feel involved. We're trying to keep that in mind while still planning a ceremony and celebration that will make us happy.

  7. So much yes! Totally been in your shoes with every damn decision being questioned because it wasn't what "a wedding should be." People have a tendency to not take the next step and think of "Andrea and Brian's wedding" instead of just "a" wedding. Once people arrived and saw what we were doing it made total sense and we got a lot of compliments about how our wedding ended up being so "us" which we found funny because it's like … duh! Who else's wedding would we have had?

    • Yeah haha, it's important to not lose the vision of 'you' in the wedding or else it won't feel right. Be true to yourselves, isn't that what they say!??

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