Discarding wedding traditions and getting married on our own terms

Guest post by Kirilee Rae
Illustration photo by Riley Glenn Photography. Coordination of styled shoot by Cillia of Marion Matrimony Events LLC.

With wedding-related emails filling up my inbox, and a to-do list full of “closer-to-the-date” jobs, the topic of matrimony seems to be frequenting my conversations beyond anything I'd previously expected. Unfortunately so do the opinions and expressions of every old dame, whose in-built radar has spotted my engagement ring and the sticky-fingered kid hanging off of it.

And with every questionable-twist of the lip, my matrimony-related-decision-making process comes slightly un-done and I'm left asking myself: are the decisions I'm making about our wedding, which will ultimately be the bunting-draped rocket that launches us into married life, the right ones for us?

Of course, I'm not waxing on about choosing flowers, wine, dresses, etc. (which are of course stupidly important, but I'm sure with enough wine will be less so on the day). I'm talking about the decisions that dictate how much, and what kind of tradition we'll be incorporating into our marriage. This — I know — is the female fiasco that plagues every slightly-inclined-to-call-herself-feminist-thinking bride to ever question the merits of “something blue.”

With the very foundations of what marriage is being passed down in a sugar almond shell, it's up to every woman to decide just what exactly she'll take from the woman before her, and what she'll pass down to those that will hit the aisle in her footsteps.

Don't get me wrong: tradition has never been our thing.

Our three children will be present at our wedding and there certainly was no bending down on one knee (I can handle surprise babies, but I think a surprise proposal would have put me out cold). We talked about getting married, as a form of mutual decision, and I practically announced to my fiancée when I decided it was time. We openly discussed the ring and I designed it myself. My godfather is a “bridesman,” and our daughter will be our flower girl (or, err.. she'll thud down the aisle first, and take down anyone in her way).

But marriage is also not what it traditionally used to be. My property doesn't instantly fall into my fiancé's lap the day we get hitched. No one is expected to trade cows for my hand (although I'm sure they wouldn't say no to a case of beer).

However, whether you like it or not, with something as age-old as marriage, tradition always manages to rear its white-wearing, virginity-flaunting head. From small things like “something borrowed, something blue,” to bigger, scarier things: like being given away at the altar or throwing off your maiden name like a bride's nightie (see what I did there?). Marriage can be as steeped with tradition or as uniquely different as you want it to be.

I feel that at the end of the day, it's about harnessing the beast and taming it into something we're comfortable with, something we can call our own. If we were getting married so we could buy a house, start a family, and choose a dog, I think it'd be different. I think we'd be more prepared to do things the way we're told to; but that wouldn't be for us. I don't need a piece of paper to tell people it's socially acceptable for me to go forth, procreate, and co-own a fat Labrador. I'm quite happy living in bull terrier-sharing “sin.”

That's not what marriage is about to me.

It's about taking something traditional, something that our parents did, and turning it into something new and different. Something that suits us, and that I'll be happy to pass down to my daughter, to then tweak and re-arrange and make her own.

It's a way of saying that I want to spend my life with this person on our terms, not the terms our parents laid out. Not the terms that anyone else believes dictate the roles individuals in couples should play. But on the terms we choose for ourselves and each other, demonstrated through whatever treading or trampling of tradition is necessary.

It's about not feeling obligated to anyone else outside of our marriage, taking into account what your families think, but having the audacity and the respect for ourselves and each other to say “No, that's how you did it, but it's not for us.”

So this is where I'm at; somewhere between the red flowers or the white. And choosing whether I want to be “given away,” or declaring that I give myself, not as property, but to our marriage as an equal half.

If I want to wear a flouncy white marshmallow dress I can; if I want to wear a sequinned mini I can do that, too.

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Comments on Discarding wedding traditions and getting married on our own terms

  1. “…choosing whether I want to be “given away,” or declaring that I give myself, not as property, but to our marriage as an equal half.”

    Thank you for saying this! My partner and I are eloping for the very reason that I do not believe in being “given away”. This is my choice! I am so thankful there is another who has had the same thoughts. I am taking his last name because I want to be able to call ourselves ‘Team Wichert’, not for traditional reasons.

    • The Macedonian (Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian & other eastern european countries) Orthodox church doesn’t include that question in the service. The belief is that two adults have made the decision to wed and have come there voluntarily. The priest asks this of the bride & groom at the beginning of the ceremony.

  2. So much yes in this! I’ve had to have every single tradition and “must-do” explained to me so we can decide if it’s relevant to us. Being given away was something I particularly baulked at, so we’re walking in together. The speeches have got an equality makeover too. I hated the idea that only the male perspective is given (as is tradition in the UK, it’s father of the bride, groom and bestman). Everyone has their own message they want to get across, and mine is that we’re equal partners, all the way!

    • This is exactly what we did just 2 weeks ago at our wedding! I was at the church at the beginning, with my now-husband and we greeted our guests together, instead of anyone walking up the aisle. People were surprised, but it was lovely to have a bit of extra time to chat to people before the ceremony started.

      Instead of traditional speeches, my mum gave a welcome speech on behalf of all the parents. My husband and I gave a short speech together (where I got to use the line “My husband and I…” first, which got a great cheer!) and my sister-in-law gave a toast and we invited a couple of friends to do a funny sketch type thing (they are actors!). It all worked just fine and I don’t think anyone missed the traditional format.

      I hope your day goes really well – stick to your guns about doing things a bit differently! I’m sure everyone will enjoy it. 🙂

  3. It’s so funny this was posted today. I was just getting ready to write a journal entry around this topic.

    Yesterday, my FH and I had dinner with my parents and his mother for them to meet instead of meeting for the first time AT OUR WEDDING in eight weeks. At one point the dinner conversation devolved into a take down of ME and my decision to eschew traditional wedding elements such as the garter and bouquet toss. It got a little ugly and I felt ganged up on, but I didn’t waver. This is the modern age. If I don’t want to do something that I find ridiculous, embarrassing, and even sexist, I don’t have to do it at my wedding! They all kind of laughed at me and how riled up I got, but that’s fine. They can laugh all they want. And they can take the traditions they believe are required and shove them.

  4. I’m quite happy living in bull terrier-sharing “sin.”

    Hey…. that’s my bull terrier… seriously though… great article.

    • That was my favorite line, because for us it was “pitbull terrier-sharing sin” for a while. 😉

      • Our cat sent our Save the Dates (not really, obviously, but they had a picture of him in a bow tie explaining that his humans were getting married). I’m not sure we can really say we’re living in fatcat sharing sin though; you don’t own a cat, it owns you. =P

      • Hah! I thought this exact thing. My living in pitbull terrier sharing sin ended a few weeks ago at my wedding (which my pitbulls were part of!). Now I guess we live in pitbull terrier sharing wedded bliss? 🙂

  5. I have the same major issue with being “given away.” I have been down that rant so many times my man sees it coming like a freight train, and simply laughs it off. I don’t know if it’s something you’ve considered, but my compromise with it is to alter the language used by our officiant at the time. Instead of asking the usual, “who gives this woman to this man?” I plan to have them say something more along the lines of how I am arriving “in perfect love and perfect trust” – maybe not even saying anything at all about my Stepdad being there with me. You can always think about it, and work out your own wording.

    • We all have that moment we dream of for our wedding. And our parents have that moment they dream of for their child’s. The giving away thing seemed resolved to me because in a traditional Jewish wedding both the bride and the groom are escorted by both parents. But that was my dad’s *moment*. So we talked about it and turns out what he really wanted was that kiss off. So when my parents reached the end of the aisle, my mom sat down and my dad gave me that kiss. Be respectful of the fact that this isn’t just your dream day, but still do what’s right for you.

  6. Thank you for summing up my feelings exactly! I’ve battled with my mother about all the “traditional” elements that we’re not doing, and wanted to punch the eye-rollers or the nay-sayers. But at the end of the day what kept me strong, is my FH and I’s determination to make this wedding a celebration of OUR love, not anyone else’s.

  7. As an alternative to being the bride being given away, you can have the groom get given away.

    I didn’t want to be given away because if I’m going to enter into the last legal form of slavery, then I want to do it by myself. My husband, however, wanted his ex-wife to give him away. So I waited up front with the officiant, and he tromped down the aisle.

  8. My fiance and I are surrounded by some traditionalists and some modernists, I told my mom about getting us couples engagement rings, to replace the one that I got. We mutually decided upon getting engaged, he did ask permission from both sides of the family before hand. We both are planning the wedding together. We are the ones paying for it (Although if mom and dad want to help BMG). So when I told her about the rings my mom asked if I was proposing to him. I told her no, that we are in a mutual engagement agreement. Nobody had to “pop the question”, we both just knew it was what we wanted and we talked it over. I feel obligated to have my fiance go through with the entire traditional proposal just to fit my family and also to be given away by my dad, who is super traditional, because I will be the first daughter to get married with 1. his approval and 2. that he’ll actually be able to walk down the aisle. I just know that I don’t want anything super traditional to happen at my wedding, and if I had my way we’d get BBQ and hang out at an arcade or something and I know my fiance wouldn’t mind either.

  9. We’re fortunate that both of our families know us for being non-traditional, so most things we’ve mentioned that we’re doing or not doing have been generally accepted (though one aunt was shocked that we weren’t getting married in a church).

    I do have a bit of an issue though. I’d like to incorperate my dad into the day some how, but I don’t want him to “give me away” because-
    a) I’m not property and it would go against many of the values *he* instilled in me; and b) I’m not walking in after everyone has already arrived anyway; and
    c) My partner and I have been living together for a couple of years and living out of home for well over a decade each- it’s hardly like we’re parental property at this point

    He also doesn’t want to give a speech or a reading as he’s not a fan of public speaking, so I’m not really sure what else I can do to include him- anyone have any thoughts?

    • Do you have a ring bearer? If you aren’t doing a processional, then you could just have him walk up right before the ceremony and present you guys with the rings to use later. Gives me a chance to give you that “goodbye” kiss if he wants. As mentioned above, that was the part that my dad wanted/needed.

  10. Thank you so so much for writing this. I have so many problems with so many of the traditions surrounding the marriage ceremony. This is making me feel so much better and so much stronger as our wedding draws nearer.

    • I’m so glad you found something in it that made you feel better. It took writing it to make me feel confident enough to put my “big girl heels on” and stand my ground.

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