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.

Offbeat Bride Vendor

This page features vendors from our curated Offbeat Bride Wedding Vendor Directory. They're awesome and we love them. If you're a vendor let's get you in here!

Meet your new BFF wedding vendor

Trending with our readers

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

  1. Hi, this is a great article and I agree with so much of it. I think the benefit of being a more muture bride (43) is that I don’t give a toss what anyone thinks. I refuse to be given away to the highest bidder with the best goat or honour and obey for that matter. My more elderly family members can whine all they like, im not bending on things that are important to me. When i got married the first time (21), I didnt have the strength to say no and I regret so much of my first wedding….apart from marrying an idiot, but thats another story. Stay strong and have it your way.

  2. People get weirdly attached to traditions in the abstract, but then never even notice if they don’t happen in the moment. I got some flack for tossing out the bouquet and garter toss, but not a single person mentioned the absence of such things at or after the wedding. I guess I’m lucky that most of my family is pretty relaxed about our offbeatness, and if we approached any discussion with the confidence of a decision already made, it was accepted rather easily. I also “rewarded” that understanding attitude by giving in to some traditions that held no real emotion for me, such as my aunt requesting a receiving line. Sure, why not, if it makes you happy, especially because no one is batting an eye at our handfasting/lack of cake/us spending the night together beforehand.

  3. People do get hung up on their “traditions”. In planning a non-traditional wedding as an older person who has been married before, I’ve done away with so many things that don’t matter to us. But I’m wearing a white dress, because I want to…my first wedding dress was yellow, because my then fiance and I had been living together for a long time and I was pressured not to wear white by my snooty great Aunts. This time, my divorced, living in sin ass will be doing the poofy white marshmallow. My elderly next door neighbor was discussing wedding stuff with me the other day, and I told her about my dress….the next day she called me over and offered, in sweet little old lady passive aggressive fashion, a wine colored formal dress that she wore to someone else’s wedding (in case I want to wear it to a *winkwink* big event coming up). The implication being, I shouldn’t wear white to a second wedding, I suppose. I politely declined, and she’s so adorable that I can’t even really be mad at her, but it just goes to show that women of previous generations are enslaved by the weight of “tradition” and “what people will think” in a way that we no longer have to be.

  4. “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 well said. Thank you for posting this!

  5. I adopted a dad as a teenager (estranged from my “sperm donor”) and he really really really wants to walk me down the aisle. He has truly been a father to me and I want to honor him but feel uncomfortable with being “given away”. We’ve talked and instead of traditional wording, we will have the officiant say “who gives their blessing” instead of “who gives this woman”. His blessing is important to me but ultimately I’m a grown-ass woman not a piece of property 😛

  6. My Dad passed away over a decade ago, I know my mother wants to ‘give me away’ …but as I have been living out of home for 10 years and living in sin for 3 I don’t feel like she should. ..I know that when my FH asked me to marry him…with out consulting my mother first toes where stepped on…so I am totally torn on this one. We have a looong time til wedding day. ..and this question keeps me up at night!

    • I’m having my parents walk me down the aisle as far as their seat in the front row, then I’ll give them each a hug and let them sit and take the last 2 or 3 steps alone – so they get to do the walking part but no giving away questions are asked.

  7. I just got engaged a few days ago and am already dealing with not following the the traditions my family are used to. My guy didn’t talk with my parents before hand which I am alright with but I am certain added to their discomfort about the situation…I am 35 and haven’t lived in their home for almost 15 years. It also is kind of a quick engagement by society’s standards so I am sure that there is a lot of gossip going on between my family and friends that live near them, I live about 1.5 hours away so I don’t have the chance to encounter first hand the negative backlash for not going about this this the way everyone expects me to. I’m glad to have found this entry because I am the classic people pleaser so bucking tradition is a bit rough on me but I’m coming to the conclusion that this isn’t something we are doing to hurt anyone but something we are doing because this is what we want and what is best for us.
    In reference to people talking about wanting a less traditional giving of the bride situation…my uncle passed away when I was in high school and when his daughter, my cousin, got married, she had her brothers walk her down the aisle and when the officiant asked who was giving her away one of her brothers said something to the effect of “Amy is giving herself freely with the love of her family”. I am considering something along that line for my wedding because I am not a fan of the “giving away” idea either.
    Thank you all for your great comments and ideas on not following tradition just because it’s what is expected of you.

  8. From the cultural/historical perspective giving away is a demeaning sexist thing. On the other hand if you are a bit freaked out at the moment and you and your dad have this great relationship, it can feel so good to hold hes hand and feel safe with him, just like you did when you were a kid. But honestly, how many of us are so lucky to have great relationships with our dads?
    In Latvia we have an even better tradition – the ritual buying of the bride from her parents. It is supposed to be a fun thing- in the morning, right before the ceremony groom and best man arrive to brides parents house with gifts and flowers and then they need to do some silly task to proove worthy of the bride. Then the parents try to “trick” the groom with “fake” brides and only after he has declared he’s serious intentions by giving chocolates and flowers to mom and some expensive liquer to dad, he gets to see he’s future wife… 90% of the newlyweds have shared household and many have babies together long before they get hitched, but this silly tradition stays and is very seldom publicly critisised. So, yeah, just providing some cultural contrast here 😉

  9. I can get not wanting to be ‘given away’ in the traditional sense, however I will be walking down the aisle with my father for 2 reasons: 1) I don’t want to walk down the aisle alone, with all eyes on me! and 2) my father has been the one constant factor in my life, from birth. He has been at my side when everyone else wasn’t. I couldn’t imagine him not being at my side as I walk towards the man I love. For me it’s recognising and symbolising the incredible relationships I have with my father and my husband.

    There are a lot of wedding ‘traditions’ that we won’t be doing – I won’t be walking to the wedding march, there won’t be a garter toss, bouquet throw, endless group shots and the formal dances. Likewise my partner won’t be shaving off his beard and mohawk and removing his piercings like has been expected by family and friends. He won’t be hiding his tattoos and I’m not going to teeter around in heels and shimmery make-up. When we look back at our wedding photos, we want to see ourselves, not a traditionalist impression of how we should look! Likewise we want to remember the day as a positive event, not rolling our eyes as we perform another ritual that we see as pointless!

  10. I know that this is an old post, but I am so grateful for it. Four months ago, I found this post and it introduced me to OBB and ultimately changed my entire view on marriage. Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

Read more comments

Comments are closed.