Is having an offbeat wedding any different than having a traditional wedding?

April 27 2009 | offbeatresilience

111008_Kate-and-Tom_0176That's the question that Jezebel.com asked this weekend, and I figure maybe I should give my answer.

First, I want to acknowledge that although the Jezebel post clearly references the concept of Offbeat Bride, it never directly names or links my site or book. (This actually seemed to cause some confusion in the comments section, where people unfamiliar with Offbeat Bride were like "What are you even talking about, 'offbeat weddings'?")

Therefore, I don't think the post is intended as a jab at Offbeat Bride. Rather, it observes that some brides spend just as much money, time, and energy on their nontraditional weddings as other brides do on traditional weddings. Then the question is posed: how nontraditional are you REALLY if you're still spending so much time, energy, and money on your wedding?

This assumes that the most nontraditional way to have a wedding is to go the courthouse and do it Justice of the Peace style. Which, sure: a courthouse wedding is awesome! But what about people whose communities are important to them? What about people who love to party? What about people who are actually (CRIME OF CRIMES!) excited about their weddings?

It seems like the root of the issue is that for some folks, there's still a lot of guilt/judgment around "caring about wedding = victim of patriarchy and/or wedding industry."

To me, this feels like it assumes that as women we're not able to think through decisions or control ourselves when faced with wedding fluff. It assumes that once you start planning a wedding, you're clearly on the slippery slope to suddenly wanting chairs with ruffles and monogrammed everythings! You're blinded by the cupcakes and ribbons and suddenly you forget your own (last) name and just want MORE PERSONAL DETAILS! MORE SPECIAL FAVORS! MORE MORE MORE!!

It's a risk, sure. That once you open Pandora's Wedding Box, all the expectations come flying out and you find yourself agreeing to a $200 ring pillow or reciting Catholic vows when you're really more of a Wiccan Buddhist.

That absolutely can happen, and part of why I wrote my book was to support people who are trying to keep it from happening.

That risk is part of why I continue to write posts reminding people "your wedding is not a contest," "don't fetishize your nuptials," "try not to get caught up in trends."

To me, part of planning an offbeat wedding is walking into the process with your eyes as wide open as possible, so that you can make thoughtful decisions. I want to empower women to go into this process with the ability to make their own decisions outside of both religious/traditional expectations and consumer/industry pressures.

But when you assume that anyone enthusiastically planning a wedding is automatically a victim of outside forces, you're asserting that women can't think for themselves and are powerless against the lures of taffeta and tiaras. That once we see something sparkly, it's all white blindness GIVE ME MATCHING GARTER bridezilla bullshit. That if you're planning a wedding, on a certain level … you've already lost your mind.

Some people like big parties and are drawn toward extravagant weddings, offbeat or not. Some people hate big parties, and therefore plan a beautiful simple wedding. As long as it's an honest reflection of the couple getting married (and that includes an honest reflection of their budget!) I'm all for both ends of the simple/extravagant spectrum.

I heartily believe that with support and encouragement, intelligent women can plan weddings of all kinds thoughtfully and with their values intact.

So, my final answer to the question: Yes, it's different — because of instead of asking "How can I keep up with expectations?" you're asking "How can I create a wedding that's authentic to what I actually want?" It's all about the intent.


[I'm cautiously leaving comments open on this post, but I want to clarify that I'll be closing them quickly if the discussion turns toward bagging on Jezebel. As y'all know, online civility is extremely important to me so please don't go flaming Jezebel's comment section. I want to believe we can disagree gracefully on this subject.]

  1. When I saw this on Jez, I wondered if it was bagging…but then I read the article. I love all the freedoms and choices women enjoy now, even if it comes with a seemingly endless debate about where we are and where we're going. It sounded mostly like Jez was against fetishization, just as you are. And ultimately, I think all women benefit from this expanded vision of options. As someone with both websites on my blogroll, I want to say THANK YOU! to both you and to Jezebel for helping us see all the options and choose the feminism and the wedding that fit us best.

    1 agrees
  2. I agree! I've seen some huge elaborate weddings that the brides and grooms have put a lot of time and energy into, and were by no means a big "look at how much money WE spent on this!" weddings. It's like you said, some people like big parties, some like small, simple weddings. I'm not opposed to either.

    Sadly, two of my sisters ended up doing VERY traditional weddings that didn't want and spending wayyy too much money on things that were not important to them. Because of outside pressure to have a "proper" ceremony, etc. Which is why they are now so adamant that I get to do what I want.

    And that's not to say that I haven't seen some beautiful traditional weddings. But when you look at the pictures of the brides and grooms, it's obvious that this is the type of wedding THEY wanted.

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  3. I think this hits the nail on the head when it comes to anything even remotely related to feminism. It's not about choosing Option A instead of Option B all the time or avoiding Situation X in favor of Situation Y. It's about CHOICES in every single part of your life from the choice of whether or not to shave your legs, to being a working or a stay-at-home mom, to keeping your maiden name, and all the other things that happen in our lives. So what if your choices happen to fall in line with what's "acceptable?" Wearing a white gown or getting married in a chapel doesn't strip me of my "feminist card." I chose these things because they're beautiful, not because the Big Bad Patriarchy expects me to.

    Because honestly, if your choices are categorized and limited, then it's not really anything new. It's just the same old song and dance with new management.

    16 agree
    • I don't know why but it was this specific response but for some reason this has made me feel SO much better about my decision to change my last name (which hasn't happened yet.) I KNOW and BELIEVE in the concept of choice feminism (although many don't) but I guess relating to it in a post that ISN'T about changing your last name makes it feel all the more honest. Thanks.

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  4. I, too, read both Offbeat Bride and Jezebel and I actually had posted links to some of the Jez posts on my OBT blog just to make other people on OBT aware of them because I think it's a really interesting discussion going on. As usual, Ariel has put it much better than I ever could, but I think that a lot of the difference between offbeat and traditional wedding planning is just the level of intentionality involved. I also agree with Laney that feminism for me is ultimately about choice, so I don't really want to demonize either side – traditional or offbeat – for their different choices or even for making the choice to marry in the first place.

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  5. Thank you for this post, Ariel. As someone who's already faced criticism from her mother about why we chose to spend inheritance money on a wedding instead of a house (because even if we used it for a downpayment, our incomes don't support a monthly mortgage in L.A.), I feel it's important to recognize that just because you're having a wedding–any wedding–does not mean that you haven't thought about it, or made well-informed decisions.

    As mentioned above in other comments, even if you decide to have a "traditional" wedding, YOU are the one who is doing the deciding. And I think that is what being an "offbeat" bride is all about: the freedom to make those choices.

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  6. I really appreciate this post. I love Jezebel, but was fairly put off by the tone of that piece. By the same token, I've been put off by many wedding bloggers out there who routinely deride anyone who puts time/effort/andworse,money into their wedding. I think what's fantastic about weddings is that there are more outlets for inspiration to make our weddings our own than ever. But the downside, or backlash, to that experience seems to be assumption by many that brides are either being suckered in by the wedding industry or going to the courthouse without any celebration at all. That's offensive to nearly all of us, in my opinion.

    I wrote about this a bit ago here, btw… And some of you might find my feminism rant here interesting. 🙂

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  7. 'create a wedding that's authentic to what I actually want?" It's all about the intent'

    I completely agree with this sentiment.

    I'm gonig through the process of planning my own wedding/handfasting at the moment and whilst a big part of me would be happy to elope, there are certain pressures as to why I'm not and that involves honouring my family. I didn't realise that it was that important to me until I considered not including them in my preparations.

    Intent and authenticity is important; if you can't look back on the memory (or photos) of the day and feel happy and proud of what you did to mark an important rite of passage in your life, then you know you're on the wrong track.

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  8. When I found this website, and subsequently bought and read the book, I was just so happy that other people were out there doing weddings that were about who they were as a couple, versus what a wedding was supposed to be. Some parts of my wedding are utterly traditional (whitish dress/Catholic church), and some parts really aren't (No dancing? Under 50 people? No tan/weight loss/mani-pedi???) but it really took Offbeat Bride to back up the choices that I wanted to make, but wasn't sure how I could defend them. As I pick up Martha Stewart Weddings mag I start to think there is less of a line between OBB weddings and traditional weddings, and then other days when I pick up some other (unnamed) bridal magazine I think we are further then ever from escaping the WIC thing. Either way I am happy I am spending a lot of time and energy (although not much money in my case) on the first day of my marriage. It is something that is important to me, and it is my personal way of showing I value it. I don't know if that is traditional or offbeat, but it is Me, and if I have learned anything from OBB that was never the message on the knot and the five million bridal mags I have read, making the day about my FH and me and those we love is number one.

  9. I think that there is some confusion about weddings with small budgets and offbeat weddings. A small budget wedding may be offbeat, but could be traditional too. A big budget wedding could be plenty offbeat (ie. let's take the whole family to Brazil to get married!)

    In my opinion offbeat is about evaluating all the wedding fuss and deciding which bits you want to keep, change or drop. If you want to keep it all but consciously made the decision it's still an offbeat wedding. If you decide you need grab every trend labeled offbeat blindly then you are failing before you start.

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  10. Erika: agreed. While I know from my reader surveys that the vast majority of my readers are planning weddings under $15K USD, I get emails every week from higher budget brides complaining that there's too much focus on low budget stuff. That's why I try to feature everything from DIY chocolate legos to wedding dresses that are up in the many thousands of dollars. With a readership as diverse as mine, I've got to keep things varied…

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  11. Hear hear! Making decisions consciously about what matters to you, rather than blindly following what the bridal mags tell you you "must have" is the big difference

  12. I'm glad you have responded to the article with what I think is the real difference. It's about having your eyes open and not blindly doing/selecting things according to what is "supposed" to happen. I honestly believe that this ethos of stopping to think about what is genuine for us as a couple, for our wedding, is going to carry over to our marriage. Taking this considered approach to our wedding has really helped us to stop and think about why we have expectations in other areas of life and if they are truly important to us.
    People can knock offbeat or traditional all they like but if a couple is truly thinking about what a wedding means to them there is hope that they are also thinking about what a Marriage means to them. And isn't that the best possible outcome?

  13. To me, "traditional" and "offbeat" have nothing to do with what you wear, where you have your ceremony, what vows you recite, who you're marrying, how much you spend, or what kind food you have. To me, the difference between a typical wedding and an offbeat wedding is "What I'm SUPPOSED to do" vs "What I WANT to do".

    Anyone who makes decisions based on their own wants as a couple is having an authentic, kick-ass wedding!

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  14. That if you're planning a wedding, on a certain level … you've already lost your mind.

    That is exactly the message I took away from Jezebel's article. I know a lot of it is in the writing style and maybe it wasn't as definitive as "weddings aren't feminist". But I bet a lot of people read it that way. One of the things that makes your book and site such a breath of fresh air is that it tells women they aren't automatically cliche and old fashioned for wanting to celebrate their love with their friends and family. I certainly had to work through those feelings after years of saying I didn't ever want to get married…and then meeting someone who made me change my mind.

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  15. Mrs. Phoenix's comment rings true for what happened with me and my husband: the process of thinking deeply about what we wanted from our wedding and why, and the (sometimes painful) negotiations when we wanted different things, was great practice for marriage and has carried over into our marriage. All the time thinking and talking about WHY we wanted what we wanted was incredibly useful and not only deepened our understanding of each other, it helped us be mindful of the day itself. I was a little surprised that the wedding wasn't a blur–and very grateful.

    I agree this could apply to a wedding that appears very traditional–but I think couples who choose at least some untraditional elements are more likely to be forced to articulate those choices.

  16. My wife teases me about claiming "strawman!" too often, but I really do see the internet embracing that fallacy whole hog. For instance, this whole debate. Jezebel is pretending "off beat" is some reductive idea that it just isn't. Screw that– do what you want to do. It is a pretty simple point– you have to work pretty hard to take it out of context, but somehow, they manage.

  17. Ugh! This is the tightrope we all seem to have to walk lately. If, for example, I like cooking for my boyfriend, I'm perpetuating stereotypes and am anti-feminist. And I If I show any excitement about wedding planning, I'm obsessed and a bridezilla. I think, at this point in my life, I've discovered that I spend far too much of my time trying to live down the assumptions made of me. So much time, I end up missing out on things I actually enjoy, for fear that someone will take it the wrong way when I do enjoy them!
    I'm a plus sized girl too (isn't that a great term? Why aren't the under size 10 girls "minus sized girls"?) so I've spent, no joke, my whole life afraid of eating in public. I exercise, have a slow metabolism and eat fairly healthy. But I can be sitting with friends, eating less than them, and the whole time in my head I'm freaking out with every bite. I feel like they are staring at me, thinking "Oh! So that's why she's fat". And every time I pick up a wedding magazine in the grocery store, I get that same vibe. "Oh, here's another obsessed bride".
    To be honest, I'm not sure anymore. Are they actually thinking that, or am I just expecting it? Wouldn't it be nice if we could just erase all this nonsense from our minds?

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  18. I'm so glad you said somthing about the Jez post. I love Jez and have been following the site since it started. I just found OBB a couple of months ago and love it as well. OBB has SO many options for 'offbeat', not just money or a theme. The post on Jez made me sad even though I generally like the tone that particular blogger takes and I think anyone who likes Jez and is planning a wedding would LOVE OBB. Not sure if that poster had browsed the site or not before they posted, but OBB defines for me what a Jez reader would look for in a planning site.

  19. I'm a Jezebel fan, but I've always found the commenters to be waaaay too judgmental about all things wedding.

    People spend all sorts of money on frivolous things, but no-one gets the same amount of judginess for buying plasma screen TVs, jet skis, or even luxury cars as they do for spending money on a wedding. People go into debt for those things too and they're unecessary. Why are we suddenly so interested in people's spending habits when they get married?

    Also, is anyone else sick of hearing the cliche "You could have put a deposit on a house for the amount spent on that wedding"?

    A deposit on a house is just a little different from buying a house. The deposit is meaningless without the massive mortgage.

    Hmm, should I put a little money on a credit card for my wedding and rent until I can afford a house, of save money by marrying for less and getting a loan for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

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    • I think the focus on this is centered from the concept that EVERYBODY really WANTS to buy a house and that if you JUST had that down-payment you could! YES a down-payment is usually the barrier that young people face when getting into the housing market but it's a different lifestyle and it costs a LOT more than renting. If you pay 1500$ on rent that does NOT mean you can afford a house with a 1500$ a month mortgage. What about when the roof needs replacing? What about furnishing the place? What about the huge jump in insurance? What about your time spent on a home?

      This is really a conflict of values is it more valuable to have a physical thing (and granted humans do NEED shelter to live) or is it better to have life experiences that you treasure? A valuable question that each adult should have themselves together enough to make.

      Anyways my sister spent just under 20 grand (CAN) on her wedding and they were given gifts that amounted to approximately 30 grand (CAN) which is her goddamn down-payment!

  20. I was also a little dismayed by the tone of the article. I think the author had some valid thoughts, but either didn't articulate them clearly or they got lost in the ensuing firestorm of comments. Either way, I love having this dialogue here to help keep me grounded.

  21. Does reciting Catholic vows and actually *meaning* it or *wanting to* counts as Offbeat?

    Seems like so many people, like stated above, just give in and do the "traditional thing" because A) others want them to or B) "that's just what you do."

    Almost makes it seem like doing tradition because you actually WANT to do a real tradition and take meaning from it…. Offbeat!

  22. Hm, to play Devil's Advocate:

    What if a bride really does WANT "what I'm supposed to do"? I think it's a little unfair to say that brides who do end up with cookie-cutterish weddings are only following trends or too much of a Bridezilla to stroll off the beaten path.

    I agree with what someone said above that it's all about the couple genuinely expressing themselves. But that doesn't mean that said expression will be readily apparent.

    • If you are close enough to the couple (or one person of the couple) to be invited to their wedding I feel like it should be readily apparent that it's their honest expression or not. It's that when it hits magazines and websites that it has more issues. My cousin released doves at his wedding (which flew back at the crowd and then proceeded to adorably snuggle on a fence just behind the couple.) Would everyone else think it tacky? Maybe, but I know that as they are both farmers they LOVED chasing doves out of the rafters of the barn in the mornings they were loading in hay and now they would be doing it together. Yeah still sounds a bit dorky online but I friggin' cried because it was such a sweet representation of how they will spend the rest of their lives together…for those who know them and were there.

  23. But isn't the whole point that as free women we can to act as we see fit, we are not bound to re-act against what has gone before?

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  24. Yes, it's(an offbeat wedding) different — because of instead of asking "How can I keep up with expectations?" you're asking "How can I create a wedding that's authentic to what I actually want?" It's all about the intent.

    There are lots of people out there who have traditional weddings that do the exact same thing!!! Its a wedding that is authentic to what they actually want. Hoe closed minded to think only offbeat weddings can be authentic to what you want and thats what makes them different to traditional weddings.

  25. People who have a taditional wedding can be having as much a personal and "isn't it just us" wedding as an offbeat couple can.

    There is no difference between an offbeat wedding and a traditional wedding in how personal it is to the couple.

    Crazy this notion that offbeat is better!

    1 agrees
  26. I agree. Being 'offbeat' doesn't mean 'being cool' or ditching all traditions. It's being true to yourselves as couples when you plan your wedding celebration, not constantly worrying about what others will think of it and whether everything will be perfect. Focus on the meaning of the day and things will tend to fall into place.

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  27. Before things slide off the rails here, I want to clarify that I never said weddings that look traditional couldn't be planned with intent. That's the whole point: to me, "offbeat" isn't about how the wedding LOOKS. It's about how thoughtful you were in making your decisions for yourself, instead of trying to line up to expectations you don't believe in.

    In Jess's example: If you're Catholic, then DUH! Saying Catholic vows lines up with what you believe in 100% and is a perfect choice for you. I'm not saying the Catholic vows aren't offbeat — I'm saying acting Catholic when you're not is disrespectful to both yourself and Catholicism. (This example is actually lifted from a bride I profiled in my book.)

    We're arguing for the same thing here, ladies: more authenticity in making decisions for yourself and less blind following of what others expect you to do.

    That said, I do think being thoughtful about your decisions IS better than not being thoughtful about them. So, in that way, I do think offbeat is "better." I've never said "offbeat = WACKY!!" It's a question of intent, folks. That's all.

  28. I just wanted to say thanks. I just got engaged a couple weeks ago, and was feeling torn between planning the wedding my family would expect and the one I really want. And this site has been a blessing by helping me realize, it's my wedding, my day, and I have every right to make it as offbeat as I want!

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  29. "becoming more and more aligned under economic pressures to be thrifty but clever, beautiful but unique, and based more on the reason for the ceremony—love—than the actual ceremony itself."

    This is what made sense & it's the crux of the article. Look around you – what's being termed as 'off-beat' isn't actually that. It's more, "Oh look, we're Off-Beat!" but it's not actually. There are a couple other wedding websites & WIC literature that cater to women who want something that not quite Princess-wedding & but not entirely wacky either. And Has any main-stream WIC website/magazine/media addressed the needs of the LGBT community?

    That's Off-Beat! When you cater to all kinds, not just the ones who DONT want a typical Princess-style wedding. Does this even make sense to anyone?

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  30. I believe an Offbeat wedding is a wedding that you walk into, witness, and leave saying "That was exactly them." It's a wedding. The bride and groom's special day for themselves that they share with people they love. Just because it's not "traditional" doesn't mean they're wrong. It's all about themselves and being in love! (^_^)

    1 agrees
  31. I just found this blog, and I am in love with what you're promoting. I spent a fortune and more hours than I can count on my wedding because it was expected- NOT what I wanted.

  32. Can I say I love being an old (well, 36) divorcee and not giving a feck about anybody's expectations and judgy-ness on my own choices for my second marriage? Hey, if it works for me, let them blab. No skin off my nose.

  33. The more I read OffBeat bride articles the more I realise I had an "offbeat" wedding before I knew what to call it! Way back in April 2006 I wore a embroidered gold dress with a full length hooded gold cloak, I had a "bridesman" (my gay best friend) alongside 2 bridesmaids and my husband had an "usherette" (a close female friend) alongside his ushers, we had cupcakes as our wedding cake so that I could have nut-free ones, gluten-free ones and chocolate ones without singling out those with allergies (and before cupcakes became very trendy), we banned children because we didn't want to have to lay on extra activities for them (and the parents actually thanked us for giving them an excuse for a kid-free weekend), we didn't have a "first dance" because my husband is not a keen dancer – in fact I made him a badge saying "I don't have to dance. The Bride says so" just so that he wouldn't get hassled by our well-meaning guests. And I don't really remember people saying that I couldn't have what I wanted or that we should be more traditional while we were planning! Maybe I was just lucky or was so adamant about what was important to us that people didn't contradict us. I'm just grateful that we ended up with the wedding we wanted.

    The only thing we didn't get was the owl ring delivery that the venue offered (they had a falconry on site and had trained a little owl to swoop down the chapel with a little bag holding the rings attached to its leg. It would then land on the Best Man's arm and he'd detach the bag and send the owl back to the handler). For whatever reason the Registrar vetoed it completely calling it "Tacky and Demeaning". I don't know whether it was too reminiscent of the recent Harry Potter movies (not what the falconry had in mind as far as I know) or whether she actually had a fear of the birds that she didn't want to admit to, either way we had to give in on that one (and I think the Best Man was secretly relieved!)

    Anyway thank you for giving me a term for my wedding and for continuing to support those who want to do things a little differently/more authentically. Even 9 years after my own wedding I still enjoy watching how others choose to celebrate their commitment so keep it up everyone I want to know how you all choose to do it!

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