Marriage as an act of freedom vs. conformity

October 13 2010 | Guest post by surfandlipgloss
strong women
Photo by KavisaCW

Anyone who has taken a Gender Studies class knows all the standard stuff about marriage being an exchange of chattel, property, protecting the paternity of babies, etc. We can see how these historical dynamics still affect us.

While it still impacts us, I think most Western women don't generally *feel* like this applies to us. We marry for love, we marry who we want and ultimately have agency and power in our choices. We're told the wedding is All About Us.

But there is still this tug-of-war that so many of us deal with — all the heavy Baggage of Marriage. The tension of needs and demands — ours, our partner's, our family's, our culture, our finances, our religion, etc — and we're stuck right in the middle of it. The process is fraught with a million potential mis-steps and there often doesn't seem to be the Magical Path by which all parties are satisfied. Many traditionalists would say that we (brides) need to suck it up and make everyone happy. When we assert our needs/wants we get labeled Bridezillas. But I thought this day was supposed to be all about us? Or was that just a marketing slogan?

We are expected to be the mediator of all these different parties. Will I look beautiful? Will fiance be as jazzed I am? Will my mom/dad/Aunt Sally pull some serious drama? How are we paying for this? Will the women in my life control/demean/insult me when I'm trying on dresses like they always seem to do on Say Yes to the Dress? Will my future mother in law be ok if we don't have a Wedding Industrial Complex-style huge reception, etc? Will I take his name? What does that say about me if I do/don't?

It's enough to drive even well-adjusted, unique, creative and loving women a little batshit.

My first wedding I just acquiesced to the pressure (shotgun — yay?) that my ex-husband placed on me. I let my family deal with all the chores of marriage and basically showed up and did the deed. For such a feminist (went to Mills College, openly queer to my family in HS, punk-goth kid), I was the ultimate Passive Girl when it came to this. So unlike me — I still marvel at the zombie possession (aka pregnancy, wanting the baby, willing to make others happy to have him).

This time around, I am driving this train. I am the one who wants to get married, and very intently. I have been looking at this wedding as an act of freedom, and act of self-determination. I have been with my fiance for five years. I know his bad side, I know his good side. I'm 36, I am divorced, I am a mother of two. I am under no illusions that marriage is a big basket of puppy-cuddles, but I still want to spend the rest of my life with my best friend, with the man who always has my back, loves my children intently and will do his absolute best for his family.

But even now, as an All Growed Up Woman, I feel those pressures weighing down on me. I can only imagine how paralyzing it could be for younger women. It paralyzed me into passivity. I honor all the women here for consciously choosing their own vision, of making their wedding, their marriage as an act of freedom, not conformity.

I feel like since I've already gotten through the roughest part of child-rearing and have managed to parent two loving, awesome, talented sons I am simply not willing to take shit about something as trivial my centerpieces. I have put myself through nursing school and earned a Masters in the process, so anyone who wants to complain about my registry can kiss my ass. I watched as my ex-husband spent five years refusing help with his drug abuse and mental illness before finally divorcing him, so anyone who wants to talk shit about my big white dress at my big second wedding in a church can seriously go fuck themselves.

Thank you all for being a beacon, for being a reminder that while all that crap is there (and won't totally disappear) that there is something more to weddings and marriage than either an exchange of chattel or of insurmountable pressures — that it's an act where WE get to CHOOSE to be with the person WE want. We have the honor and opportunity to undertake serious (and sacred, in my opinion) commitments (and yes, obligations) with the person that WE choose.

Yes, this is joining of two people, two families and some compromises and concessions will be made. That's a good thing. Losing ourselves, our vision and and our sanity in the process? Not so much.

  1. WOW. i don't know what to say… that 3rd last paragraph made me well up… i just read it aloud to my OH and he whooped… and he's not usually a whooper…

  2. Thank you so much for this article..it honestly came only a day after an argument with my own mom about what my fiance and I want our wedding to be.

    My fiance and I are simple people and we don't want to get caught up in all the fancies and frills of the marketed wedding. And for all our dreams it does hurt having those close to you tell you that your wedding wont be a real wedding without a church and flowers. I know I can't make everyone happy and thank you so much for really reminding me of that and to keep the wedding focussed on what we really value.

  3. i love this post. just what i need!!!! i'm going to print it out, so i can read it when i get overwhelmed with it all!!!!!! really makes me appreciate OBB and OBT 🙂

  4. Thank you very much for writing this! I really needed this.

    Sidenote: can someone PLEASE tell me what WIC means? I have seen it everywhere and can't figure it out!

  5. WIC = Wedding Industrial Complex. 🙂 I suppose there are many definitions out there, but to me it's the huge multi-billion dollar a year industry that thrives on telling brides that they HAVE to do this or they HAVE to have that or their wedding will be awful.

    And to the OP: Thank you! I felt like I could have written every word. I, too am a second-timer, formerly JoP shotgun bride who is having the wedding that we (that's me and my man) want…damnit! 🙂

    Well said, surfandlipgloss, well said.

    • Oh ok. Thanks both of you! So my (now distant because of a major problem) friend who is following a certain wedsite's checklist to the letter, and attending every bridal fair and attempting to purchase everything offered would qualify under this description?

      • That certain website and the bridal fairs fall under this description. As do wedding vendors, purveyors of favors, anyone at all int he wedding industry, even if they happen to be cooler than usual. The WIC is everyone who profits off of our gettin' hitched and who tells us to spend more more more so our wedding can be better better best.

        You friend is just a victim of the WIC and it's crazy pressures, as are most of us to some extent, however willingly.

  6. This is so perfect and so beautiful and so well written, thank you! I spent about a week becoming disillusioned with who I am and what I wanted my wedding to be about before I put on the breaks, halted it and set fire to the taffeta (not really, but metaphorically).

    I am so much more happy putting together a wedding that is so much more 'us', but I'm struggling with all of the 'what ifs' that haven't even happened yet. It's great to read a really good take on it… I am SO glad OBB exists. 🙂

  7. As a total feminist, I would just like to say that I am dropping the heck out of my last name when I get married. I don't care about the implications – you try growing up with a last name like "Dickson."

    • I'm still unsure for the exact same reason! It doesn't help that I'll be living in a foreign country, so my last name will be a little unusual. At the same time, it's a European country so it's traditional to keep your maiden name. Decisions, decisions.

      • 🙂 I used to think that I would keep my name, but as I get older and still have to spell it out over the phone, I realize that I am ready to be done and over with it.

        Incidentally, a cousin of mine married a girl with a non-mockable last name (Smith) and she took on "Dickson". Her name is Amanda, too.

        • Lol THIS! As a Dickson as well, I would love to drop that name – the joy of adolescent teasing… It's a bit complicated by the fact that I love the symbolism of keeping a maiden name though.. Oh well, not going to be an issue for a while.

  8. Bravo to you, this post was beautiful! And yay for Nurses (and Nursing school! Yes I am in Nursing school and a mom of a young boy! WOOT):-) Thanks for this real article, I am relatively young and we are having our wedding our own way. Yeah, we're getting some shit but its all worth it bc its ours, and we're marrying our best friends-fuck everyone else 🙂

  9. Wow this post really resonated with me, even though I am a first time bride.
    I myself have taken some serious flack from family based on their expectations of what a wedding should be/look like/ whats expected of me etc.
    As a long time rebel without a cause and crusader of doing things my own way. Fighting for what I wanted was nothing new but seemed extra exhausting when it came to wedding planning, because quite surprisingly I suddenly wanted(needed?) people to get/like/be excited about what me and FH want the wedding to be. A first for me.
    This post really helped me find some perspective again and reminded me once again of the actual reason why I'm getting married in the first place

  10. Wow. I read a lot of wedding blogs and while OBB has always been my very favorite, this post certainly made me stop, think and then read it again. It was everything I wish I could have said, done and articulated so many times in my life! It's very inspiring and I applaud you for it. I'm printing it out and tacking it to my wall. Thanks for starting off my day with such an inspiring post!

  11. This post makes me want to hug my family and tell them how wonderful they have all been about my choices.
    I am 41, he is 25, we are having a handfasting, I am DIYing pretty much EVERYTHING, I am even making our Mead, I am wearing black, he is wearing a kilt, we are having a potluck Italian food picnic in my grandmothers backyard and the ONLY response my family has given me is "That is so YOU.. it sounds great!!! Is there anything you need? Is there anything we can help you with?"
    I want to thin I would not give in to any pressure if I got it but I have been lucky, their only concern about my centerpieces and decorations is that i am trying to make them all in 6 months along with just about everything else and they are afraid I will burn out.
    I hope you all get the weddings you want and deserve and dont take flack from anyone, if they ask "But WHY are you doing that way?" the only answer you ever should need is "Because we WANT TO."

  12. Hells yes. Second time around for me, too, and I'm also feeling totally unwilling to take anybody's shit over my centerpieces, LOL.

    Actually, first wedding was off-beat, too, and everyone was cool. But this one will be off-beat-er, because I know myself much better and where I will or won't compromise. This is a marriage I will. Not. Lose myself in.

  13. What great points! You remind me of my friend Tess, who got married on Monday. Tess and Nathan's vows were non-religious and centered on how their wedding ceremony was about them choosing the freedom to love one another for the rest of their lives. It was beautiful!

  14. Absolutely the best article and most empowering thing I've read on this site. I needed to read this and I'm so glad I did.

    I think that all people, not just brides, not just grooms, feel the pressures and really get overwhelmed. But you know, I'm paying for this, I'm doing it my way and FUCK EM if they don't like it. Love your attitude. People in your life love you for who you are and sometimes people just need to let things go. I know my mother, at first, didn't understand what we were doing… "what do you mean you want me to help you find plates at goodwill… you want your wedding to have goodwill plates?!?" "Well, don't you want a WHITE dress?!?!" She's now so into the wedding she comes up with offbeat ideas more than I do!

    Thanks for this article and making me feel better 🙂

  15. Great piece-I've always thought of feminism as empowering women to make their own choices, not trading one set of outdated societal norms and expectations for an equally rigid set dictated by what feminists say women should or should not be doing.

  16. I just loved this story, it really hit a hot spot with me. I have worked really hard to be a strong, independent woman. I put myself through university, bought my own home and never wanted to submit to being someones 'posession'. I still stuggle with the whole concept of marriage but atleast I know I'm not the only one.

    Thanks Surfandlipgloss. I also think a bit of swearing never goes astray to add colour and emphasis. Loved it!

  17. This really touched a nerve with me. I have no idea why I allowed myself to be so passive during my first wedding. (I can get hokey here and admit to sometimes feeling like that was proof he wasn't "the one" :p) This time around, I intend for my wedding to be a celebration of the relationship between my partner and me, as well as a celebration of our true selves.

  18. This was such a beautiful article. I'm engaged, and in Nursing School right now. Nursing School is HARD!!!! You wrote exactly what I was feeling. You do not have to justify your decisions to anyone. I loved this!!!!

  19. You are awesome!! Kudos for being so take-no-shit and openly blunt. I'm a first-time bride in the very preliminary stages of planning, and this made me feel a lot better about the decisions I've already made. I'm printing this out and putting it in my wedding brainstorm notebook, and thank you for the empowering reminder that other brides are doing what WE want as well =]

  20. As a current student of Mills College who is struggling with the idea that marriage may not be equatable to a complete surrender of my values, thank you for this article! I'm beginning to see marriage as more of a meeting of the minds, and less of a submission to "antiquated patriarchal traditions". Be glad to know that your process of questioning and discovery is of great benefit to others!

  21. "I am under no illusions that marriage is a big basket of puppy-cuddles…"
    Love it!
    Great post.

    While I'm no spring chicken, this is my one and only marriage. It's funny how people project on your wedding and relationship when they find out you are engaged. You end up with pressure from every direction. Relatives, friends, co-workers, strangers.
    My boss (jokingly? I think) calls it my "starter marriage" and says "you'll call that off before then". My in-laws are pressuring us to have kids – they aren't concerned about the wedding, they just want me to push out some humans. My parents are getting on my case about the guest list. They want me to invite every relative that's alive and everyone they know. And when we tell people that we're having a late October wedding, "the weather is so unpredictable that time of year" and the you should's.

    I'm going to have to adopt your "I don't give a fuck" attitude about this wedding. If someone doesn't like it, I don't give a fuck – it's my wedding. They can do something different for their own.

  22. Thanks for the post, it made me cry! Especially since I'm dealing with my mother, who thinks that standing out is a sin. I've always been the weird one, and it breaks my heart that I embarrass her. How do I be strong against someone that I want love and acceptance from?

    • This is one of those difficult Grown Up conversations that sometimes suck. I had to do this with my mother and may at some point have to do it with my FMIL. I told my mother, "We are very different people and we do things in different ways. I am me and you are you. Your ways are good for you and my ways are good for me. I feel disrespected when you are judgmental about the ways I do things and that hurts our relationship. Just because you have ways of doing things does not mean that those are the only valid ways of doing things. My ways are also valid. I want our relationship to be loving and respectful. I ask that you show me the same respect I show you by accepting that the way I do things is valid and reasonable."

      Hopefully she will be able to do this. Maybe she won't. It may take her time. Hugs and good luck.

  23. Love love love this! There are so many huge historical and political forces pushing and pulling at us from all directions in relation to marriage, but when it comes down to it the important thing is to make the right decision for you and your partner.

  24. i love the philosophy on this website. it does something very healing to my soul as i try and navigate the insanity of wedding planning.

  25. Being in the middle of wedding planning this really speaks to me. Thank you for writing something so honest, a few years down the road and these words are still important.
    Thank you!

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.