When your culture is counter-culture: Lovingly explaining your more traditional wedding choices

Guest post by Rebecca
Shews

My husband and I are from small towns, and we work in corporate offices, so sometimes we seem kind of traditional and conservative. But we're also creative types who make art and like to hang around with others who do, too, so sometimes we seem kind of quirky and unconventional. Sometimes I'm the only person at a reading wearing pantyhose; sometimes I'm the only person in the office who goes to readings.

So we had plenty of people in our lives who were expecting us to get married in their idea of the traditional way — matching bridesmaids, a light touch of religion, and a hyperactive DJ. And we had plenty of people who weren't really expecting us to get married at all, or at least, not have a wedding. Certainly no one was mean to me in the run-up to my wedding, but I did hear some comments and suggestions that made me realize that cultural norms can be very strong even when the culture is the counter-culture.

Despite being very susceptible to suggestions, I did manage to stand firm on how I wanted the wedding to be. Offbeat Bride has some wonderful, “Thank you for your interest but I've already decided” conflict resolution posts that apply to pretty much anything. But here are some specific scenarios if you, like me, find yourself a little bit too onbeat for others' likings.

“Aren't you uncomfortable with the patriarchal implications of a veil/being walked down the aisle/taking his name?”

Sometimes, it's helpful to keep the discussion on the personal level — this isn't about all women everywhere, just about me. When asked, I was happy to say the reason I walked down the aisle with my father is that I knew he was looking forward to it, and he has never treated me like chattel. I believed that there was little chance, in our specific case, of the gesture being misconstrued. However, with more distant friends — folks who weren't actually invited to the wedding — I had to recognize that not everyone knows, or needs to know, the whole story.

Here's a good, very general, answer to the “patriarchy question” that I co-opted from my sister-in-law: Weddings used to be a transfer of a non-voting, non-working, often teenaged female from the custodianship of her father to the custodianship of her husband. So yes, there are things about weddings that seem symbolic of the patriarchy. But since being married in my culture no longer means a wife must “obey” her husband, many of the other woman-unfriendly connotations may have dissolved as well.

“You could make decorations/clothes/accessories yourself, you know.”

I should admit that I'm a little touchy about my lack of crafting ability, and I sometimes felt offended by the above statement when I really shouldn't have. Often, what people really meant was, “I can help you make that” or even “I would love to make that for you” and I was eventually able to accept some of these offers gratefully.

Still, there were times when I'd chosen to do without something, or to purchase it off-the-shelf, for a reason. Mainly, I didn't want the wedding to be a huge project that would divert everyone's energies into work as opposed to celebration — and that's exactly what I told people. I do sometimes enjoy crafts, but in the end there were showers and a bachelorette, and I have limited free time. I wanted to have fun and celebrate my wedding, not fret at how much I suck with hot-glue, or how guilty I felt offloading the hot-glue onto friends.

“Why would you waste all that money on one day?”

I heard this one a lot and I do get it — money's tight for a lot of people these days, and when you don't have enough, it can sting to see someone spending a lot on something you think unnecessary. I'm a big fan of potluck weddings, breakfast weddings, picnic weddings, and myriad lower-cost options, but there were reasons why they weren't right for us. We ended up saving up and having a sit-down dinner and dance, complete with open bar. It was a lot of money, but people had a fantastic time, and so did we.

Around a month before the wedding, my husband lost his job and I got my good answer to this question — feel free to tweak it for yourself. “Even with much less financial leeway, I realized we still were really happy with all the wedding plans. We didn't spend money on anything that wasn't important to us. That's when I knew we'd made the right choices for us.”

“Why would you want to get the government involved in your relationship?”

Argh. This is such a loaded question, and I had to really think it through. First of all, you don't owe anyone an explanation, but I found I felt calmer if I had one in my head. I realized that although our love is private and personal, our relationship is part of a community much larger than just the two of us, and we wanted to formally commit not just to each other but to each other's families and friends and world.

I was also very happy to be joining an institution that had done well by a lot of people in our lives. Both his parents and mine have been happily married for 40 years, and his siblings and many of our friends are in wonderful marriages that inspire us with their kindness and generosity and love. Among our community, marriage is a large and convivial team, one we wanted to join.

Ultimately, I don't think folks necessarily want to know what you're thinking so much as that you are thinking — that you're not just following tradition blindly. That's a good thing for any bride or groom to know, actually. Marriage can mean so many different things, it's worth considering what it actually means to you.

Comments on When your culture is counter-culture: Lovingly explaining your more traditional wedding choices

  1. Such a great article! Am going thru some of the same scenarios, so I really appreciate her words. Thank you for reminding me that my husband and I should be ok with ALL our wedding choices and beliefs.

  2. Hear hear! It’s hard for people to understand each other, period, and everyone can be guilty of prejudice and suspicion, no matter how (un)traditional you are. It’s always more difficult to be in the middle, to maintain balance, than it is to just come down hard on one side or the other. Thanks for sharing–this is just what I needed to hear!

  3. I’m pretty well-known as the offbeat one in my family. Naturally, I have already have some offbeat ideas for my wedding such as walking down the aisle solo, gender-friendly language, pink bridal gown, the list goes on. However, when I mentioned to my family that I want to wait until the ceremony to see my groom on my wedding day, my mom was like, “But I thought you weren’t keeping any traditions!” My response: “Well, I’m keeping that one. Also, just because I hate some traditions doesn’t mean I hate ALL of them.” We also plan to do Bible readings, have the first dance, have parent/child dances, use a color scheme, and do the bouquet/garter toss. I say that if you really like and value a tradition, by all means do it!!!

    • My fiance and I were talking about this just yesterday, and he gave me a great quote (though I can’t remember where he got it from). But the idea of it was:

      When you start throwing out traditions then traditions actually become more important. You let go of the ones that don’t resonate, and hold on to the ones that are meaningful to you.

      There aren’t many traditions that are being kept in recognizable form for our wedding, but EVERYTHING we’re doing (even the silly stuff) is being discussed and thought through by the both of us very carefully. While it may seem non-traditional to our families from both ends of the spectrum, it’s all sacred to us. (oddly enough my traditional family is having an easier time with our choices, while pagan friends are having a hard time with our plan to re-interpret a handfasting in order to accommodate our personal beliefs as well as my son’s PDD-NOS).

    • I just want to let you know, I LOVE seeing Brides in Pink dresses. Other color dresses are fine, but pink ones just make me smile. 🙂

      I bet you’re going to rock your dress.

  4. Great article! My husband and I also walk on the line between traditional and unconventional. Often, our choices baffle everyone.

    I agree firmly with having an unemotional answer ready for when those questions pop up, and they will pop up! Your wedding day should be about you and your choices and commitments, and not what everyone else expects your relationship, wedding, and marriage to be.

  5. Ah the passive-aggressive rhetorical question. The person posing the question undoubtedly already knows the answer but wants YOU know that HE/SHE thinks you are WRONG.

    I wish I could say I’ve never done this but its an easy trap to fall into, especially when you’re surprised by something. ( “Um..what? You’re planning on ‘obeying’ your husband?? )

    But I fight the good fight and try to reserve “advice” only when specifically asked for it. It saves my face from meeting my palm too many times.

  6. This post struck a major chord with me, because an acquaintance actually made fun of me about my choices and I was too shocked to know how to handle it.

    I’d intended to get a bright, colourful gown – red or blue – because white doesn’t suit me. In the end, though, I found a vintage evening gown from 1953 which is stunning, makes me breathless, and is a pale shade of gold with pink bits. (It’s hard to explain.)

    When I told this acquaintance about the dress, I suddenly found myself being berated and made fun of.

    “Aw man, you went TRADITIONAL! EVERYBODY goes traditional in the end! I had such hopes for you! I’m so disappointed, I thought you’d be one of the GOOD ones!” and so on.

    I just mumbled and changed the topic, but I was actually really hurt by it. How would you have handled it, OBB?

    • Oh man, people have their opinions, don’t they? Some outsiders have a hard time conceptualizing and understanding the process that you and your partner are going trough and putting together.
      The dress sounds perfect. I think you said it right there, it “makes me breathless”.
      Everyone will be breathless as you grace them.
      It doesn’t matter what everyone else says because you are not marrying them. Your wedding will be the perfect expression of you and your partner. Good luck and have fun!

    • Oh, Jen, that does sound like a gorgeous dress–and a really harsh response from your friend, especially considering a dress is a choice that affects *no one* but you. I didn’t have to deal with that specific situation (and my dress was ivory!) but I found in general, when anyone was critical of my choices, I could say, “I really like it and it makes me happy” to end the matter. It’s a really straightforward, honest, non-combative answer, but it makes it really difficult for someone to argue. What are they going to say, “I don’t want you to be happy–I want you to do it my way!”???

      Congratulations on your lovely dress–please enjoy it!

    • First of all, your dress sounds GORGEOUS. What a find!

      And on topic, I know how much this can suck. I’m fairly openly offbeat in real life, and have fun offbeat plans for my wedding. But I had one friend upon hearing about my pending nuptials exclaim, “Oh God, you’re not going to be all boring and get a white dress, right?” and yep! I absolutely plan on a white dress! Because I know that’s what makes me happy. Ultimately, dealing with the people aghast I’m wearing white is the same as dealing with people aghast that I’m pairing that dress with white combat boots. I just politely let them know that I’m making the choices that will make me happiest and feel my most badass and confident on my wedding day. Ultimately your wedding is there to celebrate the love between you and your spouse, not to amuse and entertain those invited. If you and your spouse love your wedding, that’s all that matters. You’re the ones who will (hopefully) be fondly reminiscing about it in twenty years, long after any friends or family have forgotten the details and moved on.

  7. I really appreciated this post. With the way our society views weddings today, it’s often exceptionally difficult to create a wedding that is really personal without everyone getting their opinions involved or making it more than it is. Thank you for taking the time to post on this issue!

  8. We are definitely going through the “why would you even want to get married” question although everyone was so excited when we got engaged. It isn’t a first wedding for either of us but is a first wedding for “us AS us.”

  9. I LOVE this quote from your post: “Ultimately, I don’t think folks necessarily want to know what you’re thinking so much as that you are thinking — that you’re not just following tradition blindly.”

    This could apply to so many things in life, and its a lesson to all of us to not be judgmental about other people’s choices in life, and make sure we are attempting to not sound judgmental to others. No need for all that negativity, especially when you never meant any negativity in the first place.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this, I love what you had to say, and will be thinking about this as I go forward in my own wedding plans.

  10. I just got engaged and I really appreciate these ideas…I have a lot of people who expect me to be either/or and this was really helpful to get me thinking what my answers to these inevitable questions will be!

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