Let’s re-write our notions about what defines a wedding!

Guest post by Alexandra Haller
Alexandra with her husband Jason and their dog Quixote on the wedding day. Awwww. Picture by Jill Kulchinksy

One of my favorite authors is an evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He wrote a letter to his young daughter on exactly how people should challenge the notions of what is true and untrue. For the sake of this post, I want to recall what he says about tradition not being a great reason to do something. He writes:

The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story was. If you make up a story that isn't true, handing it down over a number of centuries doesn't make it any truer!

A perfect example of this is the white wedding dress. People had been getting married for a century, even a millennia, without wearing white. Suddenly Queen Victoria sashayed down the aisle in dazzling white to prove her worth in wealth, and the white-dress-as-tradition took hold. If you ask most brides why they'd wear white, it's typically because this is what's done. It's rarely questioned, because you hardly ever see a wedding that strays from this black and white picture.

Has our collective notion of what defines a wedding gone this far off the rails?

The wedding ceremony and the following reception seem to be the last social events in our country to change even in the slightest. If you dare to ask what the big deal is about a white dress, people will ask you why you'd want to look like a harlot. If you suggest having canolis for dessert and skipping the cake-cutting ceremony, people will balk as if you've just asked your guests to eat their own toenails. You don't want a bridal party either? Well apparently you have no friends and no respect for tradition. It's clear that when you deviate from the preordained structure of a “classic” wedding, you're a rebel, a renegade, an outlaw.

I didn't wear a white wedding dress and people begged to know why. What did I have against white? Did I have to make a statement at my wedding? Was my husband OK with this? Well, he married me with my obsessive compulsive tendencies, my micromanaging money habits, my complete inability to shut a cupboard door, and yet somehow there's this notion that the color of a dress I'd wear for a few hours would overshadow all of that. That it would make him run for the hills, or at least the nearest David's Bridal, where surely he could find something more appropriate. Well, my husband was at first taken aback. But that isn't surprising because he'd never been to a wedding that featured any other option. Now that you've seen the picture that accompanies this story, you know he must've made peace with my blue dress.

If you want to serve Hot Pockets, does that mean your union is doomed? Of course not. I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.

A pirate outfit. Vows said while dangling from a tree branch. A bridal party wearing kilts. There are so many ways to customize the event. If your mother-in-law is pressuring you to have a white, three-tiered wedding cake, well, it's your wedding. However, if you want to serve Hot Pockets, does that mean your union is doomed, your love isn't genuine, and your future is bleak? Of course not. I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.

If you really want the engagement photo shoot with the vintage luggage because you're into time period pictorials, go for it. If you want to twirl a baton because you met at band camp while your man straps on his large tuba, do it with smiles! Really big smiles that say, “I love who I am and my partner too, but I hope that tuba doesn't come into bed with us!” Don't be anything else but yourself.

Marriage is going to be hard. It's going to require the strength to know yourself and your values. It's not going to be decided by the number of guests at your wedding, the color of someone's shoes, or the flavor of a cake. If you can both be yourself on that one day and proudly boast about your puppy coming down the aisle, you're on the path to self-acceptance.

Eventually those streamers will be in the garbage, and your new dishes will be put away, and many of the wedding details will fade. You'll find yourself late for an event because your husband was in the bathroom for two hours with the sports section. At that moment you'll discover what your marriage really looks like.

Comments on Let’s re-write our notions about what defines a wedding!

  1. Horay!! I completely agree, Me and my FH have been talking about just this sort of thing. He keeps asking “but can we do that?” And I keep replying. “um, yeah, its our wedding!” I’m forwarding this to him now! Thank you for this post!

  2. My fiance challenges me to rethink the wedding assumptions. And then he pops out with a very traditional idea on something else. We’re making this one our own choosing the traditions we like/have become attached to (white dress, public ceremony, cake…maybe even with icky fondant b/c it’s PRETTY) and then choosing our own (unique outdoor location, no religion, small guest list, phone invites, etc.)

    We’re growing in this together and it’s awesome.

  3. I totally agree, and I am always driven nuts when people behave like deviation from a full dinner reception is totally against tradition. I mean up until maybe 30 years ago cake and punch receptions were the norm. Only the rich served dinner. Although, I also admit that this isn’t even the point. Even if cake and punch receptions weren’t ever tradition the truth is is that what you do at your wedding won’t define the marriage. A traditional wedding doesn’t equal a happy marriage. Either you just love tradition (which is totally cool) or are being bullied into a wedding because everyone else does it

  4. This should be required reading for everyone who’s even thinking about planning a wedding!

  5. “I have yet to see the bar graphs that correlate confections with overall marital satisfaction.”

    This? Is so true. Thank you for this post. My same-sex, no bridal party, jeans-wearing-father-in-attendance is in the works – and includes a white dress (two, actually), a cake, and some pretty centerpieces. It’s allll good. All of it.

  6. Funny think about the white dress: I was asked, “You’re not wearing white, are you? Wouldn’t that be kind of hypocritical, since you’ve been married before?”


    • my friend didn’t think she should wear white for her second marriage, but her mom staunchly disagreed, “her first marriage didn’t really count.” gotta love mom…

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m taking an event planning course, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person there who reads Offbeat Bride. During the first class, I brought up online invitations and you would have thought that I told them to kill their aunt and eat her. The only thing that a wedding requires is that two people end up married. Everything else is optional. I’m going to print this and bring it to my class next week.

  8. Thank you for such a great article. Your dress is amazing! I go back and forth on the white dress. It will be my second marriage, but I didn’t have “traditional” one the first time around. But then I’m not really sure I’m a white dress kind of person and I find myself thinking that all wedding dresses look exactly the same. Your article has inspired me to look in a different direction.

  9. YES! It drives me insane that our society has this expectation that you do “traditional” things just because they are “traditional.” If a particular tradition means nothing to my fiance and me, then why do it?

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