Discarding wedding traditions and getting married on our own terms

Guest post by Kirilee Rae
Elegant Moody Game Of Thrones Wedding Inspiration Marion Matrimony Events LLC58 alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
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.

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

  1. “…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.”

    Thank you for saying this! My partner and I are eloping for the very reason that I do not believe in being “given away”. This is my choice! I am so thankful there is another who has had the same thoughts. I am taking his last name because I want to be able to call ourselves ‘Team Wichert’, not for traditional reasons.

    • The Macedonian (Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian & other eastern european countries) Orthodox church doesn’t include that question in the service. The belief is that two adults have made the decision to wed and have come there voluntarily. The priest asks this of the bride & groom at the beginning of the ceremony.

  2. So much yes in this! I’ve had to have every single tradition and “must-do” explained to me so we can decide if it’s relevant to us. Being given away was something I particularly baulked at, so we’re walking in together. The speeches have got an equality makeover too. I hated the idea that only the male perspective is given (as is tradition in the UK, it’s father of the bride, groom and bestman). Everyone has their own message they want to get across, and mine is that we’re equal partners, all the way!

    • This is exactly what we did just 2 weeks ago at our wedding! I was at the church at the beginning, with my now-husband and we greeted our guests together, instead of anyone walking up the aisle. People were surprised, but it was lovely to have a bit of extra time to chat to people before the ceremony started.

      Instead of traditional speeches, my mum gave a welcome speech on behalf of all the parents. My husband and I gave a short speech together (where I got to use the line “My husband and I…” first, which got a great cheer!) and my sister-in-law gave a toast and we invited a couple of friends to do a funny sketch type thing (they are actors!). It all worked just fine and I don’t think anyone missed the traditional format.

      I hope your day goes really well – stick to your guns about doing things a bit differently! I’m sure everyone will enjoy it. 🙂

  3. It’s so funny this was posted today. I was just getting ready to write a journal entry around this topic.

    Yesterday, my FH and I had dinner with my parents and his mother for them to meet instead of meeting for the first time AT OUR WEDDING in eight weeks. At one point the dinner conversation devolved into a take down of ME and my decision to eschew traditional wedding elements such as the garter and bouquet toss. It got a little ugly and I felt ganged up on, but I didn’t waver. This is the modern age. If I don’t want to do something that I find ridiculous, embarrassing, and even sexist, I don’t have to do it at my wedding! They all kind of laughed at me and how riled up I got, but that’s fine. They can laugh all they want. And they can take the traditions they believe are required and shove them.

  4. I’m quite happy living in bull terrier-sharing “sin.”

    Hey…. that’s my bull terrier… seriously though… great article.

    • That was my favorite line, because for us it was “pitbull terrier-sharing sin” for a while. 😉

      • Our cat sent our Save the Dates (not really, obviously, but they had a picture of him in a bow tie explaining that his humans were getting married). I’m not sure we can really say we’re living in fatcat sharing sin though; you don’t own a cat, it owns you. =P

        • That’s awesome! I wonder if Teapot, our Bull Terrier could walk me down the isle…? Wait, what am I saying she would NEVER give me away 🙂

        • I totally did the same idea, but with our dogs. Instead of saying ” the parents of….” on the wedding invites, we sent the invites from our dogs. Then dressed up our dogs with a veil and bow tie. Totally cute!

      • Hah! I thought this exact thing. My living in pitbull terrier sharing sin ended a few weeks ago at my wedding (which my pitbulls were part of!). Now I guess we live in pitbull terrier sharing wedded bliss? 🙂

  5. I have the same major issue with being “given away.” I have been down that rant so many times my man sees it coming like a freight train, and simply laughs it off. I don’t know if it’s something you’ve considered, but my compromise with it is to alter the language used by our officiant at the time. Instead of asking the usual, “who gives this woman to this man?” I plan to have them say something more along the lines of how I am arriving “in perfect love and perfect trust” – maybe not even saying anything at all about my Stepdad being there with me. You can always think about it, and work out your own wording.

    • We all have that moment we dream of for our wedding. And our parents have that moment they dream of for their child’s. The giving away thing seemed resolved to me because in a traditional Jewish wedding both the bride and the groom are escorted by both parents. But that was my dad’s *moment*. So we talked about it and turns out what he really wanted was that kiss off. So when my parents reached the end of the aisle, my mom sat down and my dad gave me that kiss. Be respectful of the fact that this isn’t just your dream day, but still do what’s right for you.

  6. Thank you for summing up my feelings exactly! I’ve battled with my mother about all the “traditional” elements that we’re not doing, and wanted to punch the eye-rollers or the nay-sayers. But at the end of the day what kept me strong, is my FH and I’s determination to make this wedding a celebration of OUR love, not anyone else’s.

  7. As an alternative to being the bride being given away, you can have the groom get given away.

    I didn’t want to be given away because if I’m going to enter into the last legal form of slavery, then I want to do it by myself. My husband, however, wanted his ex-wife to give him away. So I waited up front with the officiant, and he tromped down the aisle.

  8. My fiance and I are surrounded by some traditionalists and some modernists, I told my mom about getting us couples engagement rings, to replace the one that I got. We mutually decided upon getting engaged, he did ask permission from both sides of the family before hand. We both are planning the wedding together. We are the ones paying for it (Although if mom and dad want to help BMG). So when I told her about the rings my mom asked if I was proposing to him. I told her no, that we are in a mutual engagement agreement. Nobody had to “pop the question”, we both just knew it was what we wanted and we talked it over. I feel obligated to have my fiance go through with the entire traditional proposal just to fit my family and also to be given away by my dad, who is super traditional, because I will be the first daughter to get married with 1. his approval and 2. that he’ll actually be able to walk down the aisle. I just know that I don’t want anything super traditional to happen at my wedding, and if I had my way we’d get BBQ and hang out at an arcade or something and I know my fiance wouldn’t mind either.

  9. We’re fortunate that both of our families know us for being non-traditional, so most things we’ve mentioned that we’re doing or not doing have been generally accepted (though one aunt was shocked that we weren’t getting married in a church).

    I do have a bit of an issue though. I’d like to incorperate my dad into the day some how, but I don’t want him to “give me away” because-
    a) I’m not property and it would go against many of the values *he* instilled in me; and b) I’m not walking in after everyone has already arrived anyway; and
    c) My partner and I have been living together for a couple of years and living out of home for well over a decade each- it’s hardly like we’re parental property at this point

    He also doesn’t want to give a speech or a reading as he’s not a fan of public speaking, so I’m not really sure what else I can do to include him- anyone have any thoughts?

    • Do you have a ring bearer? If you aren’t doing a processional, then you could just have him walk up right before the ceremony and present you guys with the rings to use later. Gives me a chance to give you that “goodbye” kiss if he wants. As mentioned above, that was the part that my dad wanted/needed.

  10. Thank you so so much for writing this. I have so many problems with so many of the traditions surrounding the marriage ceremony. This is making me feel so much better and so much stronger as our wedding draws nearer.

    • I’m so glad you found something in it that made you feel better. It took writing it to make me feel confident enough to put my “big girl heels on” and stand my ground.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. “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!

  15. 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 😛

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 😉

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. My mum says it’s hurtful and humiliating for my father to not be able to walk me down the aisle, regardless I hate that tradition and will be walking in with my FH as I feel it is important for us to enter the marriage as equals.
    So my idea thus far is to have both sets of parents walk down the aisle ahead of us and then wait for us, once we get down the aisle we can hug them and thank them and then guide them to their seats. Other suggestions would be appreciated.

  22. my fh and I are going to walk to each other and meet in the middle f our guests for the ceremony.

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  24. I had just this predicament myself. My stepfather stopped speaking to me last October when he found out that I wasn’t having him, or my mom walk me down the aisle. I didn’t think it was fair to pick between him and my dad, plus I never wanted it in the first place, and having them both do it was not an option. I also didn’t see why I would want to have someone who has said so many terrible thing about me and my husband to my face on more than one occassion. I stuck to my decision, and even though my mom and stepfather have basically cut all ties with me, I don’t regret it.

  25. This is exactly what I needed. I am in the throws of planning my own wedding, and I have been getting so much flack from family and strangers alike! I want to have a very non-traditional wedding, a unique ceremony in the middle of our reception, a potluck dance party to celebrate, kegs, sharing etc. When looking for advice about hosting a “pot luck” type reception, all I get is criticism because it isn’t traditional, “you need to be a good hostess and provide your guests with everything they need”, “your reception is a gift to your guests” etc. Despite the fact that my fiance and I have what we think are good reasons to have a pot luck rather than a formal sit-down dinner we are still dealing with the naysayers. This article was great to read because it has reminded me that it’s OK to say “no” or “we’re making this our own thing”.

  26. Wow, so this helped me decide the isle thing. My dad is a great dad, and we don’t dislike each other, but we are not friends either. I live in another state and see them on holidays, like a distant aunt. Someone pointed out that I could have his and my parents walk down before us and then we could go together which is GREAT. You can take down YOUR wife dad, I will be taking MY future husband.

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