#1223: Feminist Wedding Etiquette Help

Dear Captain Awkward,

My fiancé and I (male and female, respectively; late 20s) are getting married next year. We are both so happy and in love and so excited to be taking this next step in our relationship. Our issue is that we want to alter some elements of our wedding and are facing judgement from our family and friends. I am admittedly the prototypical liberal feminist who enjoys interrogating materialism, capitalism, and the patriarchy for sport. My partner is easy-going, but he understands my beliefs and has open dialogues with me on a variety of weighted topics. I can admit that most of these wedding-related changes are my ideas, but my partner supports me and understands why I feel so strongly.

I’ve told my family and close friends some of our ideas for the wedding, like:
We don’t want gifts and want folks to donate to a charity on our behalf if they so choose.
We’re not having a full wedding party, but using our siblings instead; my brother will be my “man of honor” and my future sister-in-law will be the “groomswoman”.
I don’t want my father to walk me down the aisle because I think that is too patriarchal. In my mind, it looks as if one man is passing ownership of me to another man. Instead, my parents will walk down the aisle together and I will walk alone.
Our family and friends are often shocked that we’d consider straying from the “traditional” wedding etiquette, like wedding registries and my father walking me down the aisle. We’ve heard from multiple people on multiple occasions “why even have a wedding if it’s not going to be traditional?”. My response so far is to say that this is mine and my partners’ day to celebrate us, so we should be able to have the wedding we want and our friends and family should support us.

I try to be as open minded to suggestions as possible. We’ve gotten feedback on our venue, the date, and even if it should be inside or outside. We’ve heard these suggestions and made adjustments to our plans in the spirit of making our guests comfortable. The suggestions I listed above are more about representing who my partner and I are as a couple, at least in my mind.

For what it’s worth – my partner sticks up for me as best he can, but we’re both at a loss for words. The judgement is coming from both sides of our family/friends…and take from this what you will, but the judgers are primarily female.

As we get deeper into the planning process, I anticipate that I will want to put my personal spin on even more wedding elements, and we will continue to be judged for our choices. Can you either help me put this in perspective, or provide some responses I can say to my family and friends? I don’t think that any of my suggestions so far are that radical, and I struggle seeing other people’s perspective on why our ideas are so strange. Of course this is not the biggest deal in the world, and I know we are lucky to be able to afford a wedding and to have found our partner for life. I want to enjoy the next several months of planning and represent who my partner and I are without judgement.

Feminist Bride in a Patriarchal World

Hi there,

We covered a lot of ground with weddings earlier in the year, but your question is so interesting to me because it’s a case of someone trying to be thoughtful and inclusive and ask for feedback and really discuss things (all lovely qualities) and it’s backfiring all over you. It’s time to bring certain decisions inside to a small internal audience and stop running things by everybody or explaining them.

How do we get there?

Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding are going to be your best buds right now.  Most of what you need will be there.

Click for my plan for making the process less argumentative.

Step 1: Who Needs To Know What When?

I recommend you rethink how and who you discuss wedding decisions with. Grab a piece of paper and roughly divide the people who care about your wedding into a series of circles, like so:

Circle One: You & your fiancé.

Circle Two: People whose response to everything you are planning is “SOUNDS GREAT, WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM ME?” and who do not require explanations or justification.

Here’s the trick, though: Be very, very conservative about who is in Circle 2. These people may or may not be in your family. These people may or may not exist, or they may be a single person. Commander Logic was one of my chief wedding cheerleaders/planning buddies. Decisions got made with Mr. Awkward, then run by Logic (& one other delightful friend) if necessary, and then (possibly) communicated more widely (when the time was right). You’ve been having a lot of discussions so you probably have a good idea who is likely to “yes, and?” your wedding ideas and who is likely to argue. All the arguers, I don’t care if they gave birth to you from their bodies, get automatically demoted. Right now.

—————————– Here be a firewall. A metaphorical moat.—————————————

Circle Three: People who need to know certain details about your wedding because it involves their participation or needs their assistance or input but are likely to try to argue with you about certain traditions. (Close family? People who are making a financial contribution?). You may not do what they want, but you do on a certain level care what they think.

Circle Four: People who need to know about your wedding pretty much when they receive an invitation to that wedding. “Here’s where to be and what to wear! Hotel info is on the website, where you can also RSVP.”

Circle Five: People who won’t be at your wedding but who will ask you “How’s the wedding planning going?” because they like you and are happy for you or want to be polite (think: friendly coworkers) + Everybody Else.

Got your circles defined? Great.

Step 2: Making Decisions vs. Communicating Decisions

Circle One ONLY, decision time: What do you and your fiancé want at your wedding? What’s important to you?

  • Start with big picture stuff: Date + venue (honestly, where you do it dictates so much about the rest and is the hardest thing to nail down). Ceremony/officiant. Who it’s most important to have with you and how to accommodate them (“My beloved brother will only be in the country for these six weeks, so, that has to be our window.” “Grandma can’t travel long distances so we have to keep the party within 1 hour drive of her”).
  • Then nail down other important stuff. You’d prefer no gifts. You’d prefer that both your parents walk you down the aisle. You’d prefer that siblings stand up with you but you won’t have a wedding party. What do you want people to drink/eat/wear/do? What does the ideal day look like for you? What does a really good day look like given the constraints of the budget and the space-time continuum?
  • What is some wedding stuff that you want but don’t particularly care how it’s done? Make a list. Do you want flowers? Do you care a lot what color and type the flowers are? Do you want cake? Do you have a special dream cake because your families are rival guilds of competitive bakers or is all wedding cake kinda basically the same (i.e. Cake Is Good! Yay For Cake!). Bonus if it’s something his or your family members care a lot about how it’s done.

Step 2 Communications Protocols:

  •  Get on the same page with your fiancé (Circle One). That’s the most important thing.
  • Bounce things off Circle Two as you wish. Wedding planning is stressful, it’s good to have a buddy! All “brainstorming” stays within the top two circles unless it’s essential to have Circle Three input on something OR you just want to bounce something off Circle Five b/c they brought it up it’s fun to talk about.
  • Make decisions.
  • THEN communicate decisions.
  • ALL OTHER CIRCLES: Until a date, venue, big picture stuff is nailed down: “Wedding planning is a circus, right? But we’re very excited.” 
  • Once a date & venue is nailed down, somehow inform Circles Three & Four: “It’s going to be on [day] at [place]. We can’t wait!”
  • When Circle Three people want to help or give input, CHANNEL THEM: Ask for their advice, help, input, thoughts, about the list of things that you don’t care that much about. “I’m trying to decide if I want scarlet napkins or harvest russet napkins, what do you think?” 
  • When Circle Three people want to plan *something,* CHANNEL THEM: My suggestion is for you to consider saving your energy/negotiating for the actual wedding and let your in-laws/parents throw the rehearsal dinner/morning after breakfast of their dreams where your sole job is “show up on time.”
  • When Circle Five’s “how’s the wedding planning going?” is friendly and more than polite chitchat, bounce that same list of stuff that’s not particularly essential off them. “I found these T-Rex cake toppers on Etsy but maybe we should go Star Wars?
  • NEVER ARGUE WITH OR EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO CIRCLE FIVE. The thing about Circle Five is, do you honestly need to care what Sharon In Accounting’s Second Cousin Thinks About Essential Wedding Dances? You do not. These are people who can give you their opinion all the livelong day and it has zero effect on your plans.
  • If you find yourself arguing with Circle Four…ask yourself why? Chiefly what you need to know from them is “Do I need to rent you a chair and include you in my catering numbers?” They need to RSVP yes or no. That’s it.

Step 3: Skip The Feminism Education

Skip the assertions or arguments that your wedding will be different from other weddings or that somehow by having this and not that you are making a giant step forward for feminism and showing capitalism what’s what.

Skip the criticisms, implied or otherwise, of what other weddings (weddings that your beloved guests and relatives have participated in and attended) are like.

Nobody cares. 

Nobody’s going to walk away from your wedding thinking, “Well, that changes everything.” “I am totally going to to rethink gender hierarchies now.” People who love you are going to be happy for you, they are going to hopefully have a fun time, they are going to learn a little bit more about you, and a year from your wedding date they will remember stuff like “that was a very nice wedding” and not much else, except for people who are planning weddings, who will remember, “I need to ask ___ where she rented her chairs, they were comfortable.” 

Wedding planning is not activism. Activism is activism.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to care, you 100% are allowed to care! And you’re not alone in caring or weird for caring!

That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to make choices that reflect your values, you absolutely are.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a bunch of totally weird patriarchal traditions and expectations settling like a heavy mantle around your shoulders right now, or that you’re not feeling the pressure to assert your values in the face of that! The primal scream of “I WANT TO LOOK PRETTY AND MARRY A MAN AT A PARTY, BUT I AM A FEMINIST GODDAMNIT” is real, I too have screamed it.

Just, I think there is a hierarchy of reasonable expectations, namely:

  1. Do you want to do the thing your way/in a way that you are comfortable with so that you will enjoy your wedding more and know that you are being true to your values?
  2. Do you want people close to you to understand why you are doing it your way (even if they don’t necessarily agree)?
  3. Do you want people to both understand why you are doing it your way and agree with you in advance that it’s the best/right way?

#1= Within reach and worth fighting for, IMHO. Enlist your fiancé and choose your Circle Two team accordingly!

#2 – Might be worth some effort for Circle Three people who are very close to you, one script is, “I know this isn’t what you imagined, but it’s very important to me because of _____, and I’m so excited about it, can I count on you to trust me on this?” 

#3 – Gonna be honest, take all the energy you might use patiently persuading skeptical guests about how your wedding will be both a fun time and an airtight refutation of patriarchal traditions and use it to unionize your workplace or register new voters. It will be both easier and a better use of your time. The world is on fire, you have a lot going on, choose your battles. If you get to do your wedding your way (and you do), people get to feel how they want about it.

Step 4: What To Do Instead

  • Make the feminist party you want.

  • Invite people IN.

There are ways to build what you value into what you plan.

  • My friend makes beautiful pottery and cares a lot about sustainability, so he made the cups that got used at his wedding, and people took them home.
  • A friend’s dad is a composer, he wrote all the music that played at her wedding ceremony. It was incredibly beautiful music and also incredibly hilarious because the entrance music had a vibe of “Oh hey, the groom, that’s pretty good” for the first part and “THE BRIDE, MY INCREDIBLE DAUGHTER, IS COMING, I REPEAT, THE BRIDE IS COMING, BEHOLD THE BRIDE” for her entrance. ❤
  • I filmed the wedding of a lovely early reader of the site. Someone in her family builds wonderful puppets, and during the reception there was a spectacular, nerdy puppet show about how the couple got together built around their favorite TV shows.
  • I went to a wedding where the bride was from Mexico and had lost her dad not too long before the ceremony, which happened in early November, close to the Day of the Dead. She incorporated an altar into the reception and invited guests to write notes and light candles for people they had lost.
  • Other friends just had their wedding in the hospice so their mom could literally be there while she is still alive. Are we going to tell those people that “But it just isn’t a wedding without [name your traditional big wedding accoutrement]”? No. We are not.
  • I have friends who had been together for years, moved home to be near family, bought a house, threw a potluck housewarming party and invited everyone who lived close by to come and bring a hot dish. When people arrived, they said, by the way, this is our wedding, let’s go out back and get this done.
  • I have friends who, somewhat freaked out at the prospect of an elaborate multi-day Indian wedding while they were both in grad school, got quietly hitched at City Hall for the health insurance about nine months before the big day. They told nobody, went on a quiet little weekend trip that was just for them, and then went through the family extravaganza with good humor and smiles on their faces. They’d done the thing that was just theirs and could do the thing that would make their families happy, too.

As for the aisle thing:

    • My aunt remarried in her late fifties, she walked her goddamn self down the aisle.
    • My friend’s twelve-year-old son walked her down the aisle and gave the “best man” toast welcoming his stepdad to the family, he brought down the house (that family RULES at toasts/impromptu public speaking). The baseball-loving couple got married in a little league stadium and crushed the glass on home plate.
awkwarddadwalk

OH SHIT, PATRIARCHY

  • My dad walked me down the aisle because my mom said that it was something he would never push me to do but that he’d probably really love it if I asked, plus I’d just been at a wedding where the bride had recently lost her dad and it was like, “I still get to have my dad.” (#feelings) When we were standing around waiting for our turn to walk he leaned over to me and said, “Well, this is awkward” (afaik he doesn’t know about this site or my open secret internet identity, it was totally unprompted, making it one of the most hilarious memories of that day). Plus, the ground was kinda uneven and a little damp, so it was good to have a sturdy arm to lean on, my shoes had ZERO traction.

You can do whatever you want. I think the trick is, don’t tell people what you aren’t doing or explain why it’s different from the usual thing, tell people* what you are doing and how psyched you are to do it.

Tell your parents, “It’s really important to me that you both walk me down the aisle, will you do that for me?” 

Make one of those cheesy wedding sites (they are honestly so useful for logistical information) and on the tab for “gifts/registry” list the charities you’d love to see get donations. Don’t write about how gifts are capitalist claptrap, write something like “We know gifts are traditional, but celebrating with you is the only thing we really want. Here are a few causes that are important to us if you’d like to make a donation in our name.” 

Know that some people are going to donate nothing and some people are going to put money in a fancy card or give you a blender anyway. There is no argument you can possibly make that will get them to not do this, so, you can donate whatever it is if you want to, or have a slightly more awesome honeymoon.

*People = If people aren’t Circle Two (known cheerleaders) or Circle Three (they actually need to know a thing because you want them to do a thing, like, give a reading) it’s okay to let most of your party planning be a total and complete surprise. The more you tell certain people about what you have going on, and the more in advance you do it, the more time people have to wonder aloud at you,“Why isn’t wee Orson the ringbearer, you must have a Ringbearer, that is a Thing At Weddings, Orson is only four but he will remember this slight for life!” vs. “I did not know a cute dog was going to be the ringbearer, how adorable!” 

You ended your letter with “I want to enjoy the next several months of planning and represent who my partner and I are without judgement.”

I FEEL THAT FEEL, FRIEND.

I got married in a field in a $40 dress**, officiated by a good friend who was ordained on the internet. Our catering was from a grocery store (which I am linking because maybe someone else needs fucking delicious food for not much money ). We had no dance floor or “first dance” or “dance with opposite-gender parent” (Mr. Awkward’s mom was in a wheelchair) or bouquet toss (I’m not giving my bouquet away, I just got it and I want to stare at it and smell it for a few days!), a fact which people found out at the event itself and if they had feelings about that they were cool enough to never tell me.

We did, basically, NOTHING that my mom envisioned a wedding would be like (a year before the thing she was pre-apologizing to relatives for how “rustic” it was going to be, cried on Mother’s Day because “all her children” had chosen non-Catholic weddings and did that mean she was a bad mom, worried that nobody would come if it wasn’t going to be “like a real wedding”) but on the actual day she came up to me right after and said, “It was a beautiful ceremony and the two of you are peas in a pod, I can see that.” She could see that I am surrounded by friends, she could see that people were relaxed and happy and having fun, she could see that I am loved, and that was enough. For some families that will never be enough, and there’s no wedding or script that could ever fix that and I worried that that was going to be us because some of the discussions got pretty rocky for a while. But here’s what was really going on: During the planning stages she couldn’t imagine it, she could only compare it to what was missing from the picture in her mind about what it should be. She was worried about looking silly in front of other people. On the actual day, I was happy, guests were happy, everybody had enough to eat, the weather was great, we were all happy to see each other, and she could finally see what we’d had in mind.

What I learned that I’d really like to pass on to you: The less I explained and justified it and the more I just did it, the better it all went. 

Think of it like naming a baby (or puppy or kitty or snake if you prefer). Before a baby is born, baby name decisions are for CIRCLE ONE AND TWO ONLY. Everyone can find a reason to argue with a theoretical name, names are powerful, they bring up a ton of feelings about culture and family. It’s much harder to argue with, “Hey, meet Baby Orson, he’s going to be your ringbearer someday!” when someone hands you an adorable ball of eyes and feet and tiny, tiny, fingernails. It’s not that people won’t think, “Orson, really, that’s kind of lot to saddle on a kid, I hope the parents are ready to paint the word ‘Rosebud’ on a sled now and get it out of the way” but it’s harder to be a critical asshole *to an actual living baby’s face,* the same way it’s harder to be a critical asshole to a person *on their wedding day.* There is power in a fait accompli. Harness it.

People are going to judge, compare your wedding to other weddings (and bring you presents, resistance is futile) but are you happy with your decisions? Are you happy with your plans? Is your fiancé happy and on board with all of it? Is he an equal partner in planning, etc.? Do you think you are making a pleasant party for people where they can be comfortable and see you and eat and drink enough and have a reliable bathroom situation? Are you being true to your own values? Are you both on the same team? Then you’re doing great, and this next year or so is going to be a lot of practice in being okay with your plans even if other people are skeptical. It’s also going to be a lot of practice in talking about your plans selectively, and without delivering a manifesto or an implied judgment of other people’s weddings or weddings in general. As you say, your plans are not that radical or strange, so, resist the temptation to fall into a “I’m not like other [generic][traditional][un-feminist] brides, I swear!” trap. It’s just too much work and pressure, the whole thing is hard enough without feeling like you have to Make A Statement At All Times or compete against other people.

I hope that helps, I hope the planning and the day are wonderful, that your marriage is happy, I hope the Offbeat Bride archives give you all the support you need (there are many posts about feminism & weddings, nontraditional weddings, explaining nontraditional choices to traditional folks, when it’s okay to just embrace the traditional templates, the wedding-industrial complex, etc. that I will not attempt to recreate here).

**We ended up on a much tighter budget than anticipated because of medical stuff the prior year. NEVER invoke me to shame people about what they spent on weddings, if we’d had more money, we would have gladly spent more on a few things.

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