When you consider that the decision to get married is made in private, between the two people at the centre of it, it is humorous to think that the process of planning a wedding tends to take an approach more akin to “design by committee”.
As soon as you utter the “W” word, as if like magic, comes the flooding of opinions and expectations for what your wedding should look like. Your parents have an opinion about who should be there, your guests have expectations of the rituals and other elements that they will experience, and there is an unwritten code that depicts what you should wear.
“Wait a second,” you might think, “um, since we’re the ones that decided to get married in the first place, shouldn’t the way in which we choose to celebrate that marriage be our decision, too?” Ummm, absolutely! But when you pause to consider the fallout of denying the expectations of your guests, you feel anxious that people won’t enjoy themselves and you fear being judged for doing something wrong — heaven forbid you deny your guests the opportunity to catch the bouquet. Thus, despite envisioning something that might look entirely different for your wedding, it seems much simpler to concede and give the people what they want… Right?
Wedding Traditions Are a Lie
Where do these wedding expectations come from, exactly? Up until the 1960’s it was typical for weddings to be hosted on weekdays — Saturdays were even considered bad luck! Wedding receptions were not customary, but those who chose to host receptions typically did so during the daytime at their parents’ home. Light refreshments of punch and cake were served by family members, couples wore clothing they already owned, and brides did not typically wear engagement rings, with couples exchanging only simple gold wedding bands.
This is a far cry from the details we associate with weddings today. In actual fact, the customs that we call “traditions” nowadays haven’t been around all that long. Their origins? Generally speaking, they have either been entirely fabricated by the wedding industry — diamond engagement rings and white wedding dresses for example — or, resurrected from century-old customs that don’t always have the most honourable of origins — the roles of the best man, bridesmaids, and the honeymoon all spring from an era when brides were obtained by purchase or capture.
Besides the fact that we have developed a sentimental attachment to them — with thanks to every good Hollywood wedding scene —these customs have no real meaning. They have been romanticised in order to be commoditised, because that’s how you sell products! It’s no coincidence that the appearance of new wedding “traditions” coincided with the rise of consumerism beginning in the 1950’s.
In that era, a wedding marked the transition of leaving one’s parental home to move into their new marital home and therefore signified a much larger life change. Today, however, most couples already live together before marriage –– so the transition from unmarried to married is no longer as significant as it used to be. It’s not that the decision to be married is without weight (far from it) but there likely won’t be anyone carried over the threshold of your new marital home, or the need to register for fine china and shiny new appliances to fill it with. From a day to day perspective, it is common for not *that* much to change after the wedding at all.
But, in order to sell you their goods, the big brands behind the wedding industry must continue to promote the idea that your marriage is indeed a significant life accomplishment and that your wedding, therefore, will be the best moment of your life. They tell you that the perfect wedding that leads to the perfect marriage, and in order to prove your commitment to this relationship you had best throw an uncomfortable amount of energy and cash at your wedding celebration.
Rather than being an opportunity to honour your relationship with integrity and meaning, weddings have become barrage of pressure to present your impeccable taste and talent for event styling to the world.
You must check lists, wear this, purchase that, and register here. You end up convinced that any divergence from this blueprint means you are doing it wrong.
You are tricked into believing that you have to do these things because it’s the proper wedding etiquette, but what even is “proper etiquette”? Not to be confused with manners, etiquette tells us how we should act. Etiquette is about keeping things orderly and as a result it is constricting. The rules of etiquette are also exclusionary to those who don’t fit within societal norms and in that way they keep societies narrow-minded and insular.
Fuck etiquette, I say.
It’s All About the Bride
The prime target for these marketing messages? The Bride, of course!
From the initial prize of a big diamond ring for getting engaged in the first place, to the social encouragement to spend a small fortune on a dress that will only be worn once (“she must look like a queen!”), it is The Bride who carries the majority of the pressure to ensure not only the perfection of the wedding day, but also of herself in the process. She is told that the wedding marks the transition from her drab, unmarried existence, to the far more elevated status of Married. She is coerced into believing that the wedding will be the pinnacle of her life, the time that she will be at her happiest, skinniest, and prettiest. Cue the pre-wedding facial regimen and 6AM bridal bootcamp classes, she had best be ready to present the most-perfect version of herself to the world (because of course in this world, her physical appearance is of the utmost importance).
Besides the overwhelming pressure this places on The Bride, if you are not The Bride or the member of a heteronormative couple, it can leave you wondering which part of the wedding is actually for you.
An Unconventional Wedding
You are not blind to this of course. You see that your online browsing is now littered with ads for any item you can think of, from sweatshirts to champagne flutes, printed with the word “bride”, “groom”, or “Feyoncé”. (My personal favourite are the personalized M&M’S because who doesn’t want to eat candy with your face on it?) It feels as though every industry imaginable is looking for a way to get a piece of your paycheque, all preying on your insecurity of ensuring that this day is perfect to convince you to buy items you don’t want or need. You “only get one chance” to do this, after all.
In order to take a stand, you resolve to have an unconventional wedding, to create something truly meaningful to you and to not be swept away in the production or pressure of it all…
But how do you untangle what is truly meaningful to you from what you are taught should be meaningful?
When you pull up a Google or Pinterest search for an “unconventional wedding”, you’re served up images of wedding ceremonies that included llamas or brides who wore white jumpsuits instead of white ball gowns. Sure these elements add a level of quirkiness to the event, but do they really add meaning?
When I was a wedding planner, I saw this play out one wedding after the next. Though the individuality of each couple who stood at the altar was obvious, the details of their weddings rarely differed from one another. There may have been a different colour scheme and a different menu, but they all shared an undeniable sense of conformity.
And yet, when you decided to be married –– it was not an act of conformity.
There are core values behind what marriage means to you and why you decided to make the transition in the first place. These values are entirely unique to you and your situation.
Why then, does it feel like your wedding must look a certain way? Why can’t you plan the wedding you really want to have?
Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Weddings
I often wonder what weddings would look like if we stopped calling them weddings. What would happen if you stripped away the visions of flowers, first dances, and bouquet tosses and instead simply designed a celebration that embodied your unique story? What if, instead of beginning your journey with some generic wedding planning checklist you downloaded from the web, you first defined your purpose for having a wedding at all?
In fact, let me ask you that right now: why are you having a wedding?
I can hazard a guess as to why you are getting married, but why the wedding? Is it because you love parties and want to celebrate with your friends and family? To bring your two families and cultures together? Perhaps you have always dreamt of having a wedding?
… Or maybe it’s because you feel like you should?
After getting engaged, it’s easy to slip straight into a wedding planning mode that blindly follows the path laid out by those who have gone before you. Even if you have declared to avoid the trappings of the cookie-cutter wedding, if you haven’t yet taken the time to determine the purpose for your wedding day you will be lead down a path of planning a wedding that looks exactly like the last five you attended, and nothing like the two of you.
Attempting to present your individuality in any aspect of your life can be a challenging one, and if you don’t know the why behind your reason for doing something out of the ordinary, it can feel rather intimidating. The fear of criticism means that it feels much safer to be swept up in the current of the things you are supposed to do instead.
So, before you continue any further with your wedding planning journey you must determine your wedding purpose.
This is the process of consciously uncovering why you are having a wedding in the first place. Once you know what your wedding is really about, what it truly means to you, then, you can design a celebration to embody that. You will be amazed at the shape your wedding will take once you have a purpose to work with.
Without a purpose, it can be difficult to ignore the influence of others as they convince you that your wedding needs to look a certain way.
You will be convinced to buy items that you don’t want or need and end up feeling like you have lost control of your wedding plans, unsure of how it happened.
On the other hand, when you are clear on your purpose you will notice that you are better able to handle these situations, comfortably manoeuvring around the influence of others. You will feel free to plan the wedding you really want to have, one that is meaningful and unique to you, and, because you are so crystal clear as to why you have decided to have a wedding this way, your guests will be so captivated by the way that you have chosen to celebrate your story that they will rave about it for a very long time.
That’s why I created a free guide to help you define your wedding purpose –– The Un-Checklist. It’ll help you figure out what your wedding with purpose looks like, and how you can get there from start to finish.
Ready to get on the path to clarifying your vision and planning your wedding with ease? Download the worksheet now.