Opting Out — It’s A-OK

Motorcycle wedding

Every now and then, I (or Twistie or a commenter) will suggest some alternative bridal accessory or wedding venue, and one or two people will chime in to express the opinion that tradition ought to be kept in the traditional wedding for tradition’s sake. Or to ensure that no one is offended or confused. Or because that is simply how things are done ’round here… wherever here may be.

When it comes to tradition for tradition’s sake, I can no more argue that there’s anything wrong with wanting a traditional wedding than I can argue that there’s anything wrong with untraditional weddings. And when it comes to “how things are done,” I can’t argue that, either.

What I can dispute is that straying from the traditional wedding format or wearing alternative bridal garb or serving a macrobiotic reception dinner is less than etiquette friendly because it will potentially offend or confuse someone, somewhere.


There’s a difference, in my mind, between what is truly offensive and what will simply offend certain subsets of the population who are more easily offended. Add to that the fact that what is offensive to some people/cultures/societies — e.g., anything from religious iconography to phallic statuary — will not always be offensive to all people/cultures/societies, and what you get is a lot of confused brides-to-be.

The good news is that the majority of the confusion I see (here, on bridal forums, and in real life) involves relatively benign issues that at worst will cause temporary hurt feelings and at best won’t offend anyone at all. In fact, the answer to the question “What if I don’t follow this particular tradition/hire this vendor/wear this piece of clothing?” is often “Nothing at all!”

The most common opt-outs I see on wedding message boards are, in no particular order:

  • Not exchanging (or wearing) wedding rings
  • Saying no to being given away
  • Ditching the parent-child dances
  • Not serving cake/alcohol/meat/etc. at the reception
  • Wearing anything other than a wedding gown
  • Choosing not to involve religion in the ceremony
  • Spending less than $30,000/$15,000/$5,000/$1,000/etc.
  • Forgoing best men, maids-of-honor, bridesmaids, and groomsmen
  • Not hiring a wedding band or wedding DJ
  • Doing DIY everything

What it comes down to is this: If your choices aren’t hurting anyone, aren’t in some way discourteous or overtly offensive, aren’t designed to purposefully exclude people or piss them off, and aren’t dangerous or illegal, you’re probably okay. Furthermore, that which shocks is not automatically offensive, though that won’t excuse you from sidewards glances, and confusion isn’t grounds for deeming something in opposition to good etiquette. Finally, context counts. A nude wedding at Burning Man? I’m going to guess pretty unoffensive. A nude wedding at grandma’s house? You risk putting the OH(NOSHEDIDN’T) in OHffensive.

Easy-peasy, right?

9 Responses to “Opting Out — It’s A-OK”

  1. Victor (aka Professor Plum) says:

    The last wedding I attended–eight weeks ago, in fact–was barely “traditional.” It was also a boatload of fun. The bride and groom turned it into a costume party. They were the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts; my group were the characters from Clue. The only person to object was the groom’s grandmother, who felt they were making a mockery of marriage.

    Her daughter explained to her they weren’t making a mockery of marriage, saying if they were, they wouldn’t be getting married. They just wanted to have a fun and different wedding, and that was what the B&G wanted. Grandma agreed it sounded like fun, but also declared she wasn’t going to wear a costume. Then one of her sons showed up with a nun costume for her, and despite living her entire life as a devoted Catholic, Grandma was delighted with it. She was Mother Superior, and everyone said the only thing she was missing was a ruler.

    My point is this: This beloved old lady, very set in her ways and thoughts, was given a reasonable argument that emphasized what the Bride and Groom wanted, and turned a central member of the family into an active participant. It seems to me those who object to the B&G disposing of some minor ‘tradition’ have forgotten who the wedding is really for.

  2. Toni says:

    My parents are pretty open-minded, but my mom was completely taken aback at my choice of black BM dresses.

    That was probably the only *crazy* thing we did. We’re downright wild, I tell you. 🙂

    (Oh, I did want to have my recessional song be The Wedding March as performed by Queen, but that got nixed, primarily by my husband-to-be. Spoilsport. The song does feature heavily in our wedding video, however.)

  3. Twistie says:

    Toni, I think it’s too bad your honey couldn’t get behind the Queen wedding march. Ah well. You wild thing, you.

    I know the decision we got the most flack for was the fact that I didn’t give Mr. Twistie a ring. I asked him if he wanted one. He looked as though I’d just suggested he take up naked tiger wrestling. I said, okay, you don’t want a ring. That’s fine. But I had more people tell me that I should never have given him a choice, but just brought one and put it on him no matter what! Seriously? Why waste the money? He’s not a jewelry kind of guy.

    I think my father was also a little unhappy with the variation I came up with on the giving away. I didn’t want to simply excise the entire thing because it’s the only part of the ceremony that specifically refers to familial support, which was important to me. At the same time, even if I could have borne the thought of being ‘given away’ which was completely against my feminist principles, it would have seemed ridiculous to me for a man to give away a thirty year old rugged individualist like myself. In the longrun, I chose to have him answer the question of ‘who gives this woman’ by saying ‘with the support of her family, she happily gives herself.’ I don’t think Dad ever understood why it was so important to me to do it that way, but he said what I asked him to say, and I thank him for it.

    He never did manage to make peace with the fact that I didn’t change my name, though. His final Christmas gift to me was a lifetime membership in an organization we’d both been active in…in the name of a woman who doesn’t legally exist.

    At least he was down with the fruit tarts instead of cake, my silver frog ring, and all the DIY.

  4. Toni says:

    Victor: That sounds almost exactly like a wedding I’ve been invited to. Alas, it’s on New Year’s Eve, and I traditionally host a party every year, and I’m terribly upset that I don’t get to see all the outfits that were homemade by the bride. I can’t wait to see the photos.

    Twistie: We used the phrase “who presents this woman?” which was actually suggested by my mother. She still has the “script” from her wedding 35+ years ago, where my mom, a fiercely independent woman, crossed out “gives” and wrote in “presents.” And to answer the question, even though only my dad walked me down the aisle, he replied with “her mother and I do.”

  5. Diana says:

    Victor, that wedding sounds like so much fun!

    I’ve probably commented this before, but as we planned our wedding I told everyone that “I love tradition, when it suits my purposes!” I went very traditional in some things (our vows, exchanging rings, Dad giving me away) and very untraditional in others (Renaissance dress, Hawaiian sand ceremony, outdoor venue).

    Some people were shocked we weren’t getting married in a church, I told them I’m pretty tight with God and happen to think He’s more present outdoors than He is in some churches. Some people were upset we suggested dressing in Renaissance clothing, I reminded them the invitations didn’t say it was required and if they didn’t mind looking out of place I didn’t mind them wearing regular clothes. Bottom line, once people realized I had a polite but confident response for every problem they had with our wedding choices, the complaints stopped coming.

  6. Wally says:

    So well-written and so on the money. Couldn’t agree more!

  7. Victor says:

    It was a fun wedding, except for the person at our table who insisted on showing everyone her Phillies championship t-shirt. (But I admit that’s my problem; my family are die-hard Nats fans.)

    Diana, good for you for sticking to your guns (Or swords, I suppose)! It was your wedding, it was what you wanted…I’m sure it was fun, and I hope your detractors joined in!

    And Toni, I’m curious about the BM dresses. Could I trouble you to describe them? Because I’m thinking black dresses might be one that could be re-used and not look like obvious BM dresses.

  8. Victor: That sounds like a wedding I would have enjoyed attending! And it’s wonderful that everyone was so reasonable. What could have turned into a family feud was easily averted with a little peace, love, and understanding.

    Toni: You wild and crazy character, you! Nowadays, you can’t troll the designers’ web sites without running smack into a bajillion black bridesmaids dresses. They’re not for everyone, but I think they are now squarely in the mainstream.

    Twistie: I’ve never understood that… it’s not the ring that makes the marriage, after all! Some people just don’t do jewelry. An uncle of mine can’t wear a wedding ring because of his job. Others have skin issues that make jewelry uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is, methinks!

    My dad wasn’t happy with my variation on the whole giving away shtick, either. I had both my parents escort me down the aisle, and then our pastor asked something like “Who supports this woman as she yada yada.” He wasn’t happy about having to share with my mom, though the wording didn’t seem to trouble him.

    Diana: I’m pretty tight with God and happen to think He’s more present outdoors than He is in some churches. I love that!

  9. Toni says:

    Victor: Sorry for the late response, and I hope you see this, but you can see a photo of the dresses here:

    http://flickr.com/photos/tonibduguid/317905949/

    They were just regular dresses that they found in the formal dress section of a department store.