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Go Your Own Way, Together
By Ashley Hahn

Getting hitched to the idea that weddings are actually for the couple

This is your day, fiancés. And it is up to no one but you to make of it what you will. There are no rules, save the end result: your new union.

Some families bristle at the idea of a couple not standing up in church surrounded by a meticulously chosen color scheme, in froofy dresses and tuxes, reciting age-old vows that include the word “obey.” This time-honored picture is for some of us, but not for me. I’m not halfway down the proverbial aisle, but when my time comes, the freedom to choose what I want out of my wedding will be tremendously important. It’s not that I’m interested in spitting in the face of tradition, but that the tradition just isn’t such a good fit for me, and I’m far from alone here.

My aunt secretly eloped well before her conservative Jewish wedding—which was complete with a 15-woman wedding party clad in pink satin—and I suspect it was because she couldn’t strike a balance between familial obligation and nuptial liberation. Some people do, however, succeed in reconciling those desires into one ceremony.

Even if you and your spouse-to-be don’t come from very traditional families, there is an obvious pressure to make your wedding an event that everyone will, at the very least, enjoy. The last thing you want, however, is to regret the choices you make for a day everyone will remember. Clearly, a wedding should be one of—if not the most—important ceremonies in a person’s life, so that’s all the more reason to make it entirely your own. The planning should be an opportunity to organize something that’s tailored to you as a couple, which will make it all the more special.

Nontraditional weddings are tremendously popular in this country, even though the glossy bridal mags seem more inclined to think nontraditional means barefoot on the beach with the bride in a white princessy gown, not a wetsuit. Part of this trend is that interfaith, not to mention no-faith, marriages are so common; hereditary Jews marry Catholics, atheists marry pagans marry Unitarian Universalists. With ceremonies moving out of places of worship into alternative spaces, a whole host of new options open up for the couple, including self-penned vows and unusual wedding rites. People designing same-sex marriage/commitment ceremonies have explored these possibilities for years, and many in the straight community have begun to learn from their experiences.

Custom weddings do not mean simply choosing purple as your color or doing it outside. Think broader than that. This isn’t about being unusual for the sake of it, but it is about your individual tastes. I’ve recently known a bride who wore black, seen a groom in flip-flops, and been to a reception involving bonfires. Throwing convention to the wind lets the couple prioritize certain traditions and ditch others, while paying less money at the same time. If you want to have a potluck at the VFW instead of swanky caterer at a hotel, or dance to a jug band instead of chamber group, that’s your prerogative.

Alternative approaches help combat what Lori Leibovich, writer and creator of, calls the “wedding industrial complex”—the $70 billion-a-year wedding industry. Just because you’re getting married doesn’t make you a total sucker, and it sure doesn’t mean you have to shell out the big bucks to be happy with your big day.

My friend Anna made her invitations, requested guests to come in “dressy attire with swimsuits” (the wedding was on a dock), and encouraged camping out. In an excellent compromise, my friends Bob and Amy had a small church ceremony and formal luncheon, then threw a rock show as the party for all of their friends that night. Whatever you fancy, it’s about making it meaningful for you as a couple.

With the truly personalized wedding on the rise, so too are the enterprising businesses geared at helping couples realize their idiosyncratic nuptial vision. They specialize in everything from the ceremony, to the food, the invites, the party, or your very attire. Your invites can be printed on totally recycled paper with soy-based ink and you can have an organic dress and cake, if that’s your bag.

If a different ceremony is what you’re after, you can drink a toast from linked arms—each drinking from your own glass but in real and present danger of a mess if you don’t stay aware of the other—to signify self-
sufficient togetherness. You can have friends deliver readings (picked by you or by them); or each light your own candles and then use those to light a single ‘relationship’ candle to signify unity, while the individual lights burn on. The options are countless.

There are also a bevy of alternative registry services that let you sign up either for a gift registry with chain stores that will donate a certain percent of the money they take in to a charity of your choice, or a donation registry where your gifts will be charitable donations outright.

Just remember: Your wedding preparations and ceremony don’t have to be a burdensome drag; after all, the prospect of the future isn’t.

Helpful resources for the less-than-traditional bride-to-be:

Anti-Bride Guide: Tying the Knot Outside of the Box, by Carolyn Gerin and Stephanie Rosenbaum


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