Let’s get one thing straight: when you get married, there is absolutely nothing you have to do besides sign a legal contract with the state (falling in love helps too, I hear). Everything else is icing on the proverbial three-tiered white cake.
As unromantic as that might sound, couples should find it liberating to know that they can tailor their wedding ceremonies to their needs to make something that is unique and meaningful to them, and not bogged down in obscure traditions they may or may not even understand. Besides, most of those traditions are frighteningly sexist in origin: either they reinforce the gender binary in a way that completely excludes same-sex couples, or they perpetuate a patriarchal society in which women are lesser than men.
So I propose we just ignore these sexist wedding traditions until they go away. Let’s start our own new traditions instead.
The father “gives away” the bride: This antiquated tradition is a holdover from the days when women were literally property. They started out as their father’s property, who then gave them away to their husband in exchange for a bride price or dowry. Nothing says “I love you” like bestowing upon your father two cows and a pig in exchange for complete ownership of your person, amirite? Since slavery is illegal in the U.S. today and modern women have full personhood under the law, there’s really no reason to pay homage to this lingering vestige of patriarchal dominance.
What you can do instead: If you like the idea of being walked down the aisle, there’s no reason you can’t tailor this tradition to your needs without the misogynist overtones. Ask your mother or another close relative to walk you. Or have both of your parents walk you together. You could even ask a close friend (or friends!) to walk you down the aisle to your spouse. But remember: no one owns you, and therefore no one can give you away or sell you.
The veil: Traditionally, a wedding veil shielding the bride’s face was used to symbolize her purity and virginity. It was lifted either by the bride’s father or husband (there’s that good old patriarchal control again) to symbolize the husband’s right to consummate the marriage: a thin, filmy membrane standing in for another thin, filmy membrane that would be physically penetrated by the groom on their wedding night. I hope you’re picking up on the trend here: puritanical traditions are just obsessed with controlling a woman’s sexual experience level.
What you can do instead: Skip the veil. Or wear it over your hair but not your face so there is no symbolic reveal. But more importantly, know that purity is a myth and your worth as a person is not intrinsically linked to how many times you’ve had sex.
Taking the husband’s last name: A wife casting aside her father’s last name and taking her husband’s was another symbol of the transfer of ownership of the woman. It also reinforced the idea that the wife was progressing from virgin (her first name and identity) to wife and mother (her final name and identity). Because of course nothing completes a woman’s journey from childhood into adulthood like being legally and conjugally attached to a man. Why do you think they call your family name your “maiden name”?
What you can do instead: Keep the last name you were assigned at birth. It’s the one you’ve had all your life, and you might be understandably attached to it. Or if you’re set on sharing a last name with your husband, see if he’ll take yours (and let him deal with all the paperwork associated with changing one’s name). Better yet, use both names, combine the two to form a hybrid last name, or come up with an entirely new name to start your new family and life together. But you certainly don’t have to take your husband’s last name (unless you truly want to) because “that’s just how it’s done” or “it will avoid confusion.” After all, most things that are “just how it’s done” are generally worth ignoring.
Waiting for the wedding night: A lot of emphasis has traditionally been placed on the bride and groom remaining “pure” or “saving themselves” for their wedding night. In the days when things like an heir to the family fortune and noble title actually mattered, this was a way to ensure that whatever children the couple produced were the blood offspring of the husband. And it was a way of controlling and shaming women—rarely men—who became sexually active before marriage (because let’s face it: it’s a lot easier to fool around outside of those nuptial bonds if you can’t get pregnant). All in all, societally-enforced celibacy until marriage was an abusive, manipulative, and harmful practice that needs to be ignored.
What you can do instead: Become sexually active when you are ready. Have as many partners as you are comfortable with. If this means waiting to have sex for the first time until your wedding night, then great! If this means bedding down (safely and consensually) with a different one-night-stand every week, then mazeltov! As long as it is what you are comfortable with and no one is coercing your decision-making process.
The definition of marriage has changed. It is no longer a contract between a woman’s father and her husband. It is no longer a forced arrangement, the exclusive right of heterosexual people, or the precursor to sex and pregnancy. You are free from tired, oppressive traditions, so make of your wedding what you will.