Carolyn Hax: How to abandon a wedding tradition

Wedding traditions aren’t right for everyone. Here, a roundup of advice from columnist Carolyn Hax to readers who want to break with custom.

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February 2013: How to request cash in lieu of wedding gifts?

My daughter would like to request cash vs. the usual wedding gifts.

How would you go about wording this request? We are trying not to sound too harsh. I thought I read about this idea in one of your previous columns. — T.

Trying to soften me up?

Dearest T. The phrasing you seek is as follows: “The bride and groom don’t want your stuff, they just want your money.”

“Too harsh,” right? That’s the point: There’s no polite way to bill guests for liking you, pat their pockets for loose change, or coerce them into paying your bills. So, please don’t try. Thank you.

If you read about this in my column, then you read some version of this. My answer hasn’t changed; I just repeat it occasionally since the question won’t die.

When couples have a good reason not to want vases and candlesticks, then their proxies can say so when asked for registry info: “Heckle and Jeckle are combining two households/downsizing/relocating overseas, so your presence is present enough.” Because it is, right?

Or, to your friends, good ones, when they ask: “Cash always fits.”

***

January 2013: What’s in a name?

I would like to take my husband’s last name after we marry. I will probably use my maiden name professionally since I’m in academia and have published with that name.

However, friends have given me a lot of grief about it. I’ve been told it is “outdated,” and why doesn’t he take my name, or hyphenate, or whatever.

I want to do this, and it is right for us. How can I explain that to friends who talk about setting women’s lib back decades or giving up my own identity?

You can tell them to blow it out their portholes. Liberation means freedom to decide what to call yourself, vs. having society dictate it — and that includes the society of friends who want you to make their political point.

Congratulations and good luck.

***

November 2012: Is a registry needed if asking guests to donate to charity?

My boyfriend and I (both men) are getting married and are setting up our online registries, sending invitations, etc. We recognize that we’re fortunate to live in a state that allows same-sex marriage, so we’ve decided that in lieu of gifts we’d like guests to make a contribution to a gay rights organization.

We both have fairly conservative branches of our family and wonder if we need to offer an alternative. My position is that we don’t; my boyfriend thinks it would be considerate. I’d rather have a guest who doesn’t support gay marriage skip the wedding altogether or not bring a gift than get some bogus coffeemaker and tacit disapproval. Maybe I’m just overanalyzing everything. What do you think?

If I put on my happy hat, then I want to advise you to back off the buyers of the “bogus coffeemaker” (which . . . makes fake coffee?). When a conservative relative who opposes gay marriage actually goes out and buys a kitchen gadget for a gay relative’s wedding, that could just as easily be cast as progress to be encouraged, vs. insufficient applause to be swatted down.

Wearing my justice hat, I can see that incomplete gestures — “I don’t like gay people, except this one I happen to know really well, he’s okay” — are begging to be called out for the hypocrisies they are.

Under my etiquette hat, I recoil (imperceptibly to the naked eye) at the idea of forcing your guests either to pony up for your chosen political cause or stuff it. Are you going to engrave on the invitation: “Donate to this cause as a gift to us, or stay home”?

Fortunately, the sheer impracticality of your idea trumps all. You can’t make the donation a condition of attending your wedding, so don’t. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) put any gift information in the invitation, so don’t.

What you can do is tell people who inquire about a registry that you’d love people to donate to X in lieu of a gift. If you’d like to expand your bogus-housewares collection, then you can open a small registry as well — which, again, you tell guests about when they ask.

***

June 2002: Battle over the garter toss

Dear Carolyn:

Wedding planned for fall. Planning generally amicable, except for one issue between me and fiance -- the garter toss. He wants to do it, I object strenuously. (He’s undressing me in public, for goodness’ sake.) He seems not to get that I REALLY don’t want to do this. I’m thinking, “Who is this person, and why would I want to be married to someone so insensitive?” Mom (usually source of perspective) seems to think this is “a little cold feet,” that “everyone worries that they can truly never know everything about someone” and that “compromise is required in marriage and this is a good place to start.” Sis (also usually a good head) says, “Oh, it’s just tradition, don’t be Bridezilla.” I find it disconcerting that my dearly beloved all seem to be on one side of the fence. Am I nuts?

-- Bridezillaville?

No, though your gene pool does raise some doubts.

You compromise on a garter toss . . . how, by hucking a shoe? Never mind. It’s all beside the point -- the garter, the “tradition,” “barf,” the family’s siding against you. Even his refusal to heed your objections, though that’s but a micron off to the side. Point is, your groom is strenuously in favor of something trivial at best, patronizing at worst and always in godawful taste. He’s throwing his weight behind goo. It’s like suing a network because you don’t like the plot of a soap, or devoting weeks of free time to teaching oneself how to smoke.

I don’t know how you respect a guy after that. I also don’t know if I’m kidding.

Let’s assume I am, and he’s fine. That means he either doesn’t get that you’re serious and you need to communicate better, or that you’re right to be asking who this guy really is. Values count. Either way, you need to talk -- and since this is about who you are, the last thing you need is to cave.

***

June 2001: I don’t want dad to walk me down the aisle

I’m getting married next April. My parents have been divorced since I was 11. I’m not that close to my dad, and want to walk myself down the aisle. How do I tell him?

You resolve it in your mind that you’d rather risk hurting him than walk with him. So, is that true? Are your feelings strong enough, and justified enough, for you to put your feelings before his? I get the sense that your inability to say this to him is a sign that you’re not entirely at peace with the idea. I could be wrong, of course, and if so, you just tell him that you’re not comfortable wedging your untraditional father-daughter relationship into the standard traditional box.

***

September 2000: What is this brunch business?

The post-wedding hotel brunch on Sunday is now almost de rigueur. Is there any emerging tradition for who ought to foot the bill? Is it logical to look to the groom’s family? Also, should the newlyweds feel obligated to show up, assuming they haven’t left on a honeymoon?

When did the relaxed, informal end to a wedding weekend become another forced march past a steam table? I see the fingerprints of the limp-croissant lobby all over this.

Brunch isn’t de rigueur, especially not the hotel part, and no one “ought” to do anything. It’s a kindness volunteered (important detail) by anyone who feels inclined to volunteer it--and has the blessing of the couple (very important detail). It can be immediate family, other relatives, friends, whoever wants in. Brunch can go on without the bride and groom, but only if they say so. I don’t think “wildcat brunches” are where we as a society really want to go.

***

July 1999: Men of honor

This past weekend was my brother’s wedding. After all the toasts were done, I asked him and my other brother to be my “best men” -- in place of a maid of honor -- for my wedding next year. I’m getting lots of flak for it from family and friends. They think it’s weird and in bad taste. They’ve said it’d be better to make them groomsmen instead. What do you think?

I think your family and friends are meddlesome old cows (cattle?). It’s a fine idea. But don’t completely flout tradition: Make them buy $300 mauve tulle tuxedos they’ll never wear again.

***

July 2007: The name game

I am getting married next year, and my fiance really wants me to take his name. The thing is, I like my name, and my career is blooming under my maiden name. I don’t think that changing my name or not is representative of how I feel about my fiance or marriage. Should I suck it up, or is this an archaic tradition that I can ignore?

If you declare this an archaic tradition you can ignore, then, like it or not, you are representing how you feel about your fiance and marriage. By flipping them both the bird.

Full disclosure: My bias is toward the values you forge (your connection to your name), as opposed to the values you’re fed (brides become Mrs. Groom).

So reject the tradition, by all means, if your beliefs say you must.

But please don’t ignore it. You owe it to your chosen life partner to act like his life partner, too. And that means respecting the fact that he wants something, learning why he wants it, and weighing these reasons carefully -- and transparently -- before you choose to reject them. He owes you the same. Neither of you should tread lightly, just tread as if you care.

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