Everybody loves a wedding. They’re often celebrated as joyous occasions, filled with cake, dancing and the promise of everlasting love. Yet, beneath the surface lies a complex interplay of tradition, societal expectations, personal desires, and for some, inner conflict.
My journey to marriage became a path of affirmation and defiance against conventions that strengthened my relationship. But my journey down the aisle wasn't what you’d expect because we kept the whole shebang a secret — and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Weddings and marriage are often steeped in outdated customs, and with the current state of affairs, we found ourselves questioning the very essence of this institution, and whether we wanted anything to do with it. I’m a pansexual woman with ADHD who’s never been too comfortable with following along with social pressures and expectations (or so I thought) and my partner is a non-binary, vegan, neurodivergent, lesbian with an arts degree. So, it’s fair to say, when talk of marriage and weddings came up, we unpacked the shit out of every aspect before we decided to go through with anything.
In Western society, marriage has historically been a patriarchal tool of control and oppression, perpetuating inequalities and confining women to domestic servitude. Mix this in with religious dogmas, and the whole thing just didn't sit right with us. The right to “same-sex” marriage was only passed a mere five years ago in Australia, and frankly, getting married is something we wanted to do before that right was taken away from us. With Australia’s conservative politics looking more and more like a Margaret Atwood novel, we can’t help but wonder how long it will be before we start saying “under his eye”.
On top of this, the process of planning a modern wedding also comes loaded with expectations and demands (who to invite, how much to spend, what to wear, the list goes on) that can really mess with the intended vibes of, you know, celebrating and affirming your partnership. Despite it all, marriage is indisputably a form of legal protection. And, honestly, the idea of it can be pretty damn romantic. As for a wedding? My partner reckons they would’ve been happy to elope (Euro summer, anyone?). My mother insisted she’d be fine with an elopement (spoiler, she lied), and we were surprised to find that some of our more anti-establishment friends expressed acute disappointment at the notion that we might have a ceremony they wouldn’t be involved in.
As for what I wanted? I couldn't put it into words. While I didn’t grow up with fantasies of walking down the aisle in a white dress, I knew there was something in me that yearned to have a wedding and in the process of figuring it all out, I had to reckon with where my desire came from. Was I influenced by all the people who had told me over the years what an amazing wedding I would throw? Did I just want an excuse to turn a look and be the centre of attention? Did I need to share the moment with my family? Did I want the legitimacy of marriage to validate my first visibly queer serious relationship? The answer to all of the above is a resounding yes. If your decision to have a wedding is in part influenced by social expectations and a bit of egomania, my advice now is to just own it and move on.
Ritual is something our society sorely lacks, and with this ceremony, we had our chance (and a captive audience) to conduct our own. In embarking on the great group project of a wedding together, my partner and I felt the need to redefine the purpose of marriage for ourselves and create something true to us, that no one could try to make us compromise on. The secrecy meant that we didn’t have to tip-toe around loaded questions, like why I wasn’t wearing a dress, would my partner's family that they’d had no contact with for eight years be invited? Queries about bridal parties, problematic hen’s nights, and why our heart-shaped vintage frosted cake had to be topped with two frogs sitting on a lilypad surrounded by mushrooms (why not?).
Finding the right people to let into the inner circle was vital, so, when our celebrant responded to our enquiry with a sentence along the lines of, “Tradition is just peer pressure from dead old white men anyway”, we knew we’d found the person for the job. We secured a venue that wouldn’t cost us our firstborn (a speakeasy bar) and arranged an amazing, fully vegan menu of canapes and nibbles (much to the disappointment of our devout carnivores). Our wedding stylist was the perfect enabler for our pink and red, space-western, post-apocalyptic Art Deco mushroom theme (trust me, it worked). Then we went about locking in an eclectic line-up of performer friends for a showcase of some of our favourite things. On the line up: a drag queen inspired by the golden age of cinema and Sydney’s Inner West’s most beloved lesbian comedian. But the real stars were our three trusted friends (our insiders) who played host, DJ and welcome committee (two of whom even travelled interstate for the occasion). Special mention to Mr Stanley, the elderly gay pug who was on the welcome committee and also the ring bearer.
Our ceremony incorporated our “family values”, which we had workshopped into a list of affirmations — those being compassion, authenticity, equity, pleasure, safety and collectivism. We not only exchanged vows, but we invited our guests to participate in a community vow (and yes, it did feel a bit like we were starting a cult). As queer people, we are often navigating spaces that are not our own. No matter how safe you say space is, if it’s not followed up with action and understanding, it means nothing. This was our opportunity to invite everyone into our world and demonstrate a safe space in action.
All in all, we had a glorious time (with the customary amount of drama). But even in our efforts to deconstruct the traditional wedding and do it our way, we still ended up dealing with the usual wedding trappings. Along the way, we got stressed, we argued and we spent way more money than we had originally planned. And after that wonderful day, questions have arisen about whether the money would have been better spent going towards an overseas holiday or a house deposit. Even as a couple of mid-career professionals in our thirties, these are two things that are not on the cards in our immediate future in this cost of living crisis. However, working through it all together forged us as a couple.
Deciding to participate in the institution of marriage doesn’t mean that you have to succumb to traditions, social and familial pressures, or even financial traps. A wedding is just one day and one small part of what will hopefully be a full life shared in partnership with another person (even if just for a part of that life). But going into it consciously and making it your own can be a wonderful way to manifest or affirm the life you want to lead.
If you’re thinking of throwing your hat into the wedding ring — or you have already done the deed, and you have regrets — I invite you to think a little deeper, explore a little further, and don’t buy into the bullshit. And if you want to wear a fancy outfit and feel special, fucking do it.