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Time to Throw in the Towel on Traditional Wedding Etiquette

Weddings have long been the last bastion of traditional etiquette rules. This ceremony, marking as it does such a sharp transformation in the participants’ lives, has held on to many of the stiff formalities and exaggerated expectations that have fallen out of favor for so many aspects of modern life. Unlike so many of life’s other major highlights, the expectations of etiquette held by many people for weddings have remained centuries behind the times.

Are couples who are about to enter into marriage bound to these rules? In a word, no. As surely as the calendar pages have turned, it has become clear that these customs are largely outdated and can safely be circumscribed without causing offense to anyone. While there is nothing wrong with a couple choosing to adhere to the customs of old, whether to do so or not is their choice to make.

Instead of rules put down long ago, let the wishes and personalities of the couple, the comfort and ease of the guests, and plain common sense be the three guiding principles of the day. First and foremost, the wedding and all associated events should be a celebration of the couple, their love, and the commitment they are making to one another. It should be their personalities and desires that truly take the center stage. At the same time, this celebration would ring hollow without the guests, both friends and family. Making the celebration comfortable and enjoyable for the guests is extremely important. Finally, when a question arises about the propriety of some action, let common sense be your guide. If some piece of information would make things easier for your guests, do not worry that providing it might break some silly rule. At the same time, it makes sense to do so in a way that does not cause undo waves of consternation for others.

There is no single area of wedding etiquette that highlights the use of these three guidelines as well as the gift registry. Traditional registry items are heavy on kitchen items and home furnishings, but more and more couples are living together or have established their own individual homes before marriage. This means that they have less need for these traditional items. There is nothing wrong, in that case, with creating a registry that lists items that the couple would like for their honeymoon or for other uses. My own wedding registry is heavy on camping and biking gear that we plan on using together throughout the coming years.

The question that causes the most strife for marrying couples is how to let guests know about the registry. Traditional etiquette dictates that no mention of such a thing is made by the couple, and that guests should inquire about the registry with immediate family members or members of the bridal party. However, the modern bride and groom can readily imagine that their guests will want to know about the registry information so they can plan accordingly. For that reason, it only makes sense to provide this information in a readily accessible manner. The advent of wedding websites provides an obvious solution. These websites can provide all manners of wedding information, including the registry. But, you may ask, can the registry be mentioned in the invitation? Consideration for the guests may lead a couple to decide to include information about the registry with the invitations. This is not a bad idea, but the couple should let common sense prevail here. Rather than including this information on the actual invitation, include an insert with the invitation pointing guests to the website or providing them the registry information.

It is easy to see how this shift in thinking about wedding etiquette can apply to other questions ranging from deciding who to invite to questions of location, formality and contents of the ceremony, or wedding attire. This new way of thinking also applies to the ages-old question of who should pay for the wedding. As people are getting married later and later in life, and as women continue to take an equal station in society to men, it no longer makes sense to consider it the duty of the bride’s family to pay for everything. Neither does it make sense to adhere to some list of financial obligations from the families of both the bride and groom. These are questions that should be handled on an individual basis by each couple and their respective families.

The days of formal wedding etiquette being the default are, and should remain, long past. While a couple may certainly opt to follow these rules, the guidelines centered around making the day a celebration of the couple and their love are becoming more and more important to marrying couples. This is a long-needed shift in the direction that weddings take.

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