The rise of the unique wedding

BECKY LANG | Updated 5/29/2013

Inside the rapidly changing nature of weddings.

Whatever the definition of marriage has historically been — or will become someday — the ritual of the wedding is certainly being redefined. And that’s a good thing. Now that Minnesota has legalized same-sex marriage, it’s clearer than ever that our ideas of weddings have moved away from a church, steeple and two heterosexual people.

Despite the changes, enthusiasm for weddings may not be going away. In 2010 the marriage rate was down to 51 percent from 72 percent in 1960, but interest may be on the rise once again.

Whether it’s couples hooking up via Facebook chat or ladies getting jazzed about floral centerpieces on Pinterest, the Internet seems to be revving our marriage motors.

Whatever is motivating us to get together, it’s a good time to get married in Minnesota. You can find love easier than ever online, and there are many options for nontraditional ceremonies and receptions that suit your relationship. And as of Aug. 1., Minnesotans will be able to marry knowing that everyone in the state can enjoy the same ritual — GLBT couples included. We set out to discover the issues, questions and opportunities people are facing now as they contemplate their weddings.

Making it Yours

“Weddings didn’t used to be about people who are soul mates trying to support one another in their pursuits in life,” says Colin Weaver, 25, a local painter who plans to tie the knot with his fiancée, 24-year-old waitress Megan Manion, in July. “But society’s changed.”

Weaver and Manion say they’ve done their best to plan a wedding that feels true to their relationship. “If I could have it my way, the wedding would be a pig roast and a couple kegs,” Weaver says. “We’d dance with our friends and family all night.”

“That is what we’re doing,” Manion interjects. “Although we’re having lamb.”

Both agree that they don’t want their ceremony in a church, because they’re not members of any particular faith and want to avoid “church tourism.” It was also important for them to keep the wedding small and personal. The couple designed and hand-letterpressed their own invites, and they’ve been collecting old vases and vintage centerpieces to add to the decor.

They pointed out the irony in trying to make a wedding personalized and different in a consumer society, when “personalized” and “different” are in high demand. Even the David’s Bridals of the world have figured out that people like quirky, letterpress invites, the couple says.

Another of the couple’s priorities is to steer clear of the patriarchy that still exists in how weddings are marketed and carried out. Manion laughs about the marketing around weddings, and how it inevitably catches up to brides. While she ignores the constant targeted banner ads she sees about wedding-day “nail bed treatments,” it doesn’t slip past her that most of the big business of weddings is still aimed at the bride.

So not only are Manion and Weaver splitting up the wedding planning so that Manion won’t have to shoulder it all herself, they’re also reconsidering the tradition of having the bride’s father walk her down the aisle. While she loves her father, she says the idea of being “given away” to her husband doesn’t sit right with her. They’re considering working around this by having all four parents walk both the bride and groom down the aisle.

A moment of hesitation came, however, when they found out the farm in Montgomery, Minn., where they booked their wedding had recently refused to host a ceremony for a same-sex couple.

“We sent them an e-mail saying ‘We disagree with you’ and explaining that the policy affects people in the wedding party,” Weaver says. For monetary reasons, they couldn’t cancel their reservation, but they are trying to be transparent and start a dialogue about the issue.

But while there are always challenges in wedding planning, the couple agreed that not everything has to be perfect for it to be the right time to get married. Weaver sums it up: “We were unsure about almost everything in our lives except for each other.”

What Really Matters

For many couples, the weddings that they imagined when they were growing up and the weddings they ended up having were not quite the same. This was the case for Lacey Criswell, 32, a wedding photographer whose own wedding helped give her insight into what matters — and what doesn’t.

“I thought about my wedding as a kid quite a bit. It’s pretty funny how it changed from what I thought about and where I ended up,” she says. “I thought I would have a huge diamond ring. I don’t even wear a ring now. I thought I would have a traditional wedding, big ballroom and cake and all that stuff.”

Criswell ended up marrying her husband, Alex Boutanes, in a black cocktail dress in a small, nonreligious ceremony with her family at the Lucky Strike Casino in Missoula, Mont. The process had to go quickly, as her husband, who is from Morocco, was in the U.S. on a fiancé visa, giving them only 90 days to get hitched.

“I didn’t miss [the material] things,” she says. “The things I remember are my first dance with my dad and saying my vows.” Noticing this has helped Criswell, as a wedding photographer, to focus on snapping moments between people more than anything else.

Has her experience shooting all kinds of weddings helped her tell which marriages are going to last — and which aren’t? While Criswell wouldn’t say she has concrete rules, she says she can tell that couples who talk about their relationship more than the material aspects of their wedding are more likely to make it.

Breaking Tradition

For Kevin Freidberg, 40, a Minneapolis-based copywriter, the material aspects of weddings were barely on the radar. Instead, his wedding was focused on living in the present. He married Andrea, a nurse, at the Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. The wedding wasn’t actually a Buddhist wedding, he says, but it did emphasize his practice of Theravada Buddhism by focusing on simplicity.

Absent from the wedding were shoes, a bar, gifts, dancing or anything else that detracted from the couple’s ideal night. “We just wanted to hang out and talk,” Freidberg says.

The most spiritual son in a Jewish family, Freidberg says his family was initially taken aback by his wedding. “I had a little fight with my dad, which was fine. It’s hard to explain that it’s not really a Buddhist wedding — he cared more that it [wasn’t] a Jewish wedding.” He later caught his dad defending his wedding to his stepfather, so Freidberg knew he understood deep down.

As in Freidberg’s experience, the biggest growing pains when it comes to the changing nature of weddings may happen for parents. As they watch their kids get married later, move in with a significant other before a ring comes into the picture, and get hitched outside the church, the process can often be confusing. Some may have to accept that their kids will never get married.

Opting Out

For Wilson Lewis, 28, a Minneapolis Web developer working at Target, a wedding has never been in the picture.

“At its core, [getting married] is not something I am interested in participating in, in the same way I wouldn’t go to a movie or listen to music that didn’t interest me,” he says.

While movies tend to portray people who don’t want to marry as secret romantics who grew up in broken homes, Lewis insists there is nothing to psychoanalyze about his choice. His parents remain happily married today, he says. Instead, Lewis says it’s more a product of rational thought and preference. “Marriage is by definition a lifelong commitment, and if I imagine how different my life was 10 years ago, it would be naive and limiting to promise companionship in another 10.” He adds that he has no problem with the idea of other people getting married — it’s just not for him.

Lewis may be rare in that opinion.

“It’s a hard thing to not want to get married in a culture that emphasizes marriage,” Freidberg says. “[It’s] great that people still believe in marriage. It just sounds so innocent and kind of sweet.”