A few months back, I put together a survey through my event planning business in conjunction with The Bridechilla Podcast. The responses to that survey formed the foundation of what became Secularly Wed. As a wedding planner, I have met many secular couples who feel pressured to include religious elements in their weddings that do not align with their personal values. I wondered if there were more people out there who were struggling to find balance between societal/familial expectations and their own beliefs regarding religion and tradition.
I was also curious about how modern couples view the wedding industry. Everyone seems to love ragging on the “Wedding Industrial Complex” or “Big Bridal,” but how are their real experiences comparing to the viral horror stories and reality TV meltdowns?
The survey included a wide range of questions on wedding planning, cultural/religious background, wedding traditions, planning challenges, etc… I had over 250 respondents from around the US (and even a few from Canada & the UK!), which was unexpected and truly wonderful! I learned so much about the different challenges couples face in different regions where cultural expectations differ from my own experiences.
A recurring theme throughout the survey was that many of the respondents identified as Atheist/Agnostic or said that religion is something that is part of their culture, but that they are not practicing in their daily life. Now, I will admit, the audience we reached out to for the survey definitely skews non-traditional. I was surprised by how many of them identified as non-religious, but still included (or plan to include) religious ceremonies or elements in their wedding.
As expected, the most common reason that couples chose to include religious elements was the please their family. Though a few revealed that their families didn’t even know they had left religion behind.
“We’re having a Reverend [do the ceremony] because our family doesn’t know we’re atheist”
The blurred lines between culture and religion.
Another common reason that couples chose to include religious elements was that the particular traditions held cultural significance to them, rather than a spiritual connection. One couple explained how the groom was born and raised in New Mexico and his cultural heritage was influenced by Spanish Catholicism. So even though they identify as Atheist, there were religious elements that felt authentic and important enough to them to include.
Many couples chose to include the Jewish tradition of breaking the glass at the end of their ceremony and the Hora (the chair dance) was mentioned a few times as well.
” I am Catholic… but I haven’t practiced in 15 years. My husband is Jewish in the same way. Our wedding was agnostic except we did break the glass and say ‘Mazel Tov!'”
Though not everyone is comfortable with religious traditions even when they can be adapted in a secular way. Taylor from NY shared some of her experience with vendors who made assumptions about their plans.
” One venue’s coordinator kept saying how fun it would be to include Jewish traditions from my fiance’s side…she didn’t know he is atheist/doesn’t identify with religion. She never really asked about our religious beliefs. We just nodded our heads and moved on.”
” Some vendors seem surprised when I include my future husband in the discussions, its OUR wedding…not just the bride’s special day. I disagree with that whole stigma.”
I saw this sentiment repeated several times throughout the survey. When vendors make assumptions based on gender roles or perceived religious affiliations, it can be frustrating and hurtful to the couple. Even when these assumptions are made with the best intentions, it can make the couple feel as though their voices are not being heard.
Sometimes, it was assumptions about a person’s religion that caused strife. One bride shared how she is Atheist and her partner is Muslim. They had an intimate secular ceremony and yet people still asked if she would be converting to her partner’s religion.
…people kept asking me if I would be forced to convert because I was marrying a Muslim. People have very skewed views on Islam.
Families, officiants, or vendors might expect couples to take part in traditions that are not meaningful or important to the couple. They can project their beliefs on to the couple and expect the couple to play along, whether it is because “that’s just how it’s done” or to make someone else happy.
“Many vendors and guests expected us to pretend we were invested in religion for this one day, which seemed like a very disrespectful thing to do.”
THIS! Not only should we ask our religious friends and family to respect our choices for our weddings, we should also respect that their traditions are sacred to them. If we choose to include traditions from other cultures or faiths, we must make sure we do so in a way that does not downplay the significance to followers of that faith. Cultural and religious appropriation simply isn’t cool.
“I may compromise with my mother who is quite religious. She has already expressed to me that I will not have a secular wedding and that I WILL be getting married in the church. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Thoughts on the Wedding Industry
We had quite a few thoughtful responses on the wedding industry and wedding planning in general. There were many more than I could include here, but I am sure we will revisit the topic on the blog in the near future.
“There are a lot of sexist traditions built into the traditional wedding that we don’t often think about because we’re so used to them.”
Yes. So many. Say it louder for the folks in the back.
“There are so many ideas and so much help available for planning a wedding. I wish there were as many opportunities and offers for planning your marriage. After all, that is more important.”
I totally agree! I hope that Secularly Wed will be a place where we can discuss not only your wedding but your marriage!
“The ‘wedding industry’ is a discouraging evil against which one must duel to maintain sanity, budget, and self-integrity when planning a wedding.”
This person was anonymous, which makes me sad, because I want to be their friend. I am picturing the D&D campaign right now. Two valiant warriors brave the Dungeon of WIC in search of a meaningful, authentic wedding without going over budget.
“Weddings are still highly heteronormative. I’m nervous that vendors will find it hard to abandon preconceived notions of what our wedding should look like, especially because my partner and I seem to be a regular heterosexual couple.”
A core value of Secularly Wed is inclusiveness and the idea that no couple should be bound by stereotypes, gender roles, or outdated societal expectations.
Some final thoughts…
“As an atheist/secular humanist, religion is all around me and I think a lot about it. My struggle is to live a life not in reaction to religion, but simply without.”
Our final thought comes from a wedding officiant who helped develop the Secularly Wed project, Kenna Covington of NC Secular Weddings. There is a lot of confusion about WHY we need to talk about secular weddings or secular lifestyles. Religion is all around us, it influences so many facets of our daily life and cultural dialogue. By speaking up and saying “this does not represent us,” we can begin to change the dialogue.
My hope is that through Secularly Wed, couples can find like-minded and like-hearted friends, find courage to talk about their beliefs, and reclaim weddings and marriage as a human sacrament.