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The Garter Toss Reminds Me of My Sexual Assault, but My Fiancé Wants to Do It

Do we have to compromise?

Blue and white garter on windowsill

Q: I’m getting married (a while from now) to the most spectacular man in the world. I love him to death… for being (often) the exact opposite of me. We balance each other out, and usually we can both keep our cool in a debate, which helps us push to be better people. Usually.

But wedding planning has brought one argument to a head. What to do about the garter toss?

So I like to consider myself a feminist and, well, my partner tends to shy away from any political labels. Usually this isn’t an issue and he supports my beliefs, all but for the garter toss. Basically, he really likes the garter toss, and I really hate it.

How much does he love it? When I pester him to find out what he cares most about at our wedding, here is his list: I’m the bride, he wears his military uniform, we dance, and finally that there is a garter toss. Basically it’s his dad’s favorite part of weddings, and it’s his favorite part of the weddings he went to as a kid. His dad brags about catching so many garters, and he’s gotten a few in his time.

How much do I hate it? It’s ridiculous to celebrate our modern marriage with a tradition that stems from a man fending off fellow suitors and proving that he conquered a woman by tossing her ripped clothing. I mean really! Could that get any more ridiculous. Also, TRIGGER WARNING: I was sexually assaulted years ago, and while I can mostly handle the trauma in stride, being overtly sexual in public is kind of terrifying. Like I’m not sure I could let someone, even my husband-to-be, take my underwear off in public without crying and flashing back. END TRIGGER WARNING. Further, the whole second part of the tradition where the person who catches the garter has to put the garter on the person who catches the bouquet seems especially distasteful. I don’t want to pressure people into a slightly sexual act in front of a ton of people just to amuse my partner.

So with all that said, I don’t want to get rid of it entirely. He gave such a short list of things that matter to him at our wedding, and I don’t want to take that from him.

What do I do? I’ve been looking for creative alternatives. (Note that I balanced out the sexism of a bouquet toss by building a bouquet cannon, because women in STEM will totally balance out the sexism, right?) I’m willing to try any creative solution, but I just can’t find any. Thank you for any help you can offer.

—Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

At first glance, this is kind of a common problem, right? I’ve got an inbox full of, “Wedding traditions butting up against my principles, what do I do” questions. But then we get to your trigger warning and the record screeches. Maybe he doesn’t get your feminist standpoint, fine, but does he know that this reminds you of your assault? Does he even know about the assault at all?

I’d lay off the ideological arguments for now and focus on the fact that this has actual effects on your real life. Feminism can feel sort of theoretical, particularly for the kind of guy that says he “shies away from political labels.” If you haven’t experienced sexism yourself, feminism can feel sorta like “all these women are mad at men and bras or whatever.” If you don’t understand, it can be easy to just shrug and dismiss. But the reality is that living in a patriarchal system has a direct impact on women. (Like feeling unsafe in our own bodies, because sexual assault happens to one in six women.) And this silly-seeming tradition that may have roots that may not bother some people, is having a very real and harmful impact on you.

Obviously I wish your partner considered feminist perspectives his own. Obviously I wish he respected and even understood them outright. But he doesn’t, so let’s focus on the fact that he should at MINIMUM care about how this personally impacts you emotionally. At minimummmm.

So, if you haven’t yet told him that it’s triggering, do it.

If you haven’t mentioned your assault experience, do it.

And if you’ve already done both of those things, but he doesn’t care and is still insisting on this garter situation, make an appointment for you two to see a counselor. As a result of your experience, sometimes things are going to upset you, bother you, make you uncomfortable, and sometimes it’ll seem out of left field. It’s important that he’s braced to support you through things he doesn’t understand (and that sometimes you won’t even understand, yourself). This isn’t about the garter. This is so, so much bigger than the garter.

If you get to a place where he understands that triggering memories of your sexual assault is out of the question, then you can work on a compromise. I’m not totally understanding what about a garter toss is so appealing to him, so find out. If it’s just flinging something into a crowd of male guests, maybe he can take a flower from a bouquet or a doodad from your hair. Maybe you flip it into a joke and he reaches under the hem of your dress to slowly, deliberately pull out a long striped sock. But you won’t be able to find that compromise until you figure out what about this tradition he wants to hold onto, and until he understands what about it is a dealbreaker for you.

Frankly, I’d be totally fine with “compromise” looking like, “WAIT, this reminds you of being assaulted? Then it’s completely out of the question.” I mean honestly.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

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