Colleen & Matt

Today’s post is about balancing tradition and feminism. It’s about finding your voice when you think you have nothing new to say about weddings (I think you’ll agree that Colleen has plenty of cuttingly smart to say). It’s about finding a way to honor all the different things that we are on a day that we celebrate the life that we’re building. It’s wise and smart (and pretty too).

It took forever for me to figure out what to write in a wedding graduate post. You see, we got married in October 2010 and I was happily collecting thoughts about what to write when my aunt died. So December became about holding my mother up. In January, my brother got married. In February, my uncle died. And I was so emotionally exhausted that putting my thoughts into what went into my wedding seemed like an insurmountable task and irrelevant when I kept reading grad posts that already sounded like what I wanted to say. And then I remembered that every wedding is different, every family is different and no matter what, we’re going to learn from each other. So with that, here goes:

My now husband was given his grandmother’s rings to give to me before he told me he loved me for the first time. He carried them through a long distance relationship and a move before he finally gave them to me. We got engaged at Fallingwater, an iconic Pittsburgh landmark, designed by the famous Frank Lloyd Wright. It was beautiful and snowy and cold and perfect. The only people who knew we were engaged for about two hours immediately afterwards were two strangers who had come down the hill, because my husband chose the spot specifically because he knew we wouldn’t have cellphone service.

My wedding planning started on The Kn*t. Mostly looking at pretty pictures and lurking on the Etiquette board, reading about crazy mother-in-laws and bridesmaids from hell, thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have any of those problems. And then I lost my job. I spent that summer in my friend’s house working out, cooking and sending resumes and cover letters to any higher ed job that looked feasible in the New England area. In the meantime, I found a wedding dress and continued to lurk on The Kn*t with no clue how I was going to honor my relationship in a wedding that I didn’t feel like I could control when the rest of my life was out of control.

Finding APW was a breath of fresh air. Reading about others who were struggling to create a wedding that honored them and their families and not what the WIC declared was “right” was the shot of confidence I needed to plan what we wanted, not what my mother wanted and not what my friends and families planned in the four weddings leading up to ours. We chose a theme (Frank Lloyd Wright), we chose to arrange our own flowers, my mother chose to bake the cake, I chose to make over 1000 cookies for a Pittsburgh cookie table and in the end, chose to hire a Wedding Coordinator to handle the rest.

I think the hardest part of wedding planning for me was reconciling my feminist self with my girly self. Yes, I know you can be both. But my Catholic schoolgirl, must have white dress, must have a garter, and a shower, and a bachelorette party, and a registry filled with cooking supplies, and my father must walk me down the aisle self was being shamed to death by my “don’t buy into the WIC,” why can’t my gay friends get married, I am not a person to be “given away,” I’m not buying into the patriarchy self. And that shame was hard to deal with when I was obsessing over the perfect escort card during work, then doing a program that night in the Women’s Center about the proliferation of the WIC in shows like “Bridezillas.” As a role model for college women, I felt it was my duty to not be swept up in the magic of trying on my wedding dress for my grandmother because it was one day and one dress and it’s just encouraging the WIC.

And finally, I said, f*ck it.

I could still be a good role model/feminist and cry over the proofs of my invitations because they were freakin’ gorgeous. I could try on my dress and get giddy. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want them to aspire to be good brides, I want them to aspire to be good women. And I was doing that already.

That burden gone, it made it okay to gush over how beautiful my bridesmaids looked that day. It was worth it to stand on that altar with my husband (who I made wait twenty minutes, by the way) and say vows that our parents said and our parents before that. There was power in that tradition, and it was okay. It was okay to sob when my father danced with me because five years ago we did not think he was going to make it. And it was okay, that at the end of the night, his parents drove us back to the hotel and Matt brought the wrong bag up to the hotel room.

We chose to support young businesses for our wedding, hiring my friends from college that had just started a photography business and event planning business respectively. We bought our flowers wholesale from Blooms by the Box (thanks APW!), and I bought my dress from a woman who was selling her inventory out of her basement. Our guest list rule: the person needed to have stood in the kitchen in either our home or our parents’ homes. Guests went home with tons of cookies in white paper bags stamped with a claddaugh and thank you. We sat with our siblings at a table of ten and our centerpiece was a lego version of Fallingwater.

And we chose to keep some of the traditional as well. We were married with a full Mass in the Catholic church my parents were married in. My father walked me down the aisle and we had a receiving line. We did toasts, parent dances and garter and bouquet tosses. We did a dollar dance and the Electric Slide. We drank Bud Light, Coors Light and our local favorite, Yuengling. We took a picture with all the Dickinson alumni in attendance.

In the end, the wedding wasn’t feminist or girly or WIC. It was just us, and that was all that mattered.

The Info Photographer: Lauren Liese Photography / Ceremony Venue: St. John’s Roman Catholic Church / Reception Venue: Montdale Country Club / Wedding Coordinator: Natalie Diener Wedding and Events / Flowers: Blooms by the Box / Cake: Nancy, Colleen’s mom (aw)

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  • Yes, finding APW is a breath of fresh air. Or like balm . Congratulations ! Love the cookies idea. (Well they called me cookie monster… )

  • I had the exact same feeling upon finding APW and like-minded wedding blogs… it was, as Colleen says, an absolute breath of fresh air. Congratulations of being able to reconcile your two sides and congrats on your marriage!

  • “In the end, the wedding wasn’t feminist or girly or WIC. It was just us, and that was all that mattered”.
    Yes! It can be incredibly difficult with all the WIC noise out there to figure out what “us” looks like. Congratulations on figuring that out beautifully!

  • “Because at the end of the day, I don’t want them to aspire to be good brides, I want them to aspire to be good women. And I was doing that already.”

    WHOA. This is something I aspire to live up to. Love.

    • Agreed.

      • KEA1

        Amen, HALLELUJAH!!!!!! %)

  • I am so happy that you decided to write a post and realized that even though you may think you’ve read your wedding in other wedding grad posts, there really have been no other weddings like yours. Because it’s just yours. And I loved this one, so I’m glad you shared. Loved your words, your wedding, and the reminder that we can be all of these different selves wrapped up into one person-you displayed those selves so perfectly. Congratulations!

  • Regarding being a role model “I don’t want them to aspire to be good brides, I want them to aspire to be good women.” Thank you! I definitely feel like I’m modeling my wedding for my sisters and other youngsters, and that does influence my language, my attitude, and my approach to the wedding planning. (And yay! Now I can “officially” start planning, as I am now actually engaged!)

    • Congratulations!

  • KEA1

    Oh, and by the way, I LOVE your guest-list rule, and am going to keep it (or a variation of it, depending…) in mind if I get married!

  • I love Colleen and Matt’s guest list rule: “the person needed to have stood in the kitchen in either our home or our parents’ homes.”

    And I so appreciate Colleen’s willingness to embrace the ambiguity and the gray areas. Because I don’t think any of us are wholly traditional or wholly feminist or wholly anything. And that’s why we come here to A Practical Wedding; we need this forum to discuss and embrace all the complexities of what and who we are and want to be. In other words, this being good women business is sticky.

    • ELLE

      I have to say I am loving the kitchen rule. Definitely co-opting that one.

  • I think this is the APW I can relate to the most. As Colleen so beautiful described, it’s so hard to balance between all the different perspective of what a wedding “should be.” My fiance and I are veering a little more traditional (we’re going to have the full Catholic mass as well) but we’re doing that because we both like the sense of history and meaning that can go along with tradition. It’s all about finding new meanings for yourself and not feeling guilty about any choice you make–whether that’s to be “given away” or to roller-skate down the aisle and body check a bridesmaid or two.

    Colleen, any chance we can see this Lego version of Fallingwater? That sound AWESOME.

    • I had the same moment of realization – we chose a Catholic wedding because of the history and tradition, had my dad give me away, and said eff it to the voices in our heads that said we were giving in to a rigid patriarchy. Sometimes you just need to stop reading into things and just do them because they feel right.

      Also – lego Fallingwater – YES PLEASE.

  • You echoed so many of my feelings… from a personal struggle with the contradiction between being a feminist and having my father walk me down the aisle in a traditional Catholic ceremony… to worrying about a whether my Wedding Graduate post would be worthwhile when so much has been said by so many smart graduates posts.

    Thank you for the reminder that every wedding is different and congratulations on your beautiful story and beautifully you wedding!

    • Wsquared

      You know, as a Catholic who also had a Catholic nuptial Mass when she married, but who is also a highly educated woman, I find it a little off-putting when people assume that Catholic tradition is all about “patriarchy,” nothing more, nothing less.

      I think people should do a little research before they make such assumptions (incidentally, I thank Jennifer for her informative comment below). If you actually knew a bit more about Catholic teaching than you seem to be demonstrating here, you would find that there is less of a contradiction between wanting to be a strong, smart and independent woman– indeed, a feminist– and a practicing Catholic than you appear to think.

      Also, my wedding didn’t cost a ton, I didn’t have a bachelorette party, and I didn’t have a whole bevy of bridesmaids or a whole registry full of cooking equipment, either. Being respectful of Catholic tradition does not inherently mean being a girly-girl. I happen to be a tomboy with a rather feminine streak.

      Furthermore, the father of the bride does not “give the bride away.” My dad walked me down the aisle. But he did not “give me away.” I also know that I’m not “property” (in fact, the very notion is arguably contrary to Catholic teaching) and if that so confuses everybody else, that’s not my problem.

      • Liz

        WSquared, I’m not sure that Becky said anything of the things you are attributing to her, here. No one has said that Catholicism is patriarchal or that by being Catholic one is a “girly girl.”

        From my reading, the author of the post felt a dichotomy in herself that she quickly realized was unnecessary- as you also said.

        • Wsquared

          If that’s not what she said, then my apologies. Though reading Becky’s comment again, she says that there is a contradiction. If I came across as a little heavy-handed, then again my apologies.

          But, this assumption or fear that Catholicism=patriarchy (whether we ultimately choose– wisely– not to listen to those voices) or being at odds with one’s feminist self comes up repeatedly, such that there does exist this dichotomy that women wrestle with at all. So why is that?

          Indeed, when I did read this post, the language came across as though there was that dichotomy, as though having the Nuptial Mass and tradition was somehow part of (or in the same category as) buying into the WIC, such that it should unnerve the part of one’s self that is a role-model for college women. In reality, knowing the basics of Catholic teaching and relying on them can actually help you combat a lot of these kinds of worries.

  • LanyTaz

    I’m so glad you wrote this post, even if you felt like, “everything I wanted to say had been said before” — This spoke to me, especially talking about not wanting to be “WIC-centered”, but wanting gush about small details — I feel the same way. I’m half girlie, half not, but I get super excited when I put on my dress, and I got super excited to buy my lovely necklace.

    We recently decided (we’re three weeks out now) to revamp our entire ceremony, because it didn’t speak to us enough as a couple, and it wasn’t special enough for us, so I LOVE this part, “In the end, the wedding wasn’t feminist or girly or WIC. It was just us, and that was all that mattered” — That’s what we’re striving for!

    Thank you so much for your wonderful grad post!!!

  • No picture of the lego centerpieces?! I’m bummed :(

    But I (a) love your headpiece & (b) love the message. You can go extremist in either camp for/against the WIC. Or you can say screw it and do what you want.

    Amen, sister. A-to-the-(wo)men.

    • “Or you can say screw it and do what you want.”

      Yes yes yes! This is why I love APW.

    • msditz

      I think the main problem with not just wedding planning, but life in general, is when people are too extreme with any line of thinking. Just do whatever you want with your life, as long as you are doing it because it is really what you want. And you aren’t being a jerk about it.

  • Noemi

    A Pittsburgh-area wedding! So happy to hear that you ended up content with all your choices and inner conflicts. I also had a cookie table, but was way too embarrassed to do a dollar-dance.

  • Lindsey

    Gorgeous post! But I want to squeal over YUENGLING!!! My favorite beer, but since moving out to California I can’t get it anywhere (they don’t distribute past the Mississippi River, apparently). I found ONE bar in all of LA that carries it, and I plan on buddying up to the owner in the hopes of getting a piece of their Yuengling action. (A better plan than seeing how much beer my dad could bring in his suitcase?)

    Also, I love the picture of everyone doing the Electric Slide! :)

  • I love the Falling Water lego set – we have it on our mantle at home!

  • meg

    Thanks so much for this post (and the rest of APW). Exactly what I’m needing as I struggle with my own feminist vs girly internal dilemma.

  • FawMo

    Such a beautiful post Colleen, thank you for sharing. So many of us struggle with balancing dreams of our weddings/relationships/marriages and our principles about equality and how things ought to be.

    And thank you for introducing me to Fallingwater! So. Gorgeous.

  • I love your guest list rule. That is a fantastic way to narrow things down. Also, this:
    “In the end, the wedding wasn’t feminist or girly or WIC. It was just us, and that was all that mattered.” That is so, so true, of most of our weddings, I believe. Thanks for putting it into words. (Also, your shoes rock!)

  • Caroline

    Yay cookie tables and Yay Yuengling!!

  • Yuengling for the win.

    *fist pump*

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  • Thank you for all the awesome comments! I have to admit, I was really nervous about this being posted, but I am so happy right now, it was totally worth the nerves! I posted a photo of the the Fallingwater centerpiece on my blog if anyone wants to take a look!

    We actually live in CT and we can’t Yuengling up here either! Matt got a case from my parents for his birthday last weekend…we get a little panicky when we start to run low., haha.

  • SpaceElephant

    What a lovely wedding and a sane post.

    I love all the comments about Yuengling! My husband is from Iowa and his midwestern family and friends were gaga for it at our DC wedding. We sent the extra cases home with the ones who drove.

    I had the luck of going to undergrad in southeastern Pennsylvania, so Yuengling was the cheapo default for those years of my life, so it’s fun for me when people see it as some sort of exotic microbrew. We are lucky here in the MidAtlantic.

    • I know, right? My boss is from Seattle and she loves it so we always try and get her a six pack when we go home to visit our parents. I love that good beer can bring people together :)

    • Kayakgirl73

      Our wedding beer was Yuengling too. We even paid extra to get the keg of it. Unfortunately it didn’t get finished at the reception, but we were able to have it moved to the cabin, where friends were having an after-party. It sometimes pays to have spent your teenage years working for your venue.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve been a lurker for a while but I just want to share a bit of information related to “giving the bride away” in the context of Catholic tradition. I too am a Catholic woman engaged to be married next June. Yay! :) We’ve only just begun planning our Nuptial Mass but I have been reading about traditions and such. The notion of the “bride being given away” is not actually a part of Catholic tradition. In the Catholic marriage ceremony, the two partners entering into marriage are the ministers of the Sacrament and they give themselves freely to each other. Thus, there is no “who gives this woman” language in the marriage rite and it is not stated that the father should escort his daughter down the aisle, though it is an option as it has become a custom in our particular culture for whatever reason (in other countries, there may be other local customs…the Church leaves room for these). The father walking the daughter down the aisle and the notion of “giving the bride away” was actually adopted from other traditions. In the Rite of Marriage (which outlines options for a Catholic marriage ceremony) and other Catholic marriage prep books I have read, the options listed for the procession include the soon-to-be husband and wife walking down the aisle together or each person being escorted by his/her parents. I just thought I’d throw that out there. Many of my Catholic friends have chosen for both partners to be escorted down the aisle by both their parents. That’s what we will be doing. I’ve also seen many brides do it the other way. All are beautiful if that’s what the bride and groom desire. :) I just thought that information was interesting to learn for any of you planning Catholic weddings and interested in different options.

    • Richelle

      Thanks Jennifer for this important comment. My husband and I also chose to have a Catholic mass and for us it was truly wonderful. I felt honored and blessed

    • ElfPuddle

      We’re planning a full mass, too. I asked both my parents to walk with me, but the mission parish’s aisle may be too narrow for all three of us. (It only seats 100 people not counting the choir loft. TINY church in a TINY town.) Sometimes, the venue helps with tradition.

    • Kayakgirl73

      I would have liked to have been walked in by both of my parents, but my mom wanted to be up front watching me come down the aisle. Oh well probably save my train or kept mom from falling, she can be a bit of klutz. I love her anyway.

    • Wsquared

      Thank you Jennifer for beating me to this comment. Congratulations on your engagement and your upcoming nuptials!

      Do please keep reading about Catholic tradition. There is a lot to sink your teeth into. One really good book you should read, since your ceremony will be a Nuptial Mass, is Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth.

      My dad walked me down, not because I think of myself as “property,” but because my dad wanted to, and I wanted him to– I’ve had a far better relationship with my dad of late than in the past, so this was not worth hurting my dad’s feelings over, or even haggling over.

      That said, I do like the idea of bride and groom walking themselves down: they give themselves in marriage, after all, and are the primary medium of the sacrament itself. Truth be known, though, we did a bit of both: my dad walked me down until we got to the Communion rail separating the rest of the church from the sanctuary and the altar. Then, my husband-to-be took my hand and we went up the steps to the altar together.

      Somebody suggested that my mother-in-law should walk my husband-to-be down, and both my parents should walk me down. I nixed that because, truth be known, I thought it a little redundant from my understanding of the sacrament.

  • I think I’m in love with your guest list rule.

    In fact, I think I’m going to make that a general rule (always allowing for more people to come stand in my kitchen or course). Christmas cards, social networking, etc.. There are some people of course who have virtually stood in my kitchen if not literally stood there, such is the electronic world we live in.

  • Amanda

    Yuengling! YES!

  • Eileen

    Yuengling! Dickinson picture!

    About half-way through I was wondering why you looked familiar, and then…Dickinson picture! Big internet world, meet small Dickinson world :)

    • Yay for fellow Dickinsonians!

  • Matt Bunn

    Let me start by stating how great my wife is. I a very proud of her well thought out article on our wedding. Seeing what she synthesized out of what at times was a very stressful process is one more reason I love her. I too had a very specific things I want to from the day. I wanted my family there and with our limited budget this made the guest list tricky. Out of that came the “Kitchen Rule.”

  • Love the use of red. Such a beautiful wedding.

  • Kayakgirl73

    Cookie tables are the bomb. We had one, in West Virginia. I first learned about them when college friends got married in the Erie area. I went to college in Western Pennsylvania.

  • Laurel

    Loved reading this post, and loved finding APW even though I’ve been married for almost 8 years now. Where was APW back then?!? I remember trying to blend my desire for “tradition” with a strong desire for the whole thing to really be OURS. I ended up going with a couple pops of bright color on my dress, very personalized / meaningful readings and we totally threw the “father-daughter” dance out the window (replacing it with my husband dancing with my mom, and me dancing with my FIL, as a “welcome to the family dance” – worked especially well since my dad had passed away two years before my wedding). I also loved that Colleen & Matt did the dollar dance – we wanted that, too. Our DJ tried to steer us into some (totally-not-our-style) traditional Italian music, because that is what he was used to playing for dollar dances. He couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of just playing “regular” music for that – thankfully he figured it out and went with a selection of songs about friendship and helping people out. Kudos to you guys for doing thing in a totally “Colleen & Matt” sort of way! :)

  • kathi

    I recently got engaged, and I’m struggling with some of the same things. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  • wow fantastic marriage and the tradition i like it…..