What is tradition?
The dictionary definition, “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation”, is a beautiful tribute to history—the passing down of a legacy. That is something to aspire to, assuming that the customs of the generations before you are ones that you wish to pass down. But what about when they aren’t? Marriage is one of the most traditional institutions in existence. It began as an alliance between two families, in which neither the bride nor the groom had a say-so, and it has, over time, evolved into a commitment made by two people who choose to spend the rest of their lives together. A lavish wedding ceremony in a church, followed by an equally exquisite reception was once the epitome of a couple’s happily-ever-after. Today, the way a marriage begins is as unique as the two people in it.
What Is a Marriage?
The answer to that question depends on your source. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the state of being married to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.” Dictionary.com recently added a broader definition of marriage, which says it is “any of the diverse forms of interpersonal union established in various parts of the world to form a familial bond that is recognized legally, religiously, or socially.”
Needless to say, the latter definition is the one we at The Colorado Wedding Magazine favor. Put simply, a marriage begins when two people decide to spend the rest of their lives together, and as I discovered by talking to some amazing people, there is more than one way to go about it.
Our Life Together Begins; the Wedding Can Wait |
Angela and Abraham
Some couples have a full life together before ever saying “I do.” For Angela and her husband, Abraham, marriage was not a decision that they came to lightly. In fact, neither of them was certain that marriage was even something they wanted. “We moved into an apartment together less than a week before I gave birth to our son.” While they weren’t engaged at the time, they were both committed to raising their child together and seeing what the future held for them. This was not without its challenges, however. When they announced their pregnancy, they received pressure from both sides of their family to get married immediately, but neither of them wanted that to be the way their life together began. “We were firm in our stance that neither of us wanted to get married just because we shared a child. We wanted to be sure we made the decision to get married because we wanted to, and not for appearances or religious purposes or for the approval of any family member.”
Angela and Abraham did eventually have a big wedding a couple of years after the birth of their son, but it was a celebration of their union, not the thing that made it feel official. Angela said, “It sounds super unromantic, but for me, the decisions that made it feel more official were financial moves. That, and the ability to make longer-term, higher risk investments in each other and the life we were building together.”
Lisa and Orlando
For Lisa, having a big church wedding has always been a dream. She’s been married once before, to the biological father of her two oldest children, but it was just a quick trip to the courthouse. With Orlando, her soon-to-be husband, she wanted things to be different. The couple have been together for eight years, and while marriage was always on the table, it just wasn’t something they wanted to rush into. “We had been together for almost a year when I realized that we never fight. We would play around, but never really fight.” Having come from a tenuous relationship, Lisa worried that this one felt almost too good to be true, so even though she dreamed of a big wedding, she never pushed Orlando to get married. She had found someone to make her happy, and that was enough for her. The couple had two children, bought a home, and now raise their four kids together. Lisa was just starting to give up on her dream of a big wedding, but knowing how much it meant to her, Orlando surprised her with a proposal on New Year’s Eve 2021. “Marriage is just a preference,” Lisa says. “If it’s important to you, marrying Mr. Right, then that’s what you should do.”
Short Engagements and Intimate Ceremonies
Ivette and Sunny
“Sunny didn’t complete me; I was already complete. He came and overfilled my cup.”
This is how Ivette describes her connection to her husband, whom she met through the Bumble dating app. They were matched in the spring of 2020, and they moved in together by July of that same year. Exactly a year later, Sunny proposed, and they were married just a couple months later in August. It’s fair to say that their relationship moved quickly, but according to Ivette, that was only possible because they were both happy with themselves first. She was never really ready for a deep connection and credits the time she spent in therapy for her healing and learning to be happy on her own. In fact, she wasn’t even sure that marriage was something she wanted. “Society says you can’t be single and be happy. People feel pressure to rush into it, even if it’s not with the right person.” Once she and Sunny met in person, they both knew there was a connection, and having spent time on their own and learning to both discover and love who they are, they were able to deepen that bond much faster than society considers “normal.”
As for a traditional ceremony, the couple did discuss having a destination wedding, but when they compared the cost of traveling and making arrangements with the cost of the life they wanted—a house they could make into a home and money to travel and explore new places together—they decided to save their coins and elope. Not having a traditional ceremony wasn’t favored by some of their family and friends, but they did what they decided was best for them, and Ivette says, “A small wedding was everything I didn’t know I wanted.”
Society and the people closest to you have a way of pressuring you into celebrating your union in a particular way because that is what they want for you. In reality, there is no “right way” to do it. Ivette had this to say to those on the fence about how to celebrate:
“You have to do what’s right for you and your partner. If that’s outside the norm, so be it. Your union is y’all against the world, and as long as you’re both good—checking in, being honest about what you want, and being on the same page—it doesn’t matter what anybody else wants.”
A Commitment of the Heart
The newest and increasingly common type of marriage is one in which a couple makes a commitment to each other sans celebration or certificate. I call this kind of marriage a commitment of the heart.
Gaby and Marcus
When Gaby and Marcus decided to begin a relationship, they both knew it had to be serious from the get-go. Marcus had already been married and was the single father of three little girls. He wasn’t making any major life changes or commitments without involving his girls. For Gaby, who was in her early twenties at the time, this meant starting a relationship with a family, not just an individual, and her respect for the connection between Marcus and his daughters made it an easy choice. Going into it, she knew they would make every decision carefully, and they would do it together. In the beginning, neither of them wanted to get married or have more kids; they simply wanted to be together. But over time, their connection grew, and they wanted more.
My biggest question for Gaby and for other couples who start their life this way was, “If there is no ceremony and no marriage certificate, what makes the commitment real?” Gaby responded, “The commitment was gradual. There was no button or light switch; we just kept moving forward.” At first, they lived in an apartment together. When that became too small for their family, they rented a home. They made their first joint purchase when they bought a car, and finally, the biggest move they made—at least financially—was the purchase of their home. Prior to buying the house, Gaby did her research regarding the rights she would have to the home and to her daughters if the relationship were to dissolve. In Texas, at least as of this writing, a couple is considered married by Common Law if they have lived together for longer than three years. This means that once they have reached their third anniversary of living under the same roof, they have the same legal rights as a couple who signed a marriage certificate.
While their union is now protected by law in their state, they have talked about a wedding in the future. They don’t have a date, and they aren’t even certain that a wedding will happen, but they aren’t opposed to it. “I’ve heard of people putting timelines on this kind of stuff,” Gaby said, “but we don’t do that. We’ve grown a lot in the last eight years, and we’ve taken it slow. A lot of people are just in love with the idea of getting married and having a wedding. For us, if it happens, it happens.”
Change and tradition do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can choose the customs and traditions that we love and want to pass down, and we can add our own unique touch to them to make them work for us. Historical customs can, and should, change over time. That is how we, as humans, continue to evolve and set the stage for future generations to do the same. Whether you decide to have a big wedding, an intimate celebration, or have no celebration at all, as long as you are doing what works for you and your partner, you are doing the right thing.