Marriage Equality: Making it Their Special Day

“Today, I think most marriages aim for equality. Let’s move away from making it her special day and start making it their special day.”

Marriage equality has been in the news lately, mostly related to North Carolina’s decision to enshrine other-sex only marriage in the state constitution.  Although I’m in favor of allowing same sex couples to be legally married and letting religious institutions make their own decisions, I’m tired of talking about who has the legal right to get married and who doesn’t.  I want to talk about some ways we can make wedding ceremonies more about them and less about her.

If we really think that married couples should be equals, then the ceremony we attend should treat them that way.  I don’t just mean the vows they take, I mean the whole thing.  I think it’s time to take a deeper look at how we think about weddings and what they symbolize, not just about who can get married.  If a couple’s marriage is based on equality, it should start that way.

In a day and age where both members of the couple will likely hold full time jobs in order to make ends meet and have a chance of moving up the ladder, why send the message that paying for the wedding is the responsibility of her parents?  We don’t live in a culture where there’s a dowry or bride-price from the groom to her parents, and our culture doesn’t treat women as chattel to be married off, so why are her parents still the one’s expected to pay for the wedding?  Shouldn’t his folks be kicking in some money?

More importantly, where are the bride and groom in this?  If we assume that they both (will) contribute to paying the other bills, shouldn’t they both be paying for the wedding? I understand the couple may not be in a position to contribute much money to this event, but they should be paying for some of it.  It is their wedding, after all.  And if they can’t afford very much, then perhaps this is their first “hard” lesson about not spending what you don’t have.

Of course, if he or his parents are helping pay for the wedding, then he’ll also need to be a real part of planning the wedding.  No dumping it all off on her, guys.  Marriage is about making a life together, and planning a wedding is a big, complex task that takes months if not years.

Planning a wedding together gives the couple a chance to develop some skills negotiating disagreements about things that are important to one or both of them; there’s real potential for conflict.  That’s a skill that many couples don’t really get to develop while they’re dating.

Of course, if we really want guys to participate in their wedding planning, then we’ll need to encourage them to start thinking about their wedding at a younger age.  We start telling girls to think about and fantasize about their weddings from an early age, but not boys.  Maybe we should though; something like 90% of them will get married at some point in their life. Given that very few guys ever become the general manager of an athletic team, they’re much more likely to have a real wedding and a fantasy team than the other way around.


Over the last two decades or so, bachelorette parties have become common and are often described as matching the stereotypical debauchery of bachelor parties.  (If you ask guys, they’ll tell you that most bachelor parties don’t look anything like the stereotype.) Yet bridal showers still seem to be almost exclusively for women.  Why not call them “couple’s showers” to highlight the fact that the event is to help the couple get started.  Shouldn’t they both be there for this event that’s going to help provide a bunch of stuff for their home? Even if the gifts are often related to setting up the house and doing things that qualify as chores, most couples share many of those tasks in modern America.  If we really believe a married couple should share the household chores, then all those cleaning and kitchen and house gifts should go to them, not just her.

Then there’s the ceremony itself.  In the typical American wedding, the groom does not walk down the aisle; he somehow magically appears at the front, typically entering from a side room.  If the space doesn’t provide that, he may walk around the assembled audience instead of walking down the aisle.  It’s as if we somehow don’t think he’s worthy of everyone’s undivided attention.  Or we’re just not that into him, or maybe we’re ashamed of him, or embarrassed, or something.

To promote equality, we should have him walk down the aisle.  We should know who he is and see his face.  Does he look nervous?  Happy? Is he crying?  Sound crazy?  It’s typical in most Jewish weddings.  They don’t have separated sides of the audience for bride and groom either.  After all, the ceremony they’re attending will create one family, not two teams that will compete against each other.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong about all this.  Some people are telling women they need to lower their standards when choosing a guy.  If that’s what you believe, then maybe the wedding really is about celebrating her rise to superwoman and (perhaps supermom) status and he really is mostly irrelevant.

Today, I think most marriages aim for equality. Let’s move away from making it her special day and start making it their special day.

Photo by Shutterstock.

About Andrew Smiler

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist, evaluator, author, and speaker residing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA). He is the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” and co-author, with Chris Kilmartin, of “The Masculine Self (5th edition)”. He is a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity and has taught at Wake Forest University and SUNY Oswego. Dr. Smiler's research focuses on definitions of masculinity. He also studies normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. Follow him @AndrewSmiler.


  1. As a photographer that shoots weddings at times, and also married, I of course have to comment on this on some things.
    My husband and I felt very strongly about the way we wanted to get married. We wanted something low-key. We didn’t want a lot of people there. We got married in his church, and spent maybe $300 on the whole thing, license included. His parents bought the cake, which we ate at the house after they took us out for lunch. We couldn’t see spending all the money that it would take for a dream wedding when we really didn’t have it, and the money that we did have we were able to put towards more important things, such as furnishing our home. We also didn’t do parties, like a bachelor/bachelorette party. We weren’t comfortable with that.

    If we were to have a big wedding, we would pay for that too, because we would want very specific things, and we would not want to be put in the position of having someone else pay for it and then telling them they can’t have the things they want at our wedding. We also would not have had required seating for our families. As I have seen it put at many weddings, pick a seat, not a side. My husband would have still waited for me at the alter though. That, in my opinion, is a very special moment. Traditionally, the groom is not supposed to see the bride at all in her gown before the big day. So, this is a big moment. In my experience, the groom’s face lights up and it is a really touching thing to witness.

  2. Michael Rowe says:

    My favourite Bridezilla comment of all time was the bride who tried to rationalize to her groom why she wanted a $40,000 engagement ring by saying, “Well, I’m going to be wearing it my whole life! I deserve it!”
    Hardly a prudent or rational argument, divorce rates being what they are.

  3. misty christy says:

    well most of the wedding crap is dead at my house. i was so embarassed to wear a stupid white dress and be “given away”, 15 years later it still makes me uncomfortable. (what is that???? giving the bride away?!) i have 3 daughters. 1 of them feels the same way i do about weddings, “unnecessary. you only need to sign the paper at the court house”. none of them want a big wedding, or something expensive. i cringe at spending over $15k on one day. to me, wait 20 years, and THEN have the big blow out party, then shout it to the world.

  4. The author strangely left out the fact that men are routinely, and with encouragement from society, excluded from being involved in planning their own weddings by women (future wives/family/friends). Instead, he states:

    “Of course, if he or his parents are helping pay for the wedding, then he’ll also need to be a real part of planning the wedding. No dumping it all off on her, guys.”

    Dumping it all off on her? Much more likely is that the bride takes over and has gently (or not so gently) shooed the groom away. Virtually the entire wedding industry is marketed towards women because they are the ones making the decisions and spending the money. Instead of questioning why brides-to-be take over weddings, he takes a sideswipe at men.

    • I’m long late on this, but I fully agree. Even pro-male men like Smiler occasionally take swipes at men to avoid offending women. It’s often unconscious, I believe.

      Aside from that, Smiler deserves a lot of credit for his great work.

  5. Black Iris says:

    Good points, but I’m not optimistic about your chances of making these changes. At this point, most women just care more about the details and will be upset at the idea of compromising.

  6. Jennifer J. says:

    I’m always a little uncomfortable when I hear about women who plan their weddings with their mothers or girlfriends rather than their fiances. When my husband and I were planning our wedding almost twenty years ago, we made all the decisions together. My mom, to her credit, soon figured out that she was a bit player in this endeavor and graciously wrote us a check for the amount she had saved toward the wedding. How we spent it was up to us.

    Sure, my husband may have been a bit bored at the florist shop and the cake decorator, and I wasn’t all that interested in the music selections, but we knew that this was setting the tone for our marriage. As newly-graduated twenty-two-year-olds, we had each been to only a handful of weddings. We made a lot of mistakes…left some important relatives off the guest list, forgot to order champagne for the toast…but for all its flaws, our wedding day was our own. We got to start off our marriage with a year-long exercise in how to compromise, how to budget, and how to put our relationship first.

  7. If it were up to me I’d get married in jeans and a nice shirt in front of a judge.

    I just can’t bring myself to care about pomp and circumstance.

    • @8Ball … not if you don’t want the mother of the bride to have a grudge you won’t. The only one that’s as touchy about the wedding as the bride is the mother of the bride. In my case, my wife and I had a very very small wedding with just family. My wife was living vicariously through my daughter and there was no way I was going to even go near that minefield.

  8. A lot of my friends had weddings that were way past their budget. But ultimately, they don’t regret going above and beyond for their big day. When you think about it, most of their friends did the same for them, so it’s only right for them to want to provide an memorable night for their friends and family as well.

  9. Eric M. says:

    “Perhaps we could start a new tradition in which men also get something (and it doesn’t need to be jewelry)?”

    Agreed. It could be anything he wants that he will keep for years. Equality will be impossible as long as the man only is required/expected to spend thousands just to get engaged. It’s like a bride price where he has to buy his way in.

  10. After looking at the gift table at the weddings I’ve attended and realizing that there was nothing for him (with the exception of any amateur cooks). No things for the car, for the maintenance of the house/property and so on. So in the last wedding I attended we got the couple a high pressure washer and in the next wedding I attend I plan to get them a chainsaw. If noting else it’ll make a nice contrast against all the china on the gift table and if they live in a apartment downtown with a 2 foot yucca palm as the tallest tree they have they can always use it as a beer bottle opener.

  11. Eric M. says:

    If we really want to make for equality, I agree that we should make the money part equal. Either both parents chip in, or the couple equally chips in, or everybody.

    Secondly, no more men being expected to be the one to buy an engagement ring. Either she buys it herself (since she’ll be the one wearing it, if she wants one), or at worse, they split the cost.

    Once you establish those things as baselines, the other smaller things will come along – although very few men really give a crap about exactly what kind of flowers the bride will carry or how long her train will be, etc.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      I’m with you Eric, at least in spirit. I’ll add a caveat that “equal” doesn’t have to mean 50-50, especially if there’s a noticeable difference in their annual earnings. In those cases “proportional” might make more sense.
      I’m ambivalent about just getting rid of the engagement ring altogether. Perhaps we could start a new tradition in which men also get something (and it doesn’t need to be jewelry)? Or perhaps we leave it to couples to talk through and decide? it means a lot to me that my wife wears something that was worn by my mother and my grandmother. Then again, we also talked about the importance of an engagement ring well before I gave it to her.

      • @Eric … You’re right, a lot of guys really don’t care about those details. For my daughter, color, shape size didn’t matter but the cost did. I just wanted some input about her going overboard.

        @Andrew … I like the idea of engagement ring. I wanted people, especially other guys to know she’s spoken for. My wife has had 3 engagement rings. First one she lost, second one was stolen and the third she’s managed to keep. For our 25th anniversary I got her the “eternity band” which made no sense to me in that half the diamonds aren’t seen at all but that’s what she wanted.

  12. Having paid for my daughters wedding, I can say that I would have loved to see the old tradition of the parents of the bride pay for the wedding. What’s worse is that with all the money I paid out, I had very little input as to what my money was spent on. All of my daughters showers were with men and women and because I was the father of the bride, I was asked and did attend all of them. Yawn … a bunch of people I didn’t know, all trying to be social. The cool part was that the men at these showers tended to migrate to the garage, basement family room or the patio.

    How about the engagement ring? How come the women gets all the bling?

    PS – I was more then happy to pay for the wedding. Lots of money for one days fun but a life time of memory

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      So – and combined with Sarah’s comment – perhaps the answer is to not have a couple’s shower?

      As for the ring, he can get something as well. Once you start trying to make engagement and wedding planning more equal, it raises lots of questions, and may very well mean revisiting the question of how much input the people writing the checks get.

      Would you have enjoyed your daughter’s wedding any less if you’d share the cost 50-50 with his parents?

      • The ring …. after 25 years I finally got the big one. I never wear it, too much bling for me. Enjoyed the wedding less? More then likely not but I felt good about footing the bill. It was like my last big thing that I could do for my daughter.

  13. A “couple’s shower” is called an engagement party. And if the point is gifts, what about the wedding? So now everyone has to give 2 gifts ?

    Actually, I have started to hear of couple’s wedding showers and I’ve been to a few couple ‘s baby showers. They are no less annoying with men involved. 🙂

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      Sarah, I have no idea what the purpose of the bridal party is in 2012. I’ve always been told that it’s origins come from the days when women were strictly responsible for maintaining the home (cooking, cleaning) and keeping husband and children happy, and that the bridal shower involved lots of advice on how to do that, including how to keep a husband happy in bed. If most couples are aiming for something that looks like equality – or at least their version of it – then I think it should be a party for them, not just her. And given that something like 90% of women are not virgins at the time of their marriage and there are plenty of ways for them to get info about satisfying & being satisfied in bed, I don’t really know what purpose this party has today.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      As far as I can tell, gifts are at least part of the point; bachelorette parties seem to be about having a good time. The history of the bridal shower that I’ve been told is that it dates back to a time when women had primary & sole repsonsibility for taking care of the house, her husband and their kids once they had them. The bridal shower was a way to prepare her for all those responsibilities, including some discussion of sex. I have no idea if any of this is accurate, but that’s what I’ve always heard. In 2012 and with couples mostly aiming for equality, I’m not sure that any of this is really necessary; almost every young (or not-so-young) woman today has experience with most if not all of those things prior to marriage.

      As far as I can tell, new events keep getting added on/into the wedding ritual, but nothing ever goes away. Bachelorette parties have been added, but there’s still usually a bridal (or couple’s) shower. There’s often an engagement party. Perhaps a rehearsal dinner too. Has anything been eliminated over the last century?

      • A bridal or baby shower was traditionally organized by friends as a way of “showering” the bride or mother-to-be with gifts for the household or baby. A shower was NEVER supposed to be arranged by the woman herself or any member of her family. It was a low-key get-together organized by the friends. Showers usually involved silly games and mildly salacious jokes. The bride was expected to have prizes or small gifts for her friends. I think the tradition started when most women didn’t work outside the home and it was an excuse to get together for coffee and cake in the afternoon. Of course, showers have changed, there is an expectation for bigger gifts and they’ve become major parties instead of little gatherings.

        I don’t think I’m against single-sex get-togethers per se. Sometimes you need girl talk or a boy’s night out. Having men at a baby shower really changes the dynamic. It’s not necessarily better or worse, it just becomes a different kind of party. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, I find showers a bit tedious (I’m unmarried with no kids) — but it is one of those things you do in order to be nice to your friends. Having guys standing around while a bunch of women talk about childbirth and breastfeeding, or while a bride opens gifts of sexy underwear and everyone shrieks and giggles, is a bit odd.


  1. […] And that’s it. The key here is that you don’t need to stick to a set of gender-based rules that are older than you are. You and your partner can structure your romantic and sexual life—who is responsible for what and when—any way you like. Keep an open mind, be honest with yourself and your partner, and pay attention to what you like and what your dating partner likes so you know what to keep (or avoid) doing. And if this works for you, go ahead and extend it to Valentine’s Day and your wedding. […]

  2. […] Equality between men and women isn’t just about elevating women by increasing their access to education and professions or reducing the amount of unpaid housework and childcare they do. Creating a more equal society means that women will need to give up their privileged position as guests (vs. payers) in first dates (and later in the relationship) and will need to share decision making about their special day. […]

  3. […] This is a comment by Tamen on the post “Marriage Equality: Making it Their Special Day“. […]

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