How Does One Get Out of a Religious Wedding? November 11, 2007

How Does One Get Out of a Religious Wedding?

Via Oz Atheist, a reader poses this question:


i found this blog through a google – like you i am not religious but that hasnt stopped a big problem – i am due to be married and both families are pushing for a full trad church wedding (and trad dress etc) and i dont like it – i feel cornered and trapped and not sure what to do. Do you have any advice you can give me?

I’d be curious what the person’s partner has to say…

Or if the parents are paying for the wedding…

Of whether the person has spoken to the families about this.

[tags]atheist, atheism, wedding[/tags]

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  • Susan B.

    I agree–I think it’s very important what the fiance has to say. If he/she is also nonreligious, then the two of you together have a much better chance of confronting both sets of parents on the issue and coming out ahead. The wedding is about you, after all, not about them.
    On the other hand, if the future spouse is religious, how does he/she feel about having a religious or nonreligious ceremony? If the fiance insists on having a religious ceremony (either because of the parents or just because he/she wants the religion), you might want to reconsider whether this person is right for you. Of course an atheist and a theist can have a happy life together, but only if you’re both willing to compromise. If your fiance is religious but is willing to go along with your desire for a nonreligious wedding, I’d say try to make it mostly nonreligious but allow some concessions in order to please your fiance (the parents will appreciate it too, but they should also understand that they can’t dictate how you two will lead your future lives together).

  • Darryl

    Besides taking account of your wishes, the wishes of your partner, as well as the those of the families’ in relation to your upcoming ceremony, I wonder if this is only the tip of the iceberg? Do the families have erroneous assumptions about your lives and your attitudes about religion and therefore troubling expectations for you, and, if this is applicable, for how you will raise your children? In other words, is this dilemma about the ceremony representative of a larger problem: your inability or unwillingness to inform your families of your feelings and views on these matters?

  • Jasmine Pierce


    I’ll just repost my follow up from Oz Atheist:

    both sets of parents and my partner want a church wedding – my parents are also pushing me into the big traditional white dress and veil

    im being pressured guilted manipulated and i feel trapped alone and just so scared – im sorry


    PS id like to mention that im also getting hints that i should have children sooner than later – as if im some kind of baby machine – my brother is getting no such pressure

    PPS why should i be forced into religion and motherhood just because im the only daughter – again my brother gets none of this kind of pressure and hassle – he wasnt made to pledge his virginity or anything like that.

  • Mriana

    OY! I’ve been married twice and I divorced them both, so you might not want to listen to me. I also wore a pink dress at both my weddings. I’d call off the wedding if I had no say in anything, including children, but that is just me. You probably don’t want to do that, so my second suggestion is to voice your opinions and wants now, because if you don’t, it will be like that for the rest of your marriage.

    What if he calls off the wedding because you voice your wants and opinions? I don’t know, but I think you will be happier if you do speak up now, regardless of the outcome. Compromise would be very good in this case and probably the most you can hope for.

  • Darryl


    Marriage is a partnership. You can’t make a marriage without agreement. You and your husband have to be agreed on the most fundamental things, like how you will live your lives, where you will live, how you will make big decisions, how you will handle money, and especially if and when you’ll have children and how many.

    You can have a great marriage that begins in a chapel, a church, a cathedral, at a beach, in a park, on a ship, with a minister, with a Justice of the Peace, with religious language or without it, and you can have a terrible marriage that begins in a chapel, a church, a cathedral, . . . The marriage ceremony is, in the long run, a small thing. After the kids are grown (if you decide to have them), and your memories of your wedding day start to fade, all you’ll have is a book of pictures documenting the kind of ceremony you had–no one really cares what your choice was, but everyone cares about how your life has turned out. I can think of many couples that had a big, expensive wedding with all the frills, only to see the marriage go in the toilet. Whether you capitulate to the families on the ceremony or not is not that important; but, the partnership–that’s important. Who’s making the decisions? You? Him? Both of you? Your parents? Whose marriage is it?

  • Jen

    If it is your wedding, you should get to choose what you want- white dress, blue dress, pants, whatever. Assuming you are paying for everything with your fiance, the parents don’t get a say in the matter. If they are paying, its a little stickier. I would recommend the book White Wedding by Chris Ingram for a discussion about how popular wedding culture is really the result of anti-feminist messages from the media. The media and the multi-billion dollar wedding industry push women from a super young age to want the traditions which, in all, don’t really make you more married than a courthouse and a JP. The book is full of the kind of things you want to discuss with your family and your soon- to- be inlaws.

    As for pushing you towards babies right away, that is also the type of message women receive from a young age. It sucks, but a lot of people out there think that what you do with your uterus is up for debate. Pregnancy in our culture tends to be viewed as something everyone gets to share in, which is why complete strangers will assume they are allowed to touch pregnant bellies and demand that women have more or fewer children even though its none of their damn business.

    There are a couple different tactics you can take with the baby thing. You can be cold about it, and simply point out that it is none of their business, period. You can tell them you are trying, every night, and in reverse cowgirl… till they stop you, though for some reason it seems as though people trying to get pregnant can give way TMI on their process and no one minds. I would suggest checking out “childfree” forums for what to say to baby-bingos, even if you do want children one day.

    I feel like right now there is a lot of information missing from the puzzle, Jasmine, before it all makes sense. I am wondering what kind of family your family is, how old you are, how independent you are, what religion or lack thereof your fiance is, how your fiance is helping you or not helping you. Are you two on the same page about the wedding and babies? It also sounds as though you are pretty young, or at least still under your parents’ thumbs, since they seem to have such control over all this.

  • What are “baby bingos”?

    My fiance is Christian but i wouldn’t have got away with anything else i don’t think – you probably guessed how young i am – i hope no one will lecture me – what’s been put on me to get me to the altar young has been unbearable

    Growing up i suffered a lot of the same pressure guilting and outright force from my parents and especially my grandmother – lots of conservative traditionalism and Christianity shoved drown my throat – my family have long roots in this part of country Australia and being the only daughter of “country aristocracy” in such a atmosphere was very hard – especially as i discovered my own feelings.

    For example when my parents held big parties to impress the town bigwigs i was almost always put in satin or silk dresses – my requests to wear pants or shorts like my brother were regularly turned down – while he and his mates played in the grass or climbed i just had to sit at the table like a little perfumed doll 🙁

  • Jasmine,

    I completely agree with Darryl. He’s a smart man. 🙂 My own wedding was a fiasco, due to my mother having to have everything her way; but after 18 years, we are perfectly happy and living in the suburbs with two kids and a dog.

    Here’s an idea: Buy two airline tickets to Las Vegas and surprise everyone when you get back. That’s what I would do if I had to do it again…

  • Or… Have a heart-to-heart talk with your parents and let them know how you really feel. If you are honest, sincere, and reasonable, I would hope they would at least consider your perspective. Here’s a scene from Dead Poets Society that I’ve pointed people to before. It’s about struggling with parents who don’t understand you. Check it out.

    Just talk them, Jasmine…

  • Mriana

    Growing up i suffered a lot of the same pressure guilting and outright force from my parents and especially my grandmother – lots of conservative traditionalism and Christianity shoved drown my throat

    OH! 😥 {hug} I feel for you and I’m so sorry. I had to move out when I was 19 and learn how to be my own person. I had to learn to speak my mind.

    im being pressured guilted manipulated and i feel trapped alone and just so scared – im sorry

    I’m not sure how young you are, but I can feel your trapness. 🙁 Don’t be sorry. I just hope you can at least build up the courage to tell them what you want. Don’t keep it to yourself and continue to feel as you do. You’ll feel better when you do, but it takes courage.

    My fiance is Christian but i wouldn’t have got away with anything else i don’t think – you probably guessed how young i am – i hope no one will lecture me – what’s been put on me to get me to the altar young has been unbearable

    Do you want this marriage? Or are you being pressured into it?

  • Pressured – and guilted and manipulated and more

  • Aj

    I’m sorry, what century are we in again, the century of the Fruitbat? If you’re being coerced into who you marry, when you marry, and when you have children, the type of wedding doesn’t seem to be all too important. What are they threatening you with economic sanctions, ostracization (alienation, discommunication) or violence?

  • economic and ostracisation threats – not violence though

  • Mriana

    Jasmine, this is your life. Not theirs. If you go with the pressure out of fear of economic loss, then you might not ever be happy. I know how important money is needed to survive, but surely you can find work and support yourself. Hopefully you have friends to stay with or something until you find work, if they through you out. I don’t know. Hopefully, IF they are going to deny you economic needs, then they will give you time to get a job and find a place to live. This falls under oppression of women, which I’ve said is one of damaging effects of religion. 🙁

  • Richard Wade

    Jasmine, you have used words like trapped, pressured, manipulated, threatened but I haven’t seen anything about how you feel about your fiance. Do you love him? Do you want to marry him at all? I don’t think the issue is what kind of wedding there should be; the issue is should there be a wedding at all.

    In western cultures to marry is to say “I am an adult, and I choose freely to live with another adult of my choice and to live as my spouse and I see fit.” Is all of that true? If any of that is not fully, completely true for you then you won’t be a wife, you will be a concubine.

    I think it is becoming clear that you are not ready for this marriage. For you to be feeling the way you have described suggests it is not you being a freely choosing adult making a well considered decision.

    Postpone the wedding. You have the right. You do not sound ready for this at all. You need time to clarify who you even are and what you want in life long before you jump or are pushed into the most difficult, most complicated thing that people do, marriage.

    Marriages where one or both people are very young and not fully self defined almost always end in divorce. That is because the still-developing persons grow in directions that neither could have anticipated. As you mature the likelihood of both of you continuing to be compatible is very low. Whatever you do, don’t get pregnant for several years. Regardless how the relationship goes, children will link you to him and his family for the rest of your life whether you want it or not.

    Create your own life and ask for, demand or take the time you need to do it according to your needs, not the agendas of others who wish to control you. Your parents may be temporarily disappointed that they don’t have a living doll that they can bend to their will, but after you become your own person, they will probably be proud of the assertive, independent and true-to-herself adult you will have become.

  • Richard

    i do like him – he took me to high school dances and we’ve spent a lot of time together – its my family that wants me married as quickly as possible – a friend in America told me “It sounds like they want to make sure you are the “right” type of woman – good Christian wife and eventual mother – not what they seem to see as the “wrong” type – a modern secular career woman”

    I don’t want to stay out here in the country – my dream is to live in the city – if i don’t get out somehow my life will stay like this – pretty dresses and perfume and flowers – and me as some ornament on a man’s arm.

  • Jasmine,

    I apologize for the Las Vegas comment before. I didn’t realize your problem is much more complicated than just the wedding issue.

    Listen to Richard Wade. I agree with him. You have much to think about and decide. I feel for you. I know it must be difficult to be in your shoes right now.

    Remember, ultimately, you are the one who has to live your life. Don’t let others push you into making decisions that you’re uncomfortable with.

  • Mriana

    I agree with Richard too. I don’t see how you are going to be happy any other way. I know it’s very difficult to express your wants and needs, but it’s the only way you can be happy. If you two are meant to be together, he will respect your desires and you’ll both continue to see each other and eventually work it all out so you can be happy together.

  • Mriana and Richard – do you have emails where i could discuss some things privately – there are some things that i feel uncomfy talking about in public

  • Mriana

    Yes, Hemant can give it to you. I don’t feel comfortable posting my email addy. I don’t know if I can help, but I’ll gladly listen.

  • Aj

    economic and ostracisation threats – not violence though

    I hope you’re posting under a pseudonym, not using an alias would be incredibly dangerous for you. I hope you get into a position of independence, where these kind of threats will not effect you.

    It’s a personal decision and dependent on a complex set of circumstances. economic security is a primary concern to most people, and having to move into a new community can be very hard, so these threats are very potent. Marriage and childbearing are also very potent, and have been weighed by women for countless generations as either too costly or better than the alternative. Think in terms of self-interest, not what your parents will feel, they obviously don’t give a shit how you feel.

  • Richard Wade

    Jasmine, I understand how eager you feel to get out of your parent’s house and into the city. Are you thinking that marrying this guy whom you simply “like” is a ticket to the city? If so, that is foolsih for you and is cruel and unfair to him. If that is the case it won’t take him long to figure out that you used him mainly because you were desparate to escape your parents’ control and not really because you wanted to be with him. He’ll probably resent you, and I doubt you would want that.

    You can make your move toward independence a little more slowly and a lot more wisely. When WW II allied P.O.W.’s wanted to escape from German prison camps, they didn’t just jump the fence and run. If they tried that they failed. No, they planned carefully, slowly biding their time, saving food and money, making maps, educating themselves about the land, culture and languge, everything they would need to get all the way home safely.

    I don’t think that the conflict here is about religion vs. non religion. It is about a young person who, like almost all people her age, is eager to have her own life, but is not quite ready to build a life that is truly her own. Calm down, find a family member whom you trust and ask that person for help in negotiating a postponement or cancellation of the wedding.

    This is not the way you will start a happy life on your own in the big city. A little more time, a lot more planning and a lot more maturity will give you a much better chance for happiness.

  • Richard Wade

    Jasmine, email Hemant and he will give you my email address.

  • Richard

    I do like him a lot and i would never want to hurt him – i just want to be free and not be treated as a china doll. I’ve tried bringing up postponing or cancelling – they arent budging yet

  • Richard Wade

    Jasmine, along with Aj I’m becoming concerned about the confidentiality of your comments and the consequences of being too public here. But I have some growning concerns about your safety because of your desparation to get out of this predicament. I’m reminded of some similar cases I handled as a family counselor where the young persons did self destructive things in order to stop a process that their families were driving. I’m not afraid to “put that into your head” because if it’s a possibility for you then you’ve already considered it and it must be addressed.

    If you get my drift then you must find someone where you live to talk to and to help you find a solution that will not put your health and safety at risk.

    Hemant seems to still be up and online. He just posted a new article. Find the grey box called “pages” on the right column near the top of this page. Click on “contact info” and fill out the form, asking Hemant to send me your email address. It is late at night on Sunday where I am, and I think it is mid morning on Tuesday where you are. If we can’t discuss these things privately before I must get some sleep, then I will contact you as soon as I can.

    In the meantime you are out numbered and out gunned because of your youth. You need real allies there where you live. Find an adult to talk to, a family member, a teacher, a counselor or social worker. You need someone in your corner closer than a stranger on email.

  • E-L-O-P-E-M-E-N-T

    Now I know why Tammy Wynette never sang that song. Doesn’t scan well. Hating being invited to weddings, it might be a welcome change if elopement became a more common form of marriage ceremony. I’d be willing to give a more expensive present if they didn’t subject me to the ceremony and the reception.

  • Vincent

    I’d tell this person that the wedding is for her, not for her parents. You can’t please everyone anyway, so just please yourself.

    My mother is a devout Catholic. I told her that I would have a non-religious wedding. I asked her “if I invited you to a non-religious wedding, would you come?” and she said no, so I did not invite her, or anyone else. (My wife didn’t get along with her parents then and didn’t want them there for various reasons).
    So, I married in the courthouse with just the judge and bailiff in attendance and have been married 10 years. I have talked to many people who did big weddings and am absolutely convinced I did it right and I’d do it that way again if it ever comes up.

  • Allison


    Like Richard and others here, I’m a bit worried about you.

    I may be coming from a strange place because I’m an atheist married to a (progressive) Christian, and I had a religious ceremony at my wedding, but my husband and I talked about these things ahead of time and were able to come to mutual agreement. (We’ve been married 12 years, btw, so a marriage to a Christian can work out!) I am worried because you’re talking about feeling pressured to marry this guy (even if you like him all right), you’re talking about feeling trapped and like you don’t have a say in how things go, and you’re talking about wanting to delay but no one else budging.

    I know you don’t want to hurt this guy, but if you consistently feel trapped and you eventually get to the point where you feel the marriage is so oppressive that you need to leave it, it will hurt him far more than if you leave him now. That’s especially true if you end up with kids by the time it happens — then you’d be dragging little lives into the mess. Please, please find someone to talk to who will help you with this decision without pressuring you one way or the other.

  • Claire

    Jasmine –

    Wow, I really feel for you, you are in a tough spot. I think Richard and Mriana have given you some excellent advice, and I won’t try to better it.

    I did want to point out one thing, though, after you said you didn’t want to hurt your boyfriend, and that’s what the stakes are here.

    SOMEBODY here is going to get hurt, and that is unavoidable. All you can do is choose who it is.

    It might be him, it might be your parents, but I’m very much afraid it’s going to be you, and I would hate to see that. Of all the people involved, you are the least culpable and the most vulnerable, and by far the one with the most to lose.

    In a choice between
    a) your parent’s feelings are hurt,
    b) your fiance’s feelings are hurt,
    c) you sacrifice the rest of your life to other people’s feelings,

    I’m really hoping you can find a way to avoid c. It’s going to take some strength, and you know what? I’m betting you have it in there somewhere, you just need to find it. Good luck, let us know how it goes….

  • Jeff

    Jasmin Before commenting i need to ask three questions.
    1 Is this an open or closed forum. I don’t want to invade your privacy.
    2 What Country do you live in.
    3 Is my assessment that you are an atheist from a Christian family being cohersed by your family to marry a man with Christian beliefs accurate.

  • Mriana

    I’m wondering how she is doing. I haven’t heard from her and she hasn’t posted for a couple days now. 🙁 I hope everything is OK with her.

  • Jeff


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