Offbeat Bride

Create a Wedding That's Authentically YOU


By Ariel Meadow Stallings

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Newly updated for a new audience of independent, out-of-the-bridal-box thinkers, Offbeat Bride is today’s go-to source of support for couples who dare to walk off the beaten aisle

Unenthused by a white wedding gown and bored by the hoopla of the Hollywood-style reception, Ariel Meadow Stallings found herself absolutely exhausted by — and horribly distanced from — the nuances of traditional nuptials. So, she chose the aisle less-traveled for her own wedding day.

In this newly updated edition of Offbeat Bride, Stallings humorously recounts the story of the original offbeat wedding — hers — and shares anecdotes and advice from dozens of other nontraditional couples. She provides plenty of insider tips for avoiding extra costs and cumbersome obligations, along with a clever planner to help you create your own special day. Both practical and enjoyable, Offbeat Bride validates choosing the funky, different, and offbeat over the traditional, and leads couples through the planning process–from unique ideas on how to announce the engagement all the way to answering the question, “So, how’s married life?”

Stallings is the ultimate guide to the alternative wedding of your dreams, encouraging every bride and groom to create their own distinctive celebrations of partnership and love.


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How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Bride

WHEN I SAT DOWN TO WRITE OFFBEAT BRIDE IN 2005, IT WAS A DIFFERENT era. It was the time of Friendster and Myspace. A time when having a website for your wedding was still a new and nerdy idea—I mean, you had to hand-code it! It was a time when marriage equality still felt like a distant, rainbow-striped dream in the hearts of progressive Americans. A time before most of us knew the word “cisgender.” It was a time when many of you reading this may have been teenagers!

Needless to say, a LOT has changed since Offbeat Bride’s first edition. For me, the little website I launched to promote my book tour ended up becoming a global wedding planning resource that’s been used by 50 million people over the past twelve years. went on to spawn several other web publications, and in my attempt to sell a few copies of a book, I accidentally founded a media company that’s kept me busy for almost fifteen years. Oops?

Technology has advanced in ways that, even as a nerd back in the mid-2000s, I never could have imagined. Back then, you felt high tech if your wedding favors were a CD-ROM of wedding songs that you’d downloaded from a questionable online source. (Aww, cute!) Now, we all deal with ubiquitous smartphone use, wedding hashtags, app push notification overwhelm, and navigating social media etiquette faux pas. (And here I thought I was fancy for asking my wedding guests to upload their wedding photos to Flickr…)

More joyfully, marriage equality is now legal across the United States—and in Canada, Australia, and the UK, too! Offbeat Brides of all orientations and identities can now marry their beloveds all over the world.… Yes, we still have a ways to go, but the political and legal progress of marriage equality in the past decade has been monumental.

One remarkable wedding industry shift is that, well, we kinda won the war against wedding homogeneity. Now it’s not only accepted that your wedding will reflect your personality, it’s almost assumed that of course you’re going to have some references to your favorite bits of pop culture, or the place where you had your first date, or that song your dad used to sing to you.

For the most part, these days people understand that having an offbeat and authentic wedding is an option—even the more conservative folks who think Offbeat Bride is tasteless and “tacky.” Alternative weddings have permeated American culture so deeply that even the most mainstream wedding media covers nontraditional wedding trends and nonwhite wedding dresses barely raise your mom’s eyebrow.

So, does that mean Offbeat Bride’s work is done? Is that it? Time to just fold it all up, and call it quits? Mission completed, see y’all later?

That’s cute, but there is still so much to be done.… Stuff like helping wedding vendors understand that gender essentialism isn’t effective marketing. Stuff like ensuring that couples who feel underrepresented in wedding media can still feel supported in their planning process—this means representing couples with disabilities, couples who aren’t slender or young or white. Hell, this means representing folks who are more than a couple—Offbeat Bride has a long history of celebrating polyamorous commitment ceremonies, too.

I love that in the time that Offbeat Bride has been around, marriage equality has become accepted to the degree that sometimes people are like, “Pshaw: What’s offbeat about this lesbian wedding?!” Although I’m personally giddy that lesbian weddings can now be considered “boring” (equality means we all get to be as boring as we want!), I’m still wondering when gender-neutral contracts will become the standard for wedding vendors. I’m still grumpy about the sign-up pages on mainstream wedding websites having fields for [Bride’s Name] and [Groom’s Name], instead of just having [My Name] and [Partner’s Name].

But there’s no denying that, at least when it comes to aesthetics, being an Offbeat Bride may not be as much of a battle as it used to be. I wrote this book with a sense of reactionary urgency and rebelliousness—I wasn’t just being myself, I was also pushing hard against mainstream weddings, trying to carve out something different! I was defying the expectations! I was standing up for my own vision!

Truth be told, I definitely used my uniqueness as a defense mechanism, coupled with a healthy dose of “offbeater-than-thou” posturing. I mean, when this book was first released, I made promotional shirts that said, “Offbeat Bride: Fuck Taffeta.” I quickly learned that some offbeat people love taffeta… and that’s awesome! I am sorry for my old taffeta-shaming ways.

In updating this book for its third edition, taffeta-shaming and dismissiveness toward more traditional-looking weddings wasn’t the only old stuff that had to change. Back in the mid-2000s, most of us didn’t have the language to talk about gender and identity in the same way we do now. Back then, I made jokes that make me cringe now. (You want some humble pie? Spend some time with your work from fourteen years ago. Ouch. What an education.)

Back in the mid-2000s, I interviewed fifty-plus “lab rats” to include their stories in the book, and, for this edition, I added the thoughts of dozens more Offbeat Bride readers. I wanted to share more perspectives on things like planning a wedding while working with disabilities, nonbinary identities, and the challenges of modern technology. You’ll see these Offbeat readers quoted and referenced throughout the book—I’m choosing to identify readers only by their first names. I’ve learned better than to identify anyone by their full name when talking about the challenges of wedding planning. I’ve seen enough blog comments from angry family members who stumbled across something written about them on Now I know better than to go offending family members.

These days, Offbeat Bride doesn’t have to try so hard to offend anyone or be off-anything—it’s about being inclusive, a place where “bride” is a state of mind, not a set of genitals (… because you better believe there are masculine-identified brides!).

Offbeat Bride is here to welcome you to the world of wedding planning and speak to you with respect for whatever your visions are. This book is about throwing the doors open, moving past reactionary rebelliousness, and helping you celebrate finding your way to a wedding that feels like you—whoever you are.

Offbeat Bride isn’t about having the weirdest wedding, or being the first person to ever do that thing at the reception, or wanting guests to tell you “that was the best wedding ever!”

Offbeat Bride is about authenticity, whether that means your visions are super elaborate and wild or incredibly streamlined.

Offbeat Bride is here to cheerlead you in your wedding planning, support you through your challenges, provide inspiration and advice, and cultivate a sense of inclusivity.

Offbeat Bride is just about celebrating the ways each of us is offbeat and awesome—not about drawing lines around who’s “offbeat enough.”

Offbeat Bride is about not taking ourselves too seriously, and about respecting and celebrating folks who do things differently than we do.

Offbeat Bride is about inspiring you to do things in a way that feels right, regardless of whether that’s over-the-top weird or quietly minimal. I understand now that offbeat isn’t just a spectrum—it’s a prism. I love all y’all’s love, no matter what it looks like.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Offbeat Bride is still here for you, all these years later, because although a lot has changed… a lot of the realities of wedding planning remain the same. The challenges of dealing with the dynamics of your family of origin and your families of choice, the complex project management of wedding details, trying to reconcile your identity in the face of intense community and cultural expectations? These are ubiquitous rocky waters to be navigated by everyone on their path to their own offbeat altar.

It’s been my privilege all these years to be able to help… or at the very least, to entertain you during times of stress. Thank you for the honor of letting me be a part of your love!

—Ariel Meadow Stallings Seattle 2019

part one

Otherwise Engaged


Knowing when (& whether) to say “I do”

ANDREAS AND I HAD BEEN TOGETHER FOR LESS THAN A YEAR WHEN THE questions started. I spent the afternoon of Christmas 1998 with my mother, two of my aunties, one auntie’s lesbian partner, and Andreas’s mother, Nancy. (Andreas was with his father for the holidays.) Auntie Cherie, perhaps wishing to make me squirm in front of the mother of my boyfriend, asked me whether Andreas and I planned to get married.

I stuttered through my evasive answer. “Well, we’re really committed to each other and we might have a ceremony someday to acknowledge that, but I’m not sure if we need or want the legal institution of marriage to make it official.”

There. Whew. I was committed, but we were nonconformists.

The end.

No, not the end. The three lesbians in the room all commented on the irony that Andreas and I—a straight couple who could get married—would choose not to enjoy the legal rights for which so many committed gay and lesbian couples fight. At that point, Nancy and her partner, Susan, had been together for fifteen years, and Auntie Andrea had been with her partner for seven—and yet they couldn’t enjoy spousal rights. The irony stung a little. But the idea stuck: a commitment ceremony might be okay, but marriage seemed weird to us, with our gay families and both of our sets of parents divorced.

By the time our third anniversary rolled around, my thoughts on getting married had shifted. We were basically already functioning as a married couple, so why not? I made a half-hearted attempt at a proposal. Andreas’s response felt like both an acceptance and a rejection. “Oh, of course we’ll get married,” he said. Acceptance! “I thought we decided that a long time ago.” Oh, I thought. So I didn’t need to propose at all. We’re already getting married!

Andreas wasn’t done yet, though. “But we’re not, like, getting married anytime soon, right?”

Oh. Ouch. So that was the snub: no duh we’re getting married, but what’s the hurry? It was delayed gratification with no timeline for a payoff, but I saw his point and agreed with the concept. Okay, so we’ll do it someday, but what’s the hurry? Why the rush?

Three years after that, however, it appeared that the pressure had grown to be too much. Our finances were screwed from filing taxes separately but functioning jointly. As terminal freelancers, it seemed like we never both had health insurance. And our friends and family, despite their nontraditional values, were itching for a party.

The M word and the C word—no, not that one

It all started one night at a steak house. Jerry and Sallie—Andreas’s father and stepmother—had taken us out for dinner with their friends Alan and Char. (Please disregard the irony of us, a vegetarian and a vegan, being invited to a steak house for dinner. Sometimes these little issues must be overlooked in the interest of familial relations.)

Soon, we were also trying to overlook the attentions of Char, who asked us what we thought about “the M word.” We glanced at each other with a little confusion at first. The M word? What M word? Char clucked at us. “Marriage, you guys! When are you getting married? Sallie and I are just itching to plan a wedding!”

We hemmed and hawed and tried to change the subject, reverting to our old commitment-ceremony lines and aware of the difference between the kind of wedding we would plan and the kind of wedding someone else would envision for us. I foresaw gold monogrammed napkins and a princess dress and knew it just wasn’t in the cards. We would not be cornered into a steak house shotgun wedding.

The conversation got increasingly surreal from there, with Char going on to ask us whether we’d put any consideration into “the C word.” This code-speak confounded me—the only C word I know is the one that ends with “-unt.” I have put a lot of consideration into that particular C word, but of course that wasn’t the one to which Char was referring. She meant children.

It wasn’t just Andreas’s side that started to apply the pressure. My mother had also reached a state of terminal frustration. She called me up one day to crow, “I don’t care if you two never sign any papers—it’s all bullshit anyway. I just want you to throw a party so we can give you presents and sing about how much we love you!”

Well, presents. Presents are hard to argue with, aren’t they?

Party planning to avoid party receiving

Our friends gave us very little grief, because, in keeping with typical overeducated urban coastal types, few of them were married either. Of my most immediate circle, only two close childhood friends got married when I was in my twenties, and only one of Andreas’s childhood friends had tied the knot. Among our circle of aging ravers, intellectuals, music festival freaks, hippies, and geeks, we were one of the longer-standing relationships by years—our friends sure as hell weren’t going to pressure us to get married when they were all busy dealing with their internet-dating snafus, hidden porn-collection crises, and catastrophic, caterwauling breakups.

But the pressure kept mounting. The most bothersome thing to me was that almost no one ever gave Andreas any shit about our unmarried state. It seemed that, as the owner of the ovaries, I was also the de facto prewedding planner. Because I didn’t have facial hair, I was obviously the one who was picking out crystal for the registry and poring over bridal magazines, trying to decide which tiara I would wear once we were finally engaged and he gave me that big ol’ rock. People sometimes harassed the both of us, but very rarely did someone corner Andreas to ask whether we were getting married.

The whole thing gave me the grits. Sure, I might be the girl, but that didn’t mean I was the one who was dreaming of the ribbon-tied rose topiary that would be at the center of the white-cloth buffet tables.

Then again, maybe I was. I really wanted to get married, but not because I’m the one with the boobs—because I’m the one who thinks about health insurance. In our relationship, we had very well-defined roles: I was the vice president of logistics; he was the CEO of emotional support. He inherited a little bit of the absent-minded-professor syndrome, while my brain loves keeping track of the little details. I, meanwhile, can be moody and foul-tempered at times, while Andreas remains compassionate, supportive, and reassuring even in the worst of emotional storms. We balanced out well.

As vice president of logistics, it then fell under my jurisdiction to realize that we were both getting older and that having no health insurance was starting to be a bigger risk—a risk that separately we couldn’t afford to surmount. If we were married, only one of us would have to have a real job at any given point, and we’d both have health care. Alternately, if we were paying for our own insurance, it would be cheaper as a married couple. These pragmatic, nonromantic reasons were what pushed our gushy sentimental affections over the edge to legal union.

That and my mother. Ever persistent with her “party and presents,” she had called me in January 2004 suggesting that, because we seemed to be lagging in getting married, she wanted to throw us her own party. “In honor of your relationship,” she explained.

“Sort of like an engagement party?” I asked her. “You know, we are getting married someday, so we’re technically sort of, like, semi-engaged.” My mother was satisfied with the semi-engagement-party concept, and so she asked me to talk to Andreas about it and see what he thought.

The CEO of emotional support wasn’t sold on the idea. “I don’t want to go to a party about us that’s all planned by your mom,” Andreas explained. “If there’s going to be a party about us, I want that to be our party.”

Andreas had thrown a party or two in his raver heyday—one called “Teddy Bears Always Say I Love You” and its sequel, “No Shoes & You Have to Smoke in the Kitchen.” He knew a bit about the importance of theme and setting in the throwing of a good party. I was the consummate hostess myself—after all, had we not met at a party, one of my drunken tumblings around my apartment?

It should be known that my mother has thrown a lot of parties in her time, but her parties are called “rituals” or “gatherings,” and they usually involve a sweat lodge, a campfire, and hand percussive instruments. They’re great, profoundly touching events that have resulted in the formation of a cohesive community over the years.

But let’s be clear: these are not our like-minded folk. Not all of them, anyway. Certainly there’d be some crossover between the people my mother would invite and the people we would invite. But if there was going to be a party, it was going to be our party, damnit. Not a steak-house wedding! And not one of my mom’s “gatherings”!

So Andreas rejected his future mother-in-law’s idea for a party. But don’t feel sorry for her. I’m positive it was exactly what she wanted us to do. By pushing our rebellious, sassy asses, she totally forced our hand.

We would do it! We would throw our own party—so there!


Broadcasting the news via phone, e-mail, social media, carrier pigeon, etc.

WE ANNOUNCED OUR ENGAGEMENT TO OUR IMMEDIATE FAMILIES OVER the phone. When I called my mother and told her, she didn’t get especially excited. Personally, I think that’s because she’d secretly been masterminding the whole thing and probably been visualizing the whole situation for months in an effort to manifest it.

My father got a little befuddled; he’s a quick wit but a slow digester and couldn’t get his head around it all right away. He called a day later to congratulate us fully.

Andreas’s mother was a little incredulous—not about us getting married, but just of marriage as a concept. She’d been known to voice concerns that marriage can unexpectedly alter relationships, and so although she was excited about our engagement, she also seemed a little nervous in an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of way. His father was pleased, and when Andreas told his twenty-one-year-old sister the news, she squealed so loudly that I could hear it through the phone line from across the room.

Announcements in the information age

We broke the news to our close friends over drinks, where the first rallying cries of “party of the year!” were heard. (Thanks, guys. No pressure, right?) And as for the rest of the world? I, of course, announced it on my blog.

There’s no shame in admitting it: I am a huge geek and a devoted blogger. So of course I publicly announced my engagement on my blog. If you knew five hundred people of varying levels of acquaintance, wouldn’t you make one simple announcement instead of calling people who may or may not care?

Thanks to my blog, guests I never would have thought would be interested came to the wedding. One of our guests was a former contestant from an online game show I helped with years prior. Other guests were blog-reading classmates from a summer course I did at Columbia University three years before. These were people whom I kept in casual touch with, but, after I posted on my blog, I found out that many of these folks wanted to come to the wedding—and what a treat! People flying across the country to come hang out! And all we had to do was feed them dinner one night! Then again, as you’ll see in Chapter 21, managing the bloated guest list became a total nightmare.

The blog was a great way to announce the engagement. Andreas called his friends, but most of them read the blog anyway, so they already knew.

Marriage boycotts and avoidance

We were lucky. Our situation would have been quite different if our friends and family had not supported our relationship. I suppose this is the big advantage of waiting six years to get engaged: by that point, everyone is mostly convinced of your compatibility, and the people who don’t like your partner still have to admit that, well, you’ve clearly made it further than many marriages, so your partner is probably okay… and, well, fine, actually, he’s probably very good for you… and, well, gimme a hug, that’s just great news! The only “think twice” comments we got were about the institution of marriage—questions we’d asked ourselves as well.

One gay friend suggested that we hold off on our ceremony to protest the fact that not everyone could enjoy the social/civil privilege. This was hard to hear. We’d long debated about marriage equality, and we simply believed there were more effective ways to fight the battle. As Massachusetts representative Barney Frank told the Village Voice, “Too often people on the Left want what they call ‘direct action’ because it’s more satisfying to them in some way. It’s well-intentioned but not helpful. When two very good heterosexual people refuse to get married, I don’t see how that puts pressure on politicians. Refuse to vote for people who won’t let us get married. That’s the way you address this.”

I have the deepest respect and nothing but admiration for those who choose to protest by refusing to get married, but we elected to use our straight wedding as a political soapbox instead. More about that in Chapter 39, “Duck!”

We also heard from a friend who was grinding through a divorce and warned us what a pain in the ass it is to have the courts involved in your breakup. It’s so much paperwork added to an already difficult emotional experience. With two pairs of divorced parents, we were aware of the risks. At that point, however, our finances and legal lives were already entwined. Separation would be a headache regardless—we might as well enjoy the benefits while we could. Big party! Fun dancing! Lots of prezzies! Streets paved with champagne! Sex in a conjugal bed!

When you’ve been


  • "Offbeat Bride should be required reading for every couple struggling to create a wedding that uniquely reflects who they are. With wisdom and humor, Ariel Meadow Stallings reminds you that you need not buy into the wedding industrial complex in order to have a kick-ass celebration."
    --Lori Leibovich, founder and editor of
  • "A wedding book that won't make you puke. Whatever your idea of nontraditional may be, Offbeat Bride is here to tell you that it's all gonna be okay."
    --Wendy McClure, author of I'm Not the New Me
  • Finally, a wedding guide that doesn't assume you've been waiting your whole life to act out tulle-swathed princess fantasies. Stallings deftly shows independent women how to embrace their inner bride without losing themselves in the process."
    --Hana Schank, author of A More Perfect Union
  • "Here's one book the wedding industrial complex doesn't want you to read! Offbeat brides aren't just creative and thrifty (though they're often both)-they're taking weddings back and reinventing them in the ways that matter most."
    --Kamy Wicoff, author of I Do But I Don't

On Sale
Sep 17, 2019
Page Count
288 pages
Seal Press

Ariel Meadow Stallings

About the Author

Ariel Meadow Stallings is a Seattle-based publisher, author, media commentator, event producer, and web community mobilizer. Her work has been featured by the New York Times, Today show, and the Guardian. She lives in Seattle.

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