Apparently You’re Not Supposed to Invite Exes to Your Wedding. Oops.

bride and groom wedding cake toppers made of sock monkey puppets
Image by Tamara / CC BY

I’ve been married twice, but until recently I had never been asked to be in a wedding that wasn’t my own. You could say I was always a bride, never a bridesmaid. But in the past few months, I received news that this is about to change.

First, I was asked to be a bridesmaid in what will arguably be one of the most polyamorous weddings I’ve ever been to, in spite of it not technically being a “polyamorous wedding ceremony.” And by this, I mean that only two people are getting married to one another at a time, but the wedding party does contain multiple people who have dated either the bride or groom — as well as some who are doing so currently. This wedding party has a relationship status of “it’s complicated.”

And then after I said yes to being an “it’s complicated” bridesmaid, I was asked by dear friends to officiate another ceremony next year.

Both of these developments were giant surprises and a huge honor. And my life suddenly has a fair amount of wedding planning in it, as I talk to brides from both events about the particulars.

I Didn’t Dream About Getting Married When I Was Growing Up

I’m learning a lot from these conversations. For someone who has been married twice, I know very little about wedding traditions. This is probably due to the fact that I didn’t dream about getting married when I was growing up. In fact, I thought I’d probably never get married. I considered myself a small doses person (an idea my mother often reinforced). The idea that anyone would want to date me long term — let alone marry me — was inconceivable.

So whenever I’d see brides in movies or in real life, I didn’t relate at all. I didn’t think about what it would be like. How I’d want my own wedding to be.

And then one day after four years of dating, my live-in boyfriend at the time proposed to me, and all of a sudden, I was wedding planning for a ceremony that was about a year away. Reluctantly.

I Really Wanted to Elope

The reason I was planning the wedding reluctantly is because what I really wanted to do was elope. I suppose it didn’t help that I had no real desire to be the center of attention. I’d been performing on stage since I was a very young musician, so having an audience for the day held no real mystique. Nor did the prospect of engaging in such an elaborate and public display of affection. And I wasn’t religious so the ceremony didn’t hold much appeal on those grounds either.

So I suggested eloping more than once, but no one around me was having it. I shuffled from appointment to appointment trying to muster up an opinionated front as I made what to me seemed like rather arbitrary decisions with no real impact.

“Oh yes, it’s of dire importance that we get buttercream frosting and enough of a cake to end up with a leftover layer to freeze for the first anniversary,” I would insist, feeling phony and exhausted.

It really seemed inconsequential, but if I didn’t seem to care or to take these decisions seriously enough, my companions (usually my mother and either my grandma or sister) would become very upset with me. Causing discord and making everything take twice as long.

So I pretended to agonize over things that really didn’t matter to me. I did my best to keep up the charade. But even with my attempts at Bridezilla affectation, I mystified my companions and sales people with how quickly I chose.

Notably, I tried on only three dresses both times that I was married. For my first wedding, I bought the second dress I tried on. For my second, I bought the first. They fit me well enough, looked like wedding dresses, and were on sale. It worked for me.

“Oh leave her alone,” my grandmother said to my mother when I settled on the dress for my first wedding. “She’s always been practical. That’s not going to change.”

The sales girl looked quite confused when I brought it up to the register. “Really?” she remarked, ringing up the dress. “That was fast.”

Weddings Are the Wrapping Paper, Marriage Is the Gift

My second wedding, my fiance made most of the decisions. Unlike me, he seemed to have dreamed of having a wedding. And he was keen on having a wonderful party to celebrate our new life together. He made centerpieces to decorate our reception. Frosted dozens of cupcakes with my soon-to-be sister-in-law (I couldn’t eat red velvet cupcakes for years after overdosing on the extras in the weeks following the ceremony). He seemed to agonize over tiny details. Because he wanted everything to be exactly right.

He did a great job, truth be told. A friend once told me that weddings are wrapping paper, and the marriage is what’s the gift. I’d definitely agree. And this marriage has turned out to be one of the most amazing gifts life has offered me. But I did have some beautiful paper, too.

Apparently You’re Not Supposed to Invite Exes to Your Wedding

Anyway, it occurs to me that I’ve managed to be married twice and remain largely ignorant of most wedding traditions. And not even just the obscure ones. I mean, there were some low-hanging fruit that I totally missed. I didn’t even bother with the most famous one: Didn’t do the whole “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” bit. Oops.

As I speak with them, the brides from both ceremonies I’m going to be part of seem to have a much better grasp on the traditions than I ever did. There are frankly a lot of widely understood do’s and don’ts. Apparently, it’s a faux pas to invite exes to your wedding. Let alone have several in your wedding party, as is the case with one of the weddings I’m going to be in over the coming year.

I totally messed this one up. My husband’s ex-girlfriend helped me pick out my second wedding dress. And by this, I mean she not only made recommendations but literally got into the dressing room with me and zipped me up. The dress that I ended up buying was her favorite one. And of course I invited her to the wedding where she seemed to have a great time, even flirting with one of my husband’s brothers at the reception.

I Used to Hate My Partner’s Exes…

These days it seems normal, even expected, to have some exes at a wedding. This is because I’m friends with several of my exes. And I’ve been friends with many of my partners’ exes. This wasn’t always the case, however. At one point in my life, I used to despise my partner’s exes, for a variety of reasons:

  1. If the ex had been the one to initiate the breakup, I presumed they thought they were better than me or looked down on me as someone who was only suitable to feast on their leftovers.
  2. I worried they’d try to get back together with my partner, leaving me out in the cold.
  3. I worried that my partner was mentally comparing me to their ex and that I was coming up short.
  4. Hating your exes just felt normal to me, like what people did.

Even though these days I’m known as being a polyamorous writer, I wasn’t one of those people who has always known that they were destined for non-monogamy. While I did have some unorthodox arrangements in my youth, I didn’t view myself as being fundamentally different in the way that I conceptualized relationships.

I’d internalized a cultural script about monogamy and romance that was very all or nothing. I’d learned that you had to be someone’s One and Only for a relationship to be valid. And not only did you have to be their One and Only right then, but you also had to come out on top when considering their connections with others throughout their life. To be someone’s One True Love, you had to be the only person your partner ever really loved.

Because of this, acknowledging that my partner’s ex had any good qualities (let alone that my partner ever loved them) seemed like a very dangerous premise. It was safer to diminish and invalidate that former relationship in my own mind — and at my pettiest moments, aloud.

…But I Don’t Anymore

I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the past decade or so. Challenging old beliefs. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And building up a sense of personal security that’s resilient to setbacks and life changes. One that’s not based on pushing others down so I can feel bigger or better.

I’m not perfect at it by any stretch of the imagination. And at times, it’s been rather ugly work as I was forced to confront aspects of myself I didn’t really like in order to try to progressively become a little less awful to myself and others.

But I’ve come a long way! In general, sure, and also when it specifically comes to not hating my partners’ exes. Which is a good thing. Because I’ve found that automatically hating and shunning exes is a lot more difficult to manage as a polyamorous person. Our social circles are smaller, so I run into exes fairly often (both my own and my partners’). This lived experience is consistent with research that’s found that polyamorous people are less likely than monogamous folks to cut off contact with their exes after a breakup.

Life Without the Pressure to Pretend I’ve Never Been in Love with Anyone Else

And I found that this shift in attitude regarding my partner’s/partners’ exes also translated into the way I talked about my own. In fact, one of my favorite things about practicing polyamory is that there’s no pressure to pretend that I’ve never been in love with anyone else:

The hardest part of monogamy for me was never being sexually exclusive to one person. It was denying those other sides of me. In keeping with a lot of (though not all) monogamous relationships, I not only wasn’t allowed to explore new emotional connections with others, but I was also expected to never acknowledge ones I’d had with other people in the past. Exes were a taboo topic.

My partner Seth, who was otherwise not a very jealous person, would become visibly uncomfortable at the mere mention of an ex-partner, let alone whatever story was connected to them.

“I really don’t want to hear about your exes,” he’d say, waving his hand.

And so many memories and funny stories were lost. I’d dated quite a bit as a traveling musician and playwright. Great swaths of my past were something I couldn’t discuss.

I Used to Date This Girl Who…

When we opened our relationship later, it was a great relief to finally be able to acknowledge that other people in my past existed and, yes, I’d been attracted to them.

Seth and I would go on to date my friend Megan in a triad. One night, we were goofing off at a party all doing impressions of one another, and Megan’s of me was basically, “So I used to date this girl who…I used to date this guy that.”

All my friends laughed. But rather than being offended, I just felt myself smiling. It dawned on me that I’d finally been afforded the freedom to be honest about the impact others had made on me. It was a helluva gift.

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

But while I’m polyamorous myself — and so are many of my friends, metamours, and loves — we live in the same world as anyone else. Considering the guest lists for these weddings, there are an extraordinary number of attendees that are some mix of polyamorous and/or kinky. But there are also plenty of monogamous and/or vanilla folks to round out the event.

And even without knowing the full extent of how alternative these weddings really are, they’re likely to pick up on the fact that the groom is inviting his ex from high school. And didn’t the bride used to date so-and-so who is sitting over there?

Well, let them talk, I say.

Sometimes the most radical part of a relationship isn’t what happens during it but what happens after.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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