Why I’m choosing to walk down the aisle alone

I always expected my father to be alongside me, until he passed away. But I don't need a replacement.
By Sarah Chaves  Published on 02/20/2019 at 10:00 AM EDT

The day after I got engaged, amid tears of joy, friends and family members were quick to ask me if my fiancé and I had set a date. Within a week, I was bombarded with questions of place cards, bridesmaid dresses and signature drinks. After only a month, I was urged to secure a venue because next year’s dates were filling up fast.

But there was one topic people shied away from—who would walk me down the aisle?

A month after my high school graduation, my father died in a drunk driving accident while our family was visiting family in the Azores islands off of Portugal. While my mother sobbed through international phone calls to bring my father’s body back to Boston and while my little brothers refused to eat while holing themselves up in their bedrooms, I remained still, silent. I wasn’t thinking about the tragedy that lay in front of me, but the future—a future without my beloved father and all the milestones he would miss.

I had thought about what my wedding would be like with my father gone, but I didn’t expect that attending weddings would forever become more of a burden than a joy. At the first wedding I attended after my father’s death, I craned my neck toward the doors at the back of the church. I had giggled with the rest of the crowd as the flower girls had pranced down the aisle with less grace, more spunk. My heart beat with anxious anticipation as it always did in the seconds before the bride’s entrance, but when the doors opened and the bride and her father stepped out, my heart constricted with such force I had to hold onto the pew to breathe. Hours later, after the cocktail hour and toasts, I fled from the ballroom when it came time for the father-daughter dance. I ran to the bathroom and wailed, pounded my fists on the stall door. I had experienced spontaneous attacks of grief, but this was unlike anything I imagined. Over the years, I could say my father’s name without wincing, could get through Father’s Day without crying, but this—this was a hurdle I could not overcome.

But last year when I and millions of other people watched Meghan Markle walk into her ceremony alone, something changed within me. For several months, I had been weighing all the possibilities of who would walk me down the aisle. My mother, two younger brothers, and uncle were all viable options, but perhaps what pushed me toward walking solo more than anything else was my family and friends’ pronounced opinions on who should have the privilege of giving me away. While some were adamant about a male figure assuming the role, others, like my mother, were more afraid that I’d be “lonely” waiting for those church doors to open all by myself. It quickly became apparent that the people around me (and many others I would imagine) see this transition less as a sentimental expression of love, but more as an unbreakable tradition rooted in patriarchal values.

I am an innate lover of tradition, but planning my wedding has forced me to question why I abide by these unwritten laws and why they are so important to me. Ultimately, I am—and was—not the property of my father. I would not need to have been escorted by him, nor anyone. I am the one marrying the man at the altar and I want to walk to him on my own.

I am an innate lover of tradition, but planning my wedding has forced me to question why I abide by these unwritten laws.

I have gotten a lot of pushback from those closest to me. Their opinions have only gotten louder when I stated that I did not want gifts at the bridal shower, that there would not be a bouquet or garter toss during the reception, and that I would not be taking my fiancé’s last name.

“Are you doing anything traditional?” many exclaimed.

“Probably not,” I answered, with growing confidence.

In truth, we need more Meghan Markles in the mainstream to strike out against tradition in order for other women to feel like they can break such archaic patriarchal standards. Every bride’s decision is personal, but I urge women to reflect upon the reasons behind their desires. Are their choices truly their own, or are they simply an affect of years of obedience?

I will miss my father’s presence during my wedding day, but not for the obvious reasons. I will miss his boisterous laugh, his uncoordinated dance moves. But I won’t be lonely when I’m standing behind those church doors imagining all the heads turning back to see me. When the doors open and I step forward, I’ll not only be stepping toward my future husband, but a new life—one in which I was always meant to do alone.

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