I remember the day that my sister Karen called me to tell me she was engaged. It was in late winter of my senior year of high school back in 2006; I clearly remember getting her call on my little flip cell phone. I picked up while walking from my old black jeep in the parking lot of my high school on my way to the band hall. I could not have been more excited. Everyone in my family already loved her fiance Steve and we knew they'd be a great married couple.
At that point in my life, I had been to maybe two or three weddings of people in my congregation from church and one distant family member's wedding, but I'd never been directly involved in one in any way. I had no idea how any of these things worked, and I don't think my parents really knew either. I remember my mother bemusedly telling us about how their own wedding in 1977 involved a ceremony at a church and punch and cake at her parents' house afterward. She wore a handmade white lace dress. My dad wore a powder blue suit. Nothing like the average wedding today.
I served as my sister's maid of honor and did what I could to help her, but to be honest, I didn't do much besides planning the bridal shower and the bachelorette party. I helped her put on her hose on her actual wedding day. But the bridal magazines that I started finding around the house triggered something in me- a desire to learn more about the entire industry and start dreaming about my own wedding.
Those magazines and those dreams led me to Offbeat Bride somehow. I don't remember the exact sequence of events that got me there, but I started reading that wonderful website back in 2007 and have haunted it on a regular basis. When I had a boyfriend and was optimistic, it tended to be weekly to daily. When I was single or despondent and had to limit my exposure to such things or risk just getting depressed, I lowered my exposure, but I still visited often. When Offbeat Family launched, I started reading that, even though I didn't have a spouse or kids personally and didn't know if or when that would happen (it's now been folded into Offbeat Home). When Offbeat Home and Offbeat Empire launched, I started reading those too.
You see, Offbeat Bride isn't just any wedding website. It espouses an openness to other people, other ways of life, that was entirely new to me and completely fascinating. My family is wonderful and accepting and great, but I had really just never been exposed to some of these other subcultures or viewpoints before. I was a little Lutheran girl who grew up in the church in Texas. I didn't know anything about goths, or pagans, or polyamory, or steampunk, or atheism. These are all things I learned about by reading Offbeat Bride. While I thought I was just reading it as a guilty pleasure to read about other people's weddings, I really was learning how to be a better person. How to not just accept people, but to try to understand them.
It really changed me. I learned that there were many beautiful, consensual ways to be in love and be married (or not) and be alive and that all of them were valid options. I learned how to decorate my first rental home off campus from Offbeat Home. I figured out how to interact with my nieces long-distance from Offbeat Family. When I was an online journalist and editor, I learned a lot about content planning, social media, and community management from Offbeat Empire. I even wrote a few stories for the sites; some under my own name, one or two under pseudonyms.
10 years on into reading this one publisher's content on a regular basis, it's pretty awesome to look back and wonder what I would have been like without its influence on my life. I fully believe it's made me more open to other people and other possibilities than I would have been otherwise. That constant exposure to diversity and a loving, supportive community of people happy to wave their freak flag has honestly made me a better person.
And it all started with my sister's wedding. That's one reason I won't let myself feel guilty about caring about my wedding or reading so much on this topic. It's so easy to say that these ceremonial parties we throw to celebrate the joining of people is all just a huge expense or a waste of time, but they, as every other ceremony, bring people together and make them bump up against each other in ways that cause both tension and delight. I know people who have found their own career calling while planning their own wedding, who met their significant others and spouses and weddings, who found new ways to express themselves as part of the process.
Of course there are plenty who just don't have those experiences and that's fine too. But I like to study it. I like to learn. I like to know all the things. And I think part of that insatiable curiosity and love of other people's stories really can be directly traced back to my years and years of reading OBB. Thanks y'all. <3