How To Plan A Modern Midlife Wedding

Traditional weddings can feel passé for couples of a certain age. Here, we explore non-traditional ceremony ideas for those that want to share the love while celebrating their second or third marriages.

By Diane Mapes

he first time Amy H. got married there were 300 guests, 10 bridesmaids, a big church and the obligatory pouffy white dress. The second time, she went the opposite route by marrying in a simple civil ceremony with a justice of the peace presiding. For her third wedding, though, the 55-year-old creative writing professor from Charleston, NC, decided it was time to rework the old wedding traditions to fit her lifestyle.

“We thought about getting married in a church, but then people started calling and asking me about my
I didn’t let anything upset me, even when I forgot my flowers.
colors and whether I wanted horses and a horse-driven carriage and I just freaked,” Amy says. “It was getting too unwieldy and artificial. So I put my foot down and we rented a boat club in a national park for $50. We got married on a dock.”

Reinventing old traditions
The location wasn’t the only unconventional thing about Amy’s nuptials. Wedding invites were sent via email or Facebook, the officiant was a notary (notaries can legally marry people in South Carolina) and there was no gift registry for the happy couple. “We had full lives behind us and had all the utensils we needed, plus some people had attended our previous weddings, so it didn’t seem right to have gifts in the traditional sense,” she says. “So we asked people to donate money to our favorite charity if they really wanted to gift us a gift. We didn’t even have a gift table.”

In lieu of a fancy reception dinner, Amy and Roger opted for “low country boil,” a traditional Southern dish of shrimp, corn, sausage and vegetables served up in a “trough” at each picnic table. The wedding cake was another creative adaptation — and served as a nod to the couple’s shared southern roots: “We had a huge moon pie cake,” says Amy. “My mother made it. She stacked all these moon pies together and used icing as the glue. People just came up and pulled their own moon pie out.”

The atmosphere was so relaxed — and so different from her first, very formal wedding — that Amy didn’t even mind when she realized she’d left her bridal bouquet at home in the refrigerator. “I didn’t let anything upset me, even when I forgot my flowers,” she says. “My first two weddings were about pleasing other people. But I ended up being very pleased this time around and Roger was, too. We both felt it was our ceremony.”

Having fun with it
According to Ariel Meadow Stallings, author of Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides, second (or even third) weddings are often more relaxed and fun for both the guests and the bride and groom. “I think with second or third weddings, there’s a real freedom to do it your way,” says Stallings. “Many folks have more traditional first weddings and realize that the traditions they were trying to uphold aren’t relevant to their own lives or their lifestyles. Second or third weddings can be more fun, more casual, and put the focus entirely on celebrating together.”

A good time was certainly on the agenda when Rob S., a 51-year-old community newspaper publisher from San Antonio, TX, married his fiancée, Alisa, in a small civil ceremony. “Alisa was 46 and had never really dreamed of the big, glamorous traditional wedding, so we decided to just have fun,” Rob says. “She’d always wanted to get married on April Fools’ Day, so we selected that date for the wedding.”

The couple — both of whom obviously have a healthy sense of humor — held a “stealth wedding” in a judge’s office, only choosing to tell a handful of people about the event. Afterwards they honeymooned in Phoenix, AZ, where some of their favorite comedians were appearing. Their wedding portrait was done by a local caricature artist.

“Few of our friends actually knew we were dating, so even after we told them we’d gotten married, some of them didn’t believe us for months,” Rob says. “We both still get a good chuckle when somebody finds out two years later that we’re married. And then they’ll say, ‘That makes perfect sense. You’re a great match.’”

Making it a family affair
Naturally, kids are often a big part of second or third weddings. “I love it when couples integrate their children into their ceremonies,” says Stallings, who hears plenty of stories about
Smaller, less formal second or third weddings often seem more genuine.
alternative ceremonies via her website, “I’ve seen everything from brides being walked down the aisle by their grown sons to families with younger children actually having their kids exchange ‘family vows’ with them.”

Melody B., a 55-year-old family therapist from Richardson, TX, says her third marriage to Mike, a divorced father of two, was very much a family affair. “With five kids still living at home, we knew we weren’t just marrying each other,” she says. “We wanted to include the kids in the process to show them that we were becoming a family and that marrying each other didn’t mean they were losing anything; instead, they were gaining another parent and a whole family.”

To achieve that, Melody had the four girls — both hers and Mike’s — act as her bridesmaids with Mike’s four-year-old son serving as ring bearer. During the ceremony itself, the couple exchanged vows with each other and then with their kids, giving each of them engraved silver necklaces. At the end of the ceremony, Melody’s oldest daughter read Sonnet 43 (also known as “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…”) from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famed Sonnets from the Portuguese.

But the family affair didn’t stop there — the newlyweds then took all five kids along with them on the honeymoon. “It raised some eyebrows, but we knew we needed that time to bond as a family,” explains Melody. “We hadn’t known each other that long — we’d only been dating about nine months when we got married — and knew the kids needed that time together.”

Taking a more personal approach
Stallings also says that experiential gift and/or honeymoon registries (where guests can contribute money towards a specific experience, like a “bottle of wine for picnic on a cliff in Greece”) are another up-and-coming trend you’ll often see in lieu of traditional registries for a second or third wedding. Small, private ceremonies are also popular according to Master of Divinity and wedding celebrant Virginia St. Claire, who runs, a Hawaiian wedding service. “Second and third marriage ceremonies make up more than 50 percent of my business,” says St. Claire, who adds, “most of the time, they don’t have a big entourage of family and friends. A lot of the time, it’s very intimate.”

St. Claire notes that while first weddings are often extravagant (and stressful), smaller, less formal second or third weddings often seem more genuine. “I feel that people are more true to themselves in planning a second wedding,” she says. “With the first wedding, they’re trying to please their families or do what they think is expected. But by the time they get to the second or third wedding, they’re more emotionally mature and careful. A lot of times, people have been badly hurt after a first marriage and with a second marriage, it just seems more sincere. They’re very tender with each other, these couples.”

Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached via her Web site,
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