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Here is the final installment in my fiancé’s blog on tradition. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

 

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Yesterday, I wrote about the value of tradition, even to a tradition-shunning couple like us. We don’t want to do anything just because everyone else is doing it. But we will be following some traditions. Why?

 

Yesterday’s reason was that traditions help to connect us to other people, across time and space. They build connections, and as humans, we crave connection.

 

The second reason I think tradition might be worth respecting is that if it stood the test of time, that might mean it works pretty well. Of course, it might “work” for some people and not others, and it might not work as well as something we haven’t tried yet. Improvement is important. But people in the past weren’t all stupid, and they often have had to try to solve the same problems that we have.

 

To put it in game theoretic terms, traditions are ways of identifying or even selecting an equilibrium. By equilibrium, I mean a solution to an environment of human interaction. For example, think about traffic. As we drive down two-way roads, we need to make sure that cars going in opposite directions don’t crash into each other. The solution is, as you approach an oncoming car, you move to the right. If everyone does this, we’re in great shape.

 

The stakes in the game of traffic are pretty high, so we don’t just rely on the tradition of passing to the right. We legislate it. But check out the sidewalk. In the United States, people tend to move to the right as they approach each other. Not always, but it’s a useful norm. And we do it because, well, it’s a tradition.

 

A lot of traditions help solve coordination and cooperation problems. (Thinking of tradition and culture in this way is not a new idea. It’s common in social and political sciences.) The weekend gets a large number of us to take the same days off, so we can schedule social events at a time when many people can participate. Holidays are the same thing.  Traditions identify an equilibrium solution and popularize it, so we all don’t need to figure it out on our own.

 

And of course, there is no reason why we have to pass on the right. The left works just fine, if that’s what we decide to do. And if we all took Tuesday and Wednesday off, that would also be a weekend. Any of those would do. There, we say there are multiple equilibria. And culture, or tradition, helps us choose.

 

Chloe’ and I are thinking we don’t like the long aisle for our wedding. We also don’t want the usually parade of people from the back of the room. But the truth is, if you are going to have an event that people will watch, it makes sense to put it at one end of the room and then point all the chairs at it. And then you need to have some way of getting all the key players to the front of the room. “Here comes the bride” is a pretty good solution. And when everyone hears that tune, they will know what is happening, and know what they are supposed to do. If we change things around, it will be unfamiliar to people. A little unfamiliarity can be fun, but we can’t count on everyone to react in a particular way.

 

The wedding registry is another such tradition. Typically, a wedding marks a couple’s entry into the world on their own. They need furniture, dishes, linens. That’s expensive, so we decide to help out. And if everyone in society can expect a little help when they are setting up their household, that’s great. When we get older and are in a better position to help out a new couple, well, we’ll help them out.

 

The problem for us – and for many couples in our generation – is that we lived on our own for several years before we got together. We don’t need a new blender. We already have two. So how do we participate in this tradition? We could be magnanimous and say we don’t want any presents. But our friends are generous. They want to do something. So we, along with many couples, need to adjust the tradition to accommodate our new situation. We need something that is consistent with the past, since many of our guests are expecting a registry with duvet covers and silver forks.

 

 

Our solution: We’re going to register for our honeymoon. A lot of couples have started doing this. We think it’s a nice approach. If you’d like a suggestion from us as to what we’d like to start our life together (which is basically what the registry is), we suggest that, instead of a gravy boat, you consider ferry tickets to Santorini.

 

The best thing about this solution is that it doesn’t mess with the tradition too much. Our guests will surely be able to roll with it. We are sticking with the basic equilibria – everyone helps out couples as they are starting off – but we are merging it with another tradition – couples get away alone together shortly after they marry.

 

Now, if we can just figure out how to get us to the stage.

 

Tips:

 

I said yesterday that “tradition” can be a dirty word. And I meant it. But tradition serves a purpose. Just think about what that purpose is.

 

Remember: There are a million ways for a wedding to be. You won’t even be the first person not to wear white, not to throw the bouquet, not to not see each other before the ceremony. Think about wedding traditions like a cafeteria menu. Choose what you want. Think about why you want them, and what they will mean to you. Then do what you like.

 

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