Key West Photographer - Karrie Porter | Not seeing each other – an archaic and unnecessary tradition

Not seeing each other – an archaic and unnecessary tradition

February 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment
Our ancestors set certain precedents for the sole purpose of preventing marriage contracts from falling through. Is that really a tradition worth commemorating? Once upon a time, in a land far away, a girl’s family toiled for months trying to find a suitable husband for their daughter.  They heard of an eligible young bachelor, contacted his family, and the deal was done.  The boy, however, decided to take a trip to the girl’s village and upon arriving, caught a glimpse of her, returning home and refusing to go forward with the marriage. 

So, in the interest of preventing the flight of suitable bachelors from their marriages with plain-faced girls, the great minds decided it would be reasonable to prevent the betrothed from ever seeing each other before their wedding day.  And that is how the rule of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the wedding was born.

Ok, history lesson over.  Fast forward a few thousand years.  Now, we meet our future spouse in some mutual social circle.  We date, sometimes we “take a break” and get back together, we have mutual friends, common interests, and often know more about them than we do anyone else.  Sometimes we even move in together, get a dog, and live together for several years, effectively “testing the waters” to see if we can really be with this person for the rest of our lives.  And while spiritual beliefs may keep some out of the pre-nuptial bedroom, some even go so far as to have children before deciding to marry someone. 


Most traditions, like tying a knot, carrying memorable keepsakes, and a young male family member bearing the rings, add symbolism without any negative consequences. We do all of this in today’s society, yet still, when it comes to our wedding day, we hang desperately onto this “tradition” of not seeing each other before the wedding.  Why? 

I’ve been very patient in trying to understand it, and after all these years of shooting weddings, seeing the difference it makes to the wedding day, I can’t say I’ve come much closer to a good reason. 

Now, I’m not saying I’m not a fan of traditions.  I LOVE them, and am even a tad superstitious and will knock on wood if the need arises.  For weddings, there are SO many awesome traditions that are based on some true and still-meaningful reason.  The rings, the old-new-borrowed-blue stuff, cans behind the limo, throwing rice and petals, circling the fire, the chuppah, the henna, the drums, jumping the broom….and on and on and on.  It's all great!

The reason I have beef with the "don't see each other" tradition is because it causes more harm than good!  Hear me out.  

  • The other traditions contribute to the festivity, the meaning, or the sacredness of the event. 
  • For me as a photographer, they also contribute some great photo opportunities.  
  • But not seeing each other before the wedding seems to have no other contribution toward the wedding other than being able to say “We had a traditional wedding and didn’t see each other before.”  Big woopidee doo.  (sorry)

On the flip side, let me share what happens when the couple DOES see each other beforehand.   

Not seeing each other before the ceremony is a tradition with negative historic meaning, very little practical benefit, and it creates unnecessary stress and logistical constraints. First, all the planning and anticipation has turned you into one big bundle of nerves come the morning of the big day.  Even the smallest ceremony will generate nerves, and for a grand affair hosting hundreds of people, multiply that by ten.  Even if you’re “calm”, your subconscious is still running wild.  So what happens first when you see each other? 

  • You’re instantly reminded of why you’re there and who this is all about. 
  • You gain perspective, all the little details fade into the background.
  • You can finally focus on just being there.  I’ve watched it time and time again as brides go from answering three cell phones all morning, stressing over every little nuance, asking a million questions about what’s not yet done, who’s not yet arrived, which thing is still left to deal with….and suddenly, she sees her fiance, spends some time with him, and she’s like a whole new person, much more relaxed, calm, and happy. 
Having more time to play, and having less need to stress, you can enjoy your day (and the resulting photos!) much more!

Second, when you see each other before the wedding, you open up a whole new spectrum of logistics that otherwise are not possible.  Maybe you thought taking a trolley ride around town with all your bridal party would be a fun activity, but the trolley only runs until a certain time of day.  Maybe you had originally wanted to get married in one location, but couldn't, for whatever reason.  You now have time to take a morning stroll there instead.  

The other logistical problem it solves is timing for the photography.  You’ve just spent months planning, thousands of dollars making it happen, and hired the best person you could find to capture it all.  Why limit yourself to the rushed, cookie-cutter, boring family group shots and a much shorter wham-bam session of the two of you together afterwards?  Of all the money you’ll spend on your wedding, the fee you pay to the photographer is the only one that keeps giving back for years and decades later.  If you see each other before the wedding, you allow your photographer more time to get creative, take you to some fantastic hidden gems in the city or at least make use of multiple locations on the property.  This means more variety and tapping in to their artistic talent (and isn't that the reason you hired them in the first place?).  

It also allows you the ability to concentrate on having fun, looking good, taking your time, fixing your hair and makeup ten times if needed, including your bridal party in some fun shots, and all without the mental stress that exists when you know you have people waiting on you.  EVEN when I shoot weddings where the bride has allotted an hour or even two hours between the ceremony and reception, I still ALWAYS get those nervous sidelong glances at the clock in between the amazing smiles and laughs you see in the final proofs.  Sure, we’re on a schedule even if we shoot before the wedding too, but the subconscious effect of knowing no one is standing around waiting for you to get back is huge.

A bride calls down from her balcony, 'Romeo and Juliet' style, cracking up in the process and creating fun memories and energetic images.

Finally, seeing each other before the wedding benefits your guests.  For many of the same reasons I discussed above, the end-effect to all of this is:

  • a happier bride
  • a more relaxed groom
  • a much more opened up schedule
  • a day that is running smoothly and on time
  • photos that aren’t rushed. 

After the ceremony, we can be done with family groups in ten minutes and you can be on your way to cocktail hour.  What does this do?  It delights the guests that they actually get to spend time with you at your wedding.  That time you would have otherwise have been spending taking pictures can now be used for mingling at the cocktail hour, doing a receiving line, or going around and hugging every single person who spent the time, money and energy to be with you on this day. 

Even you choose to skip those things, the least you can do is get the reception started quickly so your hungry guests can eat!  It's frustrating for guests to go out of their way to be at your event, only to be staving off hunger with party mints and club crackers for hours.  So even if you don’t care about beautiful pictures or being calm or creating a smoother timeline, at least do it out of love and respect for your guests. 

Setting up a special moment where you can see your fiance for the first time, without anyone around, lets you still experience that initial anticipation and excitement.

Remember, people back in the day had good reasons for invoking this practice of not seeing each other before the wedding, but the modern couple has yet to prove to me any equally good uses for this “tradition”.  Do yourself, your wedding photos, and your guests, a favor and plan to see each other before the wedding.

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