Love Without Borders: An Examination
of Cross-Cultural Wedding Rituals
Michelle R. Nelson and Sameer Deshpande
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Marriage occurs in the majority of world cultures (Rosenblatt & Anderson, 1981), and the wedding itself is considered a special ritual event. It is a rite of passage that culturally marks a person's transition from one life stage to another and redefines social and personal identity (Bell, 1997). This vital ritualistic event, long dictated by cultural values and processes, offers an opportunity for couples to declare their new identity publicly and to bring together families and friends through a prescribed collection of artifacts, roles, and scripts (Rook, 1985). Such ritual elements were historically dictated by local communities (K. Bulcroft, R. Bulcroft, Smeins, & Cranage, 1997): So what happens to the ritual when the community becomes a global village? Whose cultural values and customs are used? How are divergent personal and cultural values of the couple and their extended families negotiated when planning the cross-cultural wedding?
Past research has shown that the selection and negotiation of cultural values and ritual decisions can create conflicts (Nelson & Otnes, forthcoming) and lead to “heated arguments … over finding religious services that won't offend either culture, planning receptions that honor both sides equally and accommodating an array of guests” (Nguyen, 1996, p. B01). These conflicts, often caused by clashes between cultural values and customs or norms, may reflect a special type of mixed emotions or ambivalence called cultural ambivalence (Merton & Barber, 1976). We define cross-cultural ambivalence as the emergence of a mixed emotional state, or multiple emotional states, that arise from conflict between norms, traditions, and practices of different cultures not found within the same society. This research was conducted to examine crosscultural wedding rituals; the chapter focuses on emergent findings related to cross-cultural ambivalence as we identify antecedents and strategies for coping with these conflicts.