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The Slavery Of Choice


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

The Slavery Of Choice | A Practical WeddingThis weekend I learned a new phrase, one I’d somehow missed in my 28 years of being on this earth: “The best is the enemy of the good.” It’s a Voltaire quote, that means, roughly, that good is sometimes good enough, and that our endless quest for perfection sometimes ends with us sacrificing good options while we look for the elusive ‘best’ option.

Whew. So is there a phrase that pertains to wedding planning more then this? As the cultural pressure mounts for us to have perfect weddings, I keep seeing brides (and sometimes myself) freezing like deer caught in the headlights. How can we make a decision on a florist until we have researched every possible floral designer working in our area, and found the one who’s style and vision best meshes with ours? How can we pick a photographer when the ideal photographer might be just around the corner, or just out of our price range, who will perfectly memorialize our wedding day for all time? How can we select one kind of guest book when we have so many options, each of which might capture our guests sentiments in an original yet emotional way? It’s our wedding day, it has to be the best, and it has to be right for us. With so many options and so much pressure how on earth can we choose?

Even practical budget couples can get caught in this trap. The Paradox Of Choice goes a long way towards describing what is going on. This (fascinating) book’s argument boils down the idea that the more options we have, the more we are both frozen with indecision and ultimately unhappy with our choice, because we fear we might not have made the best one.

Since I suspect we are all at times caught in this wedding planning trap, we need to identify it, take a deep breath, and realize that the best is indeed the enemy of the good. If we wait and wait to pick a wedding vendor because we’re not sure if the ones we have found are quite right, all of the good vendors might end up booked before we bite the bullet. If we immobilize ourselves when trying to make even simple wedding choices, we may well sacrifice enjoying our wedding planning for the quest to find ‘the best’ choices.

Every wedding choice we have made so far has been made like this:

  1. We did a lot of research to find out what the options were in our price range.
  2. We went out talked to people and looked at the choices first hand.
  3. We found something we really liked a lot. (When I walked into our venue, I looked around and said “this is for me”, and walked right in to the office to inquire about availability.)
  4. We obsessed about if the choice should really be this easy, if we should do a little more research, if we were going to miss something great by just going with our gut.
  5. We signed the contract.
  6. We felt relieved and happy.

I can’t tell you yet how this is all going to turn out on our wedding day, but I can tell you that we are probably going to have all our major contracts signed a full year before we get married. Which should give us a lot of time to chill out, and fuss around with the enjoyable details.

How have you wrestled with the wedding decision making process?

Picture: This is toooo many cakes to pick from, and this is just a few of thousands of options.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03208244458086146065 Blablover5

    A lot of our decisions were made with keeping in mind some of what was important to us and some of what we didn’t care about. Also it was important that it would be fun, nothing dull for the sake of everyone else does it.

    The hard part has been not having second thoughts, so far we haven’t gone out and boughten anything twice but there are still 3 months to go so I better knock on wood.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12626429814525648039 lazybride

    I’m admittedly the worst at making decisions, especially big ones, up until the FH asked me to marry him, I just wanted to put off the marriage talk because we were in such a great place.

    Ever since he proposed, decisions have come fast and furious. We’ve deliberated like you have, but ultimately, made most of the big decisions already. And I agree with blablover that the hard part is not having second thoughts. The best part of our decision making is that our venue raised their prices not long after we booked them, so we are locked in for the old price, a year and a half ahead of time.

    So far, so good!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12065067024811336920 Sandra

    We haven’t spent a lot of time deliberating over our vendors. We tried one caterer, liked them fine, and signed a contract. Talked to two DJs, one who wasn’t really what we wanted and one who was. Decided we wanted cupcakes, picked out a cupcake vendor, and signed a contract.

    I don’t know. I want it to be a special day, but I don’t have time to deliberate over the choices. All these vendors were recommended by someone or another, and that’s good enough for me.

  • Anonymous

    Real Simple Weddings magazine says in order to keep things easy, narrow your choices to three vendors that you will actually meet with face-to-face. You don’t have time to meet 6 caterers, 4 DJs, 5 florists, etc… Even those of us with long engagements would go crazy. (Exceptions to this “rule” could be the venue and possibly the dress).

    Just ask yourself if you’re happy with the choice. If yes, then you’re okay. No need to worry about if you’ll be slightly happier with another choice. That’s true for most things.

    Referrals from trusted sources are usually the best route. I know exactly what DJ I’m getting because of a wedding I was in last year. We’re not even going to consider anyone else. Another one off the list.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11371172824707301749 Cate Subrosa

    What an excellent quote. Perhaps you should rename this blog “the enemy of the best”?

    Most of our choices have been made with the aim of keeping costs to a minimum: get married late in the day so we only have to provide one meal, a bridesmaid’s dress for me, a shirt and tie that will match a suit he already owns, a simple corsage and bouquet and no flowers for any of our other guests, a dress from eBay for my best woman, our best men can wear whatever they like… I could go on!

    But there has also been another theme: not shopping around too much. I repeat my mantra, “it’s just one day and this looks good so I’m going to go with it.” We booked the ceremony venue having only seen a tiny photo online, we booked the only reception venue we looked at, my dress was the only one I tried on I liked… you get the idea. I guess on some level I have been aware of the choice paradox and trying to protect us from getting any more overwhelmed than we inevitably are.

  • http://budgetsavvybride.wordpress.com/ budgetsavvybride

    Well I haven’t started looking for my dress yet but I anticipate that being a touch decision, but my worst so far has been the photographer. I’ve looked at hundreds of photog’s work… met with 5 and will probably meet with a few more before I decide. It’s probably the biggest and toughest for me because I just want to make sure I have an excellent photographer. (Of course my small budget is making this difficult!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12095127115348973647 Jessamyn Harris

    this is a great topic. there’s another thing to think about – the people you are at the time you get married, aren’t the people you stay forever. sometimes I look at friends of mine who got married 5 years ago, and think about how dramatically different their wedding would be today (different/ more friends, even different styles and priorities). I’m starting to see that a little for us, too, after 2.5 years of marriage. it’s never going to be a bad thing, but it is a little weird.
    just another way in which you just do your best to have a fabulous time now, and not worry about things being perfect in an idealistic lifelong memory kind of way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05513352046552154656 danicalynn

    I kept a lot of the decision making down by getting married on the opposite coast from where I live and setting the date nine months from the engagement. This means I had no time or ability to try 11 different caterers or pick out the most unique bridesmaid dresses. And considering how anal I can be, I think the time constraint helped me put my priorities in order. Having said that, I think we have probably spent more money doing things rather last minute, instead of having the time to search for the best deal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17572133516556386284 *Michelle

    I love it. Who else would dare quote Voltaire? You rock chicka. Hooray for making a good point without flogging the blogging dead horse of “step back and re-focus on why you are doing this and why its important.” Count me in as the newest “Team Practical” stalker. :)

  • Desaray

    Ditto Michelle. I mean, really? You quoted Voltaire? And you use your blog to raise money for other people’s weddings? Really? Are you that great?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18209533406055486161 Rachel

    I love this post – I will have to get this book. Sounds like it pertains to lots more than just wedding planning (paint colors, anyone???)

    Yes – we (I) have struggled with our choices. FH doesn’t care as much. But to be honest, it’s been those little “enjoyable details” that have driven me bat-sh*t crazy! I was like you – walked into our venue (the first one we looked at) and *done*. Met with our photographer, liked her, liked her price and *done*. Met with the caterer…. *done*. My point being, that yes – I did a lot of research on the internet before hand, but my big decisions were easier. Mostly because of budget – there was a big difference between quotes and prices. With the small stuff, you’re back to the paradox of choice – it doesn’t cost any more money to change colors, there are several styles of bridesmaid dresses at a certain price point, candles or flowers??… Argh!! ;-)
    I hope this doesn’t happen to you! Maybe repeating that “The best is the enemy of the good” over and over in my head will help!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13957448734567545978 Spitfiregirl

    Our biggest decision has been over the caterer…primarily b/c it’s such a huge portion of our budget! I talked to about 10, but are tasting with 3. I’ll be SO happy when i don’t have to think about side salads!

    For the photographer,event designer/florist and dj i’m completely going with my gut (and referrals of course). Plus i’m doing trade with the first 2 vendors to offset cost AND getting the best service possible!

    Oh, and Meg…glad you like the Style Me Pretty website…i designed it! thanks for the positive feedback!

  • Anonymous

    I *heart* your blog and your practical wisdom. It echoes my own sentiments and it’s just so refreshing to read.

    I will admit I drove myself nuts agonizing over all the little crap in the beginning; this place, that place, this photographer, that one, etc.. But once we chose our venue, I was determined to not spend so much energy deciding. Now we make choices based on our budget, choose two vendors that offer that service, talk with them and decide right away.

    Altho I’m still 2nd guessing my dress, but oh well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01105755263373802813 invisiblyrose

    i love this post!

    we did it your way with a few more steps.

    7. we argued with parents over our decision
    8. we second guessed our decision because of our parents
    9. we look back at our notes on #1 and we feel better

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    I was just thinking this very thing today, that there is no ‘perfect’ option or combination of wedding choices that will make The Perfect Wedding. There are hundreds of choices and any combination of those choices would make something wonderful. People get caught up in searching for the perfect venue, not remembering that there are many venues, many great venues and that whichever one you pick, that is not going to be the thing to make your day perfect. You could have a wonderful wedding in any one of those venues, with any one of those florists, in any one of those dresses and enjoy eating any one of those cakes. No single one is perfect but many of them are very, very good.

    Like Jessamyn says, if we started planning our wedding now, 16 months after we got engaged, it would be a very different wedding to the one we have planned but that doesn’t mean it would be any better, just different and still great.

  • http://purplewedding.wordpress.com miss purple

    What an amazing quote. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I think we often get caught up in searching for “the best” because, really, we’re looking for what will make us look awesome in the eyes of all our guests.

    Although I admit that that happiness of my guests is very important, I’ve stayed sane by remembering that a) it’s our wedding and should reflect what WE are like, and b) our guests don’t actually care about colors/flowers/dresses/invitations/you-name-it.
    as much as I think they do.

    And when in doubt, go with your gut.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09361213925967233097 Vestirdeblanco

    I partially agree with you. What we do is: we take a decission and then browse and browse until we find the version that fits our tiny budget. And as soon as we find it, we take it.
    I will buy my dress from eBay, inspired by one I already love (first choice, as Guilty Secret) by a 10% of its price. He is going to rent the tuxedo, only buying the shoes and shirt. And 95% of our budget is the food and the drink we will offer to our guests. Which in Madrid means luckily we will be under 30000â‚Ź (45000$).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01770750094750078392 Jack and Cassie

    Thanks for this post. I am the queen of indecisiveness and it drives me and my fiance crazy. I’m pretty low-key when it comes to the wedding, but I’m always questioning my choices. Last night I had a nightmare that I was at my wedding and the photographer was acting funny and not taking pictures.

    My photographer was the best choice for our price range and style. If we had more money, we may have a chosen another photographer but we don’t. I made the most responsible decision. I should be happy with that, not fretting over it.

    Thank you.

  • Stephanie

    Yes.
    Research, research, research. When people ask about the wedding, my fiance refers to my spreadsheets. It is disheartening because it seems this joyous occasion has turned into an exercise in organization-even though much of this was an effort to stay under budget, not a quest for perfection.

    The choice dilemma has been extremely prevalent this week as my very talented fiance begins to work on our invitations. This post couldn’t have had better timing as a reminder to focus on the end result of this whole process – a happy and fulfilling marriage.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10650709660945561859 Ariane

    Thanks for this post. I went to see a venue today that is a great price whose inside has a lot of potential . .. but I did not know if it was the super-duper, be-all and end-all of places. Reading what you have written, in particular the quote, gave me a push towards taking this place and making real, concrete plans.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09673896395330316583 Catherine

    This is by far my favorite wedding related post/article/piece of advice I’ve read, and trust me, I stalk a bunch of sites… I even forwarded it to my fiance because we both suffer from “the slavery of choice.”

    I realized, though, (and I think this is worth pointing out because of this blog’s subject and readership) that what I agonize most over is finding the ABSOLUTE BEST deal/price. And honestly, I think that’s just as destructive as agonizing over the perfect flowers or favors!

    I bought an amazingly beautiful dress at a Brides Against Breast Cancer gown sale, and the tag said it would have retailed for $5000+. I googled when I got home and couldn’t confirm this anywhere (I didn’t find anything that disproved this either.), and I was sort of crushed. What if it wasn’t really this incredible deal I thought it was? I had to practically slap (unintentional pun, but I’m liking it!) myself in the face to realize that I loved my dress whether I saved $4000, $50, or $10,000. It’s so me and it was within my budget, so who cares about the rest?!

    Thanks for knocking some sense into me once again!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13575226454049972874 Sarah

    I have no idea how I stumbled on to your blog, but its just lovely! I love the post you have here, I’ve found myself in the same boat while planning our wedding. I found a photographer that I went crazy for and it was “almost too good to be true”… but after a lot of researched I found out, that they are just that good and I’m excited to get to have them for our wedding… now on to the MANY other tasks… fun! :)

    Love the blog, keep writing!
    Lauren
    http://www.TeamGiles.com

  • Sheryl from SG

    Hi! It may be weird to see someone comment on a post in the archives but I just want to say thanks for this great blog/website! My fiance and I are in the beginning stages of our wedding planning and already we have met with some tough decisions. Oh how I wished that I had found this place earlier!

    Anyway, to bring it back to this post, the fiance and I were just having a discussion about this issue on choices because I was about to go bersek and visit every bridal shop in the country which comes up to maybe 50 shops? (I live in Singapore, a small red dot on the map, in between Malaysia and Indonesia so I’m just making a wild guess) The wise one managed to convince me that there would be no end of shops and it is probably wiser to stick to a timeline. So we decided that we will see which ever shops we want to and make a decision by end of January and be happy with it :) And lo and behold, I come across this great post which reinforces the decision we already made.

    Thanks again! Keep up with the great job!