I’m so excited to introduce our newest wedding graduate, Marie-Eve. Marie-Eve has been reading this blog for a loooonnnnngggggg time, and she has her feet firmly planted on the ground. I’ve been waiting and waiting for her to graduate, because I knew deep down that she would have words to say that would be so wise they would ease my soul. And, of course she did. This one is long, but read it all the way through. It’s smart.
My husband Martin and I live in Montreal, Quebec (and are native French speakers). As is quite common in our -fairly laid-back and progressive-culture, we kept marriage for last in our life equation, after spending several years together, buying a house, and welcoming a son, who is now 2. We got engaged in May 2008 in New York (Bryant Park), and immediately after came up with this idea of marrying in that city we both love in September 2010, bringing our closest relatives and friends for a long weekend while giving them enough time to plan, schedule, and finance the trip.
So we scraped it and toyed with the idea of eloping for a while, before admitting that we wanted our loved ones near us after all, even if it was clear from the beginning that we needed to do things our own way. In February during a weekend in the countryside, we passed by an orchard that produced this ice cider I love, and spontaneously decided to ask them to have our wedding there during the blossoming time of the apple trees. They had never done it and were hesitant, but they still invited us over for a visit in mid-March, and I guess we were convincing enough. Everything was confirmed during the last week of March, with a wedding planned on May 17. So this gave me about 7 weeks of “active” planning! But by then I was prepared and already had things pretty much figured out. The invitations were in the mail within three days.
I guess our first and clearest instinct was always not to be afraid of doing things “differently,” and never forgetting that this was nothing more (or less, or else) than making what we already had official. Our budget was tiny, more because this was what we were willing to spend on a party than because this was what we could ultimately afford. We knew we didn’t want a big, formal affair, we are not big party-into-the-wee-hours people, hence we did want good music, but not necessarily dancing. Everyone around us has kids, so an afternoon cocktail party (as opposed to a long sit-down dinner) seemed just right. We wanted a wedding that “looked and felt like us” (and wasn’t cookie-cutter) more than anything, and hoped that it could also be a pleasant, unique experience for our guests. We’re kind of foodies, and are surrounded by people who also are, so we put the emphasis on that and had the orchard prepare a wonderful tasting of their products, as well as gift baskets for guests to take home.It was never really about the budget, which, it’s been said before, is always so subjective anyway. We had a ballpark figure, and were simply confident that we would make things fall around it (we did). I never considered that this budget was limiting. The only real limit I felt was the 40-guest count imposed by the venue, because there were a few more people we would have wanted there, but at the same time it was a bit liberating -like it had been taken out of our hands- and a great way to keep costs down. Rather, I saw the budget as a great challenge. How far could I go with this money, how beautiful and memorable of a wedding could I pull off within these means?
Here’s what I came up with:
- Focus on what counts (for you; it can widely differ from bride to bride), and pare down. You can pick and choose within all the rituals and traditions. We didn’t have a wedding party, a bouquet toss, an official introduction, a congratulatory line, a first dance, or even an aisle or an altar. These were meaningless to us, and while I understand that some people need them in order to feel properly married, we just didn’t, so why bother?
- Look for alternatives. Don’t listen when anyone tells you that you simply have to spend this and that much on something. You really don’t. In fact, you don’t have to do anything that does not feel right to you, or that makes you feel financially uncomfortable. You could say I have a twisted mind, but I systematically looked for vendors and resources outside the wedding world. In my opinion, they always provide a better value and a refreshing perspective. Even if they’re not super experienced with weddings, it’s still their job to get it right when you explain your vision to them. It really paid off for us: among other things, our photography was really inexpensive, as we hired this couple we knew were good but were not pros, more like well-equipped serious hobbyists with an artistic eye.
- DIY and delegate. Trust yourself, it’s not that scary! I don’t want this to be about bashing the WIC, but its main two things I did not feel OK with were that it tends to take advantage of a very deeply-rooted, purely emotional side in people, and that it tends to make you feel like a helpless person who can’t (take their own decisions, achieve the vision they have on their own, think outside the box). Well, smart ladies, you can. We DYIed a lot of things: my mom altered my ($65 online-bought) dress and made my sash, we designed and printed our invitations, I crafted my headpiece, I arranged the flowers, and my mom and I spent the day before making tasty hors d’oeuvres. This was not only budget-friendly, but also a great sanity saver in my case. Doing this gave me a sense of control and satisfaction that prevented me from freaking out several times. A lot of people told me: “You did all of this and did not feel stressed?” But to me doing this was actually helping to curb my stress, and I wanted to do this, I needed to do this. Gardening and being surrounded by flowers is one of my favorite things to do, so why would I let someone else take care of it? My mother and I always have a lovely time cooking and baking together before every birthday, holiday and occasion, so why should this one have been different?
- Be selective in your inspiration. I was all for wedding p*rn. But there is a point where it just becomes too much. Magazines, websites and blogs that made me feel bad/mad/mean/gave brides a bad rap/made me wondered if they were a joke: OUT. Online community of support by fabulous like-minded brides who not only made me feel happy to be one but also proud to be an unabashedly girly girl, thinking woman and feminist that happens to be interested in weddings: IN.
Other miscellaneous advice: do not overlook the ceremony. We had a civil one, quick and to the point, but still wrote our own vows and made everyone promise out loud that they would support us in our marriage (my favorite part). Do not forget that a beautiful/interesting/unique location sets the vibe without you having to lift a finger and generally simplifies your job a lot. Try to find a middle ground between this day being about you and about your guests. Even on a budget, don’t feel like you need to justify a few splurges (OK so I had the least expensive dress ever, but I got ludicrously pricey shoes that made me feel like singing when I put them on and provided the whole color scheme for the wedding). Coordination the day of is crucial -this is the one thing I would do differently, have someone come in early and set things up. Instead my groom was alone there to take care of everything (including our kid), a bit frazzled and freaked out, while I was getting prepared and was stressing because I wasn’t there to help. Of course it was all OK in the end, but I wish I would have spent this little time before with him, being relaxed, chatting with people, instead of taking care of “stuff”.
Did I stress over the process? I wish I could say I didn’t, but that would be a big, fat lie. I became a nervous wreck in the weeks before, when nothing seemed to go according to plan -we had booked a honeymoon in Mexico and the flu scare arose (in the end we decided to go anyway and are really glad we did), the photographer was unreachable, my groom had terrible seasonal allergies and was barely functional, and the orchard told us the wedding would be just a few days too early for those blossoms. Boy, those blossoms! Did I obssess over them! And as I made peace with the fact that they would not make an appearance, three days before the wedding, the orchard updated their predictions and told us that it was in the bag.
The day was over very quickly, so in the end I’m really glad I did not lose my mind over it, spend an outrageous amount of money on it, or waste half of it posing for pictures. When I look back at it now, I think we succeeded in infusing our personalities into our wedding, and to communicate the genuine, sheer love and joy we shared. This still brings tears to my eyes, because really it’s the only thing that matters. We are really grateful for each one of the guests who came (even all the way from California!), but for both of us, having our son present at our wedding and making this the celebration of a family, especially, was one of life’s most precious gifts.