Wedding graduate! Wedding graduate! It feels like it’s been too long. I’m thrilled to get to share Wendy’s story with you guys. She says a million smart wonderful things, but I want to sign my name on the line really big for a few of them… like the fact that wedding guests really only want a full fledged invitation to celebrate with you two (which also means they want you relaxed and present and letting go… so they can celebrate WITH you, not AT you). They will, of course, gossip a little afterwards, but that’s within the wedding guest bill of rights. Mostly though, they’ll just want to cry and grin and cry and grin some more and then eat cake and grin. And also: I want to echo the fact that you will be overwhelmed with just how much everyone cares, and then there will be a few people you never expected who will maybe not care as much as they should. That’s NORMAL. It’s not you, it’s them. So just grin your head off with everyone else. And with that, I give you Wendy. You’re going to love her.
Let me preface this with some pertinent background: in an effort to be together all the time as soon as possible (and to avoid having a big fuss made over us), we decided to push through the paperwork as soon as the engagement cook-out was done, and got legally hitched on 09.09.09. Although I had bought a fancy dress (impulse buy at a boutique in Atlanta while visiting my best friend), we had no idea if and when we could fund a ceremony and reception to our liking. Since Darin and I had only dated a few months when we got engaged, our sets of parents weren’t really expecting to fund a wedding (not only that, but I was laid off the day after we got engaged). Thankfully, a few checks rolled in (and I got another job) and we started to piece together a plan.
Throughout the course of planning a wedding, the most important thing I learned was that Darin was, and was always going to be, someone looking out for my best interest and happiness. We only dated a few months before deciding to get married; my father, not knowing Darin very well, said only that he wished for me someone who would think about me first upon waking, someone who placed my wellbeing at the top of the list.
As we made decisions for our wedding that fit our budget (tiny), our look (Depression Era, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, with milk glass!), and our beliefs, I saw that he not only fits all of my criteria,* but is the ideal partner according to my father’s words of wisdom, as well.
What I learned about getting married is something Meg mentioned in a post shortly after our ceremony, that we would be adults in the eyes of our community. Every once in awhile, we look at one another and cheer that we were allowed to do this: get married, have a house, live together, etc. Part of that is having (publicly) made the decision to start a family together,** and committing to caring for one another for life. Being responsible for and to one another- being adults- allows us to enjoy married life.
While I was planning, I wish I’d known how little of the drama would matter. I was pretty laidback about most things, but when a couple of major snafus with the invitations meant that significant others without matching last names were left off (like my uncle’s partner of nearly twenty years and the fiancé of a dear friend), the wedding website we’d created to save paper and share our story was omitted, and extra paper was used for unnecessary envelopes and directions from a location where only two guests lived…I blew up. Over the weekend, we called the significant others to make clear they were also included on the invitations, email-bombed our friends with the website info, and took a few deep breaths. I spent a lot of energy being (justifiably) upset that my specifications hadn’t been followed and worried that people would think we were excluding them, but since damage control was so easy and quick, I could have let it roll off my back.
Here’s the thing: people were looking for ways to celebrate with us, and were overjoyed to receive the information that helped them; people WEREN’T looking for reasons to be offended or to judge. This was true of everything. No one cared about the sparse decorations or standing room only seating for the ceremony. Nobody complained about the lack of dancing, bouquet toss, or speeches. Everyone congratulated us, raved about the food and cake, and grinned like mad.
What mattered to us was a ceremony that embodied how we felt about our marriage. We took some structure from Judith Johnson’s The Wedding Ceremony Planner and added bits we liked. Having done the traditional vows already in our legal ceremony, we wanted to be more specific and more personal. I chose a passage by Madeleine L’Engle and asked my uncle to read it at the ceremony. We asked our friend (at whose house we had met!) to officiate, and he spoke beautifully and kindly about us and the gravity of the event. Overall, our ceremony was short and sweet, and said everything we needed it to say.
For me specifically, the pictures really mattered. Once I had bought the dress, I knew I wanted some lovely photographs wearing it. For better or worse (ha!), I’m an arts professional and had a pretty specific idea of how I wanted our photographs to look. Herb Ascherman is a local photographer whom I begged to come out of retirement for our wedding (he generously agreed, and did our engagement portraits as a gift). Not only do Herb and I see eye to eye aesthetically, which made the whole process much more relaxed and fun, but he works with vintage cameras using large format black and white film (though the color digital are pretty fantastic, too!). I love his work in black and white (I have a small collection), and asked him to do some of our portraits on film, resulting in lovely vintage-y images.
What didn’t matter was everything else. We didn’t do place cards or assigned seating. We didn’t do much in terms of flowers (they’re just going to die, right?). We didn’t have any speeches or dancing (though Darin and I did a little slow dance to some Sinatra at the bar afterward). We wanted to welcome our friends and family to celebrate with us; anything that didn’t contribute directly to that was out of the budget.
What surprised me was the willingness with which our friends and family (and their friends and family) came to be with us, particularly on a snowy weekend in February! We had guests come in from all over (Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta). We were cheered to see how much we mattered to those we love. On the flip side, I was also surprised by who DIDN’T come. We had some friends and relatives who seemed excited for us, then blew off the wedding. We had people ignore invitations and follow-up phone calls and emails. I wondered if it was the fact that our ceremony in February wasn’t a “real” ceremony, so it didn’t seem that important (we told everyone again and again that we planned to marry legally beforehand- I suppose I was also surprised by how many thought we were joking).
My family were a source of stress and drama, some of the hardest and worst I went through while planning. I have some (very) troubled relationships with a few relatives and debated long and hard about inviting people I actually didn’t want to see at all. It felt like any decision we made would be used as ammunition by someone- either they would hold it against me that I didn’t invite them, or that I would levy the charge later that they had spurned my invitation. In the long run, I did ask; they did not come.
In parting, my advice, though unlikely to go over well, is to elope. I liked our non-wedding, I liked some of the fuss, and it’s certainly nice getting gifts and seeing friends. But that day in September when Darin and I stood alone in front of the mayor and said “I do” to a lifetime together was one of the most joyful of my life. That moment, just about us and just for us, was all I needed or wanted.
*That he make me laugh, that he be kind, and that he not be racist/sexist/xenophobic. Bonus points for loving books.
** Editors note: Just so everyone is on the same page: when phrases like ‘baby family’ or ‘start a family’ are used on APW, that doesn’t mean I’m assuming that we’re all going to have kids. What I mean is that the couple just created a brand new family, and that family will continue to grow – that might mean to grow-up in age, or to grow in humans, or both.
When I first started my business, I heard two pieces of advice repeated over and over again in photography forums online: back up your work and get business insurance. My company was in its infancy at the time, but I figured that if enough people were saying these things, there was probably a kernel of truth to it. So in the mad dash before my first big wedding, I faxed an application for business insurance and forked over a few hundred dollars for the comfort of knowing that my gear would be protected.…
Do you know that we remember more from our teenage years than any other part of our lives? Our brains are bending and growing, and we’re creating ourselves. Now, as adults, we still create ourselves in the in-between. In between single and married, in between jobs, in between identities. Next month, join us in becoming.