Today’s wedding graduate post could easily be a tale of everything going wrong: a wedding planned far away from friends and family, painfully awkward family interactions, and unexpected fall snow that made it near impossible for guests to arrive. But somehow it is a story of hope and joy and redemption. It’s a testament to the fact that often things go wrong, even really wrong, but somehow, as my grandmother, who braved her own wedding snow storm once told me, the magic of weddings is, “They happen no matter what.” And sometimes that’s enough. More than enough, even. So this goes out, with love, to those of you braving weddings in the face of tornados, and other disasters. We’re all wishing you joy, and hope, and the will to make it through.
Mark and I met in a Walmart parking lot in Helena, Montana. This is a slightly random place to meet an Englishman. But he was on a cross-country trip, we had friends in common, and I loved showing off my Western town. He stayed for a day that turned into a week that turned into a road trip to Utah and a plane ticket to the UK, and then two and a half years of flying back and forth, and applying for Irish citizenship so we could work in the same country. When finally, after three years, we were living in the same place. Tired yet? We were. Living in the same time zone, let alone the same apartment, was a welcome change, and Mark proposed six months after I moved in.
We had our wedding in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, Ireland. It was 10 minutes away from where we got engaged. Since we were living in Dublin and our families were scattered throughout the US and UK, it was handy for us and (somewhat) equally inconvenient for our friends and families. We saw it as the only chance to have our families and friends ever meet, which was important to us. Also, most of them like Guinness, so it’s win-win.
However, as we were asking a lot from all our family and friends (like getting passports for the first time, spending precious holiday-days, or flying Ryanair), we struggled with things like a date, and a venue. We wanted something that felt special, but also was “us.” Oh, and we had vastly different internal visions for our wedding. I always expected to get married outside, near a field or mountains or something similarly grassy. In Ireland, this is not an option. You cannot legally get married outside. Until 2004, the only options were church or registry office. The rules have changed a bit, but it still has to be in an “approved venue” with things like walls, and a roof, and other stupid requirements.
We finally settled on Thanksgiving weekend since it would give the Americans some extra travel time, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Oh, and we got married on a Monday, because it was the only way we could afford the venue we found – a country hotel 10 minutes away from where we got engaged with local food, pheasants roaming, and a little decommissioned chapel next to a brook. Plus, living in Ireland meant we could have a lovely fall wedding, even in the end of November.
Which brings me to point 1:
There are some things you can control. And there are some things you can’t.
This became the mantra of the wedding weekend. Here’s why – our crisp fall wedding turned into a snowy winter one. The night of our welcome reception (we rented a room in a pub so that everyone could hang out, instead of a more formal rehearsal dinner) it started to snow. Hard. It was beautiful. But I pretty much collapsed, crying, in the middle of an abandoned Dublin street as we walked miles home at two in the morning because there were no cabs. My maid of honor was delayed due to snow, and I wasn’t sure if she would make it (she did, 10pm the night before the wedding). I thought our vendors would cancel (one did, more later). I thought our solemnizer wouldn’t show up (she did, just late). I didn’t know if the roads would be passable to our rural location (they…well, they weren’t really. People had to park 2 miles away and get ferried up in 4 wheel drive vehicles, such as painters’ trucks and delivery vehicles).
And yet, it was okay. It wasn’t easy. It took some guests 7 hours to make a 1 hour journey. People pushed cars, and drove into ditches, and ripped off rental car mirrors. But all but two people made it to our ceremony. People compared horrific travel stories, and always had something to talk about. My fur coat suddenly looked appropriate. Our replacement DJ might have been able to vie for the worst DJ ever (When I point blank asked him to play certain songs immediately, he wouldn’t. Well he did, only 2 and a half hours later, in such an intense explosion that I thought I might have a dancing induced heart attack.) but we still danced, and stayed up until the wee wee hours. And the pictures? They were almost worth all the trouble.
Awkwardness, like sh*t, can happen. Minimize it.
Most of our families have never met. We come from different cultures, and while we share a language, my southern Grandma can still barely understand his parents’ northern English accents. This could be normal awkward. But there is also the issue of my father. When my friends heard that he was coming, they immediately asked, “will that be awkward”?
(A bit of background: My father and I went through periods of talking or not talking throughout my entire adolescence and early adulthood. He’s an alcoholic, and has the emotions of a child. He got remarried six years ago, and invited me to the wedding. And then he uninvited me to the wedding. I had never met his new wife, nor had I seen him in six years.)
So yes: that will be awkward.
One of the best ideas we had was to have the awkwardness early. Our immediate family met each other on Friday evening, a whole day before the official welcome party. It was better than I expected. (Though my father actually introduced himself, not sarcastically, to my mother – she replied with, “Hi, I was married to you for 11 years.”) I freaked out a bit, but not as much as expected, because everyone was on their best behavior and my husband was a rock star. My mother-in-law, who I sometimes have a rocky relationship with, stepped it up and helped keep my father in check for the weekend. It was much, much better than I expected, and the rest of the weekend was casualty free because of it.
And one of the reasons I also think it was casualty free?
Doing it alone (together) is hard. But amazing.
This is the thing about planning a wedding where you have no friends, live far away from family, and living in a country where you have no community. You have to do it alone, together. You can try to involve family and friends as much as you want. They helped us find a dress and suits. They sat through Skype calls while we debated bridesmaid dresses and invitations. They helped us plan our hen and stag parties. But there is so much that you have to do yourselves – hauling yourself uptown, by yourself, for a final dress fitting. It may just be the two of you assembling crepe paper flowers, confetti cones, and favors. You have to work to include your people – to assemble wedding elves for much needed tasks like sure making my eye makeup not look like a fourth grader put it on, or making sure all the details are in place so that you can have a couple moments to just relax before the wedding. Our family and our elves were important. But you still have to do so much on your own.
The plus side? I found it is so much easier to have a wedding that reflects the two of you when you only hear your own voices. I didn’t have to deal with my mother’s comments on the song I walked down the aisle to, because it didn’t come up in our Skype chats ( it was M. Ward’s Eye on the Prize – and okay, maybe that was on purpose). We came up with our own set of events that reflected both cultures. I loved our pseudo-rehearsal dinner event that turned the wedding into a weekend. I loved our super long British wedding schedule. We chose a Unitarian ceremony that gave homage to my spirituality, without making Mark feel uncomfortable with too much religion. I brought along a second dress to change into, one my cousin designed, so that I could dance better.
We also had an open call for speeches after the wedding party’s: so many people, from different corners of our lives got up to talk about us. The friend that accidentally set us up, my boss who gave me the time off to runaway to Utah with Mark, my friend Jess, who told me about APW and held my hand as we planned our weddings together. Hearing their voices just brought it all home for me, and made the day amazing. These were the things that helped make our wedding ours.
If I could pass on one word of advice to the undergraduates, it would be these words that I kept reminding myself when things were hard, or busy, or crazy.
It’s just a day, but it’s a big day. And the corollary: It’s a big day, but it’s just a day.
When I was sweating the details, and stressing out about things (or me) being perfect, I could remind myself that when it came down to it, it was one day in a lot of days in a marriage. And when I was frustrated and just wanted to drop it all and hide underneath my bed, I could step back and remember that I was doing it for the chance to have all our people together, in one place, and have our marriage blessed by them.
To us, our wedding was a celebration, a union of our separate lives. It was a project we accomplished together. It was not what we had planned, it was better than we expected, and it was always a surprise.
Photos By: Penry Photographers and Caroline’s friend, Brent Bearden Laurenz