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Rachael & Joe

You may remember Rachael from her Wedding Undergraduate post this spring about Communication and Patience and the pre-engaged state. Rachael is a writer and editor, so it’s no surprise that her Wedding Graduate story is one of importance. She speaks about battling anxiety (been there) and how her wedding day unfolded as liquid luck and pure joy. This is a must read story even if you have no weddings in your near future. It’s a story of unexpected perfection and finding beauty in the cracks of life.

the accidentally perfect wedding

This is the story of how I accidentally had kind of a perfect wedding where I basically loved everything and everyone and nothing really went wrong.

the accidentally perfect weddingMy boyfriend Joe and I got engaged last December after eight years of dating. Back then, in the first days of winter, I felt prepared. Thanks largely to this very blog, I was armed to the teeth with wisdom and insight and plans for how to finagle a meaningful, sanely-planned celebration of our love out of the horrific mess that is the modern wedding industry. I knew about the preposterousness of dresses, the pitfalls of getting too wrapped up in centerpieces, the brain-poisoning allure of wedding blogs and the very real potential of unwittingly alienating my husband-to-be by becoming consumed with all of the above. I knew that I could ask our friends and family to move mountains and that they’d happily oblige, but also that they wouldn’t (shouldn’t, couldn’t) stop being their wonderful, imperfect, human selves just for our wedding. I knew things could, and would, go wrong.

the accidentally perfect wedding

And much as I knew I couldn’t expect weather or people or immutable facts of the universe to change just because it was my wedding, I also knew I couldn’t expect myself to change just because it was my wedding. I knew that as long as Joe and I were married at the end of the day nothing else really mattered.

But I also didn’t want to look back on one of the most significant days of my life and see the whole thing through a sickly, gray fog.

Accidentally Perfect Wedding

All my life I’ve suffered from some degree of anxiety and its attendant panicky spells and hazy funks, some as brief as an afternoon and others lingering for weeks. Things are better now than they were a few years ago, mostly because I’m on a bit of medication and because I finally allowed myself to call my problem by its name and start thinking of it as a thing I could mostly control and not something that had me at its every beck and call.*

These days my anxiety is kind of like a moth caught under a lampshade across the room—I can tell it’s there and sometimes it flutters and knocks around and distracts me but most of the time it lets me sit in peace. Still, I was worried. I was worried about being worried, because as many things as I knew I needed to brace myself for, I hadn’t planned a wedding before, let alone my own wedding, and I didn’t know what the huge amounts of stress (or the huge amounts of joy) might do to me.

Early on, Joe and I told our families that we didn’t want to lose our minds over the wedding and that we didn’t want anyone else to, either. It helped a lot, I think, to establish that. (It helped even more to just have great families to begin with.) To manage the logistical stressors, I did what I’ve almost always done to manage huge projects: I became hyper-planny, sussing out everything that needed to be done and everything that could potentially go wrong and working to work around those gone-wrong things before they even happened, all while knowing full well that everything could still go wrong anyway. This is technically called “defensive pessimism” but my preferred term is “pre-stressing,” which is kind of like “pre-gaming” but with less booze (although, actually, there was plenty of booze, especially after one of our bridesmaids threw us a stock-the-bar shower, a move that I totally recommend regardless of your chosen anxiety-management habits).

I feel like I should make this clear: I was pre-stressing, and I was also just-regular-stressing, but I wasn’t stressed out. This was the first time I really learned that there was a difference. I was, for the most part, enjoying myself and finding the whole planning process to be fun and exciting and challenging and rewarding. But there was also this low-grade humming pressure, this knowledge that things needed to be done, that people needed to be told what to do, that decisions needed to be made and plans enacted. Outwardly, I was pretty composed; even at the rehearsal dinner, I remember strutting past some family members and one of them exclaimed, “You’re just the calmest bride!” This was funny because at that moment I felt anything but calm—happy and honored and surrounded by a whole shit ton of love, yes, but not calm. So I replied with something like, “Heh, it’s called being DRUNK,” which I totally was not, but which proved inconvenient minutes later when I decided it was time for me to leave and they were all, “No, but you’re drunk!”

the accidentally perfect wedding

But beyond pre-stressing and surrounding myself with an amazing support group, I felt there wasn’t much I could do to make sure I was at my best on the actual day of the actual wedding. I tried to remember to drink water and get enough sleep. I tried to remember to thank everyone as much as I could and to remember the point of it all was to have fun and be married to Joe at the end. I decided I would just have to feel however I felt, however gnarly and off-kilter it might be.

the accidentally perfect wedding

It’s hard to talk or write about the day itself without telling every single thing that happened, because everything seemed to happen in one long beautiful seamless sweep. I can draw an unbroken line between the moment I woke up at 5:40 AM at my parents’ house, starving, and went downstairs and painted my toenails and ate a somewhat ill-advised Egg McMuffin to when Joe and I slid across the tattered backseat of his groomsman Andrew’s beat-up old Mercedes and rolled away into the night with everyone we love screaming and waving sparklers in our wake and Gillian Welch playing on the stereo and the moon hanging bright in the purple sky above.

The only time I was struck with any weirdness was smack during the ceremony, at which time the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise hit me with full force. I know many people have spoken of the somber emotional weightiness of their ceremonies and how unexpectedly affected they were by the public pledging of their life to another, and I recognized the magnitude of it all, to be sure. On another day, I might have panicked under the weight of it. Instead, standing up there with Joe, everything about the whole thing seemed so fantastically goofy all of a sudden.

the accidentally perfect weddingThere I was, wearing a ridiculous dress—a beautiful one that I really liked, but one unlike anything else I’ve ever worn or will ever wear again in my life. And then poor Joe, the love of my life, in a suit in the heat of August, albeit a linen suit and on a cloudy day—his face was full of love but under all the layers he was wilting, I could tell. And then his groomsmen, guys I’ve known for years and adore, standing there behind him in a line like dutiful, necktie-strangled ducks—they all looked so handsome and they were all wearing the flower pins I’d made them. But, what? I’d made grown men wear flower pins? My own dad, and Joe’s, and our mothers, actually, and all of my bridesmaids were wearing them, too. I had spent hours of those things, wondering the whole time whether anyone would wind up wearing them or if it would be one of those things that were just lost to time and no one ever knew the difference or cared.

By the end of it, I don’t even know if I even cared. But there they were on all the people I loved best, who were all looking up and over at me and the man I was about to marry.

It’s not that everything went right, exactly, but it was all somehow very easy. You know the Felix Felicis potion in Harry Potter? “Liquid luck”? It was like that. I knew what to do at nearly every moment, felt pushed along through the whole day by something bigger than myself. Maybe it was magic. Or maybe it was just all the pre-stressing actually paying off. Or the sheer power of love. I don’t know. But I was happy. Blindingly, disgustingly, relentlessly happy.

the accidentally perfect wedding

I was married to the best person I know and we were surrounded by almost all of our favorite people in the world, and we were all stuffing our faces with barbecue and cake (it’s possible I was the hungriest bride ever) and drinking beer chilled in a giant rusty bathtub and dancing (seriously I could not stop dancing) to our favorite music in a beautiful old barn, sweating through our fancy clothes.

Before, I had just been hoping I wouldn’t be too tangled in my own brain to enjoy the day. I certainly hadn’t been clinging to the ridiculous notion that my wedding would be the happiest day of my life. But then, whoops, it kinda was.

 The Info—Photography: Andy Lee of Andrew Thomas Lee Photography / Venue: The Historic Fillauer Lake House & Barn / Catering: Sticky Fingers / Dress: David’s Bridal / Hair Flower: The Dessy Group / Jewelry: Necklace by Bead Couture by Steph, Earrings by Rachel Pfeffer Designs / Shoes: Seychelles / Rings: Brett Weiler of Decatur City Jewelers / Flowers, Centerpieces and Cake Stands: My Awesome Mom

*OK, public service announcement: Once I finally decided to see a doctor about my anxiety, I found out that it was very likely due in part to my underactive thyroid, not “just” wonky brain juices. So if you’ve been brushing off your panic attacks and inability to leave the house as some silly something you just haven’t snapped out of yet, stop it. Real shit is going down in your body, real chemicals failing to do their very important jobs, and you’re risking more than just a few blue days and antisocial nights a month if you don’t take care of yourself.

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  • Amanda

    Congratulations, such a beautiful wedding. And your descriptions are perfect. You really are a writer because you were able to turn your particular experience and caputre it to reflect the “universal” (kind of, because I am guessing, lots of other brides felt exactly the same).As in this:
    ““Liquid luck”? It was like that. I knew what to do at nearly every moment, felt pushed along through the whole day by something bigger than myself. Maybe it was magic. …. Or the sheer power of love. I don’t know. But I was happy. Blindingly, disgustingly, relentlessly happy.”
    And also, thanks for this :
    “…because I finally allowed myself to call my problem by its name and start thinking of it as a thing I could mostly control and not something that had me at its every beck and call.*”
    Wishing you all the best on your starting, joyful marriage.

  • Caitlin

    This is just lovely. Also, your description of anxiety is so incredibly vivid – having never had issues with panic, I still felt that I knew at least a little bit of what you feel like on a daily basis. And I have incredible respect for your ability to deal with something like that.

    Oh, and the cake picture at the end? Love it! Joy and happiness and CAKE!

    • Manya

      Yeah! I love that HUGE slice of cake! Awesome!

      • kayakgirl73

        I have a crazy picture of me mouthing this cake is really good at my wedding.

    • Magpie

      Yeah, I am totally digging the cake picture – it is so great!! (Actually, the whole post is.)

  • Noelle

    What a beautifully written graduate post! I loved reading every line – and lately I skim the wedding grad posts to just look at the pictures, so that’s a big deal :-)

    Thanks for the end note regarding anxiety. My husband’s anxiety kicked in to the extreme shortly after we got married, and it was a huge rollercoaster ride while we (and his doctor) tried to figure out what the right medication was for him. I can’t urge people enough to not just wait until they “snap out of it”, because now that he’s on the right combination of meds, his (well – and our) quality of life has improved dramatically.

  • sarah

    You are stunning.

    Your writing is awe-inspiring.

    I can relate so much. The breakfast sandwich. The anxiety and yet the “calm” prior (I was personally tickled pink that people thought I, one of the most anxious and frenetic individuals I know, was calm. What the what?!). The new husband in a suit on a hot August day and marrying the best person you know. Even the little bob haircut with no apparent hairspray and such! (Did anyone – who does not know you well – ask you, “What are you doing with your hair at your wedding?”. . . and then appear shocked and/or offended that you responded you would wash and blowdry it?)

    (I don’t want to dwell too much on it, but I am so grateful that you encourage readers to address anxiety and other such feelings. My husband is working at sobriety so I can’t use booze, ha! .. but there are resources and tools. At any rate, your analogy of the moth was poetic and beautiful – yet very real, and you are proof positive that it does not have to be debilitating. Thank you.)

    From one newlywed to another, blessings to you both!


    • Rachael

      Oh gosh, thank you so much. I feel like I should be honest about the hair situation, though. I had it washed and styled that morning and while it doesn’t LOOK like there’s a ton of stuff in there, THERE IS SO MUCH. I was so zoned out at the salon I didn’t really think about what the woman was doing to me until I was surrounded by a haze of aerosol spray. So there was like a thin veneer of spray at first and as I sweated throughout the night it kind of melted and basically just looked normal, just a little sticky/crunchy. But it did smell nice!

    • Meredyth

      I totally agree about the whole “enjoying myself and finding the whole planning process to be fun and exciting and challenging and rewarding. But there was also this low-grade humming pressure, this knowledge that things needed to be done, that people needed to be told what to do, that decisions needed to be made and plans enacted” part. I was exactly the same. Also, realizing halfway through the ceremony that everything is just *goofy* and you’re GETTING MARRIED to the the person right in front of you, OMG! That’s sort of how I felt, while everyone was staring at us. Although I also felt a lot of love.

      Thanks for describing your anxiety in such great ways. I too suffer from anxiety, mostly performance based, like “why would this grad school ever accept me????” and I’m feeling some of it now as I try to actually become a freelance writer.

      p.s. your photos are fun and awesome! I love the shot of the curtains and chandelier.

  • kayakgirl73

    Thanks for discussing anxiety, I think I may have an issue with it, from several things I’ve read recently. Thanks for mentioning the under active thyroid connection. I am Hypothyroid and have been treated for it for ten years, but I never knew about the anxiety connection. I will definitely bring it up the next time I visit my Endocrinologist.

    Great wedding, it looks like a lot of fun was had by all.

    • Rachael

      Oh yes, ask about it! Hypothyroidism is so weird—or at least mine is, because I don’t seem to have many of the most common symptoms, like weight gain; meanwhile, anxiety has been a major part of my experience with it, I think, but I rarely see that listed as one of the primary symptoms. BODIES!! So weird!!

  • Lindsey Jane Gates Markel


  • Denzi

    “These days my anxiety is kind of like a moth caught under a lampshade across the room—I can tell it’s there and sometimes it flutters and knocks around and distracts me but most of the time it lets me sit in peace.”

    THIS. This is the perfect description of what it’s like to have a mostly-well-controlled mental illness (or at least it’s perfect for me!).

    • Denzi

      And now that I’ve read the rest of the post: this is “my” wedding grad post. This is one that really speaks to me. (Plus, un-matchy green dresses, which is exactly what my bridal party is wearing!)

      Thank you so much, Rachael. *prints out to reread for the next…HO SHIT EIGHTEEN DAYS until my wedding :D *

      • moonitfractal

        Yeah, non-matchy green dresses! *virtual fistbump*

  • Manya


    I loved this post and specifically these things:

    1. Your description of anxiety (and that image of the moth under the shade across the room!). I live with anxiety that ebbs and flows and is never entirely a non issue. I was worried that it would creep in and ruin the wedding for me.

    2. The way everything in the middle of the ceremony strikes you as goofy. Ceremony IS kind of goofy and I love how you floated above the scene and saw it. I was so overwhelmed by my friends and family doing everything they could to make the day match my dream of it. And then… it was better than what I had dreamed of! Which leads me to the final thing I love here:

    3. “Before, I had just been hoping I wouldn’t be too tangled in my own brain to enjoy the day. I certainly hadn’t been clinging to the ridiculous notion that my wedding would be the happiest day of my life. But then, whoops, it kinda was.” I really, really love this.

  • Mallory

    How have I never heard of a “stock the bar shower”? That’s fantastic! I really wish we weren’t moving right after the wedding as I would LOVE a stock the bar shower, but the idea of adding several gallons of booze to our moving boxes sounds a bit badly planned. I’ll just have to throw stock the bar showers for all my friends instead!

    • Rachael

      Yes! It’s a really good alternative to a traditional shower, I think, especially if you aren’t registering for all the traditional kinds of/amounts of things. Months later, we’re still working through our stash, including some wayyyy too good peach moonshine. But yeah, not great if you’re moving soon… could be a nice housewarming party though!

      • Linsey

        I SO wish I could go back and do this. Is it too late to do this, after I’m married? Appropriate as a baby shower? Pleaaaasssseee??

  • Class of 1980

    I love that you experienced the ceremony as hilarious. ;)

  • Erin

    Like one or two commenters above, I kind of feel like I don’t have to bother with my own wedding graduate post because hell, Rachael just wrote it for me!! Seriously, this was a really great one. My partner has an anxiety disorder and I am SO thrilled to see someone writing about what it’s like to go through life with one – especially to go through a wedding and the wedding process with the attendant anxiety. Now we just need to talk about the partners-of-those-with-anxiety-disorders because we have our special set of issues that make things just that much more fun!
    Brava Rachael, you are a really fantastic writer.

  • Remy

    That cake photo is fabulous!

    I assumed my anxiety attacks and mood swings were “just typical teenage craziness”, and was floored when blood tests at 16 revealed a thyroid imbalance! Once I got on medication for that (it’s a hormone, so that makes total sense!), things improved an amazing amount. Then I just had to deal with the real dramas of late adolescence… ’cause, like, it still sucks sometimes even when your thyroid is working fine.

  • Sandy

    first, congrats!

    second, thank you for your insight into what’s it’s like to plan for the future with anxiety. shortly after we got married, i learned that my husband suffered from this (suffered was definitely the right word, at that time), and i’ve had the hardest time understanding what he feels and planning for the future in light of it. this post is enlightening.

    third, gillian welch?! yes! which song/album?

    • Rachael

      Sandy, I’m glad I could help in some way. I know it’s different for everyone but I am willing to guess that anyone who suffers from chronic anxiety would kind of feel in awe of you for *not knowing how it feels* just because it can be so all-encompassing.

      Also, re: Gillian—I actually can’t remember at the moment what album it was in the car. Our whole bridal party and us and our parents walked into the ceremony to an instrumental version of “Wrecking Ball” that our friends played, though.

  • nicole

    I feel like I could’ve written this … I can relate to so much. And yes! there’s a vast difference between being “pre stressed” — meaning that you know there are things to do that must be taken care of, thus creating a bit of mental occupation and stress — and being “stressed out.” I was mentally tied up just with the normal anxiety that comes with not knowing how things will turn out (because, you just never know until the moment) yet at the same time … almost perfectly calm. Congrats – your day sounds lovely!

  • Giggles

    Yes on the pre-stress stressing. I do that to.

    And definitely yes on this, “because everything seemed to happen in one long beautiful seamless sweep.” I feel that way exactly.

    Thank you for the beauty that is your wedding and now marriage.

  • Ana Maria

    Your post makes me so excited to be getting married! And then I of course had to follow the link to your first post and I feel like you are dead on, communication and patience. And managing anxiety. And what a lovely happy wedding. And that last photo is gorgeous!! Congratulations! (And after lurching and reading this site for about a month I finally decided to comment because your post really moving)

  • Lisa

    What Gillian Welch song did you play at the end? I’m having a hard time thinking of one that is upbeat enough for a wedding!

    • Rachael

      I’m still blanking on which album was playing in the car at the end—I just remember it was her. That part of the night is kind of a blur at this point, heh. But we all walked into the ceremony to an instrumental version our friends’ band did of “Wrecking Ball,” which lyrically wasn’t super relevant at all, but the feel of it was right.

  • Vmed

    This speaks to me. Just had our belated post-elopement reception this saturday and I had to fight the anxiety monster (insidious thing) not just planning it, but the day of. I had embraced letting my family be who they are, but for a while there I forgot to forgive my own broken brain for being what it is. Eventually I did some things to cope (when stuck in a loop, breathe slow and distract) and managed to enjoy the celebration.

    I’m so happy for you, you look totally joyful in the pictures, and that is awesome.

  • Amanda

    What a beautiful post – it has to be one of my favourites. You’re a great writer. I love how you talk about anxiety and pre-stessing so evocatively, but your writing isn’t weighed down by it. It seems like humour and lightness are a huge part of who you are, and that’s probably why things turned out so well!

    I love the idea of a stock the bar shower, and I’ll keep it in mind for others, since my wedding has come and gone. (Hilarious suggestion above that it could be used for a baby shower!)

    Also: Gillian Welch is amazing. “Dear Someone” was our first dance song.

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