Last week, we had several conversations about making and owning our life choices. Lauren talked about grappling with her choice not to have children. Clare talked about choosing to take in their tiny nieces in their first year of marriage. I talked about choosing to work for myself. So we thought that this week we’d talk about the things you can’t plan for… how wedding planning and marriage can make you come face-to-face with the fact that you’re not actually in charge. We’re starting with a lovely post about wedding planning during a deployment; it is both deeply personal and truly universal.
I want you to try to read the following without laughing out loud: my life is very stressful right now, and to try to relieve stress, I have started planning a wedding.
I’m guessing that, at the very least, your eyebrows went up.
After all, part of the reason we’re all here on APW is that we’ve found that wedding planning is not the simple experience we thought it would be, and that even though we’re all very strong-minded individuals, we wanted some affirmation that we are not crazy for not wanting to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a single day. Subverting the expectations is stressful. Planning a wedding, under the best of circumstances, is stressful. Nonetheless, the wedding planning is my stress release.
Let me explain. A year and a half ago, I would have told you that I expected to be single (or, at least, not find The One) until I was into my thirties. That was how it worked for my parents and for many of the people with whom they associated when I was little. My mother gave me books like A Wrinkle In Time, Alanna, Dealing with Dragons—the heroine went off and saved the world, and weddings rarely figured in. I had not planned my wedding out, and to be frank, the idea of settling down with someone was something I wanted in a very abstract way.
I’ll spare you the story of how my fiancé and I met, save to say that it was akin to being struck by lightning (or, as we both put it later, like being smacked across the face by an emotional 2×4). It was charmed, it was romantic, it was heady and sickeningly cute: from the night we worked up the courage to tell each other how we felt, we did not spend a night apart—until he deployed.
Yes, about eight months after we started dating, his deployment began. During the training, before he shipped out of the country, we talked about eloping on his four-day pass, maybe flying my parents out so we could all be together, then doing an engagement (and ceremony and reception) when he got back.
We decided not to do that, but since then we’ve been quasi-engaged, and a lack of a bended-knee proposal and an engagement ring hasn’t stopped us from discussing houses, gardens, travel, child care, careers, and wedding planning, all conversations which have happened over Skype, either at 5AM my time (oh, godddd) or 5AM his time (likewise).
I would spare you the details of the deployment, but I’m not sure I should. Deployment is happening all around you; it is affecting thousands of families. There’s a new term now, “geographically single parent,” to describe raising children while a husband or wife is deployed.
Deployment is neither easy nor especially pleasant. It is sleep deprivation, it is worry, it is helpless tears of disappointment and frustration and fear on the day that you realize you need to take a pregnancy test and he’s gone on mission and out of contact. It is crying at four in the morning and feeling that, despite the fact that everyone said, “call anytime,” they probably didn’t mean it. There are moments every day when you feel incredibly alone, when the tears start welling up and you duck your head down and hope no one will notice. There are horrible feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, and resentment.
A wedding, on the other hand, is a beacon. It is a symbol of being together once more, of knowing that distance and stress did not win. It is a time to be celebrated and enfolded in love. My parents are ecstatic, and my fiancé’s mother has been so warm and welcoming and excited that it brings tears to my eyes. We have both been blessed with families that had small, DIY weddings on limited budgets, who do not expect extravagance from us.
In fact, given that and the fact that both of my parents are ministers and perform weddings regularly, I thought that I knew the ins and outs of them. I thought that I wanted a simple, elegant wedding, and that I could eliminate the over-the-top bits and… well, wave a magic wand, and voila! Wedding. Oh, how very wrong I was.
I had seen the now-famous infographic from last year on what the average wedding cost in 2010—$28,000, give or take—and I thought I was going to skip all of that very easily. My conscious thoughts were that I did not want to do what my friends’ friends had done to them: throw a wedding and make everyone else spend a lot of money. My friends are, mostly, starving grad students, and spending $300 on a bridesmaid dress and $100 on shoes and $150 on hair and $50 on a manicure—well, it’s really not going to happen, because it can’t happen.
I set a budget of $5,000 for myself, not talking to my fiancé because he was just the littlest bit stressed and I felt like I was turning into the trope of the wedding-obsessed girlfriend. I doodled reception centerpieces at work and pored over Pinterest in the evenings. I collected photos of things I loved. I looked at budget sites, which advised things like a wedding brunch instead of dinner, or a winter wedding instead of a summer wedding. It all seemed very reasonable.
After a few forays into online research, however, I found myself googling things like, “Is it okay for bridesmaids not to wear matching dresses?” and, “Is it okay not to have an open bar?” I read articles that told me that the guests were coming to see the bride and the cake, and I could absolutely not skimp on the cake—everyone would be Disappointed. One of my good friends laughed in my face when I told him my budget of $5,000, and I remembered my father saying, “Oh, no, $10,000 is not a strange amount to spend for a wedding.” You all know the sort of pictures and articles I was seeing. It was pervasive, and, in short, I doubted.
Two things happened at once. First, I brought the idea of a wedding budget up to my fiancé, asking him slyly how much he wanted to spend and then asking him how much he thought the average wedding cost, adding, “and no Googling!” To the former, he answered, “Whatever it takes to make it a memorable day,” and to the latter, “Um. Eight thousand dollars?”
“Twenty-eight thousand, my love.”
“Twenty-eight—wait, what? How did they—what—how?” Bless him.
I shyly floated my idea of $5,000, and he said, positively, “I’m sure when we sit down and plan it out we’ll be able to make the day be anything we want it to be, and $5,000 sounds very reasonable.” Again, bless him. He’s amazing. So that was the first thing.
The second thing that happened was that I found this site. I found a post that said, in short, that my guests will not be there for the cake or the sit-down dinner, that I do not owe them a four-course meal because they flew into town—that my guests are coming to celebrate the wedding. When I found that, I sat at my desk with tears pouring down my face. It was exactly the affirmation I needed.
Since then we’ve talked times of year, we’ve talked themes and foods and how we feel about a big cake (or a replica of the cake from Portal, for all you geeks on APW), and I’ve tormented him by reminding him that he won’t get to see the wedding dress until the Day Of. We’ve laughed, we’ve shared some righteous indignation about the Cost of Things, and—the best part—I’ve seen him smile when he thinks about it all. It’s part and parcel of our house-decorating and child-rearing discussions, and it brings some joy into our life every day.
Is there a take-away from this story? Well, there are three main ones that I think apply to every couple out there:
- Talk to each other; communication is the lifeline, even when it is very pixilated and the sound is wonky
- It is totally okay to need affirmation that your budget and wedding ideas are valid
- Wedding planning can actually be a fun thing, a positive thing—not a downer
- Okay, I said three, but this one is important, too! If you know someone whose SO or family member is deployed, give them a hug. Or a call. Tell them you’ve been thinking of them. They may start crying, but it’s okay. It will mean the world to them.