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Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect


by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

Yesterday, we talked about creating a new cultural story for ourselves around the proposal. (This comment about fairytales communicating cultural values and creating new fairy tales around values that work for us really struck a cord with me.) So today, Lucy of You Love Lucy (a fabulous lady who I met at the Atlanta book talk) takes on one of the cultural stories that I think needs to be destroyed: the idea that you have to wait to get married till you have all your ducks in a row. (Ducks are wily.) In generations past, marriage was a beginning, and it was expected that couples were just starting out. But thanks to some serious big budget WIC pressure, weddings are now the domain of the already established. And as Lucy tells us, that’s not how it should be.

Practice Doesnt Always Make Perfect | A Practical Wedding

Bryan and I could have done the planning for our wedding in six months, or one year, or two years. Instead, we’re getting married three and a half years after our engagement. Two years ago, I would have pointed to our tenuous financial situation, our unemployment, underemployment, or even the state of the economy as the reason. It was none of those things. It was that the perfect time, place, and amount of money hadn’t appeared yet.

This is the part where Present Lucy would climb into her time machine and go shake sense into Past Lucy. Since time machines haven’t happened yet, I will settle for story time.

When Bryan proposed, we were still in college. I had a grand plan (ha!) for how everything would play out after I graduated the next month. It went like this: finish my internship and find a great starting job while Bryan finished his degree, move back to Atlanta, get an apartment, set our date, and begin planning for the wedding. I had a magic number in my head for how long our engagement would be as well. It all seemed achievable.

Except that I’d also allotted the perfect amount to spend on the wedding. By perfect, I mean the WIC’s standard amount for a wedding in the state of Georgia. The number made my stomach hurt, and not in any remotely good way. It was more than Bryan’s student loans, more than all of our debt combined. Considering that I am also very spartan in my spending habits, especially when it comes to non-essential items, the idea of paying out that amount filled me with dread.

That number loomed over me ominously as months ticked past. After six months Bryan graduated, but there were no prospects for full time work in our small college town. We moved to into his parents’ basement in Atlanta, I took my old job serving pizza, and Bryan worked at a wing restaurant. I was endlessly grateful to have a job amidst so many unemployed friends and family, but I knew I could never save enough on tips to get to that number in my head. At least, not for a few years. Rather than change the number, I resigned myself to an engagement that might be unending, put my head down, and worked.

As the original date I’d planned for passed us by, I stopped telling people that we were waiting to get married so we could save money. Instead, my answer to the question of setting a date became a sullen and defeated, “never,” followed by leaving the conversation as quickly as possible. I was also afraid of what people might think if we eloped, went to the courthouse, or cut corners in any way. What would that say about me? Weddings were tied to this very specific number in my head, a number that was frankly impossible. As a couple, we were above the poverty line by a fingernail or two at best. The fear went hand in hand with depression, which I wrestled with for a long time. Therapy, like date nights, health care, and regular haircuts, was not something we could afford.

I’d love to say that I came to my senses before we turned the corner financially, but I didn’t. I ignored all signs of our financial improvement: moving into our own place, finally finding a bit of money to start and grow a savings account, a bit of contract design work, adopting our second cat. It still wasn’t enough for me to let go of that perfect amount of money. We couldn’t start planning, not yet. Things were still in repair, not good enough. Maybe in another year.

Then, right after a summer of non-stop contract work that left Bryan and me more financially stable than we’d been since college, I snapped. The number of people we knew who’d gotten engaged after us and married before us constantly irked me. I paced our tiny living room and complained to Bryan, as I had many times before: it just wasn’t fair, why couldn’t we be married? Didn’t we deserve to move on from engagement purgatory?

Bryan, in his infinite boy wisdom, blinked at me and said, “We can.” He’d said it plenty of times before, but I had not been in the frame of mind to believe him. This time, I didn’t talk him down to waiting until we had more money saved. I still don’t really know what exactly made me back off my soapbox of perfection or nothing. It was probably a combination of being inspired by my having a little bit of career success and reading a lot of back posts on A Practical Wedding and 2000 Dollar Wedding.

The point that Bryan’s two-word statement finally hammered home was this: We might not have the exact amount we wanted to spend right then, we might not be in the best place, and we might get everything all backwards and upside down (because, seriously, I’ve never done this before); but we could work around all of that. However it happened, if I wanted to be married then I just needed to, in the words of the amazing Tim Gunn, “Make it work.” There would never be a perfect amount to spend, and there would never be a perfect time to spend it.

So we’re making it work. We postponed once since then, when Bryan lost his job and we were short on time more than money. Postponing actually helped us spread out the larger payments we’re making. I could give hard numbers, but honestly they don’t matter. We’re spending on what’s important, cutting what’s not, and refusing to go into debt. I originally started with meticulously kept records and budgets, but stopped updating them about three months ago. Having the full, final tally was only making me second-guess that this was a good idea. In fact, starting was a grand idea. Starting helped me finally move forward in more than just my relationship. It’s still helping.

I’m an imperfect person. I’m about 99.9% certain I won’t have a perfect wedding, but that’s never what I really wanted. What I did need was the assurance that even if our wedding wasn’t perfect, if our marriage wasn’t perfect, we could still work through the imperfections together. For me, it took a couple years of living together and working through daily life without the added stress of wedding planning for me to really wrap my head around that.

Considering I am still two weeks away from the other side of the wedding, I don’t know that I have an ending point. I could say that soon I’ll be done practicing for my marriage, but that’s not true at all. Marriages are mostly practicing, working to improve your relationship on a daily basis. Practice doesn’t always make things perfect, but I’ve definitely gotten better at being a partner over the last few years. So in two weeks I’ll be going into the pros. And I’ll keep practicing every day.

Photo by: Angelina of Asterisk Photo

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately internet-famous pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

    I like this idea that we are always practising in our marriages. It’s really true, and it removes the idea (delusion?) that somehow we’ll get it “right” (what does that mean anyway?!). I like it in the Buddhist and Yoga sense as well… Marriage is a practice. It is an enjoyable, enriching discipline that requires constant application of effort. Cool… and I’m so glad that you stopped waiting! Good luck!

    • http://againstthegrain2013.blogspot.com/ AndeeC

      Oh, I love the idea that marriage IS a practice. What a lovely, eloquent thought!

    • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

      I feel like that about parenting as well…

    • http://www.lucyguest.com youlovelucy

      I love the idea of practice in the Buddhist sense. “Constant application of effort” doesn’t sound all that inspiring but I feel the need to put that on a wall somewhere anyway.

      I think what moved my thoughts in this direction originally came from sports and performing arts. While you can make it to a proverbial “top” in both fields, that doesn’t eliminate the need to continue training/working at your skill. Michael Phelps certainly wouldn’t win many more medals if he decided he didn’t need to practice any longer.

  • Beth

    I SO love this: “I’m an imperfect person. I’m about 99.9% certain I won’t have a perfect wedding, but that’s never what I really wanted. What I did need was the assurance that even if our wedding wasn’t perfect, if our marriage wasn’t perfect, we could still work through the imperfections together.” This is it exactly. You so eloquently worded so many of our anxieties, while naming the strength that comes from partnership– that the two of you will work through it together. Isn’t it amazing what peace we can find when we pause in criticizing our imperfections, and simply embrace and enjoy all that uniquely perfectly for each of us? Thanks for sharing your journey.

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

    “There would never be a perfect amount to spend, and there would never be a perfect time to spend it.”

    Exactly! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past year, it’s that you shouldn’t (generally) wait for the “perfect” time to do something (buy a house, plan a wedding, publish a book). That idea about doing things at the perfect time? Is a trap! (Admiral Ackbar voice HERE.)

    • Chelsea

      Add to that list the perfect time to have a baby, now how do I get my partner to read a practical wedding. . . hmm

  • JESSICA

    Even though your post was so true and so important, and your words so articulate, all I could keep thinking about is how gorgeous you look in that photo!

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    YES: “The point that Bryan’s two-word statement finally hammered home was this: We might not have the exact amount we wanted to spend right then, we might not be in the best place, and we might get everything all backwards and upside down (because, seriously, I’ve never done this before); but we could work around all of that.”

    My wife and I had some of the same things to work through, and we ended up getting married with a little under a $2000 budget and not going in to debt, which was one of the most important things. The reality is, to get married, you really just need the two of you and someone to witness it– and all the rest, though important, is extra.

  • DanEllie

    Yes! This!
    “I’m an imperfect person. I’m about 99.9% certain I won’t have a perfect wedding, but that’s never what I really wanted. What I did need was the assurance that even if our wedding wasn’t perfect, if our marriage wasn’t perfect, we could still work through the imperfections together.”

    And this!
    “Marriages are mostly practicing, working to improve your relationship on a daily basis. Practice doesn’t always make things perfect, but I’ve definitely gotten better at being a partner over the last few years.”

    So well said, and such important reminders.

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

    Would love to hear more from you later, sometime after the wedding or later on into your marriage. Congrats!

  • Kara

    While practice may not make perfect, it does make for good (if painful) learning opportunities. Best of luck with your upcoming wedding – and more importantly, marriage.

  • Jessica

    Everything happens for a reason. You might wish that you could go back in time and have the wedding earlier, but that might not have been the best scenario for you. It sounds as though you needed that time to prepare yourself in some way. And think of how much more it means to you now that you have waited so long!

  • http://livingroomwindow.wordpress.com Lauren

    It’s so nice to see someone just go for it. My fiance and I have known we wanted to get married since probably month one of dating. It’s now coming up on five years and we’ll be getting married next year, after he’s done with undergrad (I’m a busy bee and finished early… heh heh heh!)

    But, having said that, we’re both 21 years old, I have a part-time job at a theatre and he has a part-time job doing IT at his father’s family practice. I have some money I inherited, but other than that we’re a bit on the scrimpy-savey side. We struck on $10,000 as an appropriate maximum after my wants (sit-down dinner, champagne toast, nice reception hall) were hashed out.

    But that’s such a lot of money and I’m afraid I’m being shallow or materialistic or doing the things expected of me, not what I actually want, for wanting to have the things I do. It’s complicated.

    Anyway, tl;dr version is that I’m glad you went for it with the budget that you have.

    • meg

      Oh for goodness sake woman, STOP SHAMING YOURSELF OVER THE BUDGET. If it makes you feel better (not that it should matter at all), I can tell you from reader surveys that your budget is on the low end of APW readers, even. (That information is only provided for shame stopping! :)

      • http://livingroomwindow.wordpress.com Lauren

        Wow! Uh, thanks! Haha – I actually smiled and laughed out loud reading your comment. I did (kind of) comment looking for some reassurance. Shame-stop fishing, maybe?

        But it does make me feel better. Thank you. I love APW and have been a longtime lurker and am really, really inspired (deeply, personally, professionally) by the posts. This means a lot.

        And once again, godspeed to Lucy!

  • Violet

    Oh man, crying at work now. This is basically the story of my (currently ongoing) engagement. This fall, we will have been engaged for three years. I am also constantly irked at everyone who has gotten engaged and married since we have been stuck in engagement limbo. It feels like we must be doing something wrong – I mean, how is it that everyone else manages to get it together in 8 months or a year, and here we are almost three years later, looking at a potential date a year from now? But I’m still in law school, and he’s just starting his career, and we live in different states, and we’re broke and busy, and there are a lot of other excuses… But there will always be excuses. So this really resonated with me. Thank you.

    • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

      I know it must be especially hard, being in different states on top of everything else, but it will happen. At least setting a definite date will give you guys something to look forward to, however distant it might seem. Hang in there, Violet.

    • Laura

      I’m in almost the exact same situation (vet school instead of law school). He proposed a year before I applied to school, and it’s a four-year program, so our engagement will be just over 5 years when it’s all said and done.

      I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately keeping my jealousy in check, mainly because I’ve watched three couples who started dating after we got engaged get married in the past month. I keep telling myself I have no right to be jealous – just because my life is on hold doesn’t mean that everyone else can’t start their lives together. It’s a really odd cycle of being jealous and then being guilty for feeling jealous that drives me insane. It feels a lot like that pre-engagement stage when all uor friends who’ve been dating half as long as you have are getting engaged before you.

      So thank y’all so much for showing me that I’m not alone in my crazy jealous-guilty cycle, haha.

      • HH

        Oh my gosh, this.

        “It’s a really odd cycle of being jealous and then being guilty for feeling jealous that drives me insane. It feels a lot like that pre-engagement stage when all your friends who’ve been dating half as long as you have are getting engaged before you.”

        I am still feeling this, even though we’ve been engaged for 8 months now. Our wedding is still a year away and it still irks me some days that we had to wait *so* long (six years) before getting engaged. We’ve seen all my friends start dating and then marry their partner through the course of our relationship. I’m sorry you’re going through this, ladies! Know that you are most certainly not alone, and that your wedding will be perfect for you, and where you are when you have it!

        • http://livingroomwindow.wordpress.com Lauren

          Or if you see people from high school, college, old job, etc. get together with a partner and married before you’re even engaged? It’s like drinking hot tea with an ice cube – sometimes hot rage and sometimes cold indifference. Why can’t I just be happy for them?

          Glad to know we’re not alone here!

      • Rebecca

        I know that when I started grad school, it felt like I was putting life “on hold” while I did the whole school thing (particularly because I had been working before I went back to school). Now that the end is in sight, though, that seems- well- not so true? Being in school hasn’t meant that my life completely changed- I mostly swapped out work for school and stopped having weekends (which I miss desperately).

        Which is to say, “I can’t get married because I’m in school” (while it absolutely might be the right decision for you) by no means needs to be taken as a universal truth. My program has had at least one marriage, a few engagements, and even a few new babies! in the two years I’ve been in it. My sister had always planned to get married after she finished her masters, but got fed up and got married anyways- with several more years of school to go before she gets her PhD. Sometimes school just takes too long!

        So while there are plenty of good reasons not to get married while you’re in school (you can join me over here in the “financial aid and scholarships are easier to get when you don’t make any money” boat if you like), school itself doesn’t have to stop you.

      • Diane

        I’m an MD in residency finishing my second year, my fiance is a PhD in his first year on faculty, and for us the big issue was wanting to be able to live together when we get married or at least within 1-2 months of the wedding. He proposed a few months after I transferred residency programs to be within driving distance of each other and the engagement will be 18 months when all is said and done. Since we are both out of school and he, in particular, is now making a good salary, our wedding will be larger and more expensive than it would’ve been a few years ago but ultimately it wasn’t the ability to pay that influenced the timing of our engagement and marriage. And I was envious of other graduating medical students who could “couples match” for residency so that they would end up in the same city.

        I just want to add, though, that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being jealous of other couples who have been able to get engaged and married. I think it’s normal and human to feel that way. Now if you refuse to talk to those couples or constantly wring it over your partner’s head, that’s a different story. I am, at times, jealous of couples who were lucky enough to meet when they were in their early 20s who have the possibility of a number of years of being engaged or married without children without increasing the risks involved in pregnancy. Right now, though, I am also grateful for the imposed wait. It’s letting us plan slowly and allows me to put a lot of time into planning when I have it and ignore the whole thing when I don’t. It’s also the biggest concrete project that we’ve undertaken together (I consider the “building a life together” project to be a bit more abstract) and is helping us learn how to be each other’s best planning partners. I have to believe that will be worth a lot in the long run.

        Good luck with patience, jealousy, planning, and distance, though. None of them are easy!

      • Lisa

        Yes yes yes! I’m just over a year into what will probably be a 2.5 year engagement and we still don’t have a date set. So far I have been invited to 4 weddings of people who got engaged after us and are getting married before us. And most of them were dating for way less time before they got engaged. So I know exactly what you mean about feeling jealous and then feeling guilty for feeling jealous! You’re not alone! :)

    • Kristin

      This post and these responses are coming at the right time for me. My fiance and I just turned the corner on 3 years of engagement. Like some of you, we put it off due to attending separate grad schools. The first two years weren’t too bad – I could joke about the “engaged after us married before” club our friends kept joining. I’m finding that the recent wave of weddings is harder and I’m definitely in a jealousy/guilt cycle. In part I think it’s because we almost set a date for this September, but then the ducks went rogue. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s really only me putting the pressure on everything, and that I have to stop self-shaming!

      I definitely sometimes wonder what the conversation would be between past Kristin and present Kristin would be. “Just so you know, if you don’t get married before you go to grad school you won’t get married until you graduate”. “Oh, really? That sounds really far away.” “Yea, it is, but most of the time you’ll be so busy that time will fly by.” “Ok, well, will I wish I got married now before we move?” “Sometimes.” “Hmm.” “Yea.” “Do you know how to get in touch with future-married Kristin, because I’d really like get her opinion.”

      • Halle

        “the ducks went rogue” love this!!
        I’m so happy to have found this post and comments. My fiance proposed last fall, at the beginning of my third and final year of grad school. We had been together more than six years, having been fortunate enough to meet on the early-ish side of our 20’s and grow up together. He was incredible through all my schooling, supporting me in every way. I was dying to be married, everyone around us was doing it, including lots and lots of couples who’d only dated a few years.

        We have just set a date that will cap our public engagement at 20 months, but we secretly eloped not even two weeks after the proposal. We wanted to be married, but we also wanted to share that moment with our families. While initially difficult for me to even imagine taking those vows without our family present, it’s been absolutely the right choice for us. We are saving for a fabulous farm ceremony and reception next summer, and I have health insurance while I look for a job (by far the hardest part of the secret to keep from concerned family!). Most importantly, we are happier than we’ve ever been, and that I attribute 100% to our marriage.

  • Ren

    For a while I felt that before I got engaged, and before I talked about getting married seriously, I had to figure out most of what and how I want to do for the rest of my life. I wasn’t an adult enough to get engaged until I figured out if, when, and how I was going to grad school and I should figure out how to keep a spotless house and workout and have a regular schedule too. These things would make me feel that I was ready to move on, be a grownup. Then I realized I didn’t have to figure it all out on my own because I have a partner and we can figure it all out together, and that you don’t really figure it all out in advance anyway, but figure out the steps while you go.The revelation that I trust him enough to not know all the answers but commit to finding thm together felt crazy at the time, but also relieving and exciting.

    • Melissa

      THIS. I am in a very similar place in my life, where I feel stuck in this sort of not-fully-grown-up limbo because I don’t know what I’m doing about graduate degrees (if I’m even getting one!) or where to settle down or what I even want to do! I’d been feeling like a failure for not knowing what to do, and, in a fit of “woe, I am not grown up enough,” my boy basically told me that I was going to live my dreams. Because not living my dreams, whatever they reveal themselves to be, would mean not being truly happy, and he can’t abide that. It’s so exciting to know that someone will be with you to help you find and then reach your dreams. He won’t let me disappoint myself, and it makes me love him all the more.

  • Ren

    For a while I felt that before I got engaged, and before I talked about getting married seriously, I had to figure out most of what and how I want to do for the rest of my life. I wasn’t an adult enough to get engaged until I figured out if, when, and how I was going to grad school and I should figure out how to keep a spotless house and workout and have a regular schedule too. These things would make me feel that I was ready to move on, be a grownup. Then I realized I didn’t have to figure it all out on my own because I have a partner and we can figure it all out together, and that you don’t really figure it all out in advance anyway, but figure out the steps while you go.The revelation that I didn’t have to figure everything out right now was very exciting.

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  • http://sweetandwildchild.blogspot.com jackie

    such a good reminder. my fiance and i are both 21 and have practically no savings. luckily, our parents are graciously paying for all of the “necessary” wedding things and we’re paying for all of our “wants”, such as alcohol and a videographer. our whole wedding will be done for about $7,000. it’s more than i thought we’d spend, but my parents reassured us that it’s much less than normal weddings are right now. i feel guilty every time my mom whips out her card to buy fabric or straws or wedding dress alterations, but i need to remind myself to just let them love me in this way. we wish we could have paid for the wedding ourselves, but my parents support us and want to bless is in this way. we’re so lucky and so thankful for that. i need to remember to just embrace that, instead of feeling guilty that they’re spending their hard earned money on my one day.

    money is hard. money affiliated with weddings is even harder. but at the end of the day, if i’m married to my ben, i don’t care if there were striped straws or mason jars with flowers. thankfully, my parents are gracious enough to care and to help us achieve that dream.

  • Cali

    I love this post! We got engaged in March, and are getting married this October. Family members kept balking about it: “Why don’t you wait till summer? Summer is the PERFECT time to have a wedding!” “Why don’t you wait at least a year? You need at LEAST that much time to plan a real wedding.” We’re also not doing a big, expensive cake, or having a DJ, or paying a florist to do bouquets, etc.

    Our mantra has become, “We just want to be married!” Fortunately, we’re both on the same page here… we figure we got engaged because we love each other and want to be married, not because we want to spend a year and a half stressing out about planning a wedding. Sure, we’re skipping some things that we’ve deemed not to be worth going into debt over… but at the end of the day, we’re going to be surrounded by the people we love and we will be married. Goal accomplished. :-D

  • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

    Lucy you are so damn right.

    We’ve got four months left of our fourteen month engagement and I cannot for one second imagine what you’ve gone through with the waiting and “never” ending engagement. I’m so glad that you were finally open to Bryan’s conviction that you could, in fact, get married.

    Way back when in the APW archives, Alyssa said, “All you need is the man, the preacher, and the dress” (or not dress, or other woman or whatever). As we’ve planned, I’ve tried to frame our search that way. We budgeted for our marriage license. My dress. His suit. A meal for our guests. Photography. Booze for us and guests. In that order. As one thing got done and paid for, if we couldn’t make items 12-16 happen, meh. (We’ve been lucky to make most of our things happen but then we didn’t have many things.)

    Best of luck to you guys. And thank you so much for sharing your journey.

  • L

    Oh, this resonates with me so, so much. My ducks are still wily, but I’m good with that. =) My fiance and I had to have a Big Talk and come to the conclusion that we want to help each other get our stuff sorted out and the best way to do that is to get married and just slog through it all together. Waiting until we can afford a bigger party just doesn’t seem as important to us as getting to duck-wrangle as a team.

    I remember that our engagement really hit me a couple of days after it happened and that I got really, really calm all of a sudden. I have really high anxiety as a general rule, so this was a really welcome change. I just thought, “Oh. I’m not doing this alone anymore. Thank God.” I repeat that like a mantra when I’m in crisis and I swear it’s better than Xanax.

    Anyway… quack, quack and thanks for the affirmation! I love knowing how many of us are in the same boat. ‘;o)

  • Beaula

    Talk about practicing, my boyfriend has attempted to propose to me now 4 times! I just want to scream yes to him! (I keep ruining his surprises and than he waits and I ruin the next one- sigh). In the end though, life is never perfect and lord knows that our relationship hasn’t been, so why would the engagement/wedding manage to be?

  • Moz

    Oh gosh, I am just sorry you guys have had to wait so long. All the best for the next few weeks and the lifetime that comes after xx

  • Lisa

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m especially happy to add the term “engagement purgatory” to my vocabulary. I am most definitely in engagement purgatory. We’ve been engaged for over a year now, so I’ve had a year to think and pre-plan stuff for the wedding (and read APW!), but we don’t have anything settled yet about venue, date, etc. So far I’ve been invited to 4 weddings of friends who got engaged after us and are getting married before us. I know it’s not a race, but it’s hard, to keep watching all these people move on to a big event when your planning is stagnant. Thanks for letting me know that I’m not alone!