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.
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