I want to say that today’s wedding is about awesomeness (hello amazing blue dress with a white veil and a reading from Calvin and Hobbes). But what it’s really about is how even when we really think we want easy and simple, worthwhile things are sometimes really difficult. And that’s okay. As it should be, even.
I worked very hard to prepare myself for the inevitable bumps in the road to our wedding. I knew to try to be present, to focus on the ceremony, to understand that people will be who they are, to remember that things will go wrong and it will all be okay. I honestly thought I had everything down.
Whoa, was I wrong.
I love details, and I love little things. I also know that detailed little things are time-consuming. I quickly realized that even smallish, simple weddings have dozens of moving parts—so we picked a beautiful venue and let go of most other aesthetic considerations. Our colors were “Um…all of them?” I told my bridesmaids to wear whatever they wanted. The cake was very simple, with minimal embellishments. Favors were added at the last minute, because they required almost no effort and we got them at cost from my friend’s soap company. Centerpieces were mason jars with whatever flowers were in bloom at the venue. Ultimately I kept thinking, “I’m not going to spend months of my life putting together all these little touches that I would love that most people won’t notice, and that will most likely fall by the wayside.” Besides, our friends were already doing so much to help—brewing beer, officiating, picking up the cake, wrangling dogs, etc. I didn’t want to overburden anyone (especially myself or Ben; more on that in a bit). So early on, I threw my energy into the invitations and kind of shrugged off a lot of other decisions.
I had a lot of trouble accepting my friends’ generosity. My mother couldn’t go dress shopping with me, so a couple of friends offered to take me. I was uncomfortable with the idea that anyone was willing to devote an entire day to helping me find a dress (I’m usually pretty slow to make decisions). So we went to Nordstrom, and I picked out a dress in less than two hours. A month later I looked at it hanging in my closet and realized that the dress was not only uncomfortable, it mismatched my personality; I didn’t particularly like it. So I took it back, and took myself dress shopping. Alone. It was surprisingly liberating, and I ended up with a dress I really loved.
Our families accepted our cavalier approach to the whole process surprisingly well. We wanted something simple and poignant, and tried not to let the weight of our decisions overload us. For the most part, our families took their cues from us in this regard. But while some people appreciated our casual approach, it was problematic for others. My mother asked me literally dozens of times what she and my father should wear, and could not accept the fact that I didn’t care. My bridesmaids loved that I told them to wear any dress they liked, but it wasn’t helpful that they didn’t know each other and I live a thousand miles away—and I was reluctant to give them my opinions. Ben was nearly as bad—he’s a bit indecisive, so asking him to help make decisions regarding things he cared little about (Chicken or pork? I dunno, both?) was trying for both of us.
The process, in a weird, almost backwards way, brought out the people-pleaser in everyone. I just wanted people to be happy and excited about coming to the wedding; they wanted to show their love the only way they knew how—by doing (or wearing) exactly what I wanted. I refused a lot of help because I didn’t want to take advantage of anyone, or to make anyone feel stretched thin. In retrospect, I could’ve been more willing to let people help; emotionally, I ended up being the one who was stretched thin. In the end, our friends were incredibly generous with their time, energy, and love, in spite of my not knowing how to accept it.
The exception to this behavior presented itself on our wedding day. I was surprised, and a little hurt, by one or two family members who had decided that our wedding day was entirely about them, and behaved accordingly. This was compounded by my wanting some extra attention and doting in the hours before the ceremony, but not asking for it because I didn’t know how. What I eventually realized was this was consistent with how we all usually behave around one another. This was a painful realization—one that only came upon me after the wedding, and it’s a lesson I’m still learning from.
But, as the universe would have it, we get what we need, even if it’s from an unexpected source. I was doted upon by the two most amazing bridesmaids I could ever ask for. They practiced yoga with me that morning; they did my hair and fastened my veil; they made sure I was fed and hydrated and had whatever I needed. They ran interference for me when I started looking bombarded; they loved Ben and me in a way that only good friends can.
People told me all week that they were surprised by how calm I was. By all outward appearances I seemed completely relaxed—but I wasn’t. I was in physical pain from the Thursday before until the Monday after the wedding. My stomach was twisted in knots, and I couldn’t sleep. I was thrilled to be marrying Ben, to show our out-of-town friends and family our home, to get fancied up and have my father walk me down the aisle. I didn’t cry until five minutes before the wedding, when I was hiding in a back room at the venue and Ben came in to help me rally. I really wish I’d said, “Makeup and timing be damned—I need to really have a good cry right now.” Instead I pulled myself together, and Ben took his place in the processional. I took my dad’s arm as the wedding party was making its way down the aisle. We were both fighting back tears, so I looked at him and said, “There’s no crying in baseball!” He smirked. It was entirely us.
In spite of my very best efforts, I was not able to be entirely present on my wedding day. I listened to everything that was said in the ceremony, I thought about the vows I was taking, I looked straight into my groom’s eyes and let his calm carry me through it. But my memory of being the bride standing there is fuzzy at best. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was happening. During the reception, I was barely able to eat. I laughed and gave big hugs, and chatted with people I hadn’t seen in years. Thing is, my stress response is usually more fight than flight. So even now I have trouble understanding why my brain chose flight on that day.
Our guests really loved the ceremony, and that was mostly thanks to our officiant/friend Sam. He was poignant, funny, and articulate. Sam, Ben, and I worked to build a ceremony that fit our personalities. This meant a unity cocktail (a Sloe Gin Fizz), and friends choosing readings that they thought reflected our relationship (including a Calvin and Hobbes strip). We weren’t aiming for perfection, but we ended up having a perfect ceremony. It started raining just as the ceremony was ending, at which point our guests put up tents and moved everything indoors. Nobody cared, and nobody panicked. They dealt with it within twenty minutes! Later, the clouds broke just enough to give us a huge rainbow in the distant hills. That evening, folks were so busy catching up with old friends and getting to know new ones that, outside of our first-dance, nobody danced. That’s the one thing that I thought would matter but ultimately didn’t.
The biggest lesson I learned was that while the ceremony is what bound us to one another, it was the fifteen months we were engaged that married us. I feel like the process of planning the wedding together is how we changed from two people to one team, and the ceremony was the symbolic gesture at the end of that transformation that acknowledged all the work we’d done. And I don’t mean picking out food or talking to vendors—I mean the learning and the growing that comes with making decisions as a team, with respecting one another as members of a new family, with trusting ourselves and each other, with having faith in our strengths and working together on our weaknesses. That’s what the wedding was about to me. The reception was for everyone else (which is maybe why I was so reluctant to make decisions about it).
Bottom line is that I worked my butt off to have an easy, relaxing wedding day. But it was neither of those things—not because a few things didn’t go exactly as planned, but because the process of planning a wedding and getting married—like everything worthwhile—is a steep uphill climb.
The Info—Photography: Josh Duffus / Venue: The Gorge White House in Hood River, Oregon / Caterer: Riverside Catering / Wine and Flowers: The Gorge White House / Cake and Cupcakes: Crave Bake Shop (Gluten Free!) / Favors: Level Naturals