* Steph, Health Policy Wonk & Woody, Business and Tech Jack of All Trades *
One of my comparative advantages at work is the way I can see a landscape of issues, recognize red flags, and manage the expectations of my colleagues and superiors. I would like to believe this translates to my personal life as well: I like to plan things, control what I can, and set my own expectations appropriately when things are out of my hands.
When Woody and I got engaged and began planning a wedding, I knew that a minor disaster might send me into a tailspin of despair—I stressed out about being stressed out. I did my best to heed the veritable treasure chest of wisdom on APW and plan an authentic, practical wedding. We were fortunate to have enough personal resources and parental contributions to achieve two of my wedding goals: (1) to outsource anything that might hasten a tailspin of despair, and (2) to partner with vendors we genuinely liked (their services, their business practices, their wonderful selves).
Despite our decision to get married three thousand miles from home, wedding planning went unbelievably well. The all-inclusive venue put together a menu that left me drooling; the guest list was settled and invitations went out with only minimal family tension; and taking three dress-shopping excursions ensured my mother, grandmother, and closest friends could see me try on every wedding dress they might have imagined for me (while still letting me buy a dress I loved). We took a DIT-light approach, outsourcing the most stressful tasks to actual professionals while reserving a few of the more meaningful jobs to do ourselves. We had family input, engagement, and buy-in; we had friends helping out with the fun stuff; we had what was shaping up to be a rad celebration. No drama! No disasters! No tailspin of despair! I felt like a champ (cue Rocky theme).
In the midst of my own personal training montage, I was caught off guard when I realized my most important stakeholder—my future husband—was unhappy about these wedding plans. Our biggest fight came halfway through our engagement, after we’d mailed off the final wedding deposit check and all the ducks were obediently lining up. Here I thought we’d been following all the instructions for how to have a personal, modern, feminist, meaningful wedding, but it turned out I’d been oblivious to my fiancé’s point of view for months. Just because Woody was in the same room as I was and agreeing to my proposals didn’t mean, as I’d hoped, that he was totally on board and excited about it.
It all came down to this: I wanted our wedding ceremony to be a public recognition of our love and choice to commit to each other, in which we would ask our communities of support to stand behind us in this huge thing. He wanted our ceremony to be a private transformation, a two-person promise, shared at most with an officiant of some kind and maybe our immediate families. We couldn’t figure out how to compromise on this fundamental issue. I took it hard. How could our wedding be a perfect reflection of who we are if we couldn’t agree on what it should look like? This question spiraled into: How could we succeed at marriage if we couldn’t even agree on what kind of wedding to have? And, if we could so grossly miscommunicate for months without noticing, was our marriage doomed to be a comedy of errors climaxing in failure?
I wish I could tell you I had some kind of light bulb moment when I (1) realized how my behavior was steamrolling my chosen partner, (2) shaped up, and (3) changed our wedding plans, resulting in a wedding that made us both ecstatic. I didn’t. Generous and patient man that he is, Woody decided that the wedding itself was more important to me than to him and went along with my vision and plans. Long discussions eventually staved off the dreaded tailspin of despair, and we moved forward with the plans we (I) had laid, tweaking the what and the how where we could to accommodate separate wish lists and to build something ours.
The wedding went off without a hitch. The amazing vendors we worked with did an incredible job. Family and friends traveled from all over the country—some from other continents!—to celebrate with us. Woody and I each spent some time with our closest friends and family in the days before the wedding. My extended family, bridesmaids, and soon-to-be mother-in-law gathered at my parents’ rented house to turn armloads of wholesale flowers into gorgeous bouquets, centerpieces, and other décor with expert guidance from Elizabeth. We spent the evening before the wedding soaking up the love from our community; I tried hard to stash away the feeling for some future low point, like a wedding equivalent of the “kudos” email folder you keep at work.
Our wedding day wasn’t a blur, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to enjoy each part of it to the fullest. I loved getting ready with my bridesmaids and the moms, joking around with our photographer and her sister, stopping by an ice cream shop when we finished up photos early, and having a few quiet moments with my parents before the ceremony began. I loved, loved, loved our ceremony and the quiet and personal transformation of our relationship stemming from our public promises. I rode a wave of joy and adrenaline for the rest of the night, bouncing between tables and cajoling as many guests as possible to dance with me.
After the last toast was made and the last wedding guest hugged goodbye, I found myself reflecting on whether the wedding met my expectations—and Woody’s.
It certainly met mine.
We spent quality time with dear friends and family preparing, sharing, enjoying each other’s company, and partying our faces off. More important to me, I felt bolstered by the outpouring of love and support from our community that wove itself into the foundation of our marriage.
I think one of the reasons why our relationship has been successful is that Steph and I have always been very communicative and emotionally transparent with each other, and that we don’t allow disagreements to fester. That being said, I have not been more surprised in the history of our relationship than I was with just how divergent our views were on how the wedding should be executed. I went through the first half of our planning process pretty shell-shocked, acquiescing to decisions involving the guest list, event scope, ceremony text, and even the linens because I was so far outside my comfort zone I had no idea how to offer an opinion that could yield any semblance of middle ground.
I feared our wedding was metastasizing—that we were getting caught in the WIC undertow and would end up with an over-the-top and over-the-budget wedding rationalized by the “once in a lifetime event” syndrome. I couldn’t understand why Steph was taking positions that seemed totally out of sync with what I thought she would want in a wedding, and that was frustrating. Not because she wasn’t entitled to the opinions she had (and clearly the wedding she deserved), but that I was faced with the realization that our expectations and priorities for a serious life event were so divergent.
Modern relationships require negotiations about the mundane and the hugely significant. They also require clear communication of facts, and we found ourselves unable to explain the emotional facts underlying our disparate expectations for the wedding. Luckily, we had spent years building a foundation that gave us the space for Steph to ask me to have faith in the way she was making progress on the wedding while we figured out how to negotiate our differences.
It took more than six months, half of our engagement, before we really started tackling the tough questions and priorities underneath our differences of opinion. It took us that long to gain the vocabulary and perspective necessary to articulate why certain things mattered, and to me that was everything.
As we navigated this conversation, Steph had enough respect for our relationship to listen and alter the wedding plans to bridge as much common ground as possible, even if the outcome didn’t differ largely from her original master plan. We ended up with a wedding that was decidedly ours, and not for the benefit of one of us at the expense of the other.
Even if our wedding wasn’t exactly what I had originally envisioned or what I would have chosen on my own, I certainly enjoyed the hell out it. I have gained no more appreciation for the finer intricacies of flower arrangements. I have no clue why cake cutting is such a big deal. We owe a major debt of gratitude to our photographer for keeping family pictures short enough that they didn’t cause a lasting blood feud. That said, I stared into the abyss of a throat-clenching life event and responded by seizing the moment, fox-trotting like a boss in front of my family and friends, and gained an understanding/sexy/intelligent/awesome/critical-when-she-needs-to-be partner for life.
Plus, there was bourbon. Lots of bourbon.
The Info—Photographer: Jesse Holland (APW Sponsor) / Wedding Planner: Elizabeth of Lowe House Events (APW Sponsor) / Location: Sonoma, California / Venue: Ramekins / Steph’s Dress: Allure Bridal via Rosalin’s Bridal Boutique with alterations by Louise Austrie / Steph’s Makeup: Nikol Elaine Artistry / Steph’s Hair: Lindsay Crystal Hair & Makeup Artistry / Woody’s Suit: Wilfred Newman / Wedding Rings: Chabo’s Jewelry / Bridesmaid Dresses: Chosen by the bridesmaids from paint samples sent by Steph / Groomsmen’s Attire: Their own suits, with ties from Nordstrom / Flowers: Purchased at San Francisco Flower Mart and arranged by wedding helpers with oversight by Elizabeth / Officiant: Vince Connery, a friend of Woody’s father / Ceremony Pianist: Paul Dorr / Band: Wall Street Dance Band