* Shauna, Nanny & Brendan, Police Officer *
I am naturally an introspective person, so when my sexy beloved, Brendan, and I got engaged, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be married, how I wanted our wedding to symbolize our love and future, and the fears I had about marriage (what if he just doesn’t like me in twenty years?). Truly processing these things allowed me to be completely content and at peace on our beautiful, sunny, winter wedding day. I share these thoughts with you in the hopes that they might help you along your own journey, but know this: Something transformative happens on your wedding day or thereafter and after crossing this invisible bridge, all the wisdom people shared with you prior to your passage suddenly makes sense (at least for me). See, I knew that “the details didn’t matter” and “it would go by quickly” and “blah blah blah” but the funny thing is, it’s all true. Your personal journey will be different and beautiful in its own way; I simply offer this wisdom as a tiny gift of what I have learned through this amazing but overwhelming process.
1. Engagement is not always what it seems. If you were raised in the United States, chances are you have been bombarded from the age of oh, two weeks, with the idea that once you decided to get hitched, you will be blissfully happy all. the. damn. time. If you aren’t, something must be wrong. This could not be further from the truth. Brendan and I had been together for five awesome years before I got my pretty ring, but once we were engaged, decisions felt bigger. Every disagreement felt like “We need to figure this out NOW because if we don’t we will always fight about this!” (Smart, right?) Fun questions like: How much of a role will our parents play in planning? What if something horrible happens to one of us? If you didn’t unload the dishwasher last night, will I always be responsible for everything? AHHH!!! It’s hard. On the other side, life is much more content and secure. We answer questions like “What’s should we eat?” “When should I get knocked up?” or “Team Gale or Team Peeta?” (Peeta, obviously.) Trust me, it gets so, so much better. When people ask me how married life is now, I answer, “Peaceful.”
2. Really examine your expectations for yourself, your beloved, family, wedding day, engagement, life after the wedding, etc. Many blogs (including our beloved APW) post wonderful stories of couples sitting side by side on the couch, poring over homemade projects and long wedding discussions. That’s all well and good, but please know that not everyone has that experience. If you find you are in the planning trenches alone, it doesn’t mean those couples that do plan their weddings together have a better relationship than you and your partner. It took me a long, long, looooong time to separate Brendan’s desire to be my husband from his non-desire to make homemade invitations. He simply didn’t care about the decorations and didn’t have the time (he was attending his grueling Police Academy during our engagement). I had to let go of these expectations. Brendan is not interested in decorating and details. Why would planning a big party change this huge part about him, one that I happen to love? Early on in your engagement, try to pinpoint your expectations and confront them. Journal about them. You will be much happier if you are able to replace them with realistic and grateful feelings. This is also true for how you expect to feel on your wedding day: blissful and stress-free, and goddess-like; and how you expect your family and guests to behave: like a happy, well-oiled machine. All of these assumptions are unrealistic. Let them go. Gratefully accept your wedding.
3. If it is important to you, talk to your parents about what they need. Then ask again. And ask again. After I read the APW book, Brendan and I talked to each other about our priorities and then we asked our parents. Or at least I thought we did. I should have asked again. It was very important to us that our parents felt honored and that we had the wedding we envisioned: small and intimate (read: not inviting my huge, huge extended family besides my aunts and uncles). This turned out to be a difficult struggle for my dad, one that we discussed but not in detail. Four days before my wedding, my dad, whom I am very close with, and I had the most emotional fight of my life. Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t change the decision that Brendan and I made, but I wish I had explored my dad’s feelings about it more. This is a crazy time for your parents. They have probably envisioned this day for longer than you have. What they are yelling or crying about (i.e., family not invited) is probably not actually about that (i.e., sad because family is not as close as they used to be). Be compassionate. Try to be understanding and calm.
4. If you are struggling with fear and anxiety, my best advice (one that I don’t always follow even though I try) is to look inward. Examine the true, deepest feelings beyond the fears and doubts. Marriage is scary stuff. Flings that only last three months are much, much easier but never, ever as rewarding. It is okay to feel overwhelmed at the thought of forever, but dig deep into your truest heart to figure out what your soul is really trying to tell you. Personally, it was really scary to thinking of Brendan being killed (yay for marrying a police officer!) especially because one of my best friends had been killed at the age of eighteen. Some of these fears showed up in my planning process. I am so grateful that I took the time to examine them and talk with Brendan about them. Here’s the thing: Truly, deeply loving someone and letting them love you back is insanely vulnerable. But if you can allow yourself to be that real with another person, this insane love flows from it. I love Brendan more today than I ever have. I have a peace that carries me through our days because I trust in our love. Now that my friends, that, is just the coolest thing ever.
5. Think carefully about the people involved in the wedding. Brendan and I were married by one of my best friends, whom Bren also adores (though he would never say adores). Because we were doing some pretty untraditional things (at least for our families), we decided to stay traditional for the wedding party. Besides not repeatedly talking to my dad about the guest list, this is my only wedding regret. I am blessed with a group of friends that I have known for ten years (three men and two women). These people have been my lifeline. They were all involved in the ceremony in some way (officiant, musician, reader), but really, they should have all been standing next to me, not just the women. I really regret not having my guys in the wedding party simply because of their gender. When you get engaged, take some time and think about who it is you want (if anyone) standing next to you when you marry the love of your life. It is super-duper tempting to rush into these decisions and tell everyone, but please take your time. The friend that was supposed to be my maid of honor dropped out five months before the wedding. I love them both, but the gal that stood at my side on my wedding day should have been there in the first damn place. Some people are better at weddings than others. Don’t take it personally. Take your time.
6. People will follow your lead. Want to have a really stressful, joyless wedding? Stress about everything. Yell at people when they don’t do exactly what you want them to do. Believe that your wedding is the pinnacle of everyone else’s life and existence. And finally, never, ever say thank you. Want to have a laid-back wedding that you (and your peeps) actually enjoy? Say thank you. Say it again. Let shit go. Smile. Be grateful for those around you. Try to understand the emotions that other people are experiencing around your wedding. Say thank you. Know that your wedding party, family, guests, and vendors will all follow your lead. If you are relaxed, they will (usually) be. If you are freaking out, you suck the fun out for everyone. What shocks me the most about badly behaved brides is that not only are they ruining everyone else’s time, but they are screwing up their own experience as well. Be selfish for your own happiness: Be thankful and happy. People will follow your lead.
7. If possible, write your own ceremony. The best thing that Bren and I did (after deciding to marry each other, obviously) was to write our own ceremony. It wasn’t the best decision because our ceremony was heartfelt or personal (even though it was pretty much the best, ever). It was the best decision because it forced us to answer the all-important question: “Why marry?” We had been together for five years, living together for three and a half years, and you can imagine the rest, so why marry? For us, it was because we believe marriage is a spiritual journal that allows two people to become their best possible selves. By sticking together through the times when it is easiest to walk away, you grow into the person you are suppose to be. I often say that Brendan isn’t my partner because he brings out the best in me (even though he does), I choose him because of the person he inspires me to be. Writing our own ceremony allowed us to have this discussion, which was really just the coolest thing (apart from actually get married) about this whole process. Even if you are getting married in a church with a tried-and-true service, have this conversation. If you view the engagement as a time for growth, the lessons you learn will be another layer of the foundation of your partnership.
8. It is one day. So, yes: Your wedding is big deal. But really, it’s over in one day, roughly four to ten hours of your life. You will need to be a wife (or husband), a daughter (or son), a friend, and a human being long after your wedding is long gone. I secretly thought I would be depressed after our wedding (all that planning and it’s over?) but really I was grateful and happy and relieved. We had a great day but this man was going to be my husband for the rest of my life! That is waaayy more exciting. Remember to ask your friends about their lives, say thank you to those helping you, and spend time (and actually enjoy it) with your beloved. Along these same lines, know that it is totally okay for your to be super pumped about your wedding but everyone else in your life also has lives of their own. Be grateful for that as it keeps you grounded in the world of head counts and homemade favors.
9. People will shock you, in good ways and in bad. This bears repeating: Some people are good at weddings; some aren’t. We had our share of disappointments and hurt feelings along the way and you will too. After receiving our super adorable homemade invitations inviting our guests to come for “Beer, BBQ, and Dancing!” (cute, right?), one family friend asked my mother-in-law if we were having a “hillbilly, blue-jean wedding.” (Stupid people.) My friend dropped out as maid of honor. Relationships change. It’s okay if it hurts. Cry and yell to your closest people if you need to. On the other hand, I was flooded (and I mean over-freaking-whelmed) by the love some people showed us. My sister-in-law threw the most personal and thoughtful wedding shower for me. My close friends threw me a blessingway (highly suggested) the day before the wedding that left me grounded and at peace. All of my and my beloved family that came in from across the county. Seriously, get ready to feel the love.
10. Finally (and most importantly): Separate your wedding from your marriage. Your wedding, no matter how beautiful, homemade, personal, or fun, does not determine the happiness and contentment in your marriage. Marriage is hard emotional work with a lot of compromise and forgiving and tongue-biting. How pretty your wedding was, how much fun your guests had, or even whether or not you liked your wedding is separate from the marriage that results from it. Even the most sane, most down-to-earth brides out there sometimes forget this (I know I did when I was yelling at Bren for not having an opinion on table seatings). Seriously, it is one day. One beautiful day that, even at its most beautiful and emotional, does not outweigh the peace that comes from putting your partner and your relationship first. And always, always remember there is something to be grateful for.