I loved my wedding. ADORED it. It was a golden-hued love fest set to Polka music and I wouldn’t change a thing about it—which is saying something, because (looks around and lowers voice to a whisper) the truth is that my wedding came to feel more like a duty than a dream day. I wanted it over just as badly as I wanted it at all, because planning the damn thing was so hard for me. It’s something that I feel almost ashamed to talk about—which is why I’m writing this piece. This is a high-five in solidarity to anyone out there who may be feeling like I did: a lost soul wondering why they just can’t fall in love with this whole wedding thing.
My story is this: I went into wedding planning optimistically and naively. I had never been much of a wedding person, as in buying the magazines or keeping the Pinterest boards, but I figured I’d get into the swing of things. After all, I’m a graphic designer who creates prettiness for a living. A wedding would be fun, right? I glossed over the fact that some of my personality traits (introvert, scatterbrained, doesn’t like being fussed over) didn’t really seem to jive with what a modern wedding inherently is (social whirlwind, detail-driven, the bride’s special day) but somehow I figured this would all be OK. Cultural expectation and internet research had planted the (rather invasive) seed that this would be a joyful time for me—that I’d love creating the beautiful day that was to be an expression of B’s and my love and style.
This turned out to be a gift-wrapped box of crap.
First of all, as many of you know, a lot of the wedding planning process is just plain hard. Wrangling unruly family members, figuring out finances, evaluating friendships, taking on massive DIY projects, communicating about sensitive issues… doing any ONE of these can be a challenge on a normal day. But wedding planning throws all of this stuff together at once onto a foot-long shit sandwich that you find yourself eating at every meal—for like a year. I was totally unprepared for all of the work and all of the feelings that kept coming up. I felt like an alien for struggling with a process that the rest of the planet apparently found fun, and then I felt guilty for feeling bad at all, since many people have far bigger problems to deal with. I quickly became emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed.
Adding to my personal shit sandwich was the icky realization that those personality traits I mentioned before (the non-wedding-friendly ones) actually mattered—like, a lot. They had a bad habit of announcing themselves unfeelingly and inflexibly at nearly every turn of the planning process: my Type B brain couldn’t keep up with all of the wedding details and I had post-it notes about sweets tables and dress fittings stuck to every surface of my life; the people-pleaser in me had a hard time determining where to draw the line on the intervention of loved ones; that “please don’t go to any trouble!” part of myself was embarrassed by the wedding-related attention and felt bad anytime someone went out of their way for me. I turned into the poster child for the anti-APW saying: “My wedding IS an imposition and I’m so, so sorry about that!”
And to top it off, I felt conflicted about the wedding details themselves. Although alt-wedding blogs were helping me keep my sanity, I also felt like they were advocating a certain type of wedding… an event that was hyper-personalized, self-interest driven and filled with DIY crafts and transcendent moments. I sorta got the feeling that if my wedding didn’t look like that, I wasn’t being true to myself. But, as I came to realize, being true to myself meant compromising on my vision in order to accommodate family wishes and budgets. My large and loud family in Chicago wanted a large and loud wedding in Chicago. I love my family and in many ways I wanted the same thing, so I honored that request, even though my partner and I may have come up with a different plan if left purely to our own devices. The choice we made left me with dissonant feelings of gratification mixed with obligation—like the wedding wasn’t quite mine and never really could have been, given that every choice has trade-offs. But I puzzled over where that left me in terms of authenticity and I wondered if I was the only bride out there planning an event that they sometimes felt ambivalent about.
I thought about eloping… well, let’s be frank: no I didn’t. I felt I couldn’t. I read about other people eloping or having small weddings in lovely articles that seemed to be called “Set Your Boundaries and Assert Your Autonomy by Calling an End to the Wedding Madness!” They featured stirring photos of couples whose eyes shone with independent spirit as they shared a moment of divine peace at their nine-person yurt wedding. But I didn’t want to disappoint my family and yurts are hard to find in Chicago, so a small wedding was off the table. I couldn’t change those facts, nor could I change my personality (try as I might). And so, the wedding morphed its way from a dream day to something of a necessary evil. Something that would (hopefully) be worth it in the end, but wasn’t a whole lot of fun to get to. Like, you know, studying for the GRE or doing P90X.
Not surprisingly, no one knew how to respond to the fact that I was comparing my wedding planning process to sweating through a heinous DVD workout, so I stepped around the issue or just lied through my teeth when asked how excited I was, lest I come off as a whiny ingrate. I began to see how thoroughly I’d bought into the cultural expectation that “all girlz love ze weddingz!” and I really wanted to roundhouse kick that expectation in the nuts. Why did I think that I would find magical wedding zen when I’d never cared about weddings before? Why did I think that I’d be able to change myself and my partner from laid-back people-pleasers to energetic party planners? APW has often repeated the very wise phrase “People will not stop being who they are for your wedding,” but I’d like to posit the reminder that YOU also don’t change into someone else for your wedding.
In the weeks before the big day, when stress was at its worst and I was singlehandedly supporting Neutrogena’s line of acne products, I wondered if my planning process would have been easier if I’d made different choices in the beginning. Like if I’d hit on the right personal formula for venue and guest list (Clue-style: 25 people, IN the ballroom WITH punch & cake!), everything leading up to the wedding would have been more fun. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I don’t think that’s true. I don’t believe changing the details would have made a difference. I think wedding planning just wasn’t my bag, baby.
And it may not be yours either.
The fact is that because of compromises, budgets, families or personalities, your wedding may just be a royal pain-in-the-ass to coordinate. The event itself may not be redolent of your personal style and aesthetic. It may be in a hall when you would have preferred a mountaintop. It may involve 30 people when you had envisioned 300. And that’s all right. It’s all right if the process gives you both pain and pleasure. It’s all right if you’re not able to come to terms with the compromises you had to make. It’s all right if you don’t fall in love with the details and the visions—it doesn’t mean your wedding won’t be wonderful, nor does it mean you’ve failed at life. It all just reinforces the fact that a wedding IS life, in all its messy and conflicting glory.
As my beautiful wedding photos come trickling in, I’m working on owning this roller coaster of a wedding year. How do I unpack an experience that was supposed to be amazing, but was mostly shitty with a happy-ending exclamation point? I’m starting by focusing on the moments of joy and gratitude that did happen along the way. And by reflecting on the fact that I’m now married to a splendid person and we’re blessed in a million starry ways. I am thankful—thankful that the wedding was loverly and especially thankful that it’s time to slide the day into frames and albums and memories… and move on to the rest of our lives.