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Hayley: The Little Wedding That Could


Marriage was inevitable. The wedding was not.

by Hayley Cotter, Writing Intern

Hayley: The Little Wedding That Could | A Practical Wedding

Most movies about weddings follow a similar script. Couple gets engaged, couple proceeds to spend the next few days or months exclusively devoted to Planning a Wedding. Budgets are rarely discussed (outside the context of the bride’s poor father, who will obviously be footing the bill for the entire extravagant occasion). Life’s other tasks seemingly fall by the wayside for the duration of the engagement, as the couple and their respective families devote their sole focus to planning the big day (and managing the myriad obstacles that will inevitably arise in any romantic comedy).

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this does not even remotely resemble the path our own engagement has followed. Nick and I got engaged in mid-2011, and we’ll finally be married a few short weeks from now—nearly three years later. In between… life happened. A lot of life happened, actually. The day we got engaged was incredibly exciting. There was a long walk and a delicious dinner and a good bit of champagne. The week or so that followed was similarly fun, as there were congratulatory phone calls and messages, and flowers from far away family members (and, of course, more champagne). But soon, life went back to normal, and “normal” meant studying for the first of an eventual three bar examinations and kicking off a nearly two-year stint of unemployment or underemployment. In other words: wedding planning was far from the main focus for most of our engagement.

We’re certainly not alone in having a long engagement. But it seemed that most couples engaged for a long period of time quickly selected a far-off date, allowing them more time to plan and save, and an actual wedding to look forward to. We, on the other hand, felt more like we were in wedding limbo: engaged, but not actually making any movement toward a wedding.

At first, I was praying we’d be able to get married sometime in 2012, rather than waiting until 2013 (the horror!). If you had told me back then that we wouldn’t be getting married until 2014, I wonder if I would have said, “Screw it, let’s elope today.” I’m sure the prospect would have been tempting, and if either one of us had gotten a job with insurance benefits, I’m fairly certain that we would have eloped. At that time in our lives, though, a job with benefits was just as far out of reach as a wedding. When you are newly graduated, living on your mom’s couch with your fiancé, frantically job-hunting with the end of your student loan deferment looming, a wedding is not exactly on your list of priorities. Each time we took a step forward, we’d take ten steps back. One of us would land a paid internship, but an emergency root canal would wipe out our savings. We’d pour a week’s pay into car repairs, only to come home days later to find all the windows had been smashed. With Nick bagging groceries and me working as the world’s worst sporting goods store employee, it felt like we weren’t going anywhere—much less down the aisle.

Of course, while a wedding was outside the realm of possibility for the moment, we didn’t have to wait so long to get married. Sometimes it just feels plain silly not to be married yet. People give you funny looks when you say you’ve been engaged for over a year and haven’t set a date. Some people even infer that maybe you won’t be getting married, after all. Those people are jerks. After all, all you really need to get married is $75 or so to hand over to the state, and boom! Married. (Though, to be fair, there were absolutely points during our engagement when $75 was way outside our budget.) If gainful employment and financial stability hadn’t come along, this might have been the route we would have eventually taken.

But deep down, we knew this wasn’t what we really wanted. We knew our ideal wedding would be in Ohio and consist of a Catholic Mass, a casual dinner, and a rowdy dance party with a large number of family and friends. Marriage has always been an inevitability for us, while a wedding—or, more specifically, this wedding—has not. Throw in a sudden move to an island two thousand miles away (for a job! with health insurance!), and suddenly we had the financial resources to start planning, but coordinating the crafty, casual, DIY family affair we had in mind seemed daunting, if not downright impossible.

Bit by bit, we started pulling it together, but it wasn’t until now, two weeks out, that I’ve allowed myself to believe it’s really happening. Each time an obstacle cropped up, from the sticker shock of astronomically high airfare to a major health scare in the family, I’d mentally prepare myself for calling off the party and heading to the courthouse. I crossed my fingers as we sent a deposit to our venue (a cozy spot we had been eyeing long before we were engaged), not quite convinced that we’d actually be getting married there. I felt physically ill when mailing our save the dates at the post office, envisioning calling our family and friends weeks before the wedding and telling them to cancel their flights because we couldn’t pull this shindig together. Even in the past few months, each time a maintenance light would turn on in the car, I’d think, “It’s broken, and now we have to cancel the wedding.”

But we haven’t had to cancel! It appears our wedding is actually going to happen, car maintenance or other financial disasters be damned, and that, in itself, feels sort of magical. I’m proud of the wedding we’ve planned, from the imperfect homemade invitations to the impulsively purchased bridesmaid dresses. I can’t wait for a massive family reunion inside a huge barn decked out in hundreds of Christmas lights. Realistically, the initial excitement of getting engaged is not something that can be sustained for nearly three years. Life keeps chugging along, as it tends to do (and it’s generally frowned upon to wander around tipsy on celebratory champagne for such a long time). Now that the finish line is in sight, though, the excitement is back in full force, and I am so, so grateful that we held out for the wedding we really wanted.

Though of course, a part of me still wishes we could have pulled it off back in 2011.

Hayley Cotter

Hayley is a Boston native who lives in the Caribbean with her husband, Nick. Their engagement spanned the better part of three years, six address changes, and countless flat tires, and they recently tied the knot at a “reverse-destination wedding” in Ohio. When she’s not busy at her grown-up job, you can usually find her in a hammock, napping, reading, or pondering married life.

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  • Aurora Parlin

    I am in a similar situation, although the wedding is still far out for us. I proposed to my fiancee not because we had the money to have a wedding, but because I knew it was the right step in our relationship – like you said, marriage was inevitable for us, even if a wedding was distant. We’re hoping to start the planning process this summer. We haven’t gotten any negative feedback for having a lengthy engagement, and it’s been nice to focus on us and moving in together rather than dealing with the stress of wedding planning over two to three years. I’m glad we’re not the only ones doing it this way! I was starting to worry that I shouldn’t have proposed to her until we had more money set aside for a wedding. It’s just that being engaged felt really right and finances not withstanding we were just at that point in our relationship.

    • Hayley

      We wound up thinking about this a lot over the course of our engagement…what does being engaged really mean if you’re not actively planning a wedding? We already knew we’d be getting married eventually so what difference did the official announcement make? I do think it still mattered, but in ways I am still trying to wrap my head around.

  • Fiona

    At first, I was praying we’d be able to get married sometime in 2012,
    rather than waiting until 2013 (the horror!). If you had told me back
    then that we wouldn’t be getting married until 2014, I wonder if I would
    have said, “Screw it, let’s elope today.”
    Hahahahahaha oh my goodness, I feel your pain girl. Elopement has definitely come up and isn’t totally off the table. We’ve changed the eventual date of the wedding by a year or more several times, though to be fair, at one point, 2015 was looking quite serious. We have a wedding date for THIS YEAR (finally), but US Customs and Immigration Services ultimately has control….

    • H

      That was the line that jumped out to me too! We got engaged two years ago and the plan was to get married that winter. And then it was the next winter. And eventually summer, summer 2014 for sure! And here we are creeping up on summer on 2014 with a date finally set for…January 2015. Ha, former self! How naive you were!
      Also, fist bumps to another person dealing with international wedding lovelyness. Except in my case it’s trying to find out “oh where, oh where did my green card renewal go? Oh where, oh where can it beee?” It’s been nearly a year since I renewed, and I’m starting to freak out a little…my thoughts are with you guys!

      • Fiona

        I’m giggling. If that was your intent, you succeeded. Solidarity fist bump! (did your green card renewal go missing???)

        • H

          I really hope not, but I’m starting to worry! They keep telling me that it can take up to a year, and we’re getting really close. If it’s declared missing, you have to apply for *another* appointment which you don’t get to choose, get your picture and paperwork done again, and wait…possibly another year if they misplace it again! All the while, no leaving the country…which is super lame considering we’d like to take a honeymoon. My mother had to go back to the INS office eight times back in the early 2000’s when we first moved. And that was the bad old days before appointments, when you had to show up at 3 a.m and wait in line with a sleeping bag…hoping for the best! O_O (they only took the first few people in line). Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I feel your pain! I hope the process goes smoothly for you guys. It really is the worst, but at least once it goes through you don’t have to worry about it for a long time.

          • Fiona

            Oh good lord that sounds awful. We haven’t even REACHED greencard funtimes yet. I have in my head that it’s all going to be maximum easy and minimum time. Maybe if I believe that hard enough???

          • H

            Keep believing! It happens everyday! My family seems to have inordinately bad luck with the paperwork side of things, but I know people who make it through the process with absolutely zero issues. My Dad got his current renewal within a couple months, so there’s just no telling. My fingers are triple crossed for you!

  • april

    “Life’s other tasks seemingly fall by the wayside for the duration of the engagement, as the couple and their respective families devote their sole focus to planning the big day (and managing the myriad obstacles that will inevitably arise in any romantic comedy).” This is why, despite it’s many flaws, I sort of loved The Five-Year Engagement. As someone who had a fairly long (2.5 year) engagement myself, the story of putting planning on a back burner while dealing with other priorities felt very real to me. Also, I <3 Jason Segel.

  • Amy Elizabeth

    “People give you funny looks when you say you’ve been engaged for over a year and haven’t set a date. Some people even infer that maybe you won’t be getting married, after all. ”

    We’ve been engaged for almost 7 years. I’ve heard it all.

  • NicoleT

    I volunteer at a hospital and whenever someone sees my ring, they ask me when I’m getting married. I always say “in about a year” (it’s actually a little more than that) and they, without fail, gasp “that’s so long!”. That’s why I never tell them how long I’ve been engaged.

    On another note, someone should make a hugely successful movie about *real* engagements and weddings. That way the rest of us going through the process with real life things like budget constraints can reference it to tell the general populace (along with some extended family) to can it if they ever try to WIC us into submission.

  • sara g

    it’s interesting because I’m having kind of the reverse experience with people judging our timeframe decisions. We got engaged in January this year, and are getting married in August (also this year). Everyone seems so shocked. “Wow, what a fast engagement!” and “how are you planning a wedding so fast?” and I am sure there are people wondering if I’m pregnant. (But seriously, is 7 months really that short? I thought “short engagements” were, like, under a month. Whatevs.)

    We knew, if possible, we didn’t want a super long engagement, because I knew I would stress more and more and be tempted to add more crap I didn’t need/want, and a shorter time frame would force us to make decisions instead of hemming and hawwing forever. We are notoriously bad decision makers.

    Our time frame hasn’t felt short, though. It feels right for us. We can’t wait to be married!

    • Lawyerette510

      We’re having a “short” engagement as well (I use quotation marks because it’s a relative term). We were engaged in mid-December, found a venue in mid-February, and are getting married in mid-May. From the day we booked the venue to the day of the wedding will be 73 days. The venue was the perfect place for us, and it was either do it on this one day in May, or do it sometime in 2015. As it is outside, it was a matter of May 2014 or May-October 2015.

      There has been a certain amount of freedom and relaxation with the hustle of executing all decisions in 73 days. There isn’t time to second guess ourselves. Before we chose the venue, we made a list of who and what was important to us going into this, and when we’re faced with a decision we look at it if we’re struggling. We spent about 2 hours on save-the-dates which doubled as invitations (since we didn’t have details, we just put the date, location and wedding app/ website info and a statement saying “no formal invite will follow”, chose the skin of the app/ site that matched the save the dates then added info as we settled on thing, I ordered all my dresses from Nordstrom or JillJillStuart, had a “trying on” party Saturday where I tried on 5 dresses and (thankfully) had 3 that were great and was able to narrow it down to “the one.” Now the 4 I didn’t choose are in the mail to be returned for a refund. We worked with a local potter to create a registry involving pics of the pieces in a picasa album and people emailing him, as well as using MyRegistry to aggregate some things. The venue is also the caterer, so that makes it easy. Close friends are doing very rustic flowers with whatever is at the farmer’s market a few days before. Cakes are an assortment coming from our favorite bakery, and they’ll be gussied up with flowers (see the great tutorial under How To). The thing that’s been the most work is the Sunday night casual meal, but we’re close to having that sorted out… While the 40 or so days left between now and the wedding will be busy, I know that it’s do-able, and if I had over a year to plan, I think I would have ended up spending much more on a dress, that I wouldn’t necessarily love any more; I would likely find myself frustrated by our budget, because I’d have time to find lots of pretty things outside the budget; and, I’d make a ton of work for myself because I’d want “perfection.” In deciding to do something fast, I made a deal with myself that I didn’t need perfection, I just needed to be true to who we were as a couple.

      • sara g

        This, all of this. Exactly why we went for a “short” engagement. We’ve had really good luck so far with everything falling into place (amazing venue just happened to be available on Labor Day weekend, my dress was the 4th I tried on at the first shop I went to, etc). I’m just trying not to let the WIC get under my skin and convince me that I need a bunch of stuff I don’t really care about.

        • Lawyerette510

          For us having that list of priorities/ a value statement of sorts for the wedding has been really helpful with not letting the WIC get to us. Especially for me. I actually have mine posted in my cube at work and on the fridge at home for this very reason.

          • Hayley

            Definitely agree with this. It was so helpful in determining how much time/money to allot to everything – it can be so easy to get carried away, but when you look at see exactly how far down something is on the list of priorities, it makes it so much easier to keep things in check!

    • Jen

      We got engaged in January and are getting married in a couple weeks. I got tons of “April? You mean next April???”. However, it actually feels like a long time to me- we have had most all of it planned for a month or more now :)

      • sara g

        Yours is what I would consider an actual short engagement! Just curious, what area do you live in? Because I’m pretty sure there’s no way we could have pulled off the wedding we wanted in our city in under 6 months, just due to everything booking up a year in advance normally (and we have no family here to borrow a yard from). We got insanely lucky with the few vendors we booked.

        We have most of ours planned too. I feel like I should have more to do, actually… go figure.

    • Aubry

      I’ve had a few people comment that my engagement is so short and OMG the wedding is coming so soon. But when I point out that we got engaged in May of 2013 and married in July of 2014 that is actually 14 months. I think time flies and for some, it seems like it was just yesterday we got engaged, when it was in fact 9 months ago. We also had planned on getting engaged in the winter of 2013 and then married in July of 2013, but it didn’t quite pan out.

    • Laura

      I got the whole “Is she pregnant?” thing as well for our 7-month engagement. Yep, guys, I carefully plotted my wedding date to maximize the probability that I give birth at the altar. Although I suppose it would have been convenient to already have a priest on hand to perform the baptism….

      You just can’t win with some people. Seven months is too long, anything more than a year and a half is “Why the long wait?” An then you get the inevitable: “Your wedding being on a [Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday] at [10 a.m./12 p.m./4 p.m./7 p.m.] at [this rustic barn/a hotel ballroom/that country club] is an….interesting….choice. I guess I was just surprised that you didn’t choose [X/Y/Z/whatever the speaker decided to do for his/her dream wedding].” Not that I’m still bitter :)

      • sara g

        Haha… no kidding. I feel like weddings are one of those things where everyone feels like they can criticize your choices. People at work I never talked to suddenly seem to care what my color scheme is (we don’t really have one) and how tall my cake will be (we don’t want a cake either).

        • Nikki

          I wanted to pitch a fit every time I got asked what our colors were. I still don’t understand why weddings are the one party/event where you’re supposed to have “colors”! I really just don’t get it. I finally chose colors just to get everyone off my back.

    • Gen

      Ditto. Venue owners seemed shocked that I was contacting them in January for this coming August. Most were entirely booked up for 2014. I had a dark couple of weeks until we found our venue. Now we’re hearing from family that they already have their summers booked, and might not be able to make it. Clearly we’re surrounded by people who are much more into long-term planning than my fiance and I are….

    • lizperk23

      Yes!! re: time frame/decision making/etc. – you’re doing what makes sense to you! We’re similar – engaged in December, marrying in Sept. didn’t need to wait too long, and by the time we polled the out of town family people, it was September or dead-of-winter in Chicago…!

    • moonlitfractal

      If it makes you feel better, my cousin announced her engagement a week before my wedding in May 2012, and got married in August 2012. Every engagement seems pretty sedate in comparison.

  • twofishgirl14

    Congratulations on your impending marriage! And bravo for making it through the past three years with all that life throws at you.

  • Sarah E

    I’ve found engagement to be rather anti-climactic. Part of this is because we decided against a lot of the trappings- no proposal, no ring. But even though I knew the decision itself would be low-key, I kind of imagined that wedding planning would feel more exciting: I like making decisions! I like pretty things! I have plenty of time for it! But it doesn’t. So far it’s extra phone calls, numbers discussions, and trying not to gag when my mom goes into some of her speeches on how lovely and perfect it will be because its ours, etc.

    I’m hoping the excitement ramps up when we can just pick a venue/date already.

    • Hayley

      Agreed – SO much of wedding planning is just logistics. Spreadsheets, emails, etc…I guess I’m not sure what I thought planning a wedding would “feel” like but…I never really felt it.

      • Alyssa M

        It’s funny, because I kind of expected it to feel like those movies you referenced, only with me rolling my eyes a lot. It’s anti-climactic, but I’m actually more comfortable with spreadsheets and e-mails than hours upon hours in bridal boutiques and florists shops discussing ice sculptures with judgmental snooty WIC vendors… I’m happy that I met with my day of coordinator for coffee the other day and we geeked out over my timeline spreadsheet…

      • JDrives

        It’s hard to keep an open mind about what wedding planning “should” feel like when movies make it look like one champagne-drenched meeting with a high-end vendor after another. I thought all the logistics would be my least favorite part of it all (favorite being PINNING ALL THE THINGS AND PICKING ALL THE PRETTIES) but actually, I am LOVING all the spreadsheets, emails, Google research, etc. I thought I’d be bummed that it’s mostly felt like doing business, but I’m actually really pleased when I can find a great vendor through Yelp or get our budget balanced.

  • Crayfish Kate

    We’ll have been engaged for 3 years this coming May. When people asked when we were getting married, the answer has always been “We’re not sure, sometime after we both finish school.” Well, I finished in December, and he is finishing now….and we still don’t have any idea when the big day will be. A lot of this is b/c I can’t make up my mind if I’d even like a wedding, or if we can even afford one, etc. The bottom line is, we’re not in any rush, haha.

  • carolynprobably

    Just, YAY for Catholic weddings in Ohio!!

  • friedpod

    i love hearing everyone discuss the relativity, and relative uselessness, of these words. ‘short’ ‘long’ ‘sooooo xyz’. We planned ours 9 months out for a friend who was only in the US for a short while next month; of course, he’s RSVP’ed no for schedule reasons. Such is life.

  • Tina B

    Again, APW nails what I’m feeling just when I needed to read it! Thank you, Hayley! Thank you, APW!

  • Pippa

    This is perfect timing APW! I’m also two weeks out from our wedding, which is bizarre, as now that means that it’s actually happening! Over a five year-long engagement, I also had more than one occasion where the wedding either postponed or called off, or I thought we’d have to do one or both. Now, two weeks out, there’s no real room for cancellation. It’s really going ahead!

    • Hayley

      Hooray! It is SO great to realize you’re finally at the point where the wedding is happening come hell or high water.

      • Pippa

        Yes, it is. Great but also pretty crazy! All the best for your day!

  • Caitlin_DD

    This! Over a year into engagement and we are tentatively planning finally…for a date sometime in the next 3 years.

  • anon

    one step forward, ten steps back.. that is exactly how I’m feeling about wedding planning right now. I definitely day dream about a courthouse elopment everyday hahah

  • Kari

    Congratulations on getting there – I hope it’s amazing.

  • A

    Thank you APW and Hayley! We’ve been engaged for about 9 months now with no set date in sight. Waiting on military orders puts a kibosh on planning anything. We’ve considered eloping, but I don’t think either of our hearts are on that so waiting it is. This article was just want I needed to read this week.

    It’s funny, just as soon as I start to worry about any part of the wedding (date or details) APW finds a way to soothe my fears!

    THANK YOU!

  • Daniella

    Congrats! I hope you have a wonderful day :)