Hayley: How Will It Feel?


Because you can't put emotions into a spreadsheet

by Hayley Cotter, Writing Intern

Hayley: How Will It Feel? | A Practical Wedding

In the days leading up to our wedding, people kept asking me if I was nervous. I kept saying no, but that wasn’t quite true. I was nervous, just not in a way that I could easily articulate. To be honest, I was just trying very, very hard not to think about the wedding day at all.

I thought about the logistics, of course. Logistics are unavoidable, particularly in the last few days before the wedding.  (Nick frequently grumbled, “I don’t feel like I’m planning a wedding. I feel like I’m planning a land invasion.”) Thinking in terms of trolley timelines and seating charts and dietary restrictions was frankly soothing in comparison to the one thought I was desperately trying to suppress: how was I going to feel on our wedding day?

There are many things about a wedding that you can’t control, but you can at least make contingency plans.  You can’t predict the weather, but you can proceed with plan B in case of rain. You can’t control traffic or flight delays, but you can make a backup plan for late arrivals. What you cannot do, however hard you may try, is plan out your emotions.

This seemed particularly unfair to me. I wasn’t asking for a lot, right? The wedding was planned to be relatively laid back. I didn’t care if it rained. (Actually, I would have welcomed the opportunity to splurge on a pair of outlandish wedding galoshes.) I wasn’t worried that everyone would forget when to kneel or shout out the wrong responses at our Catholic ceremony; I knew it’d be a funny story later. I wouldn’t be upset if the seating arrangements went awry or if I spilled marinara sauce down the front of my white dress. Really, I felt that I was setting a fairly low bar. In return, shouldn’t I at least be able to schedule my feelings so I’d be in the correct state of mind at the desired moments throughout the day? 8:00 a.m., hair appointment: well rested, calm. 1:00 p.m., walking down the aisle: excited, confident, present. 11:00 p.m., last dance: blissful, grateful, fully satisfied.

Alas, I know all the mental bargaining in the world was not going to allow me to accurately calibrate my wedding day emotions. And since the only thing worse than feeling less than stellar at a particular moment on my wedding day (8:00 a.m., exhausted, frazzled; 1:00 p.m., self-conscious, distracted; 11:00 p.m., overwhelmed, disappointed) would have been to also feel panicked about what I wasn’t feeling at that moment, I immersed myself in spreadsheets and a flurry of vendor emails to avoid setting myself up for disappointment.

In retrospect, though, I am so grateful that I avoided over-thinking my wedding day emotions (even if I did so for the wrong reasons). As each part of the day unfolded, my feelings came as a welcome surprise in ways I never could have expected, even if I hadn’t been actively avoiding making such predictions. I did wake up exhausted and sluggish, having tossed and turned until nearly 3:00 a.m. But as friends started trickling into the suite to get ready and my cell phone started buzzing with well wishes, I was overcome with the kind of energy no coffee could match, restless sleep be damned. I had heard of that supposedly magic moment when I’d lock eyes with Nick waiting at the end of the aisle, but that moment must have been reserved for people with 20/20 vision, because I could barely make out his tuxedoed frame, let alone his eyes, until I was at least halfway down the aisle. But it didn’t matter; I literally gasped as the church doors swung open and I saw the faces of family and friends looking back at me with anticipation and excitement.

I thought my biggest wish for the reception was a packed dance floor and big rowdy dance party. The dance floor was certainly never empty, but as different groups filtered back and forth for their favorite songs and I saw friends old and new clustering in groups around the bar area talking and laughing, I realized everything was going exactly as it should. Toward the end of the night, the remaining group dwindled to a particularly enthusiastic bunch of close friends and family that circled around Nick and I around the dance floor. I remember spinning around and around looking from face to face—grad school friends, mom, college roommates, best friend since kindergarten—all sweaty and joyful (and, okay, tipsy) belting out “Sweet Caroline.” (I am still hoarse, four days later.) It was perfection, and I couldn’t have planned a single second if I tried.

There were moments of mild anxiety throughout the day, to be sure. I somehow left the hotel without seeing myself in my wedding dress, resulting in a brief identity crisis when I walked into the restroom at the church and finally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror just before the ceremony. I also felt unexpectedly anxious during the toasts. Turns out it is a bit nerve-wracking listening to other people talk about you and your new spouse! But I relaxed almost immediately when my newly minted father-in-law began his speech at conception—I guess there’s something about the word “ovulation,” spoken into a microphone, that breaks the tension. How can you feel tense when an entire barn full of your favorite people is filled with laughter?

Even more surprising, so many of my favorite memories of our wedding are not from the wedding itself, but from the days before and after. On Wednesday, Nick and I giggled uncontrollably as we stood at probate court, with my mom videotaping, and swore that we weren’t drunk, weren’t cousins, and didn’t have syphilis. I will never forget Thursday, as close friends arrived early to help out and crammed into my mother’s hotel room, passing armfuls of bulk flowers down an assembly line, first to be trimmed by my college roommates, then rinsed in the bathroom tub by Nick’s college roommates, and finally arranged into buckets by my sister and brother-in-law.

Friday night, I squealed as friend after friend streamed into the hotel lobby to check in, and my baby sister barreled down the hallway for a hug (light up shoes blinking all the way). I sobbed through our entire rehearsal, ate my weight in chicken wings at the dive bar where we held a welcome party, and gave more hugs than I ever have before in my life. As we went to bed on Friday—the day before the wedding—I proclaimed with disbelief, “If this were it, if this were the wedding, I’d be completely satisfied.”

This feeling of euphoria lasted into the wee hours of Sunday morning at the impromptu after party. Messy ponytail, high heels and shape wear long since abandoned, I sat on the floor, eating Pringles in my wedding dress and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in years. As the night turned into morning, I glimpsed a sneaky kiss between new friends, watched my uncle throw his arm around Nick’s uncle’s shoulders declaring that they were “kindred spirits,” and generally looked around the room with a sense of awe at all the people from all different chapters of our life, celebrating together and celebrating us. As 4:00 approached and Nick and I finally made our way upstairs, I felt content in a way that I would not have thought possible throughout the chaos and anxiety of planning our wedding day.

Had I let myself wonder what the wedding day would feel like, I might have imagined anything ranging from fleeting moments of stress to a total meltdown to complete and utter joy. What I could not have imagined was that everything I would feel that day, for better or for worse, would feel exactly right.

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, and/or pondering married life.

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  • http://twitter.com/mollyepollard Molly Pollard

    This is so wonderful. With a month to go today (!!!!) this is a great reminder. We’re going to be having several parties/ceremonies before and after the wedding day — a henna party on Thursday night, Hindu puja Friday morning, the Episcopal wedding ceremony & reception Saturday, and another Hindu puja on Sunday. The wedding is going to be so much more than a day, and I think I’m just going to have to just let it happen (NO STRESS) and truly be in the moment. I don’t wonder how it will feel. It’s another one of those things I think I’ll have to experience before I can truly understand the feelings surrounding it… but I cannot wait to find out.

    • Sarah

      Wow, that sounds amazing! It’s always interesting to see how people go about incorporating different cultures/religions into their marriage and life in general.
      Also, this is really off topic, but I have wanted to go to henna party ever since I saw Monsoon Wedding about 6 years ago. It just looks so incredible!

      • http://twitter.com/mollyepollard Molly Pollard

        It’s going to be an experience, to be sure! I’m so excited!

    • Anne

      Woohoo – our Hindu/Western wedding is coming up in a few weeks too! We’re doing a puja Friday afternoon followed by an Indian food rehearsal dinner, then the Western ceremony & reception Saturday, and a goodbye brunch Sunday. I’ve been stressing a bit about all the moving parts, but the feeling of excitement is overwhelming any worried thoughts at the moment!

      • http://twitter.com/mollyepollard Molly Pollard

        Definitely excited!! My fiance’s family is taking care of the Indian parties which is nice– I think both of us are pretty massively burnt out by the planning process. Definitely a lot going on but I think it will make it all the more special!

  • Kathleen

    You wedding sounds wonderful! My wedding is in 4 weeks, and I am definitely nervous in the same way. I have this (probably irrational) fear that everyone is going to be constantly asking me questions that weekend and keeping me on edge..? That is probably ridiculous, though… :)

    • jashshea

      I had the same fear during planning, so I over-coordinated in advance. We got married on a Saturday and on Thursday PM, I handed off all the documentation to my coordinator (could also be a trusted/organized friend) and directed everyone to her. I knew what time I needed to be where I needed to be and trusted that everything would fall into place around me.

      • Hayley

        You know, I kind of worried about the same thing, and also handed everything off in advance to hopefully avoid some of that. But people still asked a LOT of questions and honestly, it didn’t wind up bothering me at all. Wedding magic!

  • Ashleigh

    This is all so true, the main thing I was worried about was ruining the day by not feeling the right thing. My Mum is no longer with us so missing her and getting upset was a concern, feeling tired and grumpy over not sleeping and stressing out about logistics or whatever were all making me worry! And i really shouldn’t have because like the OP the day worked out amazingly, the energy and excitment far outweighed the nerves and stress. Yes things went wrong and there were a couple of moments of stress in the day but it didn’t take away from the joy and the buzz I had all day long. For me the best moment was turning round after we said our vows to applause and love from all our family. But so many moments stand out as amazing.
    What helped I think in the run up was giving myself permission to feel however i end up feeling, there is no good or bad, feel it and move onto the next thing. My advice to new brides would be the same and don’t worry about the sleep thing, there is some wedding voodoo that gives you the energy you need despite hardly sleeping the night before :-)

    • Hayley

      Ohh missing your mother must have made it extra hard. Amen for giving permission to all the feelings.

  • lolauren

    I’ll be married next weekend so I loved this :)

  • EmilyRose

    This is so reassuring. As a natural introvert, I’m worried I’ll get grumpy from spending so much time mingling and being polite to people, but every bride ever has told me that the overriding feeling is overwhelming joy so I’m trying not to worry about it!

    • Teresa

      After my bridal shower, I was super grumpy and overwhelmed and literally, I just needed a damn drink. I was terrified that I would feel the same way since there would be even more people and feelings to feel. But, more than anything else, I felt love and gratitude. I didn’t stop smiling and hugging all day! It was wonderful. After, I felt exhausted and I couldn’t wait to be alone and be quiet, but it wasn’t in the same way as after my bridal shower. I wanted to reflect on what had just happened. I wanted to put my head on my new husband’s shoulder and just let all of that emotion wash over me and memorize everything that happened. I was just so glad that everyone was there, so grateful that people traveled and came and gave us generous gifts and loved us enough to cheer us on. So, listen to those other brides and don’t worry so much!

    • ruth

      EmilyRose, as a natural I introvert myself, I had this same fear. It ended up not being the case at all. One reason was that overwhelming joy and magic that takes over, but another was that my husband and I made sure to build in time for ourselves, amid all the crowded wedding festivities. We took about 20 minutes after the ceremony and before the reception to be by ourselves in a room off the reception site – while our guests were happily occupied with cocktails and catching up. It was a wonderful time to just catch our breath and hold each other and have a beat of quiet, before going off to the reception. In Jewish weddings, this period of alone time for the couple is actualy built into the ceremony, but anyone can do it. Highly recommended. You can make your wedding work for who you are

      • Hayley

        This is such a great idea!

    • Emily

      One of my main goals for my wedding is not to have to host (I’m hiring someone to do that) and to be able to get away from people for brief periods of rest time if I need to. I love everyone who is invited but I don’t like crowds or large groups of people (to give some perspective I’m only talking 40 people). I’m very worried about quickly being exhausted by being around so many people.

  • http://www.devabydefinition.com/ Deva C.

    This: “somehow left the hotel without seeing myself in my wedding dress, resulting in a brief identity crisis when I walked into the restroom at the church and finally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror just before the ceremony.” was me. I saw my hair, I saw my hair with my makeup, and then? Somehow didn’t look in the mirror at the whole picture before we made our way to our venue.
    This is such a wonderful post – congratulations!!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I never looked in the mirror at all on my wedding day, after I finished my make-up (before I put my dress on). One of my first reactions to our photos was, “Did I/Do I really look that young?”

  • emilyg25

    The week before my wedding, I made a conscious decision to embrace whatever emotions I felt. I gave myself permission to just be and feel. I typically hate being emotional in front of other people, but it was really important to me to be present for everything.

    The emotions weren’t entirely pleasant, and they were completely and utterly overwhelming, but they were all wonderful in their own way. And no one—partner, family, or friends—expected anything different from me. It was crazy and weird and spectacular. And yeah, none of it was predictable!

  • A Nonny

    Getting married next weekend and right now I am fully immersed in spreadsheets trying desperately to ignore the vague anxiety I have that I won’t feel happy on my wedding day.

    • Stacie

      Me too! So many balls in the air, and still unanswered questions. We need to breathe and know we’re breathing!

      • Hayley

        I hear you. Sometimes during the week of the wedding it felt like the “to do” list was never going to be finished. 10 days out, that bothered me. 5, 4, 3, days out, I couldn’t have cared less :) Enjoy!

    • lolauren

      May 3rd too? It’s so soon! I’m excited!

  • L

    Thank you thank you!! I am 3 weeks away and I needed this post today! It makes me so excited to put away the spreadsheets. Plus I’m so glad it’s a happy post, APW has needed some positivity!

    • Jess

      May 16th here! Good luck with the last bit of planning and then go enjoy the celebration!

      • L

        May 17th here, so you’re right on! You too…I’m feeling pretty good but it did make me really happy to read this today. Congratulations and enjoy!

  • Fiona

    This is true for life in general, but I imagine, especially true for weddings… “All the mental bargaining in the world was not going to allow me to accurately calibrate my wedding day emotions.”
    However, the way you describe it, stress and all, certainly makes it sound completely awesome and makes me look forward to it so much more! Congratulations, and all the best wishes.

  • Fitzgal

    Yes, yes a thousand times yes! I’m getting married next weekend, and if my day went like yours I’d be one seriously happy lady. Crossing my fingers that I’m able to let go and enjoy the day like you! :-)

  • Mags

    Thank you for writing this, as it is just how I felt on my wedding. Almost two years later I never wrote down the memories, but I might just bookmark this and pretend I wrote. ;)

  • Annie

    I have about three weeks to go and this made me feel so, so good.

  • Jules

    Hayley,

    I’m not sure if you’ve done a post with your wedding and some of the pictures, but I haven’t seen it. As a result, I read this like I got to read Harry Potter before all the movies started coming out: it all happened in my wonderful imagination, and I was fully absorbed in your words. How you felt. The little details that mattered to you.

    I love coming to APW and seeing the many different ways people celebrate their lifelong commitment together, documented in stunning photography. Many of those photos and posts convey a story and emotions, but it was refreshing for me to do this in reverse, if you will. This really connected with me in an unexpected way.

    Congratulations, y’all!

    • Meg Keene

      She hasn’t done one. But. That is her in the picture!

      • Jules

        In the dress with the gorgeous back?!? *sigh*

        • Hayley

          Thanks, Jules! You referenced Harry Potter and my post in the same sentence so my life is basically complete now. I will probably do a wordless wedding at some point with more photos :)

  • Kelsey

    Congratulations Hayley!! I loved this, what a fabulous account of an amazing week!

  • Sharon M.

    Ah, to be young again.
    Our “after party” was Wendy’s burgers in the hotel lobby around 8PM with some of his family who was hanging out. Since our reception had ended at 5PM, we were HUNGRY. Groom and I went upstairs at around 9PM, opened cards and gifts, slapped Salonpas patches on each other, and dropped into a dead sleep. ;)

  • Big Chief Nugget

    A bride that is a month out from the big day here and needed this. Thank you for writing it. Settled my soul this morning.

    • JDrives

      “Settled my soul” is a very accurate term for what this post did for me as well.

      • Hayley

        I’m so glad!! Enjoy the last month.

  • Jennie

    “Even more surprising, so many of my favorite memories of our wedding are not from the wedding itself, but from the days before and after.”

    This. So much. The day of our wedding was wonderful, but I came in without expectations of how I’d feel that day. The days before and after though. Having friends and family show up, spending laid back time together with everyone, those things were unexpected and so special. Almost two years out, I don’t think about that too much, but it brought tears to my eyes thinking about it while reading this. Thanks!

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    oh woowwwww this is just a bucket of great all over. Beautiful piece, I had tears welling up and so much excitement for you!

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    That pretty much sums it up perfectly.

    Not planning your emotions leaves you open for wonderful surprises.

  • Hannah B

    I want your after party. I mean, the whole thing sounds wonderful, but especially the after party.

    • Hayley

      It was awesome. I don’t know how we managed to stay up so late but it was just too much fun to go to sleep!

  • Beth R

    I pretty much submitted this exact post, except not as well written. But seriously, your experience mirrors my own very closely.
    Yes to the special moments leading up to the actual wedding day (going out to dinner with our parents who were meeting for the first time & who got along splendidly, practicing our first dance and parent/daughter dance in our living room, having one of our guests randomly stop by the venue the day before as we were making the bouquets and helping us put them together, watching our amazing friends absolutely transform the venue, Huddling around a fire pit wrapped in blankets during the rehearsal dinner with our nearest/dearest, etc).
    The lack of sleep the night before but the burst of energy when people started arriving.

    The dance floor actually being full of people in ever changing groups, ending with our closest friends closing it down at the end of the night.
    The incredible feeling of looking around and seeing all our different friend and family groups talking and mingling and sharing in our joy.

    I had no idea how I would feel on my wedding day, but it was all just so much more than I anticipated. I did not expect how my nerves would manifest themselves beforehand – as my friend was doing my makeup, she noticed I was shaking and asked if I was cold since the door was open. I said, “I guess so? Actually, no, I’m not, I have no idea what I am right now!” These nerves lasted until the ceremony was over and then the absolute calm and joy I felt was a (welcome) shock to me. That lasted the rest of the night!

    The feeling that most surprised me was after I got to the end of the aisle and my parents had hugged me and taken their seats and I still had to go up onto the stage. The music had stopped and I felt incredibly alone as I took those steps. But it was the kind of alone where you realize that you, by yourself, are making a huge significant decision. It was like the last little moment where I realized, “I am doing this and this is what I want to do.” It was only, like, 5 seconds, but holy shit.

    • Hayley

      “More” is a very accurate way to describe it, I think!

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    Wonderful post. One thing my partner is afraid of is that he won’t be emotional enough at our wedding. As if our marriage will somehow be a failure (e.g. he doesn’t love me enough) if he’s not overwhelmed with emotions, tears leaking down his face, when I walk down the aisle. It was one of the reasons he was initially opposed to a first look.

    Meanwhile, having been to weddings where one or both members of the couple seem unhappy, I’m just worried that I’ll be too stressed the entire time. Or that I won’t remember to make my face look happy (my resting face looks SO ANGRY-BORED, and my happy-cry face looks like my sad-cry face).

    I think one of the reasons it’s so anxiety-producing is because, you’re right, we can’t control our emotions and we can’t really prepare for them. Avoiding a first look so the first time we see each other is walking down the aisle? That’s not going to guarantee my partner will feel any more excited. Hoping I won’t burst into tears during our vows isn’t going to prevent it from happening.

    • sara g

      “my resting face looks SO ANGRY-BORED”
      Oh me too. I’ll be chilling on the couch and my fiance asks me if I’m angry. No…? I’m just zoned out…

      • Hayley

        HA! Angry-bored resting face. I love it. I worried about this a bit – ugly cry face, etc. – but now that we have photos back, I realize it was so silly to worry. I love them all, double chins, ugly cry face, and nose-blowing included, because they bring back such intense memories.

  • Alexandra

    Oh, I loved this. My wedding is in three weeks and this really sums up all the things in my head right now. Thank you.

  • http://www.fallsannie.com AnnieP

    Took the words right out of my mouth, Hayley! I remember having feelings I didn’t expect or want to feel on my wedding day, and more “wedding-appropriate” feelings (like intense joy) during the days before and after the wedding.

  • Sarah

    I so relate to this. I’m even having a twinge of “she stole my submission idea.” ;) I’ve been thinking about writing something about my struggles with anxiety, how I ruin every great life event with panic attacks, how I worried about how I’d ruin my wedding with anxiety, and how during the week of the wedding I was filled with so much joy that there just wasn’t room for anxiety. It was so freeing to be filled with only joy. It’s been hard to put into words the liberating unencumbered joy that was our wedding. This piece captured some of that, so it was a great read.

    • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

      PLEASE still submit that post! I would LOVE it ;)

      • Hayley

        Seconded!

  • LydiaB

    This made me cry all the happy tears. May this be the experience for everyone who hopes it will be so!!

  • macrain

    I’ve already decided I want to head into my wedding giving myself complete permission to feel whatever it is I’m going to feel. (I might even write myself a little note).
    The one thing I DONT want, however, is for something small to get me down or give me anxiety. I think about that part in the book where it’s like “You know what? This is not my problem today. And then turn around and walk away.”

  • TinyWedding

    26 days out. This is what I needed! I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but this has been my conundrum. People keep saying – you’re going to love it! It’s going to be so much fun! I’m like – um? okay? I’ll trust you? I hope so, but, personally I’ve never done this before! :) Anyways – thanks!

  • Emily

    Man I hope this happens for me! Six weeks out and I find myself worrying about whether it will be worth it and whether I will enjoy it. Thanks for writing this.

  • Savala

    Exactly what I needed to hear today! Thank you, Haley. I’m getting married in about 6 weeks, and the last few days I’ve been stressing out about my emotions — am I feeling the right thing? What will I feel on the big day? Fear? Happiness? Stress about my parents? Giddiness with my girlfriends? Bliss with my hubby? Etc…. Thank you for giving me some calm!