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What I Learned from My Second Wedding

(That I Wish I Had Known The First Time)

bride and groom walking together

I was married for the first time in January of 1986, and divorced—after twenty years, two children, and some life—in 2006. I married again in 2013. This implies, correctly, that I’ve had two weddings. Had I learned anything by the time I put on that second white dress?

We’re going to leave aside discussion of what I learned about marriage itself. Thank you in advance for the privacy; I reserve the right to provide hints.


My first wedding took place in the Helmsley Palace, in New York City, on a white cold evening. The second, in San Francisco’s City Hall, in blue August. While that might sound like a big difference, actually not. Both times I chose ornate and other-era venues, beautiful without decoration. Both times I chose a season slightly unusual for the town. New York is drizzly and gray in January, as is San Francisco, in August.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: I had strong aesthetics and a knack for the different, even at twenty-nine. Recognize your talents early, and enjoy. This applies to way more than weddings.


For the first wedding, the dress mattered terribly. I had a Vision. One of my sisters came to one dress salon with me, but nobody had enough time to keep me company for the full dogged hunt, so I found the prize alone. In the days of pouf and pearls, I was in love with a lace mermaid I’d seen in one of the roughly twenty-five copies of Brides or Modern Brides I’d read. This particular dress might have been in my GMAT break reading, a full three years before I actually got married.

The second time around, despite having become a style blogger in the interim, I cared less about the dress. I ordered a few short white lace numbers online, returned most, kept one, would have worn it if necessary. Then I went shopping with that same sister, plus my sister-in-law, ten-year old niece, and six-month old nephew. We found a sample, and had ideas about how to alter it. I wound up in one-shouldered, tea-length tulle, at fifty-seven.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Don’t worry about dress hunting. Better you transform the clothing than it transforms you.


The first time I married, my mother was living in Sweden. I had no one to counsel me on guests or invitations. I made a bunch of mistakes. I neglected to invite cousins, people brought surprise plus ones, I was unclear about our dress code. Imagine all the men in dinner jackets and one guy in a suit because of my ineptitude. I still feel bad about that. Imagine my dear aunt unable to attend because I’d not considered her children’s schedules. About that I only recently stopped feeling bad, having talked it out twenty-five years later.

I did have cool invites though.


For the second wedding, I wanted small. It was very clear who would come, immediate family, first cousins, a few lifelong friends and colleagues. I limited invited children to nieces and nephews. To the best of my knowledge, I offended no one.

This time I had not one but two cool invites. Paperless Post for practicality, and Precious Bugarin, for the glories of thick paper held in one’s hand. By the way, nobody found email invites to be bad mannered.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Unless you plan to ditch your entire family and set of friends the minute you say I Will, everybody who cares about you has a stake in your wedding. Sort that out with intent and compassion.


The first time, at a hotel venue, food options were limited. Menus were pre-set, prices high. We had sole. My stepfather recommended Sancerre. I took all the advice.

The second time, choosing from San Francisco entire, we bought out a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. The menu? Seventeen dishes, many of which the guests had never tried before. We brought our own wine from my husband’s collection. The in-situ decor included an aquarium, unlit paper lanterns, overhead fluorescents, a vacuum cleaner hidden behind a paper screen by the bathroom, and extra flowers.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Nothing. People like food and drink, that hasn’t changed, feed them as well as you can afford to. I told you this part just because a good meal is always fun to remember.


The first time, a designer friend of mine volunteered to do the decor. I trusted her—besides I thought flowers were too frivolous, too stodgy, and too bourgeois to care about. We wound up with Avante-Garde-For-The ’80s amaryllis and curly willow on the tables, English garden roses on the mantelpieces. I did not carry a bouquet myself, and I do not know why.

The second time, I wanted Sarah Rhyannen from Saipua—where ever we wound up, whatever I was wearing—to do our flowers. We flew her out from Brooklyn. I carried a bouquet with roses the color of my skin, and black cosmos. It was one of the top five most beautiful things I’ve ever held.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: If you care, you care, and give yourself that right. Pretty things can be meaningful.


The first time around I didn’t actually plan, as in Envision An Event. I crossed off tasks from a checklist and chose pretty things. The intellectual equivalent of throwing confetti, albeit beautifully colored. Then I showed up at the wedding. The hotel coordinator told me the schedule, I said okay. My first wedding bossed me around, without my knowing it.

That said, everything went swimmingly, except toward the end of the evening. We never cut the cake. Nobody told me it was time. The band quit at midnight when guests were still on the dance floor. Nobody had told me I’d have to pay that very night for extra hours, and I had no instrument of payment on my person. If you are relying on someone else to be the boss, they may steer you wrong.

By my second wedding, I’d been a manager for years and knew how to run a complex project with help and without anxiety. I wrote my own checklist and a timeline for the entire event. Then I gave the schedule to an expert who stage-managed the day of. This time she was a friend. This wedding seemed to be in charge of itself. I floated free of everything but total and complete joy. I now understand the phrase, “Walking on air.”

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Plan the heck out of everything up front, then delegate management to someone you trust. Boss your wedding around from a light-filled office in the sky of your heart.

Getting Ready With The Husband-To-Be

In 1986 we dressed with entourage, in our room at the Palace. To add to the hubbub, a woman I’d met only once came to do my hair. She was from Long Island, and insisted that I needed blue eye shadow. Sometimes outliers define the curve.

The second time, my husband-to-be and I dressed together, alone. That intimate stillness remains one of my favorite memories.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: The sweetness of time quiet with one you love, know, and trust.


In 1986, I was an atheist. A Unitarian minister my mother found in the telephone book performed the ceremony. We used the traditional King James’s vows. I wrote an extra paragraph about what a mystery marriage was, and how nobody knew why they did it.

In 2013, I was still an atheist. But I knew that ritual mattered, and if you’re going to be there anyway you might as well show up. My brother-in-law officiated. We wrote our own vows. Imagine a lot more hugging.

WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Pay attention to your vows; your promises just may come true.

The Info:

Photographer (2nd Wedding): Emilia Jane Photography | 1st Wedding photos from author’s personal collection

Lisa Carnochan

A retired software industry executive, and mother of two grown children, Lisa lives in the Silicon Valley. She writes a blog called Privilege, on style and what she can’t think of a name for except ‘cultural anthropology,’ and tries not to be a jerk.

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  • So needed this as I plan my second wedding.

    Also? Both your dresses are straight baller. Damn woman! You have style for days.

    Than is all.

  • Laura

    I love this… the difference between bossing your wedding around or letting it boss you.

  • I’m planning wedding #1 and I just love this post. I remember your wedding being featured on apw a while ago and I’m so glad you came back with another post! Your dresses are freaking gorgeous, both of them! Your 1986 dress seems like it’s way ahead of its time. Love it!

    • Lisa

      Thanks! I did have to look in a lot of places to find a 1986 dress that was neither huge and poofy, nor totally traditional demure satin:).

  • Sparkles

    This is amazing. I feel like it needs to be required reading for all APWers.

    These two gems:

    “Unless you plan to ditch your entire family and set of friends the minute you say I Will, everybody who cares about you has a stake in your wedding. Sort that out with intent and compassion.”

    “If you care, you care, and give yourself that right. Pretty things can be meaningful.”

    But mostly all of it.

    • Emma

      Every time I read something like: “Unless you plan to ditch your entire family and set of friends the minute you say I Will, everybody who cares about you has a stake in your wedding. Sort that out with intent and compassion,” I am again thrilled about how little our families care about our wedding. The alternative sounds so exhausting.

  • Kaya

    I’m six weeks away from my wedding, and this was *exactly* the perspective I needed to hear this morning. Thank you so much for your thoughts!

  • jashshea

    ‘My first wedding bossed me around, without my knowing it.”

    Just…DAMN. I love everything about this post, but that line punched me in the face.

  • emilyg25

    Lisa! So glad to see you back here. Your style (fashion and writing) is so lovely. This was especially awesome:

    “Unless you plan to ditch your entire family and set of friends the minute you say I Will, everybody who cares about you has a stake in your wedding. Sort that out with intent and compassion.”

    Even though our parents were pretty hands-off during our wedding planning, I was surprised at how many things they cared about. People planning now: read this!

    • Fiona

      Emily, how do you find out what people care desperately about???
      People being my absolute #1 priority…

      • Eh

        Talk to them about your plans. Ask them if there is anything they would like include. I took my MIL’s request under advisement (she had a lot, but she would only voice her opinions when we were discussing our plans – most we had no issue with and were either common sense or easy to do). We didn’t do everything she requested as we were uncomfortable with some things (e.g., being married in their church or by their minister since I have never gone to church). But we did do things that fit our vision and we were comfortable with (e.g., getting married in the town they live in, most of her guest list requests, not getting married in the summer when it is hot and everyone would melt, sending out thank you notes in a reasonable time period).

        On the more general “people” side (e.g., not parents or other people of honour) I would say follow etiquette rules as much as you are comfortable with. It’s what people expect. Also, as Lisa said also, “People like food and drink, that hasn’t changed, feed them as well as you can afford to.” If you have a cash bar in my family you get run out of town (my inlaws were against the open bar because it’s not common in their family or where they live so they were concerned about expense and drunken people – I explained that it was important to my family and they respected that).

        • Fiona

          Lovely advice. I know I’ve already messed with some expectations, but I really do want my family to be happy and feel valued, so I’m always looking for ways to engage them.

          • Eh

            Engaging is better than isolating, and it met help them overcome expectations that you may have not met.

  • Erin

    “Pay attention to your vows; your promises just may come true.” Thank you for this. Words have meaning and the vows seem to set the intentions of a marriage. Your words will be with me as we finish ceremony planning.

  • Pingback: LPC At A Practical Wedding: What My Second Wedding Taught Me | Privilege()

  • Sarah E

    Thanks so much for sharing, Lisa!

  • Fiona

    Lisa, I get excited every time I see something written by you.
    Also, I love the bit about bossing your wedding around. I fear that in my effort to be easygoing, I may be creating an event that is as blissful as I envision. I’m going to be this wedding’s boss!

  • Emilia Schobeiri

    Thank you so much for featuring my work with this wedding again! It was such a joy to photograph this celebration.

  • EmilyRose

    How much does your daughter look like 1980s you! That’s amazing!

    This is a beautiful post. I’ve been feeling silly for caring so much about the flowers – thank you for reminding me that “If you care, you care, and give yourself that right. Pretty things can be meaningful.” Perfection!

  • SarahG

    “Don’t worry about dress hunting. Better you transform the clothing than it transforms you.” Man, I needed to read that.

  • A Note On Style

    Great words of wisdom. This should be required reading for every bride to be.

  • Emily

    “Boss your wedding around from a light-filled office in the sky of your heart.”

    (To be scrawled, doodled and underlined throughout my journal over the next 5ish months of wedding planning. Gotta take charge of this beautiful beast!)

  • Buckeroomama

    Written and presented as only Lisa can –with class and wisdom. I absolutely enjoyed this piece –both the writing and the accompanying photographs.

  • wow wow wow when I saw that first picture and the name of the author I was hoping it was that stunning lady from the SF hall wedding who I have pinned on my pinterest page. YES. YAY!!

    • Lisa

      Thank you very much.

  • Lisa

    You guys are saying really nice things and making me happy. Thank you. The best part of getting older isn’t the benefits any wisdom brings to you, it’s the benefits it might bring to others. <3

  • lindsay

    I love everything about this. My mom remarried two years ago, and I should ask her about planning the first time in relation to the second time.

  • AlisonHendryx

    As a first-time bride-to-be, with the wedding in oooo…. 20 days…. I swear to goodness, I said to myself yesterday, this wedding is starting to boss me around. Well. No more of that, I can tell you. This was SO the exact advice I needed today, as I’m meeting with the day-of coordinator tonight, and I need to finalize my vision and communicate it to her firmly. I will not be bossed into blue eyeshadow, real or metaphorical!

  • Anonymous

    This was just… everything. So much of it spoke to me, but especially this:

    “If you care, you care, and give yourself that right. Pretty things can be meaningful.”

    Indeed they can be.

  • Precious

    So Lovely! Lisa it was wonderful to work with you and thank you for the mention.

  • Bungalow Hostess

    I’ve only married once (so far and going for 40 this July) I think that you have a lot of food for thought here…
    seriously I like the vibe of your second… a little more casual but honestly you do a great wedding event either way…you deserve wedded bliss!

  • I follow Lisa on her blog and highly recommend it – one of the top quality blogs out there for the quality of thought, the skill in writing, the fascinating topics and the way she manages to pull off ‘not being a jerk’. Seriously.

  • anon

    Beautiful, simply beautiful: you, both weddings, the writing, the message. Thank you for sharing!

    “Boss your wedding around from a light-filled office in the sky of your heart.”

    -Amen to that.

  • GSL

    Fabulous post!

  • Reesa

    Wow. I really loved this piece, and it resonated greatly as I’m 2 weeks out from my own wedding – thank you!

  • This is beautiful. Thanks, Lisa. And thanks for sharing about finding love and planning your second wedding, and what you learned in between the two.

  • One of my favorite posts on here!

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