Why (Sometimes) Wedding Planning Isn’t Worth It

One of my favorite things about APW posts these days is that we’re able to approach a subject from a whole variety of different angles in a way we were never able to when I was the single voice on the site. The best part of that is when two people approach a subject from opposite directions and end up with conclusions that are similar in spirit. That’s just how I feel about Sarah’s post on why wedding planning isn’t worth it, and my post on why wedding planning is worth it. In the end, I think we learned the same lessons (though her post has the sassiest little kid picture ever, so she wins everything). Also, I love posts about people who hated wedding planning, or their weddings, because I want destroy the cultural myth that all women love their weddings. Let’s do it.

Last weekend was supposed to be our wedding. It was going to be beautiful, tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina, a homemade celebration of love full to the brim with perfectly poured over details. But it was not our wedding. And as that Saturday came and passed, I found myself filling with joy and reassurance that the wedding I had loved and planned for that day was not for me after all. And I realized too that it was only in the conscious act of not planning a wedding that we found the celebration of marriage we were truly looking for.

Before I go on, let me say that I LOVE weddings. At first, even the minutest details of planning were completely thrilling. I could spend hours on end gazing at lace, searching Pinterest with phrases like “vintage rustic” and “ethereal bridal up-do” while diligently scrapbooking all my brilliant whims. Wedding blogs took the place of hardcovers and to this day, when a Save the Date arrives in the mail, I get downright giddy. I still love weddings—but am so happy that we’re not having one.

Of course, I knew from the first time “I hate this wedding” came out of my mouth that I wasn’t unique. Hadn’t every married person I know hated their wedding at some point during the planning process? Hadn’t I spent countless hours calming my best friend as she haggled and stressed, fulfilling my duty as MOH with pure faith that it would all be worth it? I knew that wedding planning was supposed to be hard and so in the beginning we persevered without so much as a second thought.

And then my dad got sick. Really sick. And I found myself loading and unloading my little Honda for the twelve hour drives to Florida with great frequency, each time wondering if it could, once again, be my last. And somewhere during those months of back and forth, in the midst of arguing with insurance companies and pleading with nurses and waiting for the doctor to ever call me back, the assault of stress and heartache and frustration that we thought was par for the course in wedding planning began to feel personal.

It wasn’t just that I hated the wedding planning; it was that I had started to despise the wedding itself. All the things that I had poured over—the perfect little centerpieces and the homemade menu and the inscribed antique spoon favors I had loved so much—they started to seem downright offensive. The very thought of thinking about these details on the same day and in the same headspace as thinking about my vows and making an eternal commitment to the love of my life now felt almost grotesque. Gracious friends offered to chip in and do the event planning for us, but it wasn’t just that we couldn’t think about it ourselves; it was that we couldn’t imagine anyone thinking about napkins and flower arrangements on the same day we were committing to build a life together.

And so with every hushed late-night phone call from the Florida guestroom of my grandmother’s house back home to my fiancé, in which negotiating contract changes and checking to-do lists had to take place in the same phone call as tearful updates from that day’s trip to the hospital, it became clearer and clearer that it was just too much. It was time to stop.

So, with a bit of nervousness, we began to spread the word that we were postponing the wedding. It was easier than we’d thought. Everyone understood and sent kind thoughts and just like that—poof—we didn’t have a wedding to plan. We exhaled a bit and thought, “Phew, now that’s off our shoulders.” But the thing was, it wasn’t. It still felt so heavy and uncomfortable, this wedding hanging somewhere in the future, waiting to be planned. We didn’t like the planning and we didn’t like the wedding and we certainly didn’t want to keep right on dreading it for a whole ‘nother year.

So we tabled it. We had tentatively come up with a grand scheme to marry in Mexico but in the end, that too was filled with bureaucracy and stress that made it feel again like an event we were orchestrating, not a life we were starting. Besides, there were bigger things to think about at the time so we officially agreed to not think about a wedding at all anymore. In that time, my father eventually passed and we focused on the grieving and remembering and the taking care of the myriad tasks that follow if you are the lone survivor. We told people we were taking a break from planning, but the truth was we didn’t know how or if we’d be able to go back to it.

But somewhere in that time of grieving and picking up the pieces and actively not planning, a realization came to me. We really had just two criteria for our marriage celebration—that the day is special and that we are happy. It didn’t have to be so hard. It didn’t have to be a wedding at all.

In a quick late night discussion, we decided without argument or hesitation to simply celebrate our marriage sans wedding. We decided to forget about cancelling the honeymoon—we had always loved that part and this was a year in which a true vacation was very much needed. Our original plans had always included a stopover in San Francisco and I had a vague memory of majestic downtown buildings from my youth. A quick google search confirmed that San Francisco has one of the most gorgeous city halls in the country. And just like that, it was done. We needed only to be happy and feel special—and it was just a $75 online reservation away.

When our wedding date came and passed last weekend we toasted with friends and announced with stifled glee that we were in fact still getting married, we would just be doing it without a wedding. In eight short weeks, my fiancé and I will hop a plane to the West Coast, get our marriage license on a Friday afternoon, and spend the weekend hanging off street cars, snapping pics of the Golden Gate Bridge and soaking up every vista long the Seventeen Mile Drive. That Monday, I’ll put on the gorgeous-perfect-lovely-in-every-way wedding dress I fell in love at first sight, and my fiancé will wear his most dapper Dap Kings style suit (the one that wouldn’t have worked in the beautiful “vintage rustic” outdoor mountainside wedding we had originally planned) and we’ll go to San Francisco City Hall and have a ten minute ceremony in which every last second is about nothing at all except him and me and our union. We’ll rig up a record player or a live musician or hell even a cordless iPod doc (who will be there to judge?) and we’ll play something sentimental and we’ll have ourselves a dance and a ridiculously indulgent meal and a really good piece of cake and we’ll be happy, and the day will forever be special.

Even though the day hasn’t happened yet—I know in my heart we’ll never regret this decision. Yes, we understand that people are, and will be disappointed, and that a wedding isn’t just about the two people saying “I do,” and that for many, many people, the wedding planning is completely worth it. But even as I’ve typed these words, I can’t get the smile off of my face. Just him and me, and a smart suit and a gorgeous dress, and a couple of rings that mean forever. No it’s not a wedding, but somewhere in the process of not planning a wedding, we found a start to our marriage that is perfect for us.

Photo of Sarah and her dad from Sarah’s personal collection

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  • Marie

    “Just him and me, and a smart suit and a gorgeous dress, and a couple of rings that mean forever.”


    • Nothing like starting the morning at work crying a little at the realization that this is all it comes down to.

    • KEA1

      AMEN. That is SO what I want for the start to my marriage, even though at the moment I’m pre-engaged. Bookmarking this so maybe I can give it as support to the idea of not even bothering with a wedding in the first place…

    • Sarah

      And this I think, makes it a wedding. Maybe a non-traditional elopement, but still a wedding. It sounds perfect. Congrats!

  • “We really had just two criteria for our marriage celebration—that the day is special and that we are happy. It didn’t have to be so hard. It didn’t have to be a wedding at all.”

    When we started wedding planning we had very similar criteria for things and we reached the same conclusion: a wedding (even a small one, with perfect carefully curated details) was not us. I felt like a bit of a failure the last six months before we eloped every time people asked me excited questions about the wedding and I just couldn’t muster any excitement about the wedding itself (tons of excitement about the marriage, just not the wedding).

    I hope your wedding day ends up being just perfect for you and your spouse-to-be. It sounds like it’s going to.

  • Sarah

    Yeah, this needs a tear-jerker disclaimer. Beautiful.

    • I was fine until I read the photo credit and scrolled back up to re-look at it. Guh.

  • SusieQ

    Thank you for writing this. I go back and forth sometimes, but often I feel that the beautiful, meaningful, families-only, cheapish, easy-as-we-could-make-it wedding we planned (and had, almost a year ago) was not worth the hassle, the trauma, the cost, and the fact that we absolutely hated the planning. Everyone is shocked and appalled if I say this out loud, so your post made me exhale with relief and feel less alone. APW wins again.

    As a side note, husband and I are planning to stage mini vow renewals at various points throughout our marriage and not invite anyone. These will like be the elopement we perhaps should have had. And hey, they’ll be even easier than an actual elopement, since we won’t have to have a celebrant or any paperwork!

  • Karen

    This was exactly what I needed today. I wish APW were mandatory reading for all people deciding to get married. Excitement about the marriage *is* the most important thing.

  • KB

    There is something that totally touched me deeply about this post. Maybe it’s the part about how planning all these funny, craft, “ooh” details DOES just seem totally out of sync with making vows and promises and a legally binding commitment to each other in front of God/family/friends. I wonder if all the craziness of wedding planning has just become a wedge between me and my fiance sometimes – it’s become a goal on the horizon that we keep talking and talking and talking about, and sometimes I read these posts and wonder if eloping would be healthier and just more ENJOYABLE in the end. And then I realize that my fiance really wants a big party and, deep down, I do, too. I just don’t want the meaningfulness to get lost in All The Things as well.

  • Beautiful and moving, I’m so happy for you both. This is it, what it’s all about for some/many of us. Keep it simple and bring on the happy! All the best.

  • Claire

    So lovely. This elopement (can I call it that?) sounds ah-mazing and absolutely perfect for your needs as a couple. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and on choosing the celebration that fits you best.

  • Jashshea

    What a lovely (and tear jerking) story. So sorry for your loss, Sarah, though I’m glad you were able to recognize what’s important to you and your husband during this undoubtedly difficult time.

  • eb

    This speaks to me so much–if we didn’t have the deposits in and would have lost $12000 our wedding would have most certainly been cancelled. Or postponed for something more low key and less insane. I regret that the money kept me on the hook for something that drove me to the brink of sanity and caused me so much grief and anger–so much so that my actual wedding day was not that enjoyable. I’m sure it was for other people, but for me it was stressful and couldn’t be over fast enough–it didn’t feel like it was for me. No one wants to hear that because weddings are magical and supposed to be THE BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE and for me it was something I had to endure, something that I felt lucky to make it through alive, something I look back at with a lot of regret and wish I could have taken it back and really made it mine, which would have been something else all together. Is it worth it? I’m sure for lots of people it is. But if you value your money, sanity, and time it might not be. It wasn’t for me.

  • K

    Sounds wonderful!

  • Laura

    Thank you for sharing Sarah, this is EXACTLY what I needed to read today. We recently moved our wedding up from May to December and are having, essentially, an elopement with family before moving out of the country indefinitely. Letting go of the idea that I have to be a master of crafts/details/spreadsheets etc. and a born coordinator of people and things has been so liberating, and I know that a happier, less stressed version of me isn’t going to regret letting go of the big wedding one bit.

  • All the best Sara… love the last line.. “No it’s not a wedding, but somewhere in the process of not planning a wedding, we found a start to our marriage that is perfect for us.” Beautiful!!

  • Cleo

    I love the idea of how you’re getting married, however, I am a bit confused…

    I always thought that a wedding was a word that signified the celebration of two people getting married.

    This definition, in my mind, doesn’t require guests or a band, or mason jars with wildflowers, or what have you. In my estimation, all it requires is two people getting married who want to celebrate that, even if just with themselves.

    So, this getting married followed by dancing and cake sounds like a wedding to me…albeit one without guests. Though, far be it from me to put a label on this celebration/ceremony that the couple doesn’t want.

    Does this sound right to anyone else, or have I missed the mark? What do you all think…what’s the difference between getting married and having a wedding?

    • Laura G

      For me, linguistically, a wedding is a solemnization of a marriage. But I almost never call my upcoming “marriage celebration” a wedding, because that word has so many other connotations in US society, including white dresses and other things my partner and I won’t be doing. In fact, while I was reading APW before my partner agreed to us doing a ceremony, now that we’re in this process I’m getting sort of panicked about the “wedding” term and all the expectations that it carries. But “commitment ceremony” feels very ’80s/early ’90s to me, so I’m left stammering whenever someone asks us about “your big day” (barf).

  • What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so happy and excited for you and your future husband! What a lovely day you will have; your dad will be there taking care of you, too–making sure it all goes off without a hitch.

    The stress and materialism of weddings has been on my mind a lot, too. I had a terrible fight with my partner about the cost of engagement rings last night. I wanted to help pay for it b/c he seemed stressed about money. He got very uncomfortable and upset. I felt trapped by gender normative crap, and a stupid fight ensued.

    It was fine, and we made up. We were both just trying to take care of the other person, but in clashing ways. But I’ve still been upset about it all day, because I think we both were (and are) bothered that something that should just be about how much we love each other is also about money. And so what should be happy and light and joyous is also really stressful and negative. Stress about keeping people happy is one thing, because the people in my life are always worth it, even when they upset me. But stress about money? It just feels like this black hole of negativity.

    • KateM

      I know that for us, sometimes the stupid fights about money were helping us talk about what was important for us financially, more for the future than for the wedding. The same is true for a lot of the things that stressed me out during the planning process. I think it is discussed in another post how the wedding can be the vehicle for learning how to deal with big and sometimes hard things, redefining family relationships, gender roles, money, all of which play an ongoing part in our lives, and that the wedding is merely a catalysis for a lot of us to have those conversations. Don’t beat yourself up over stupid wedding fights, they happen.
      I agree that there is a point where the line is drawn and I love this story, and the romance of it and a part of me wishes that was what we had done. But that wasn’t our story. Like Meg said, we got to the same place by having the wedding, and that was right for us.

  • How beautiful is that. Almost makes me want to do the same for mine in the future!

  • LW

    I’m at working trying to set up my classroom and just take a break to read APW, and didn’t realise I would end up crying. This was so beautifully written and so perfectly says much of what I try to explain about my own elopement. I think I may forward it to my mom to give her a better sense. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Hugs and congratulations on having the sense to listen to yourself and what you really need deep down. I hope you have a wonderful time in San Francisco!

    I too lost my father during the wedding planning process and I know how it can make everything seem so .. extraneous. For me I needed the celebration and coming together of our family and friends and so the wedding happened. We certainly simplified in some aspects and in others leaned heavily on friends. That winter had been really dark and sad and the wedding after everything thawed and the flowers started blooming was something that had helped me make it through that time. Not so much the details unless you consider the bulbs we planted, the stone patios my husband made, or the other countless hours we spent working in our yard in anticipation of the wedding.

    • Class of 1980

      “I too lost my father during the wedding planning process and I know how it can make everything seem so .. extraneous.”

      My inner circle is dealing with a couple in the midst of a health crisis – surgery, heart infection, and a series of strokes.. Everyone is helping and there is slow progress. The patient is learning to walk and talk again, but may never fully recover. It’s been going on for months and it’s changing ME. A lot of stuff feels extraneous now

      I find myself asking what really contributes to personal happiness. Somewhere in here, there is a call to learn about that. I’m finally learning to appreciate, embrace and savor those unplanned spontaneous moments, hours or days when all seems right with the world.

      We all are. We are getting very adept at finding laughter in the middle of worry and sadness.

      It sounds like you did that with your wedding, and Sarah is doing that with her City Hall wedding.

  • Robyn

    This is perfect. I just had a wedding 2.5 weeks ago. It had 250 people and I questioned it a lot, but the day was beyond amazing and so perfect for myself and my husband. Even though our weddings couldn’t be more different on the outside, this post reveals that at the heart of it all we feel the same. Congrats on finding peace with the whole journey and have the best time celebrating your marriage!!

  • Erica

    Enjoy your day in San Francisco! It sounds like it will be lovely. And of course, enjoy the honeymoon, too!

    P.S. Good for you.

  • Cali

    I’ve found myself fantasizing about doing this lately. I hate wedding planning. I’m not a Type A, driven-to-get-everything-planned person, and my fiance and I have a huge creative project we’ve been working on since the beginning of the year that, honestly, takes precedence over the wedding. We seriously considered doing a simple courthouse wedding followed by a “victory tour” of our hometowns, and the only reason we didn’t was because I wanted the two sides of our family to be able to come to one place and actually meet each other. Lately I’ve been thinking we could have just invited our immediate families to join us for the courthouse ceremony and then all gone out to dinner, but since the wedding is less than two months away at this point, it seems like it’s too late to do that. :-P

    • I wrote a response that got lost due to an internet connectivity problem, but I will re-summarize to say that if you and your to-be-spouse decide that if you want to invite guests, I think you have time to do that. And I understand your desire to have the families meet, and think your families would respond to that desire too.

      As with any wedding (no matter how much advance notice you give!) some people will be unable to come, and others will go out of their way to move mountains to come because they so want to celebrate with you. Both of these responses can happen at the last minute, regardless of when the invitations were sent! With our international wedding in my husband’s country, we had a few people from my country who had not planned on coming change their mind and decide to come in the very last weeks before the wedding. Sometimes people are surprising….

      I hope you guys feel the freedom to make the choice you want to make to have the wedding/elopement/whatever that is right for you. And whatever you decide is the right route for you, I wish you the best!

      (If you do decide to invite people, I would suggest that email or phone calls might be a good way, since it allows more time for people to make arrangements and requires less time to prepare to mail/email out.)

  • Lori

    Absolutely GORGEOUS post, so wonderfully heartfelt and necessary. And thanks for coming to my city to tie the knot! =D SF is brighter for bringing your stars here.

  • Jo

    I have been bookmarking a number of posts this week. This one is perfect.
    We haven’t had the traumatic event of losing a family member, but we’ve come to the same conclusion nonetheless. We started planning a big wedding, we checked out venues and I daydreamed about activities. We thought and fought about the guest list. And then we said “no”. After a period of trying to go for a smaller family-only event with regional celebrations, we said “screw it”. We kept wishing we could just go back to before we’d started talking about weddings. Back when we were a fully committed happy permanent couple. So we decided to stop talking about weddings, to stop planning one, to just let it be. It became even clearer for me after attending a sibling’s wedding a few weeks ago. It was a fabulous weekend, the wedding was beautiful and a lot of fun, I had a terrific time. And yet I came away feeling even more secure that it just wasn’t worth all of the drama and headaches and stress and fighting that lead up to it (and likely will be part of the aftermath as well).
    All of the posts this week about elopement variations has really helped, they’ve given me some precedents to think about.

  • Dammit, this one really got me. I am completely jealous of your wedding. We’re in the final throes of wedding planning (T-8 days to go!), and though I know in the end, I’ll be happy to have gotten to celebrate with friends and family, it is a long way from the little elopement I had originally envisioned. I hope that our ceremony can still feel the way yours is described even with 40 witnesses.

  • I had a smile on my face as I read the last paragraph as well. Kudos to you both for doing what will make you happy. The idea of eloping is always on my mind and posts like this remind me why.

  • La

    That smile on your face in the last paragraph was a great start to my day!

    We got engaged just weeks after my partner’s beautiful brother died unexpectedly. We were heartbroken and, while we want to get married, a wedding was the last thing we wanted to think about. We booked the easy options for a year later and forgot about it. We’re fueled by grief rather than excitement, and have both been nervous about the wedding (not the marriage) a lot of the time. Along the way, we made decisions not to go to a Pacific island to get married and not to just get married at our engagement party (that one was very tempting!). Our friends and family are very excited and most helpful with all the things we don’t care about, and, most importantly, it’s something for us and our family to look forward to. Mainly, we’ve realised it’s OK for us to be unexcited by most wedding-related things, and to not really care about most of them. We keep telling ourselves that it’ll be a wonderful day when we get there :-). Even if it’s the day before, I can’t wait to have that same smile on my face!

  • Peg

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this post. SF City Hall is beautiful and wonderful place to get married. Enjoy your day and the rest of your trip!

  • Halle

    Best wishes! Such a lovely post. I’m smiling with you. Enjoy!

  • Rebekah

    How wonderful for you! I love reading about how happy it makes each and every person who claims their ceremony in just the right way for them and their significant others.

    I don’t know how to say this the best way, but if you want someone there to celebrate in your joy, just send me an email and I’ll drive into SF (I live slightly south) with a bottle of bubbly. Absolute congratulations to you both, and may your father fully recover.

  • Maram

    Thank you for this!! And I am so happy and excited for you!

  • Sheila

    This is EXACTLY what my husband and I did in April after being engaged for 2.5 years!! We never got very far into our wedding planning, though we started the process what feels like 100 times. Weddings are beautiful, fun occasions and mean a lot to some people, but I always feel like they are so carefully orchestrated that something is lost. We got dressed up and hired a car to drive us to City Hall. Our ceremony was so special and celebrating afterwards just the two of us was incredibly romantic :) Your day sounds perfect for you and that’s all that matters. One thing you didn’t mention that I’d recommend is to hire a photographer! Ours even acted as our witness. She did such an amazing job; our pictures are so beautiful, I cried when I saw them. It means so much for us to have them now. Plus our family really enjoyed being able to look at them after we shared the news. Congratulations to you and your soon to be husband!

  • Mallory

    I love your post. This echoes my experiences totally. We cancelled our wedding last summer, and we just recently went to the courthouse to get married (just us). Thanks for writing this. It made me smile.

  • Wonderful story and beautifully written. If more people realized that what you are planning for is the rest of your lives, not one day, I wonder what the divorce rate would be……

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