Steph & Woody On Planning Together

* Steph, Health Policy Wonk & Woody, Business and Tech Jack of All Trades *

From Steph…

One of my comparative advantages at work is the way I can see a landscape of issues, recognize red flags, and manage the expectations of my colleagues and superiors. I would like to believe this translates to my personal life as well: I like to plan things, control what I can, and set my own expectations appropriately when things are out of my hands.

When Woody and I got engaged and began planning a wedding, I knew that a minor disaster might send me into a tailspin of despair—I stressed out about being stressed out. I did my best to heed the veritable treasure chest of wisdom on APW and plan an authentic, practical wedding. We were fortunate to have enough personal resources and parental contributions to achieve two of my wedding goals: (1) to outsource anything that might hasten a tailspin of despair, and (2) to partner with vendors we genuinely liked (their services, their business practices, their wonderful selves).

Despite our decision to get married three thousand miles from home, wedding planning went unbelievably well. The all-inclusive venue put together a menu that left me drooling; the guest list was settled and invitations went out with only minimal family tension; and taking three dress-shopping excursions ensured my mother, grandmother, and closest friends could see me try on every wedding dress they might have imagined for me (while still letting me buy a dress I loved). We took a DIT-light approach, outsourcing the most stressful tasks to actual professionals while reserving a few of the more meaningful jobs to do ourselves. We had family input, engagement, and buy-in; we had friends helping out with the fun stuff; we had what was shaping up to be a rad celebration. No drama! No disasters! No tailspin of despair! I felt like a champ (cue Rocky theme).

In the midst of my own personal training montage, I was caught off guard when I realized my most important stakeholder—my future husband—was unhappy about these wedding plans. Our biggest fight came halfway through our engagement, after we’d mailed off the final wedding deposit check and all the ducks were obediently lining up. Here I thought we’d been following all the instructions for how to have a personal, modern, feminist, meaningful wedding, but it turned out I’d been oblivious to my fiancé’s point of view for months. Just because Woody was in the same room as I was and agreeing to my proposals didn’t mean, as I’d hoped, that he was totally on board and excited about it.

It all came down to this: I wanted our wedding ceremony to be a public recognition of our love and choice to commit to each other, in which we would ask our communities of support to stand behind us in this huge thing. He wanted our ceremony to be a private transformation, a two-person promise, shared at most with an officiant of some kind and maybe our immediate families. We couldn’t figure out how to compromise on this fundamental issue. I took it hard. How could our wedding be a perfect reflection of who we are if we couldn’t agree on what it should look like? This question spiraled into: How could we succeed at marriage if we couldn’t even agree on what kind of wedding to have? And, if we could so grossly miscommunicate for months without noticing, was our marriage doomed to be a comedy of errors climaxing in failure?

I wish I could tell you I had some kind of light bulb moment when I (1) realized how my behavior was steamrolling my chosen partner, (2) shaped up, and (3) changed our wedding plans, resulting in a wedding that made us both ecstatic. I didn’t. Generous and patient man that he is, Woody decided that the wedding itself was more important to me than to him and went along with my vision and plans. Long discussions eventually staved off the dreaded tailspin of despair, and we moved forward with the plans we (I) had laid, tweaking the what and the how where we could to accommodate separate wish lists and to build something ours.

The wedding went off without a hitch. The amazing vendors we worked with did an incredible job. Family and friends traveled from all over the country—some from other continents!—to celebrate with us. Woody and I each spent some time with our closest friends and family in the days before the wedding. My extended family, bridesmaids, and soon-to-be mother-in-law gathered at my parents’ rented house to turn armloads of wholesale flowers into gorgeous bouquets, centerpieces, and other décor with expert guidance from Elizabeth. We spent the evening before the wedding soaking up the love from our community; I tried hard to stash away the feeling for some future low point, like a wedding equivalent of the “kudos” email folder you keep at work.

Our wedding day wasn’t a blur, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to enjoy each part of it to the fullest. I loved getting ready with my bridesmaids and the moms, joking around with our photographer and her sister, stopping by an ice cream shop when we finished up photos early, and having a few quiet moments with my parents before the ceremony began. I loved, loved, loved our ceremony and the quiet and personal transformation of our relationship stemming from our public promises. I rode a wave of joy and adrenaline for the rest of the night, bouncing between tables and cajoling as many guests as possible to dance with me.

After the last toast was made and the last wedding guest hugged goodbye, I found myself reflecting on whether the wedding met my expectations—and Woody’s.

It certainly met mine.

We spent quality time with dear friends and family preparing, sharing, enjoying each other’s company, and partying our faces off. More important to me, I felt bolstered by the outpouring of love and support from our community that wove itself into the foundation of our marriage.

From Woody…

I think one of the reasons why our relationship has been successful is that Steph and I have always been very communicative and emotionally transparent with each other, and that we don’t allow disagreements to fester. That being said, I have not been more surprised in the history of our relationship than I was with just how divergent our views were on how the wedding should be executed. I went through the first half of our planning process pretty shell-shocked, acquiescing to decisions involving the guest list, event scope, ceremony text, and even the linens because I was so far outside my comfort zone I had no idea how to offer an opinion that could yield any semblance of middle ground.

I feared our wedding was metastasizing—that we were getting caught in the WIC undertow and would end up with an over-the-top and over-the-budget wedding rationalized by the “once in a lifetime event” syndrome. I couldn’t understand why Steph was taking positions that seemed totally out of sync with what I thought she would want in a wedding, and that was frustrating. Not because she wasn’t entitled to the opinions she had (and clearly the wedding she deserved), but that I was faced with the realization that our expectations and priorities for a serious life event were so divergent.

Modern relationships require negotiations about the mundane and the hugely significant. They also require clear communication of facts, and we found ourselves unable to explain the emotional facts underlying our disparate expectations for the wedding. Luckily, we had spent years building a foundation that gave us the space for Steph to ask me to have faith in the way she was making progress on the wedding while we figured out how to negotiate our differences.

It took more than six months, half of our engagement, before we really started tackling the tough questions and priorities underneath our differences of opinion. It took us that long to gain the vocabulary and perspective necessary to articulate why certain things mattered, and to me that was everything.

As we navigated this conversation, Steph had enough respect for our relationship to listen and alter the wedding plans to bridge as much common ground as possible, even if the outcome didn’t differ largely from her original master plan. We ended up with a wedding that was decidedly ours, and not for the benefit of one of us at the expense of the other.

Even if our wedding wasn’t exactly what I had originally envisioned or what I would have chosen on my own, I certainly enjoyed the hell out it. I have gained no more appreciation for the finer intricacies of flower arrangements. I have no clue why cake cutting is such a big deal. We owe a major debt of gratitude to our photographer for keeping family pictures short enough that they didn’t cause a lasting blood feud. That said, I stared into the abyss of a throat-clenching life event and responded by seizing the moment, fox-trotting like a boss in front of my family and friends, and gained an understanding/sexy/intelligent/awesome/critical-when-she-needs-to-be partner for life.

Plus, there was bourbon. Lots of bourbon.

The Info—Photographer: Jesse Holland / Wedding Planner: Elizabeth of Lowe House Events / Location: Sonoma, California / Venue: Ramekins / Steph’s Dress: Allure Bridal via Rosalin’s Bridal Boutique with alterations by Louise Austrie / Steph’s Makeup: Nikol Elaine Artistry / Steph’s Hair: Lindsay Crystal Hair & Makeup ArtistryWoody’s Suit: Wilfred Newman / Wedding Rings: Chabo’s Jewelry / Bridesmaid Dresses: Chosen by the bridesmaids from paint samples sent by Steph / Groomsmen’s Attire: Their own suits, with ties from Nordstrom / Flowers: Purchased at San Francisco Flower Mart and arranged by wedding helpers with oversight by Elizabeth / Officiant: Vince Connery, a friend of Woody’s father / Ceremony Pianist: Paul Dorr / Band: Wall Street Dance Band

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  • Corrie

    I really love the tough-love, honest self reflection in this post. And I especially love when we get to hear men’s perspectives on this site. It’s always so refreshing to hear both partner’s sides of the planning process.

  • Ash

    Woody’s words gave me chills and, I’m not sure why, even brought tears to my eyes! This was so eloquent and profound. Congratulations on your wonderful wedding and, moreover, marriage and relationship. Thank you so much for sharing. xoxo

  • Laura C

    Thanks for the great reminder of the importance of constant communication, which in turn reminds me that A and I are probably overdue for a check-in conversation. It’s funny/annoying how the several long, wonderful conversations we had early on about what we wanted for the wedding have sort of deteriorated into only ever talking about details — what flavors of cake should we taste, that kind of thing. (Admittedly, cake tasting is one of the things I’m most excited about for the whole wedding.) But we have gotten to where I worry that misunderstandings about the big stuff could be being obscured by focusing on the details.

  • Kelsey

    “We couldn’t figure out how to compromise on this fundamental issue. I took it hard. How could our wedding be a perfect reflection of who we are if we couldn’t agree on what it should look like? This question spiraled into: How could we succeed at marriage if we couldn’t even agree on what kind of wedding to have? And, if we could so grossly miscommunicate for months without noticing, was our marriage doomed to be a comedy of errors climaxing in failure?”
    This was my fiancee and I yesterday, but about the dishes as opposed to the wedding. Always good to know we’re not alone!! Beautiful wedding- I’m glad you both made it through! Mazel tov!!

    • Molly Mouse

      It’s always about the dishes!! :)

  • I love this post and the two points of view. A lot of our engagement was like this, with things agreed upon changing a lot when we realized that we were agreeing to something one of us or the other didn’t really want, all while keeping our budget very firmly in mind (and surprisingly, we only went overbudget by about $300). We had a few disagreements, most notably about cake and venue, but when we got to our wedding day the day was very uniquely us, even when some details were more important to me than him, and vice-versa.

  • “Plus, there was bourbon. Lots of bourbon.”

    Sounds like a good time to me!

  • Molly Mouse

    I learned so much about my husband during our engagement. He definitely had opinions I wasn’t expecting. When we got engaged someone gave me a planning “book” with the advice to ask my guy a series of questions. I’m so glad I did, because it made it clear in the first 3 weeks that my husband had some expectations for our wedding and helped us communicate/compromise early on. Also, during one hard part of planning, I was doing some complaining and he said “This is why I waited so long to propose. Weddings are the worst.” I was flabbergasted – we could have been married years before if only we had thought to separate “wedding” from “marriage”.

  • AshleyMeredith

    I love that Steph approached it in such a business-like way, because WIC aside, planning a wedding really is a lot like navigating the business world. I wrote a whole blog post after ours about how the bride is like the CEO and the groom is like a majority-stakeholder (not, generally, involved in the details but you’d better make him happy) and the mother-of-the-bride (if the parents are paying, as mine were) is like the Chairman of the Board: the only person who can absolutely tell the bride “no.” It’s not a perfect metaphor and definitely one of those your-mileage-may-vary things, but it was fairly accurate for us.

    Anyway, I wished I’d realized this earlier in the process, along with the related obvious but somehow completely overlooked fact that getting a wedding planned smoothly is all about managing relationships.

    Steph, sounds like you were the kind of bride I was hoping to be. I congratulate you both on your relationship and communication. And yes to what somebody said above: awesome to get Woody’s point of view, too!

    • YES, perfect metaphor. I swear there was an audible *click* in my head when Steph referred to Woody as her most important stakeholder. I’ve been joking about project-managing this wedding since the day we got engaged, but never taken the thought process to all its logical conclusions! I’d love to read your post about it, too, if you have a link.

  • I loved everything about this post, getting to hear from both sides and how you both came together. But mostly I wanted to say that your last photo is magic.

    • steph (OP)

      Thanks! I love that last photo too, basically everything Jesse did was magic. She is a phenomenal photographer.

  • KB

    I want to exactly this entire post. I feel like, while my fiance had some rock-solid opinions on some stuff, there was other stuff that he had no idea why it was important or what kind of opinion he “should” have, other than “Eh, sounds good” until we made the choice and then he saw the effect of those choices and then changed his mind because he couldn’t visualize it beforehand. I think it’s hard to explain the significance of certain choices without having the entire game plan mapped out, but there’s no way for you to do that because you yourself are in the throes of figuring out what you want to do.

    I tend to think the opposite about disagreeing about the goals of the wedding in that I don’t think it bodes ill for marriage – in fact, I think this horrible, complicated, stressful process has made both me and my fiance better for it because we’ve seen each other upset over things that matter to both of us and, even if we didn’t resolve issues to both of our senses of satisfaction, we’ve seen the beast, so to speak. I’d rather him see me have a meltdown over seating arrangments before we get married and know how to handle it rather than a post-marriage meltdown at 2am with a baby crying, or in the middle of a cross-country move, or (God forbid) a funeral of a loved one, and be like “Where is this coming from????”

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Exactly especially to your first paragraph. I found that not just with my husband, but with everyone with a stake in wedding planning (parents mostly). It wasn’t until things were mostly in line that they could have the plans in their heads, and then they could “see” the problems.

    • steph (OP)

      I’m glad some of it clicked for you and I think it is probably pretty common for people to not see the likely long-term impact of a choice until a lot farther down the road. I totally agree that not being able (or wanting to) visualize the whole thing ahead of time contributed to ambivalence on those early decisions.

      And though in the moment the conflict felt overwhelming and terrible and led me to think in hyperbole, I definitely agree that working through this stuff helped make our relationship stronger.

  • Lauren

    I’m obsessed with that last picture… Your photog was awesome!

  • Copper

    I’m curious, how did you guys handle weird assumptions and questions from outsiders? My groom and I are being very collaborative as well, and I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten some version of, “well this is really the bride’s day” or “I don’t understand how you’re doing this all yourself” and my answers tend to be, “ummm NO. As far as I’m concerned, this day is about him. Otherwise, why would I be doing this?” I wind up feeling very defensive when these things come up, that he doesn’t care about the wedding or that he won’t help (“The groom’s just expected to show up”!!!) and probably not handling it as well as I should. I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with these assumptions, especially if you manage to handle them with more grace than I do!

    • Emmy

      It’s been my experience that the more confident I seem in our choices, the better it is. For example, for a few months, I didn’t have an engagement ring and we weren’t planning on getting one. People would always ask to see the ring! So I just nonchalantly said, “Oh, I don’t have one. We decided not to do that.” Since I seemed (and was) so confident in that and like it really wasn’t a big deal, no one made a big deal out of it.

      I really hate that narrative around “the bride’s special day.” If people say something like that, I just say, “Oh no, we’re actually planning it together.” Or I try to laugh it off (and privately roll my eyes). I think sometimes if you make a big deal of it, even just by being defensive, then it becomes an even bigger deal.

      • H

        Actually, I went to a wedding this past weekend (our first since WE got married), and the way that they dealt with that narrative was fantastic. They turned it into a joke, and every time somebody said something like, “I wish you were doing x”, they said to whomever asked, “Well, it’s YOUR day, so what do YOU want? ” Everybody would laugh at the unsaid expectations, and all the pressure was instantly off of them, and they had the space to actually do whatever. Which made me chuckle at the genius.

    • Becca

      I’ve been getting alot of this too… in many ways my fiance cares more about the wedding than I do; but everyone around us assumes that it’s all on me, and why should I ask him what he thinks about anything since it’s “my” day, and grooms don’t care about this stuff anyhow!? It seems to wash into the “Bridezilla” cultural expectation.

      • Copper

        And then if you meet that expectation you are derided for it. No-win.

      • Oh I can so relate. I cared about the wedding only in so much as a) I wanted to be married to him and b) I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by too many people. We got to a point where I told my husband that he could either plan the wedding or I’d get things prepped for us to elope. We eloped.

    • Margaret

      I just ignored the “it’s your day thing” whenever it came up in casual conversation but when dealing with potential vendors, we were both there and did an equal amount of talking and expressing opinions, so most people figured it out on their own. We did have one vendor that didn’t get it (the tux rental place). The woman there kept asking me what I wanted and I just looked at her like she was crazy and asked my fiance what he wanted. We ended up renting from a single person shop who did get it. As for people asking how you’re managing this by yourself, I just said things like, “B is a great partner and we are doing this together.”

      I do second Emily’s response about sounding confident. If you act like what you’re doing is normal and expected, most people will drop it. At least that was my experience.

    • steph (OP)

      I agree with what a lot of other folks have said. We actually didn’t face a lot of weird questions, maybe in part because we tried to work with vendors who seemed like they would treat us as partners and not see Woody as an accessory. We used a lot of “we” language–something I try not to use to excess in normal life since we are married but not actually a single organism–and maybe that help set the tone presenting us as a united and in-it-together front.

      Not sure that was super helpful in suggesting new gracious responses to annoying questions!

  • Susie

    Exactly! I share Steph’s sentiments, frustrations, and surprises with cooperative wedding planning in so many ways! Thank you for writing this and for your husband’s perspectives as well. Congratulations!

  • Aubry

    I am so worried about C coming at me with opinions that far in! We have had many convos about what he wants/expects and aside from an early color scheme veto and his attire, he basically doesn’t care. This is fine by me, and I am happy to plan things with just a little of his input, but I really worry he has opinions he isn’t telling me! I have had the 3x check “you are really, really, OK with me booking x vendor” for important things and he says he is.

    But, we had a slight curve ball with the engagement ring right near the end and it turned out he had opinions about my lovely ring which he didn’t share until right before he proposed. He thought it needed to be expensive gold and diamonds, and my practical sapphire wasn’t sitting right with him.

    All is well now, but if he comes at me with a huge issue with how the wedding is going in 6 months then I will have a hard time feeling anything but pissed. I guess the most I can do is keep talking and try to lay out the big picture for him as we go (as I know he needs) so we can try to avoid drowning in details.

    Also, thanks for the awesome post, and you had a wonderful wedding! I hope the communication learned in planning serves you well in all the years of your marriage.

    • steph (OP)

      I think one of my big take-aways after all of this was that we are each entitled to change our minds about things, but that doesn’t mean that everything changes. Recourse has to be a conversation accounting for established priorities and decisions we already made–in the end we did compromise on things but we didn’t (for instance) scrap the whole wedding and start planning a new one.

  • Tania

    This post made me go home last night and sit down with my fiance, look him in the eye and ask ‘Are you ok with what we’ve planned? Is it turning into a wedding that you want to be at?’ so thank you for this alone. (He said yes, he told me he loved me and we had one of the best conversations we’ve had in a long time).

    • steph (OP)

      Yay! So glad it inspired a good conversation!! And that the outcome was good.

  • Super wise reflection! Thank you for sharing. :) And congrats!

  • Allie

    Please share where you found that amazing ivory floral belt! You look so beautiful!!

    • Steph (op)

      Oh no I accidentally reported you, sorry!!

      I got the belts from Jenny Yoo–bridesmaid collection, they were actually super reasonably priced!

  • Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you
    relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting
    videos to your blog when you could be giving us something
    informative to read?