Madeline: Comparisons

Weddings are supposed to be unique and life-changing—and I can now say with experience, they are. But when everyone else you know is getting married, it’s very hard not to start playing comparisons. Watching others plan for your venue or hearing the comment, “We want something low-key, just like your wedding,” leaves me with mixed feelings.

I like offering advice. But our wedding was also, you know, ours. I don’t want to see it reprised and have to sit there as a guest, trying not to calculate how much more the other couple spent on appetizers.

The tiny grown-up section of my brain tells me that making comparisons is not a smart way to live life. But it sometimes gets worn down by the irrational child part, which wants to tug on someone’s jacket sleeve and say “But that was mine.” Or just as damaging, “I want what she’s got.”

Meg linked last week to the “America is Anxious” column in the New York Times and these lines jumped out at me: “Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else?” Part of the challenge of the perfect wedding day we are sold by the WIC is the anxiety of being happy on the day. That I’d expected. The part where you have to remind yourself to stay happy—and check any instinct to second guess your own wedding (even after it’s passed) when attending someone else’s nuptials—that was different.

This is one of the reasons why my wedding photographs are so important to me. If I haven’t looked at them in a while, it’s easy to get dragged back into the habit of wondering if I made the right choices, or wishing we could just do that one part again with a different kind of centerpiece I just spotted in a magazine. But one look at the photos reminds me that it’s done, and what’s more, that we did it right. Not right perfect, but right for us. Same way I look at my husband at the end of each day and think, yes! At the end of the day, I could never attend someone else’s wedding and wish for a second that I was anything other than an observer. I’ll never want what another bride has got, in any meaningful way. Because I’ve got my husband.

Photo credit: Joseph Mason Studios

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  • Lynn

    I have something kicking around in my head that is about this same topic. I don’t want to change my wedding. It was the wedding we were supposed to have and it was wonderful because yeah, you’re right…I’ve got my husband.

    I want someone else to change their wedding because it is shaping up to be too much like ours (down to having it the weekend of our first anniversary, serving the same foods, etc). I want to stomp my foot and throw a tantrum about *our* day and *our* celebration, but I’m having a hard time justifying that given that one, it’s a year later, and two, they are just wanting to create *their* day and *their* celebration. I know why they’re making the decisions they are (hell, that’s why we made them), but criminey, could you at least give me our anniversary?

    I’m trying to work all of those issues out for myself because this isn’t a way I like feeling.

    • Amber

      After my fiancé and I finally chose our wedding date I began telling my family, including my older sister. Even though I was at her wedding when I was 12 (she’s about 16 years older than me) I had totally forgotten that she had gotten married on the same date we chose. Additionally, the date is the same her fourth child passed away from a nasty heart condition. As you can imagine, this is an important and charged time of year for my sister and my brother in law. Once I realized the overlap I worried she would be upset we had chosen the same date, but I was pleasantly surprised by her response. She told me how excited she was for us and how happy she was to share such an important day with us for our wedding. That it was a blessed day. I felt relieved and grateful she was so supportive. Perhaps you could look at your friend’s wedding as a continuation of the celebration of your wedding and marriage. How can you share your joy from your wedding with your friend?

      • I agree with Amber – “Perhaps you could look at your friend’s wedding as a continuation of the celebration of your wedding and marriage.”

        It’s a great day to get married – you and your husband were married on that day, and it holds such a special meaning to you both, but others celebrating on that day won’t diminish what it was for you. If anything, it might even add to it. You can have the “remember last year…” moments throughout the day, and know what a tremendous year/marriage it’s been, and how great the next year will be.

      • Sarah

        Agreed. I’m getting married the day after my sister’s second anniversary and I don’t think it bothers her a bit (we both chose it because of a long weekend). That said, everything else is different (hers — downtown Toronto, short dress, old stock exchange venue; mine — ancient port city in Tel Aviv, long dress and cathedral veil, old house above the sea) so it helps.

    • Me too.

      It’s incredibly hard to articulate and incredibly hard to feel.

      And I’m almost at my second anniversary. (Still not submitted a graduate post!)

      • Lynn

        I’m glad someone else gets it.

        There are a lot of things that swirl around all of it. It’s not logical because if it were, I could tell myself some of the wonderful things that have been suggested and it would all be fine. But the truth is that I’ve already told myself those things, and it’s *still* an issue I need to work out.

    • Carrie

      I think each wedding is unique because of the people there. Even if it was held in exactly the same place with the same food and the same decorations at the same time of year — the guests are going to be different. The interactions and conversations are going to be different. The emotions are going to be different. The funny mishaps (that happen at every wedding) are going to be different.

      The stage may be the same, but it will be a different play.

  • Kara

    But it sometimes gets worn down by the irrational child part, which wants to tug on someone’s jacket sleeve and say “But that was mine.” Or just as damaging, “I want what she’s got.”

    Ain’t that the truth. I asked my husband whether he ever felt similar about our wedding and he looked at me like I’d grown very strange horns. Nope. And somehow that made me let that little kid voice go….

    • Madeline

      Husbands and APW are great reality checks!

      • Kara

        YES! Especially as I’m still reading APW 6 months after the wedding–I think I’m still processing the wedding bit (and getting used to the whole “wife” thing).

  • I can definitely relate to this, and agree that when it happens, it’s so nice to just look back at our wedding phots and remember that it was indeed a wonderful day and given the chance, I probably wouldn’t do it differently. Well, okay, maybe one or two things, but overall, I loved my wedding and it suited us perfectly. I am thankful that we haven’t had any “copycats” since most of the people who attended our wedding were already married or no where near close to getting married, otherwise that “irrational child part” might sneak out. It was bad enough that my husband and I had been planning our wedding for over 9 months when his sister decided she was going to get married 5 days after us completely interfering. That’s another story, though.

  • Sophie

    In some ways, it’s natural to compare, but ultimately what makes a wedding your own is that you and your partner experienced it. Similar centerpieces or invitations won’t change that.

    Funny story about comparisons – I had a lovely and happy first wedding, although the marriage didn’t work. About a year after the wedding, my first husband and I attended a family wedding. One of his aunts told me “Your wedding was lovely. THIS wedding will be BEAUTIFUL!”

    I really don’t miss some of my former in-laws. :)

  • Class of 1980

    “This is one of the reasons why my wedding photographs are so important to me. If I haven’t looked at them in a while, it’s easy to get dragged back into the habit of wondering if I made the right choices, or wishing we could just do that one part again with a different kind of centerpiece I just spotted in a magazine.”

    Use that different centerpiece at a dinner party some day. ;)

    • Madeline


  • Ana

    I had a similar thought, though I was worried a friend-bride might think I was being the copycat. My partner had been planning our wedding for two months when we attended the wedding of friends we don’t see that often (different coasts). I wasn’t surprised that the ceremony and reception venue were quite similar to ours, since the four of us all love nature, water, and New York state (where we currently live and where the bride grew up). But I went wide-eyed and open-mouthed when I sat down for dinner, since the table set up and centerpieces were near identical to what we planned. After the food was served (family-style, just like us!) I made a joke to the bride that she’d basically be attending her wedding as a guest in just a few short months. She seemed good-natured about it but when we got home I started to second-guess myself…if we go ahead and order this, our friend will think we’re copying her. If I want the same thing as this other couple, does that mean we’re being trite and trendy? Shouldn’t we strive to be unique? I really struggle with letting go of the second-guessing and sticking with what’s true to us – even if it’s the same thing that’s true to another couple.

    • Anne

      I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Some of those similarities — like serving food family style — you’ll find everywhere, so I doubt it will feel like you copied your friends.

      A good friend of mine got married two weeks before my husband and I did, in the same church (although different reception site), and we had planned our wedding first. But they were so completely different anyway, and I think you’ll find that those surface details don’t make the two celebrations as similar as you think they’ll seem.

    • Bethany

      I had a similar situation – except I was on the other side of it. One of my best friends got engaged right after me, and we planned our weddings within a month of each other. We were bridesmaids for each other. When we got to talking about what we wanted for our own weddings, we realized we wanted many similar things. I felt bad because I think she felt pressure to make her wedding different than mine (my wedding was first). I attempted to relieve her of this, but one can only do so much. And although there were some similar aspects to our wedding days, many things were different – because we are different people! And some things were similar, cause hey – we’re good friends, and we like a lot of the same things.

      I think there is SO much pressure to make your wedding unique, that you feel that if your friend used mason jars, you have to use pitchers. If you had cake, I need to have pie. But I think, in the end, what makes weddings unique are the people getting married, the people in attendance, and the wonderful mix of everything that makes the day what it is.

  • Diana

    This. Thank you. Just in time, too. Last night I happened across a friend of a friends wedding pictures and started down the “That’s what I wanted to do” and “That’s better than ours was” spiral. I needed this reminder. My wedding was beautiful and fantastic and having my husband to prove it.

  • That entire last paragraph. Yes!

    I was worried that I would be left with regrets or finding myself making comparisons after our wedding, but in the year that has passed, and after attending several weddings this year, I know in my heart that what we did, how we did it…it was perfectly us. I have no regrets, I have no sorrow surrounding the day. It happened as it should have happened and I’m left with so many fabulous memories/photographs/videos…

  • KB

    I fully expect to have regrets after the wedding – not about getting married, mind you, but I will see an idea or a thing and go, “Ohhh, if only we’d done THAT!” But at the same time, I kind of want to just already have the dang thing already so that I can get to that zen post-wedding point, if such a thing exists, and start saving for other future goals – like a honeymoon/puppy/house.

  • Christina

    Love this post, so to the point and captures some emotions I have been dealing with lately. And at the end of the day, YES the one you come home to is yours.

    What I am coming to realize is the thing about looking back on your wedding vs comparing to someone else’s is that your wedding is YOUR wedding. That sounds kind of obvious, but what I mean is that even if you attend a wedding where the bride copies your peach blush color theme, or has a photobooth and you didn’t, or just has a nicer venue— when look at the pictures of your wedding, you see that the people in them are the most important ones in your universe, who are happy for you— and the things and prettiness in those photos, even if imperfect, are things you orchestrated and your loved ones are all immensely impressed with it and maybe secretly thinking they wish they thought of themselves.

    I had an aunt tell me the tables looked like something out of a magazine. I kind of doubt they did– but I am working to hold onto that sweet sentiment, and the fact that we did good enough for her and really everyone who said they had a great time at our wedding, while trying to let go of my own impossible standards and tiny little details that really do not matter.

    Anyway I’ll try to save some of what I’ve been thinking about for when I finally get around to writing my graduate post ….

  • “Watching others plan for your venue or hearing the comment, “We want something low-key, just like your wedding,” leaves me with mixed feelings.”

    I’ve been very hesitant to discuss the details of the day I got married for a lot of reasons. Our elopement was magical and perfect and so completely me and my husband and I don’t want to share it with anyone but the people who were there and mostly I’ve said it’s because it was just so intimate and personal and that I don’t want to distort my memory. But a part of it is definitely the idea that it’s OURS and I don’t really want anyone else taking my wedding and replicating it.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    A concept that’s helped with our wedding planning is the Old English word “solempne,” which means something like “joyful solemnity,” with “solemnity” having the ritualized connotations it now has in the liturgical context. Our goal has been to not be unique or personalized, but to recreate the traditions our guests expect as simply as we can. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing personal or individual about our wedding, or that we had no choices to make, just that our goal is actually to be like all the other weddings our guests have attended.

    • Rymenhild

      I like that a LOT. Where did you find “solempne” used in that sense, and what inspired you to pick it up as your theme?

      *making a mental note*

      • ElisabethJoanne

        It’s from a passage by C.S. Lewis that I found quoted on a Roman Catholic [not-wedding] blog. I don’t have a link. We were well into our planning at that point. It was more that “solempne” captured what we had always been doing than that it directed things. It has been a helpful touchstone when I’ve been distracted by submersible LEDs in centerpieces and multiple hair trials, etc.

  • Lia

    This keeps making me think of the APW book, where it says (apologies for paraphrasing!) “you will not remember how your wedding looked, you will remember how it FELT”.

    I hope that the other couple will feel as happy as you did, but no-one can feel exactly what you felt on your day – and that probably wasn’t about the centrepieces or the food, but about the marriage – and, as you say, you’ve got your husband. Everything else probably will be used by other people, at other weddings, over and over all around the world, but your experience of your day was unique and no-one can steal it!

  • Rachel

    Thank you for this! It’s a reminder coming at the perfect time! I’ve been thinking about this post for the past several days.

    We recently got our wedding photos from our photographer and I found myself disappointed. Not by the job she did (they’re beautiful images!) but I realized I had certain expectations of what our photos would (should?) look like. I’ve found myself looking at friend’s photos and thinking ‘I wish we had done that’ or ‘I wish we had a photo of us like that’ or ‘Why don’t we look like ___?’ Completely forgetting that our photos don’t look like so and so’s because (duh!) it’s not us and wasn’t our wedding! Not sure why that’s so hard to remember. I’ve had to remind myself to remember how happy our day was and that’s why our photos are full of laughs and smiles and not the emotional, serious, dramatic photos I might have expected or got tricked into thinking were the only ones that could be beautiful.

    There are no gorgeous sunset pictures of us because it rained most of our wedding day and there are no emotional father-daughter images because the relationship with my dad is tenuous at best. But there are tons of pictures of me laughing with my sisters, friends, and my husband. Because that’s who we are. And we were so happy to finally be married. I can’t have her/your/whoever’s wedding photos…because I have my own. Which are actually a perfect reflection of who we are and the perfect-for-us wedding we planned. Thanks for the reality check! :)