Undergraduate: Decision Fatigue

A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine wrote an article about the science behind decision fatigue. The article described wedding planning as the worst of the worst when it came to exhausting our brains and wearing out our decision making powers. I immediately figured that I needed to write a post on the subject. But it turned out that before I even could, a post was submitted by someone in the midst of their own planning hell, and it was funnier than anything I could have written. So I bring you a post by the writer of A Mouse Bouche. It’s a good one.

I just got an email informing me that this is possibly my last chance to order those personalized napkins I absolutely must have. “YES!” I thought, “That’s exactly what I need! Here you go, loved ones, please wipe your faces and clean your fingernails on the names of me and my betrothed!”

I am officially over the wedding industry. (And have officially been driven slightly insane by it.)

Episode one:
Everyone’s favorite bride sits on the couch, sobbing, midst meltdown over some decision that had to be made yesterday. The Fiancé, a pillar of patience, strokes her hand and coos, “It’s fine. We don’t have to decide. We just won’t have a ceremony.” More crying.

Episode two (a short play):
The Fiancé and Yours Truly are leaving a visit to a jewelry store at which they have just found out that they can add ring shopping to the list of things “You really should have started months ago.”

Fiancé: So if they tell us it might take four weeks, and then it’s not ready by the time our wedding day comes around, what are we going to do? Are you going to be okay with a place-holder ring?

Yours Truly: (striding energetically/crazily down the block) Well, if they say four weeks and something happens on their end and it’s not ready, then it’s their problem and they better find a way to fix it and get it to us before our wedding day.


Fiancé: I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to start a fight between you and our Imaginary Jeweler.

(and, scene.)

Episode three:
The Blushing Bride and her Groom sit, oh, anywhere. On the couch. In bed. At a table in a restaurant. On the subway. Talking about the latest in a string of decisions that must be made or else.

Fiancé: So what do you want to do about _______?

Yours Truly: I don’t know.

Change locale. Repeat an infinite number of times.

I recently said to the Fiancé that I felt my decision-making muscle was exhausted and unable to function at its full capacity anymore. Never a great one for making choices to begin with, the near-daily workout of being faced with utterly absurd and unnecessary decisions like choosing between this linen and that one, this non-stick skillet or that one (pick this one—America’s Test Kitchen does), to veil or not to veil, what friggin song best represents us as a couple, and are we really missing out by not getting our invitations hand-cancelled at the post office (No, and who has ever heard of such a thing?), my capacity for differentiating between choices and making a decision based on sound information and good judgment is severely impaired.

Turns out the science world has my back on this one. In this New York Times article, they discuss Decision Fatigue as a very real thing with very real, sometimes devastating consequences (judges who hear multiple cases in a day are more likely to deny parole to those later in the day, and this phenomenon takes a particular toll on the poor, who are constantly being depleted by the continual trade-offs and sacrifices of poverty). It goes on to explain how, like will power, our capacity to weigh options and make decisions can get maxed out if we’re calling upon it too often. That dieting phenomenon of waking up with the best intentions for eating well, sitting down to a breakfast of grapefruit and egg whites, and then pigging out at 9pm on nachos and beer, is actually that the will power muscle, the power to make a decision based on long vision and practicality, is just plain worn out after a day of work. AND, the article specifically talks about the process of wedding planning as a virtual marathon for this part of the psyche—the article actually calls it “The decision fatigue equivalent of Hell Week”! I couldn’t agree more. This also sort of hit upon the irony of the “wedding diet” I keep talking about starting. If I’m totally depleted in the decision-making department, and have virtually no judgment or good sense left by the end of a day of phone calls with vendors, isn’t the deck sort of stacked against me getting my butt to bikini bootcamp and forgoing alcohol and chips for steamed kale? The answer is yes.

Which brings me to our next set of decisions: The Menu.

As a food person (and writer of a food blog!), our food was pretty high on my list of priorities. Not to mention, after the dress, it’s pretty much the first thing anyone who knows me asks about. As in, “I can’t wait to hear about the menu! It must be amazing, since you’re such a foodie!” So I sat down to look at hors d’eouvres options with some trepidation. Should we go with the Anise Scented Duck and Foie Gras Empanadas? Or the Smoked Duck and Scallion Crepe Roulade? Too fussy? Overdone? Not us? And how does one determine if one preparation of duck or another best represents us as a couple?

And then it hit me. When I woke up this morning—the best time to make decisions, according to the article—I thought about this whole to-do, these months of “this or that,” “for a small upgrade you can get this,” and “well if we invite him then we have to invite her.” And I realized that the hardest decision of all—or I should say, the most significant one—has already been made. I picked him, and low and behold! He picked me. The rest, if you ask me, decision fatigue and all, is small potatoes. Fried or mashed—don’t ask me—they both sound great.

And so I sat down with our long list of menu choices and asked, do I want people to leave this wedding saying, “Wow. That food was incredible and inventive and original!”?

Or do I want them to leave saying, “Wow. Those two people sure do love each other.”

And it turns out that decision wasn’t so hard after all.

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  • Gillian

    wow. amazing.

  • Oh hell YES! Thank you for this. Just … Thank you.

    • And can I just add – I’m one of the many APW types who are wedding planning mid-PhD, and the combined weight of decisions-awaiting-brain-space is out of control.

      Where should I work from today? What should I read? What should I write? What’s the question again? Why am I asking it? What the hell does it all mean?! Oh, that’s right, it’s all up to me! [eyeballs begin to bleed]

      Seriously, doing the thesis already feels like suddenly having to decide to breathe. “So I’ve breathed out, now what?” And when you add to that all these lovely, well-meaning people, with their lovely, well-meaning, goddamn endless questions … it’s time to read something like what you’ve written here so beautifully, mix up a stiff margarita and drink it slowly, gazing lovingly at the best decision you’ve ever made.

      • This is seriously the best description I’ve ever read of what PhD work feels like! Exactly, exactly, exactly. (Especially the bit about the bleeding eyeballs.)

  • Jennifer


  • lovelove

    This is just so true. And also the wedding decisions pale into the distance when you have some real life changing decisions to make. Not saying the wedding ones are insignificant (he’ll they took over my life for 12 months!), but they definitely are insignificant now.

  • K in Oz

    Yes yes yes! This! Expecially “Episode Three” – that is me all over…

    and this: And so I sat down with our long list of menu choices and asked, do I want people to leave this wedding saying, “Wow. That food was incredible and inventive and original!”?
    Or do I want them to leave saying, “Wow. Those two people sure do love each other.”
    And it turns out that decision wasn’t so hard after all.
    … so true.

    somewhere i read that you only need you, the other half, a minister/celebrant and a marriage licence to get married. the rest is optional. my fiancé now reminds me of this whenever i get too stressed… :)

    • Mallory

      Hahaha I snorted a bit when I read episode 3 too cause that was me deciding a venue a few weeks ago. I definitely tried the shut-down and ignore defense to decision making… not exactly the most productive (or friendly).

  • Sarah

    Totally completely AWESOME and right.

    The idea that every.single.decision needs to represent some critical component of the couple’s identity drove me bats*** at the end of our planning process. Your last few sentences were exactly what I would have needed to hear then.

  • Esme

    So, so, so true! And yet you still need to decide, which is sometimes a killer…

    • Yup.

      I have a pretty healthy ability to not get too wrapped up in these decisions. I know what matters, and ultimately, the colors of the tablecloths ain’t it (although they are very pretty.)

      Yet at the end of the day, those decisions still HAVE TO BE MADE, and even having a healthy perspective on it does not keep me from wanting to die of decision fatigue.

      I have tried unloading things onto family members, but I have found that they still come to us for every single decision even when we assure them that we would be happy with whatever decision they make.

      Finally, I found that since I was ending up with the most decision fatigue with regards to the wedding, that I would make my fiance take full control over some of our daily life decisions. Until the wedding, he’s responsible for deciding what we’re having for dinner (he’s not responsible for the cooking necessarily, just making the decision.)

      I can’t tell you what a relief it’s been.

  • speccygirl

    I tried to keep wedding details, preparations and decision making to a minimum – I definitely had a few struggles at times – but overall it ended up less stressful for me. I was even able to hang out with my little sis (who lives overseas and I now haven’t seen for almost 3 years) the day before the wedding and take a visit to the city…

  • Moz

    Fantastic post!

  • Geepuff

    Oh man, I’m about 3 weeks away and it seems like the list of things to decide on will never ever go away and is this crazy monster chasing me throughout my day.

    So good to hear that I’m not alone in feeling depleted! And yes, it is important to keep the focus on the whole reason why you’re throwing this epically insane party, but it ain’t always easy. It’s good to have APW around to remind me that I don’t have to let the crazy win, and at the same time, it’s cool if I just need to sit on the couch and be overwhelmed and have a cry.

  • Leigh

    Nine days out from my wedding…dealing with an eleventh-hour venue change (!) that has thrown our logistics into serious disarray…couldn’t be more in the middle of decision fatigue…

    …and this post couldn’t have been better timed. Those last three sentences — yes yes and again yes. Thank you.

  • Oh, thank you. Needed to hear this.

    I would like to officially request an APW app that will randomly generate a calm-the-eff-down quote (such as the last few lines of this gem) and send it to my phone…every few hours. Anyone have the skill set to get on that?

    • I need that app, too! Another reason why I wish I could go back in time and double-major in English and Computer Science.

    • Kate

      Dude. Someone make this, please.

  • Alison

    I love this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The fiance and I are in what seems to be a constant state of decision fatigue. Your post was beautiful, heartfelt, funny, and well-timed.


  • Carbon Girl

    Having not wedding planned for almost 2 years, this article brought me back. I even felt that familiar anxiety pit in my stomach again. But this also explains why some days my dissertation seems clear and other days I have no idea what the hell is going on. Last night I had to sit with my husband to go over parts of my dissertation and he was able to help me with a bunch of decisions that seem so obvious now, but that I was too paralyzed to make yesterday.

    Also, have any of you heard of the research that equated too many choices with unhappiness? The idea being if you meticulously research all your options and then choose, you will be less happy with your choice (because you had to give up on a bunch of other options), than if you just chose between two or three options?

    • Carbon Girl

      Here is a blog entry that talks about “The Paradox of Choice:”

    • Yes, that research is fascinating. There is a Barry Schwartz talk on Ted.com that I saw a couple years ago that I still think about somewhat regularly…

    • JEM

      Can we please give Cheesecake Factory this research on too many decisions –> unhappiness because…for reallllllll. That menu? It makes me want to cry.

      • FawMo

        Tip my BF taught me: eliminate what you don’t want. Surprisingly helpful. :)

        • JEM

          I’m a vegetarian so that helps me eliminate a lot but I still always just panicking when the server comes and blurt something out!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Yes, I’ve read about the paradox of choice. I need to remind my future husband about that after he gave me a 70-item list of possible venues.

  • Shannon

    Oh good lord is this exactly what I needed to read this morning. A thousand thank yous for helping me feel even a smidge less crazy. Why is it that every decision always boils down to “what best represents us as a couple?” As if I can be represented in cupcake form? Actually, don’t answer that.

  • Lakelady

    LOVE THIS! Just had our amazing wedding a few weeks ago but THIS is exactly how I felt the entire time I was planning. I’m a very decisive person and very organized, but the sheer number of decisions just broke me time and again. This essay summed up everything I felt for one very long year perfectly, complete with humor–thank you! Hang in there, it will be worth it!

  • Hypothetical Sarah


    The boy and I both read the decision fatigue NYTimes article when it came out. Then he emailed it to his boss, who is notoriously bad at making decisions (including, at that time, what to name his several-day-old daughter).

    I put important quotes on sticky notes on my desktop. Among them, I have this one from the boy:

    The wedding does not define us as a couple either now or in the future. It’s an event that deserves some attention but not too much.

    And this one from Meg (source: http://blog.timesunion.com/simplerliving/wedding-budget-advice-from-two-practical-brides/27452/):

    One of the phrases I learned during wedding planning is “the best is the enemy of the good.” The more choices you have, the more you get immobilized and the more unable you are to make a choice. And it doesn’t need to be the best, it just needs to be good enough.

    You’re not marrying the dress. And you’re not marrying the location. It’s probably important that you find a relatively perfect spouse, but if you’ve accomplished that, you’re probably not going to live with a lifetime of regret. That’s what you should focus on.

    • Ris

      Amen. “The best is the enemy of the good” has been my official wedding planning motto. Let me tell you, it’s freeing. I’ve been engaged a month and have pretty much made all the major decisions… I just look till I find something I like and can afford, then pick that. No need to find something I like even more, that’s even more affordable. Why bother, if that first thing is already great?
      Not to brag (ok maybe a little)… but I picked my dress and invites in three hours this afternoon. Yay!

      • Ris, definitely brag-worthy!

        It struck me, reading your comment, that the WIC actually valorizes indecision in totally insidious ways. How totally normal does it appear when a bride visits 20+ potential venues or tries on dozens of dresses before she picks one? How crazy do people make you feel when you find your dress on your first shopping trip, etc.? It’s funny because in no other situation would that kind of indecision seem okay. (Not that weddings aren’t important and not that people should be rushed into decisions they’re not comfortable making, but I feel like there’s this expectation that we’re supposed to ENJOY the indecision, the trying on of thousands of wedding dresses, when most of us don’t or won’t…)

  • Exactly! It’s about love and becoming a family, and laughing together and celebrating all that, not about the million details that may or may not represent you as a couple (why do things such as flowers or hors d’oeuvres have to be meaningful anyway????)

  • Mihaela

    Just got married last week, and wish I had read this article a few months back! I didn’t realize this was a real phenomenon – I thought it was all made up in my head. It’s so good to hear affirmation that, yes, it’s hard to make all those decisions, and I’m not just being a crazy bride!

  • This was almost exactly my experience too! There were multiple points that I turned to my now-husband and said “screw this, let’s elope” just because I couldn’t make any more decisions!

    I also had the food issue–I’m a food blogger too and everyone kept saying “I can’t wait to see the food at your wedding, it could be nothing less than amazing” which totally freaked me out–I’m not cooking the damn food so what if it’s awful how is it my responsibility?

    Thanks for writing this–I’m sure there are too many brides out there who think they’re alone in their experiences but luckily we are not!

  • I’ve been waiting for this post since the article came out! Decision fatigue was made even worse in my case by the fact that the boy and I weren’t even in the same city. So by the time we even got on Skype it would be 10pm and we’d be exhausted from our days and then have to go around with so many decisions based on what we each wanted and what our families would want and let’s talk about this tomorrow even though our wedding’s in three weeks, two weeks, one week….

  • Spoken out of my mouth. We’ve hardly made ANY decisions at all – we don’t even have a venue yet. It took us 5 months just to pick what season we were going to do it in. Every decision is a HUGE ordeal. And the whole “is this us?” question. Grrr…. I’m trying to take all of this good advice to heart. We picked each other. That’s enough…

    • Rather than worry if something is you, think about making it you. Our wedding is in winter. We both like winter, but neither of us are “winter” people. My favorite season is fall, and I always envisioned a harvest wedding . . . until I realized that fall is a crazy time for two teachers to get married, especially when one coaches a fall sport. His favorite season is spring, but we didn’t want to wait a whole year. So, winter it is! We are making it “us” by having things we like and not having things we don’t like. It’ll be a board game reception because we’re not huge dancers. We like the outdoors, so table decor is woodsy and can be thrown back out into the woods when we’re done (table rounds, pinecones, cedar boughs, etc). Think “what can I add in that personalizes this?” rather than having to sort through millions of wedding things and decide “is this us?” for every single one.

  • Awesome post. Wedding decision fatigue is way up there with rough stuff to think about. This will be a great help to a ton of couples, I’m certain.

  • I am so bad at making decisions that we have been purposefully streamlining them. We looked at one venue, it was awesome, the price worked for us, and the bar/food/set up was included. Done! We have a cake place in town we like, she’s a local small business, she was really enthusiastic during our meeting, the price is right. Done! Sure, maybe there might be a better cake place, but that would take a lot of time and effort to search out. And she’s good. And did I mention local? Hardly any of our friends live close enough to friendor for us, so we are trying out hardest to go with local above all. This process still takes some work, but it allows me to avoid the worst of indecision by going with the “good enough for us” and no comparison shopping option.

    The place I am still having difficulty is photography. I am a photographer, I love good photos, and I just can’t decide exactly what I want on the day of. If I could (afford to) hire two different companies, I would. So my version of this would say “K&K? Or the local person?”

  • Yes yes yes! I’m less than two months away from the wedding day and now we’re down to a lot of the small decisions, which are somehow harder than “find a photographer” or “find a DJ.” But I’m trying to think back to other weddings I’ve been to, and most of the time I haven’t left thinking “Those monogrammed cocktail napkins were AMAZING!” Most of the time it’s “They looked so beautiful! I’m so happy for them” or “So much fun!” Maybe details will add up to a really lovely experience, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be special because you got married.

  • This is really fantastic and just what I needed this morning.

  • Gigi

    Amen to all of the above. We’re 9 days away and last week I finally said “Enough”. If we haven’t decided yet, we really don’t need it. If anyone misses whatever we go without, oh well. This too shall pass…

  • Emily

    Absolutely agreed! There are all these little things I couldn’t imagine ever, ever caring about that now I have to make decisions about. It’s much easier to decide on things you might actually have opinions on! And it sucks because even when you want to say, “I don’t care, let’s skip that,” you risk hurting someone’s feelings.

    For example, boutonnieres and corsages. I thought they were silly at prom, and didn’t ever notice them at a wedding, until my mom asked what we were doing for them. So I decided to DIY them for the guys in wedding party because I was like “who caaaares about that crap? I’m not spending what florists charge!” Er,apparently we’re supposed to give boutonnieres and corsages to: all men in the wedding party, anyone else reading or singing in the ceremony, mothers, fathers, and grandparents? And my mom just said if we could give them to siblings it would really help to include them. Now I’m like, do I REALLY have to make a decision about making 16-20 boutonnieres or corsages (I hate crafts and this is the smallest of 4 projects) vs. spending a couple hundred dollars on things I really thought nobody cared about? I’m tempted to skip them entirely or restrict them to the wedding party because seriously, I have never noticed them, and my fiance doesn’t think they’re necessary either. But now it’s been put in the language of recognizing family members as loved vs excluding them, not putting stupid things in your lapel, and how can you do THAT?

    • Me

      My “job” at my brother’s wedding was to sit with his two sons. I was asked to do this the morning of the wedding, after hearing the bride moan for three days about how her “only attendant’s flight got changed, and if she doesn’t make it , I’ll have no one to stand with me….”
      I didn’t get a corsage. It wouldn’t have helped.

      Don’t do them because you have to, no matter what your mother says.

    • My parents have sung at approximately 9 million weddings. They almost always get corsages to wear. The first wedding I sang at with them, I must’ve been about 12. My mom pinned her corsage on, turned to me, and said, “When you get married, don’t buy corsages for the musicians. It’s such a waste.” Noted, mom.

      Don’t buy the damn corsages. People will feel included if you make them feel included, regardless of whether they’re wearing a flower on their chest.

    • Ely

      We diy’d bouquets the morning of the wedding with flowers from my mother’s garden. the plan on boutenniers was ‘if it’s easy, we’ll do it, if not we won’t bother’-the groom didn’t care anyway! Turned out the flowers were too big for bouts, so we didn’t do them and just had bouquets for the girls. I found out later my grandma rushed to the ceremony early to get her corsage-which of course we didn’t have. I felt a little bad, but it helped that nobody else had flowers except bride and bridesmaids. Also, she sat near the front, got pictures taken with us, etc. She was clearly included in the day, and didn’t end up caring that she didn’t have flowers to prove it. So show people you care by actually, you know, caring, and don’t worry about the flowers!

    • I was just laughing with a friend the other day about how I ordered boutonnieres for all the men you just mentioned (ordered from the grocery store two weeks before the wedding) and made it someone’s job to hand them out before the ceremony. When I got to the reception, all the boutonnieres were sitting, still in their plastic containers, on one of the tables at the entrance. Needless to say, they were a waste.

      However, every decision that involved something my mom wanted was made with this in mind- did I care enough to argue over it? If you don’t care, and she does, this seems like an easy thing to give her. Just like welcome bags were an easy thing to give my mom, so later I could stand my ground about not wearing a veil. Some things are worth arguing over, and some are definitely not!

    • Ha!
      What is it with boutonnieres/corsages?
      My mom brought this one up a couple weeks ago. And I was like, mom, I’m not even having a bouquet. I don’t give an eff about the silly flowers. If you want them figure it out, but this is one decision I have bowed out of.

      • I feel you! My now-hubby didn’t want any flowers, but we figured our dad’s might want to be recognized (and they’re rather traditional), so we got some for them. Then my mom was like “I don’t want flowers.” Great! I didn’t have to deal with it. Then about a week before the wedding, mom sheepishly comes to me and says, “well… I’ve been thinking…”

        Luckily the woman working our flower magic created a beautiful corsage for her. :)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I’m trying to have this attitude with other things. The first issue that came up was a cake topper. I wanted to skip it. Future husband wanted one. [So strange what they get interested in and what they don’t.] I said, “Fine, but I don’t want to find one. So we’ll set a budget, and you choose.” Similar with venues after he nixed my high school gym. “Fine, but you do the research if you don’t like my easy and free option.”

      • Emily

        That’s the funny thing! We have very very few flowers! We’re only getting an arrangement for the church altar (not optional, the alternative is “donate to the church flower fund”) and a bouquet for me (optional, but even if it’s just one flower I’d really like one). We’re not doing bridesmaid bouquets, church decor, reception flowers, or anything. So I was going to make these pin/foliage/ribbon based non-floral boutonnieres and corsages…but the ballooning number is scaring me!

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      If you wind up keeping the corsages, why not simplify? You could give each lady a single flower to hold. Buy a bouquet of roses at the grocery store and divvy them up… no real DIY required

      • Emily

        I’m trying to minimize flowers, but I think at most I could simplify with, “here, have a pretty ribbon bow!” Which I may. Thanks.

  • Christa

    This article was published just when I got home from my wedding, when I was curled up in bed saying, “no, you decide whats for dinner!”. I had a really hard time at my wedding, and think having to make everysingle decision about food, cost, timing, you name it was a pretty significant reason. Does serving dinner at 4:30 or 4:45 best represent us as a couple? Didn’t matter- the caterer needed a to the minute schedule from me but she was running 45 minutes behind anyways. (food was awesome, though).

  • This is awesome. My wife threatened (and then did) take a decision vacation for the majority of our honeymoon after the wedding because of moments like this. Though the decisions for our honeymoon were a lot more fun than the wedding decisions.

    • Anon

      Love that – I think everyone needs a decision vacation :)

  • Thank you for writing this! We are about three months into wedding planning, and my head is spinning already from all the minute decisions that we suddenly have to make. Like what kind of chairs to rent. I looked back at photos of my friends’ weddings, and realized that I have absolutely no memory of what chairs I was sitting on. So, my reasoning was, who cares, as long as they are comfortable!
    And this is just the beginning…

    Anyway, thank you for confirming that I’m not the only one going crazy over all these minute decisions.

  • Haha, you had me laughing all along, and you ending was the best:

    ” And so I sat down with our long list of menu choices and asked, do I want people to leave this wedding saying, “Wow. That food was incredible and inventive and original!”?
    Or do I want them to leave saying, “Wow. Those two people sure do love each other.”

    We never really had any decision fatigue, we really flowed through the process and never really got what all the fuss was about. I guess it was because from the start we were like , ok we do not want a sitting plan check. We will need a lunch menu ok. So we found a restaurant we liked, ate there to make sure it was nice, and then let them the liberty to make it nice according to some guidelines we more or less set up. Same with the flowers, went to the girl, that we trusted since my boy’s family has been going there for a while and were like ok, we want a wild look in different colors, to look like we just came back from the fields with flowers. And so and so, like check check check. We want this, we don’t want that, and leeeave the rest. I had a few wedding magazines but most of the time we just read the articles and were like really? really ? People do that ? There was one recommendation that stuck with me. You should absolutely have 2 pairs of shoes and make sure to put the spare one in the freezer so that when your feet are sore you have them fresh. Wow the things one learns (not).

  • Oh, man. This article makes me nervous. I’m a little over a month into engagement-dom and a little less than a year away from The Wedding. So far, we’ve booked the chapel and the venue. Both of those decisions were easy-peasy. (We booked the first venue we saw.) We just met with a photographer on Tuesday and loved him. After our meeting, we discussed whether we should book him. Both of us agreed that we should. My fiance looked at me and said, with caution in his voice, “This seems too easy.” I assured him that there will come a time in our wedding planning process where we won’t pick the first thing we see. I’m going to embrace our decisiveness for now because I’m sure that the indecisiveness will rear its ugly head soon enough.

    • Fiorentina

      Let me just say, this is an excellent strategy – embrace the decisiveness and long may it live! FWIW, we also went through the “this is too easy” concern in the beginning. You know what? Sometimes it’s easy because it’s right, or it’s easy because the choice doesn’t really matter all that much. When it’s easy, let it happen, because, yeah, that decision fatigue is real, so start creating it where it’s not already there.

    • Em

      do it!

    • Claire

      Embrace it. We seem to be in the minority, but we also experienced surprise at how easy it seemed. Perhaps because neither of us had strong feelings or expectations around most wedding stuff. So we agreed to just pick one and not to over analyze it or assign it greater significance than it would otherwise have. That approach worked well for us.

    • Marina

      I think that there are easy parts and stressful parts of wedding planning, like with any big project. May your easy parts stretch on and on and your stressful parts finish quickly. :)

  • Beth

    I’m looking forward to reading the NY Times article! In the meantime, this is a piece about a different aspect of tough decision making from Newsweek a few months back. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/02/27/i-can-t-think.html This helped me put words to what often happens in my own head, as well as my partner’s. Now that I understand a little more about our differences (I’m a maximizer, he’s a sufficer), I have new ways to approach him when I need his opinion. It’s also helpful to recognize when and why I’m freezing up about a decision. The more tools we have in this crazy world of endless wedding choices, the better!

  • Contessa

    “How does one determine if one preparation of duck or another best represents us as a couple?” LOVE IT.

    Last night the fiance and I were discussing which country music songs were mainstream enough for the wedding playlist when we found out his sister was pregnant. This kicked the convo into how we would time having a baby with me finishing my degree (and how a baby would impact my short term goals more than his) and what we would each sacrifice for what…and the “That’s too Honky Tonk” arguement went out the window.

    Our brains only have enough room to care about a certain number of things. We need to make sure we are fussing over the *right* ones.

    Excellent post, thanks!!

  • RubberDuckie

    High five, sister. Sage words of wisdom that I will take to heart over the next year, for sure.

  • I am not the best decision-maker. I am a “maximizer,” so I (over-?) analyze and research a lot…and then often doubt what I thought I had decided because maybe there is a “better” solution that I just haven’t found yet. (I am currently doing this with buying a pair of brown boots.)

    This is why I am so glad we had only a 4 month wedding-planning process, and why that might have been our best planning decision ever: There just wasn’t time to agonize too much. In such a time crunch, I had a better chance at grasping the overall importance of decisions in the grand scheme of things. It focused my thinking to what was necessary for us (which also included things I found pretty or meaningful, and sometimes even time-intensive, like making our invites). It eliminated the things that were not necessary for us. Continuous looming deadlines were stressful, but it was easier to say that though a decision may not be the very best solution ever, it was a good-enough solution that would work for us. And then I had to let it go and move on to the next decision. And maybe decisions are stressful no matter how much time one has, so why not limit the time? I mean, I have been looking for the “right” pair of brown boots since 2009, and recently thought I had found The Ones, but then am now re-doubting because the price is more than I want to spend for the quality.

    So, obviously, quick decisions are not my normal decision-making process, but the time limit really, really helped me and if I had to re-do it, I would do it all again with the short-planning process approach. :)

  • I think I caused my Mom frustration through the process, because I absolutely REFUSED to make nonessential decisions.

    If it was time to think about the ceremony, I was not going to be distracted with talk of the cake ribbon or the out of town bags, that didn’t need to be done for another couple of weeks.

    I don’t regret that one bit, because I KNEW that I would become a Type-A stress monster if faced with 8 things to decide upon at once. It was just a matter of prioritizing my own sanity and expressing that yes, we would talk about the out-of-town bags… when it was time to.

  • I am like this with thre dress. I would happily have bought the second one I tried on (the first one did not fit) and then be done with it but apparently I need to keep looking and I have a busy time at work where I have to make decisions than have much more real impact than any about the wedding so I am just rolling with the punches a bit now. But this article made my day.

  • Jenni

    “And how does one determine if one preparation of duck or another best represents us as a couple?”


    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been engaged for, oh, not even a month, and we haven’t made a single decision yet, and I swear I ALREADY have decision fatigue. Ugh.

    So anyway, thanks. This gave me a good laugh and some good perspective!

  • Oh my lord, thank you. This. This is what’s killing me right now. The SHEER NUMBER of decisions I have to make about stuff that I don’t care about right now (centerpieces?) but that I know I will, because I thought I didn’t care about Save-the-Date cards until it was time to pick one, is mind-boggling, and it’s all made worse by the pressure to have a wedding that’s “authentically you.”

    This is why I love APW. Thank you for keeping me sane.

  • This is EXACTLY what I hated about planning our wedding. I’m not great at making decisions on a daily basis anyway, so when you throw 10,000 decisions that need to be made at me, I don’t handle it well.

    Fortunately, I discovered two things about wedding decisions before it was too late. 1. If I or we got bogged down by a particular decision that needed to be made, as in we’d been thinking about it for way too long (our first dance song was a great example), then we were overthinking it. There wouldn’t be a “perfect” answer, we just needed something good enough. And 2. If it wasn’t a big deal, then it wasn’t worth putting any effort into, so just pick something fast and don’t stress (for me, what size the rental dance floor needed to be). Those two realizations made the last two months before the wedding fairly easy to handle.

  • Great post! Thanks for the insight and chuckle. I read that article and have been thinking about it a lot. (And will likely write a post soon referencing it.)

    Anyway… I remember planning our wedding and feeling so overwhelmed with all the decisions and going to my fiance and asking what he wanted. The parts he felt strongly about and actually stated a preference felt like magic. Partly, I’m sure, because it validated for me that it wasn’t “all about me” (ugh!) and that he was participating in the wedding planning, too.

    But I think another part is that it was a decision that *I* didn’t have to make. And it was so refreshing. You want to do invites? Yes! I’ll love them no matter what they look like. And I did, but in thinking about it, I probably contributed to his decision fatigue because my response was usually, “it’s great.” And likewise when I’d ask him about tablecloths or chairs I now realize I simply wanted help deciding.

    And so now, 2 years into our marriage, we have spent an entire year dealing with this decision fatigue (relating to living on the road and the vast amount of “new” things and decisions every day like where to eat, where there’s an Internet cafe, sleep, eat again, run, etc. are never ending), we’re learning to take the reigns for each other and simply put a stake in the ground and be done with it.

    And then respecting the others’ choice-whether or not it works out. It’s something we’re working on and learning together as a team.

    So all this to say: talk to your partners. Let them know your decision-making muscle is tired and needs a rest and figure out ways (together!) to rejuvenate it. And give yourselves permission to take a break. Throw a dart at a few options if you really don’t care. Maybe you can throw a party and make it an entry-requirement to make a decision for you. :0)

  • I haven’t even read the comments yet, but ohmygod I want to stand up and applaud this.

    The registry was the worst decision fatigue for me by far. I wasn’t super enthusiastic about picking out kitchenware in the first place (we’re already pretty well-stocked, but the family insisted), and ALL THE CHOICES resulted in what was essentially a meltdown in the Macy’s parking lot.

    Nate: “Wow, you’re really stressed about this.”
    Me: “Yes! Because if I don’t pick the BEST stock pot out of these DOZENS of options, my family will secretly believe I don’t know what I’m doing and won’t trust me to be an adult and make my own decisions in life!”
    Nate: *…stunned pause…* “Um… I reallllly don’t think they–”
    Me: “And should we choose the ‘practical’ silverware or the ‘whimsical’ silverware that probably won’t stack as easily but looks more unique? What does that say about our values? Will we regret it forever no matter what we–”
    Nate: “Okay. I think we need to take a break.”

    Weirdly enough, at T-minus 3 weeks, I’ve calmed the heck down a lot more. As long as this thing ends with us married, everyone fed, and no one seriously injured, we’re good. I hope.

    I may be due for another meltdown in the next couple weeks though, so who knows.

    And oh crap I totally forgot about outdoor lighting aaaack.

    • :-( It is going to be ok. We registered on the internet, and I asked for stuff that I have wanted but have yet to buy for myself. We got a mandoline, a huge cast iron dutch oven, a food processor, a really awesome peeler (seriously changed my life), a tool set, soft sheets, etc.

      The truth of the matter is that it only matters what you think about yourself. And I, I thought I really needed a better peeler. I was right.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      The biggest thing I have to work on is learning to not worry about what will never reach my ears. It’s one thing if my mother says to my face, “I’d really like for you to invite your first-cousins-once-removed [and twice and three-times]”, which she’s actually done (We have a small family.). It’s another thing to worry about whether the many little-old-ladies we’re inviting will secretly tsk-tsk if we state a dress code (for the benefit of his foreign family who has never attended an American or a religious wedding) or don’t have flower centerpieces, etc. Words CAN’T hurt me if I never hear about them, unless I’m silly and obsess over them.

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  • Mary Jane

    love. just absolutely love.

  • Class of 1980

    My God, if this isn’t the truest thing ever written, I don’t know what is.

    We are invited to a wedding next month and yesterday I was looking at the registry online. It has taken the couple quite a while to make decisions, so the registry has filled up rather slowly.

    “Oh no” I said to myself. “The child doesn’t know she isn’t choosing the greatest set of pots and pans. I could recommend a much better set.”

    And then pity won out and I came to my freaking senses and let it go. The bride is young. She will be leaving home for the first time in her life, becoming sexually active for the first time, and she’s planning the biggest event of her life.

    She’s got enough on her plate without my 2 cents. LOL

    • ElisabethJoanne

      On behalf of somewhat less-experienced brides everywhere who worry too much about what guests think, I thank you.

      • Class of 1980

        You’re welcome! Ha ha ha.

  • Joanna

    I am there. I am four weeks away, to the day, from my wedding. Can I get a what what to the 30 days? I have “wedding face” which is my man’s descriptive term for what my face looks like when I scowl at someone who says “but you HAVE to match the cake to the napkins” etc. Then, my man and I work on turning the scowl upside down. I am at the point where I feel like everyone is asking something of me, and I just want to sit in the corner and drink a beer. Sigh. Sincerely, Jo from Crazytown (where I live these days).

    • Marina

      Just hang on and keep breathing. :) And set aside some time to sit in the corner and drink that beer! Seriously!

  • Yes! Thank you! I can so relate … and have been struggling with this since I got engaged. The ‘problem’ for me is that I always knew the biggest decision had been made, and I was so very happy about it, so why must I now have to concern myself with issues like guestbook and invite color and blah blah?! I am still not sure, but 3 weeks out, I’m just trying to enjoy watching the end of baseball season with my boyfriend-for-life, and power through the last little remaining bits of stuff. And pretty soon, it won’t really matter any more … (I am also a little bit into food, and for some reason the menu choices were a breeze — I didn’t obsess, even though I of course want it all to taste amazing. HOWEVER, I am making my own cake and obsessing about that? Oh yeah.)

  • Jill

    Seriously. I needed it. Now that I have under a year to go, it seems like every single decision concerning the wedding needs to happen RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND!
    And even though I have several word documents and spreadsheets highlighting everything I need to cover…what I failed to realize was that family members/parents were going to ask me to decide on things I hadn’t even thought about.

    And your last thought is so spot on. Why am I worrying about whether guests will side-eye our Doctor Who themed cake? I want them to remember the love we all shared that day.

  • So well spoken.

  • Kamilah

    “And how does one determine if one preparation of duck or another best represents us as a couple?”


    I am coming up on my one year anniversary, and I still remember the anger and frustration I felt when everytime I checked something off my list, eight more things were added. I don’t envy those of you in the throes of wedding planning (esp. if you’re like me and are planning it w/o professional help), but as a bride who, at least weekly, considered 86-ing the wedding to co-habitate for the rest of her life, allow me to say you’ll probably be glad you had the wedding and made the decisions. I always tell people that I wouldn’t quite say the wedding was worth the hell of planning it, but I’m really happy I did it.

  • AMEN. Perfect post!

  • Reading all the comments to my post has been not only wonderfully exciting and thrilling, but is also an immense help to my continued frayed nerves and fatigue. Thank you for all the kind words. We are now two weeks away and I can happily say I have finally entered the stage where I’m happy just to go with whatever choice is most immediate and easy. Thank you to everyone for your contributions and for reminding me of the study on too many choices being equated with unhappiness! I actually just turned to my Fiance and said, “Oh! Why do I have to talk to all 6 possible guitar players when we have one that works with our budget and sounds fine and is available? We can just go with him!” He actually teared up. It was a beautiful moment. THANK YOU, APW!!

  • Sarah

    Excellent perspective.

    I had been majorly stressing out about the wedding. And then, on August 9, I stopped. I realized that I had all the important things–the venue, the dress, and the partner. Everything else is just details. Since then, wedding planning has become much more enjoyable.

  • Dutch

    Ahhhh!!! YES! Our wedding was August 27 and oh my hell, THE DECISIONS! ALL THE DECISIONS! I imagine it was like what building a house from scratch would feel like except instead of having the ability to change things later (“we should move that outlet so it’s more convenient” or “maybe we should knock down that wall”), everything is permanent. So, I waivered back and forth between “it’s ONLY one day, does that one specific thing REALLY matter?” and “it’s only ONE day, so EVERYTHING MUST MATTER!” I was literally driving myself, and everyone around me, crazy. I’m surprised my now-husband didn’t tell me to join the circus. But the motto of the day was definitely “It’s fine! Everything’s FINE!” because it HAD to be. And it was. It was wonderful. Which is so much more than “fine”.

  • Class of 1980

    I finally got the chance to read the whole article and I want to say a big THANK YOU for posting it.

    I always agonize over decisions … always having to turn over every stone to make sure I’m choosing just the right thing. This article goes beyond wedding planning into what life is like. It’s helpful in that it shows what someone like me needs to do to diminish decision fatigue. It’s a keeper.

    And to all you brides out there, I wish I could give you all a hug. It’s going to be okay.

  • Carrie


    For this reason, my now-husband and I tried to set stuff up in such a way that we could avoid as many decisions as possible. I was so freaking relieved when we were able to get the date that allowed us to book a restaurant for our reception that offered a set buffet menu, because it meant we did not have to decide on food, dishes, tables, chairs, silverware, wines, tablecloths, napkins, decorations, etc. All of that just came with the restaurant, which is good because I would have gone completely bonkers trying to decide on every single one of those things. The catering manager asked me if I had decided on centerpieces and I was like “I don’t CARE. Stick a candle on each table and call it good.”

    Our wedding was not the most quirky, indie, magazine-spread, blog-worthy, most unusual wedding ever. And I am really happy with it. We got married surrounded by the people we love, and there was plenty of good-tasting food, and people laughed and danced and hugged, and we had so much fun.

    So yeah. Everything doesn’t have to be completely perfect and precisely chosen. It’s okay to be all “I don’t care, that one’s cheapest, let’s go for it” about stuff that is not super important to you. (And it’s okay for not everything to be super important to you.) It’s okay for some things to be “boring.” (Like chairs or tablecloths or napkins.)

    Basically, it’s okay to say IT DOESN’T MATTER sometimes.

    • Emily

      “Stick a candle on each table and call it good”? I could do that?

      Whoa. Mind blown in a good way. I’m still going to give my DIY centerpiece idea a try but it’s good to realize I could just…quit and it would be fine.

      • Claire

        You can. And I did. We were quick to realize when something didn’t matter to us and either eliminate it altogether (flowers – gasp! Yes, not a bloom to be found) or make a quickie decision just to be done with it (centerpieces – can’t we just put candles on the tables? Done.). Made for a low-stress (read: lazy) planning and no regrets about not sweating the small stuff.

        The trick is being able to discern what matters to YOU both and what you feel is worth the effort.

  • Lauren

    It took me 6 months just to decide to have a wedding. I have gone back and tried on the same dress 5 times and still can’t commit to buying it. I have second and third and fourth guessed every friggin thing I have commited to. I think the only thing I didn’t have to stop and think “what else could I do/have instead of this” was saying yes to spending the rest of my life with my future husband.

  • Em

    There’s a joke I remembered about in the week before the wedding that I now can’t find on the interwebs (!) but goes something like:

    A starving itinerant worker knocks on a farmer’s door and asks for work. The farmer says he does have some things to do, and sets him to work removing stones from a field. The guy works so hard all day that he gets the entire field done, the farmer is really impressed, and gives him a hot meal, some money, and a place to sleep. The next day the farmer sets him to chopping wood. He chops the whole pile, and the farmer’s so happy with his work that he says if he keeps on like that he’ll have a regular job. The itinerant is thrilled and says he’d like that more than anything! The third day the farmer says he’s worked so hard that he’ll give him an easy job today, up in the attic of the barn sorting the good potatoes from the bad ones. After about an hour, the itinerant’s at the farm door, cap in hand, saying, “I love working here, but please don’t make me sort the potatoes or I’ll have to quit.” “Why?” says the farmer, “You did so well on the other work and this was the easy job!” “I know, I’m sorry, I just can’t handle all them decisions”.

    So the catchcry of my wedding week was “Aargh! Potatoes!!!”.

  • Trouble Jones

    What a beautifully written piece!!! I totally teared up at the end!!!

  • Cassiel

    I have to send this to my fiance! Whenever I ask him to choose something – even what to eat that night – he always says “but I chose you” like all the decisions are done. I guess maybe he’s right!

  • Kara

    Pretty much my reaction to that article too!

  • This post made me laugh out loud. I so recognized engaged-me in all the scenarios! (Great article, too – it helped me understand why I *hated* planning our wedding but love helping friends with theirs – it’s so much easier to have perspective when someone asks you “Do you like these flowers or those?” than when you are picking from ALL THE FLOWERS IN THE WORLD for your own shindig and worrying about how to represent yourself and how much of your budget you even want to spend on flowers and and and… *head explodes* Rinse and repeat for all decisions.)

  • Amanda

    Excellent use of comic italics. You have a flair for the absurd. Love it!

  • GingerJess

    I’m currently two weeks out from my wedding. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not the only one having this issue. I think my biggest problem is that I want to table a decision until I have “more time” to think about it seriously. But guess what? More time never comes and therefore the decision doesn’t happen. I think I’m just going to start going with snap judgments for the next two weeks. Whatever my first instinct says is final. We’ll see how that goes…

  • Paige

    THE ENDING! So perfect!!!

    As a VERY recent wedding graduate, I was a little bummed out about how our decor ended up turning out despite paying lots of $ to a planner and florist (well, lots to me, probably not enough in WIC terms). I thought people would be gossiping about how few flowers there were etc….

    BUT do you know what!? Every single guest has told us how much fun they had and how awesome our heartfelt ceremony was. Not one person remembered anything about the decor/flowers etc. Guests truly come away with the ‘feeling’ not the ‘look’ (well, there will probably be a few that knitpick your wedding, but they don’t matter anyway).

    I wish I knew this as a wedding undergraduate. Agonizing about all the little details and ‘the look’. It really wasn’t worth it and not what a wedding is all about! Save your sanity:)

    • Marina

      It’s really true. A few months ago I was talking with a distant relative who I hadn’t seen since the wedding, and I mentioned something about not having a wedding cake. She said, “You didn’t have a wedding cake…?” She didn’t even remember that at all! She just remembered that the ceremony had made her teary and the reception had been fun. I can’t count how many people before the wedding said, “You’re not having a wedding cake?!” as if I was personally ushering in the apocalypse. Take that, silly people.

  • Suzanna

    Excellent NY Times article, and excellent post!

    Taking “decision vacations” is a great idea. I totally know those moments where we feel like we *have to* make a decision, when really it’s probably best to leave it alone for a little while and see what floats to the top. As others have said, if you don’t care about it, either leave it out altogether or have someone who does care do it (friend, relative). We are actually in the middle of a week-long decision vacation right now, and it’s extremely helpful in clarifying what’s really important to me/us.

    And thanks to whoever recommended giving non-wedding decisions to the fiance! That’s super helpful! If I have to plan most of the wedding because he doesn’t care, the least he can do is plan dinner!

  • What a great post! I laughed reading this because as the wedding came closer and closer, I just stopped making decisions and told someone else to. Also, I pretty much drank every single day of the summer (up to the wedding and including the honeymoon). It’s good to know I wasn’t just being a baby and making excuses for my lack of control with eating and drinking.

    I can also relate with those discussing being in school and planning a wedding- it’s SO hard to focus on so many things at once! Sadly, for me, decision fatigue quickly became apathy as far as most things non-wedding related went. And now, 4 weeks after the wedding and back in school, I am still recovering from that fatigue and trying very hard to care about school. I feel like I need to sleep for a month. Haha

  • Julie

    I felt exactly like that during the 20 months of our engagement, especially the last two months when I was being bombarded with queries and decisions I didn’t even know ‘needed’ to be made! Two days before our wedding I was on my way to the airport to get a friend and my maid of honor and mother-in-law both called to tell me my idea for displaying the seating cards wasn’t working and what should they do? It was at this wonderful moment that I realized I didn’t care and probably should have stopped months before, and I made one last decision to not decide anything else. It was brilliant.

  • Emil

    HI Ladies,
    I am in an advanced state of decision fatigue! I am planning to propose this November and just choosing a ring is draining all my energies. I could really use some advice on how to find out what type of ring my gf would like. I can’t ask her family and she doesn’t wear any rings normally so I’m not sure I know her taste in that field. A colleague of mine at work told me that he decided in advance how much he was gonna spend and then just went to Diamondcodes.com and bought the best solitaire he could find for that price which happened to be from Zales. I guess his wife was happy since he probably got a massive stone but I’m looking for something with more ‘character’.
    Any help with my decision making would be greatly appreciated!

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  • Sarah

    Oh, I needed this post today!! I am 2 months away from marrying my amazing fiancee, but the wedding planning is breaking me – I just don’t want to make another descision about ANYTHING!! Our 1st descision was to do away with a lot of the ‘stuff’ that really doesn’t signify anything much, we just wanted the church service to be the key thing with a nice party afterwards. So that was simple, and I booked venues and vendors with no trouble at all. Then it started, that gradual wearing down that most of us APW types are so familiar with.
    Mother in law to be: ‘What do you mean you’re not having a bouquet? Why not?’ Me: ‘because it gets in the way, will be used for a couple of photos, I’ll probably leave it at the house anyway knowing me and I refuse to throw one – it’s just not me!’
    Mother in law to be: ‘Oh, you have to have one – I can sort it out for you.’
    Me: ‘Oh, ok then. If you really want me to have one I’m happy for you to organise it, but I really don’t mind what you do – suprise me.’
    Result: endless calls to enquire about what type of flowers I like, what will be in season in August etc, do I want smaller versions for Bridesmaids. Repeat, with various other members of our families and friends for the wedding cake (wasn’t planning to have one, now having to make descisions about how many tiers, sample cakes made by family to choose the one I like best), bridesmaid dresses (wasn’t planning to have a matched entorage – guess what, they’ve decided they all want to wear the same but now we’re too late to order properly fitted dresses and are into budget horrors), groomsmen outfits (couldn’t actually care less).

    And through all this I’ve been gradually turning into the Grinch that stole our wedding… My fiancee just can’t understand why – after all I hold down quite a highpowered job and make descisions all day every day, so what’s the problem with making a few more?

    Thank you APW for restoring my perspective yet again and for letting me know it’s not just me!!

  • Jillian

    I’m a young pastor, and it is bad enough for me to figure out how to structure my (ridiculously unstructured) work time during the week so that everything is ready for the weekend. My job gives me enough decision fatigue on a regular basis, my wedding planning was feeling like it was about to crush me this afternoon. Then some of the women in the prayer group tonight prayed for me to be able to relax, and I oddly felt better. I came home and read this, and felt better. God is good.

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