I met my husband after ending a tumultuous four-year relationship. During those years, more than one friend would say to me, “You are losing yourself.” In restaurants, I kept my cell phone on the table, and when hours passed and we had not spoken, I would speculate that he was spending time with an ex-girlfriend, or perhaps courting a new one. The relationship had offered no security, and it had been painful.
By contrast, in my relationship with my husband, I never once had to question what was real and how much we loved one another. However, during the year of our engagement, the details of planning a wedding overshadowed the formative feelings that drew us together; I had not expected that, for us, wedding planning would dilute our initial enthusiasm to have a wedding at all. It was not until the eleventh hour that we righted our course, renewed.
12 months to plan a wedding
We read that a year between engagement and marriage is ideal. To my parents and grandparents, who anticipate marriages, births, and graduations as the best conclusive evidence that their offspring are thriving, I had waited long enough. Their questions began, and we could not answer them; our families wanted to know about dates, venue, level of formality, size of guest list, and our “colors” for the day. A sense of urgency crept into the planning process, and soon each decision felt defining and consequential.
Our first plan, to get married at my father and stepmother’s home in Pennsylvania, changed when local caterers sent proposals, the lowest being seven thousand dollars beyond our anticipated price range. In Brooklyn, our hometown, we found a loft with roof access and a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline that we both liked well enough to book. A friend, trying to put these decisions into perspective, advised, “At the end of this, you are going to be married to Derek.” She shook her head airily, logistics minor compared to that most major decision.
I looked at the possibility of a cocktail party with panini stations, bruschetta stations, passed hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar, only to find that this equaled the price of a fully plated dinner. I considered buying platters from a gourmet grocery store and hiring catering staff, but a licensed bartender was not included. I went back to a Mediterranean restaurant we had consulted early on, to negotiate the price of including a meat dish for those who, we learned from our families, would feel bereft by a vegetarian menu. Should we have wine and beer, or a signature cocktail—or all three? Should tables be set up lengthwise, with rectangular banquet tables, or circular? Should we assign tables?
comparison and contrast
In the meantime, pictures of an old friend’s wedding appeared on Facebook and were gorgeous. Her veil was made from a delicate ivory lace, and the groomsmen wore paisley vests that were tan, burgundy, and green, like bottles of Chianti cradled in straw casks, the look warm and sophisticated. Each member of the bridal party wore a tailored silk dress. Together, the wedding party stood before the backdrop of a magnificent mountain. Her wedding had a sense of cohesion we could not seem to achieve. We were not working together well, and most decisions came down to budget, a truth which still pains me.
Having become quarrelsome, we booked six appointments with a couples’ counselor. We grasped quickly that our unconscious fears about our wedding, and about marriage, were impacting our decision-making abilities. We more so became partners in the planning, which was a relief, but decisions still felt unwieldy. Gathering our friends and relatives seemed like an occasion to express ourselves, and I feared we were failing.
One Sunday afternoon, six weeks before the wedding, we committed to spending the day on wedding tasks. We looked at autumn tones for floral centerpieces, with sunflowers, yellow roses, and orange lilies. The sincerity of our choice to offer one another care and attention in a time and space as endless as that washed valley had been long overshadowed by the pressure I felt to host a smartly planned and expressive event. Though we were more allied, it still seemed we had drifted so far from the day we walked hand and hand, discussing our wedding as an occasion to be shaped and imagined entirely by us.
one hundred and seventy dollars
That Sunday, Derek designed a special lighting stencil that, when fit into a stage light, would project our names in light on the brick chimney of the loft; I was looking to create a custom cocktail napkin with our names embossed in the same font as on the lighting stencil. I priced it out, and the napkins would cost one hundred and seventy dollars. Our caterer told us that we could have plain, white, cocktail napkins for seventy dollars, and I vacillated about not branding our event, thinking it would perhaps alter the distinction of the day, would be something to regret having skimped on. I told her I would think about it, and when I hung up I remembered that I live two blocks from a party supply store, which sold packs of two hundred cocktail napkins for five dollars. It was a small moment, but one of reckoning, where fantasy and reality became newly distinct from one another. In the onslaught of choices to be made and money to be parsed I had lost my own compass for making decisions, for knowing my standards of beauty, my thresholds of price, my certainty about mood.
Another friend told me that no one would remember the party. She said, “I am coming for the ceremony, which is the most important part.” A little over a month before the wedding, I hoped for us to again find and better distill the clarity and joy we felt the day we became engaged—I hoped we could feel the meaningful simplicity in letting our desire to name our commitment to one another be the most important detail, which had been long resolved. I nixed the custom cocktail napkins.