Jessica & Matt

It’s hard for me to not fall deeply in love with a wedding in a half-finished tobacco warehouse, where the couple served Indian food (why doesn’t everyone do this?), and where the pictures are gorgeous. But that’s not the kicker on this Wedding Graduate post. The kicker is that Jessica is smart, and her advice is so dead-on, that it’s hard not to fall head over heels in love with the whole thing…

Wedding planning opens the floodgates for advice… advice from Mom, Grandma, sisters, soon-to-be family, long-lost family, good friends, work friends, frenemies, colleagues, ladies at the grocery store, bloggers, bloggees, and just about anyone else out there. It’s exhausting. And, you know what, most of it can (and perhaps should) be ignored. So, as I am about to do some advising of my own, please—I invite you—to make your own path. Don’t do everything I say; it’s your wedding—for you, your partner, and your newly joined families and dear ones. Just do what feels right and have confidence in your vision.

Early in our planning, I read a post on APW in which a commenter said, “The theme of our wedding is marriage.” Matt and I loved that; we wanted something that felt inclusive, authentic, and bursting with love, without excessive pageantry or unmanageable expense. And, though certainly our marriage was the reason for the day, we would say that the “theme” of our wedding was community. As we transitioned from sort-of-adults (i.e. grad students) to adults-full-stop, it was our desire to use our wedding weekend as a way to express our gratitude to all of the family, friends, mentors, and advisers without whose support we would not be even half of what we are. We wanted all of these dear people to feel welcomed, appreciated, and loved… and we wanted them to have a blast. That’s a tall order…

What did we learn planning a community wedding on a small budget, while simultaneously starting our first job (Matt), graduating from medical school (Jessica), and buying a house? Well…

North Carolina community wedding

Stop Worrying About Whether Your Guests Will “Get It.” I worried and worried throughout our planning that our guests would not “understand” our wedding. What does that even mean? Well, I worried that they wouldn’t be able to find our ceremony venue (a still-being-renovated downtown warehouse), that they wouldn’t “get” the Indian food that we served at the reception (we love spicy things and Indian catering was affordable); I worried that they would wonder why our secular ceremony didn’t look like all the other wedding ceremonies they remembered, and that they would begrudge us our cake table, since we didn’t have a true “wedding cake,” etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

On the day of the wedding, I kept worrying.  I worried that guests couldn’t hear our officiant’s gorgeous words during the ceremony; I worried that more people weren’t dancing; I worried that no one understood the toast that I thought was so heartwarming.

And, fact of the matter is, that worry pulled me from the moment. It brought stress to an otherwise blissful night. And—perhaps worst of all—it was unfounded. Numerous unsolicited comments in the days and weeks after the wedding showed me that my worries were not only off-the-mark, but in fact totally unnecessary. Our guests “got” it; they understood.

What I realize now is that, I didn’t give my guests enough credit. These are “our people.” They know us and they recognized and appreciated our sensibilities all over this wedding. So, when you plan your wedding, know this: these are your wedding guests—people you know well and love. They’ll “get it.” You have my word on that.

Find your zen and recognize what really matters. About a week before the wedding, I realized that as long as there was food, drink, and music at our reception, people would have a good time. All the other stuff I was toiling over (DIY’d table numbers, hand-painted vases, cutesy labels on… everything) was just a bonus. That realization took a ton of pressure off of me and Matt and allowed us to have fun putting our energies into the things we cared about and not stress too much over the rest.

SLEEP. A friend told me about being a recent bride she knew who was up past 2:00 am on her wedding-eve gluing glitter on flip-flops. “That won’t be me,” I thought. “What a bad idea,” I thought. Well, I didn’t stay up DIY’ing ’til the wee hours, but Matt and I were up at 6:30 am on the day of the wedding to run a 5k race… and you know what? By 6:00 pm, we were tired. By 10:00 pm, we were exhausted. Do we regret the race? No. Do we regret staying out late the night before carrying on with out-of-town guests? No. Perhaps we regret not scheduling a nap after the race, and certainly we should have gone to sleep earlier on the nights leading up to the wedding weekend instead of watching late-night reality TV (What can I say? Bravo is addictive!).

Consider doing something to give back. We ended up fielding a team in a charity 5k on the morning of our wedding (refer to previous point about sleep!). We picked the race because it was something physical and it was close by.  However, this race is historically a big-time fundraiser, and we ended up raising a good chunk of change for pediatric brain cancer research.

Though unintentional, we’re thrilled that we added a charitable component to the wedding. Weddings tend to be costly affairs, in terms of both time and finances. While it was easy to focus on the material things we wanted (okay, at the time we probably used the word “needed”), racing for kids with cancer helped ground us and helped us feel that our wedding was contributing to some greater good.

Accept help—no wedding elves needed.  Doesn’t it seem like everyone in the blogosphere has a first-rate florist, a top wedding photographer, and a master cake-baker in their family? Ever felt inadequate that your own family includes a rad veterinarian, a kickass career Naval officer, an aspiring sports journalist, but not a wedding elf in sight? Don’t feel bad about this. It’s normal.

But what can a non-elf family do? A lot. We discovered that our not-yet-fully-renovated ceremony venue (an old tobacco warehouse) was full of construction detritus and covered with an inch of dust… on Friday morning.  Oh, and the electricity wasn’t working. Matt and I hadn’t planned time to deal with this and our Friday was packed full of necessary tasks, so we were in big trouble… until our families swooped in and said, “We’ll handle this.” And, you know what, they did. It looked great and the lights worked—no elves required.

Take your DIY list and cut it in half. See comment on “sleep.” Act accordingly.

Take time to be with the people you love. My pre-wedding Friday had a schedule packed full of activities, so when two of my bridesmaids brought two of our mutual friends from high school out to our “quick lunch,” I was none-too-pleased, because I knew our perfunctory refueling stop had just turned into a multi-hour laugh-and-gab-fest. But, looking back now, that long, lingering lunch is one of fondest memories of the wedding weekend… and those things I meant to do? I can’t even remember what they were…

The Info— Photography: Amy Flood / Venue: Rigsbee Hall, Durham NC / Day-of CoordinatorErin McLean / Flowers: Costco

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Lovely post, and I will most definitely be taking this advice to heart. I might just print this out and post it somewhere that I can always refer to it when getting the “other” kind of advice. Your pictures are amazing too! So much happiness and love in them, and that’s not something that anyone can ever advise you to “do.”

  • Amazing post. It completely resonates with what we tried to do. Theme = marriage. Lots of opinions happen but it’s important to do what you want. Forge your own path. And stop worrying if people will get it… can’t stress this one enough. I was so worried about this for so long and in the end it was foolish. Of course they got it, it was a wedding. Congrats!

  • Sharon

    I had to comment because as soon as I saw Meg’s note that it was in a half-finished tobacco warehouse, I knew it was in Durham, where I also live. I’d like to think we’re part of a community here and I just wanted to spread the feeling to your comments! Your advice is so useful. I also include a few non-wedding related activities in the week before my wedding a few weeks ago, and those are some of the fondest memories I have, like you said. Anyway, I wish you and your husband well in your life here in our city!

  • Kate

    Yay theme = marriage! Also, I’m totally doing a cake table too, so hoorah for that.

    I love this post. It’s so… right.

    • The exactly button wasn’t enough, it needed to be repeated.

      “I love this post. It’s so… right.”

  • Emily Elizabeth

    Beautiful! We went for Indian food too, and it was a good choice.

    Also, wonderful idea doing the 5k your wedding day. I just wanted to say a quick thank you on behalf of my youngest brother-in-law who has been fighting and recovering from brain cancer for the past two years. He’s doing really well now and back in school – in large part due to all the research being funded by those kinds of events.

    So, thank you!

  • Not very many people danced at our wedding either and at the time it made me really nervous that no one was having a good time. I had never seen a successful wedding without the dance floor being packed. Everyone I’ve talked to since has just raved about the wedding (and I’m pretty sure they are not just saying that to make me feel better).

    Our friends got it too – they were more excited to be outside talking to each other around a fire than inside dancing. Weddings, like women, come in all shapes and sizes.

  • A few weeks before my wedding, in the lunchroom at work, a coworker of mine asked me what the theme of our wedding was. I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Marriage?” It got a laugh from my coworkers, but I was only half being snarky.

    We had three themes (in the writing sense, not the immersive environment sense) when we were writing our ceremony: Choice (that we were choosing, and would continue to choose, each other), continuity (that marriage was a continuation of what we had already built together), and community (that the people assembled would support and be supported by us). The community part was the most important for us, and was the reason we decided to get weddinged in the first place, rather than elope.

    We fretted over our decision to axe a lot of wedding-things that we didn’t really care about, but then I realized that as long as you have good people and the makings of a good party (which, for us, our families and our friends meant tasty food and music), your guests will have fun — and they’ll definitely get it.

    I love this post!

  • Congratulations on your beautiful wedding and your advice is just perfect! It’s so easy to look back afterwards and see all the unnecessary worry and extra distractions and projects you could’ve skipped. Glad everyone got it after all!

  • Kristin

    I am so glad this was posted today!
    I think I am pre-engaged; we have talked, picked out ring (should be ready Oct 1!), but have not announced to the world yet. I just went on a brides on tour thing this weekend with my mom. While it was nice to taste lots of food and talk to lots of vendors and see venues it was EXHAUSTING, not to mention information overload. I love your photos and how clean and classic everything looks as opposed to all of the stacks and stacks of flowers, glassware, lighting, glitz, etc. I saw this weekend. It is so easy to get sucked in to the wedding planning vortex even though I am completely aware of what is necessary (for me-FH, my people, vows, food and drink) and the millions of unnecessary add-ons.

    We live in Cary and are trying to find places that don’t crank out 5 weddings a weekend and are more modern and unique in some way. I have Rigsbee Hall on my pinterest and have not seen it in person yet, but it has jumped several spots on my list from seeing your wedding there! Their website is not so flattering. I would love to hear any thoughts you had on the Hall, hopefully their electricity is more consistent now? Hooray for handy family members! Great post, and very close to home : )

  • Each & every piece of advice in this post is valuable! I second all of it, especially “Take time to be with the people you love.” I abandoned my to-do list that final week in the name of lunch with my bridesmaids & Mom, dinner with my fiance & friends, etc. Stuff didn’t get done but those memories are some of my favorite. Enjoy, enjoy every moment, not just the wedding day!

    But wow, there is no way I could’ve run a marathon the morning of my wedding. I was lucky to get the dog walked!

  • Cassandra

    Omg. So I saw “half-finished tobacco plantation” and thought ‘what are the odds that this might maybe possibly be in NC?’, where the Boy is now at school and where I suspect we’ll be doing the getting married. And sure enough, in Durham! Your wedding looks GORGEOUS! This looks exactly what I’ve imagined. I’ve also been trying to convince the Boy that an Indian meal just makes sense…

    I love that you ran a 5k the morning of. A great way to start your marriage, I think.

  • GingerJess

    Thanks for this. I’m less than a week out from my wedding (eek!) and I feel like there are a lot of things I should be doing, but I’m starting to adopt the attitude that if it hasn’t already been taken care of then it’s probably not necessary.

    This post is doubly helpful for me, because I have also wondered if my guests would “get” our wedding. We’re doing an intimate ceremony followed by a large reception – will my extended family and coworkers feel slighted? We’re skipping cake altogether in favor of apple crisp and peach cobbler – will they decry the lack of cake and declare our event to be lacking? We’re not doing a bouquet toss or garter toss – will they miss the sight of young singletons feigning reluctance to participate, then fighting tooth and nail to grab the prize?

    I think you’re right that my guests will indeed understand what we’re going for. Hopefully they will leave at the end of the night commenting on what a great time they had, never really noticing that we deprived them of cake, ceremony voyeurism, and lacy underthings flying through the air…

    • Apple crisp and peach cobbler? Yum! No one will miss the cake with your delicious options.

      Also, I didn’t have a bouquet toss or whatever the other thing is, and I just didn’t tell anyone I wasn’t going to do it. No one asked about it or said they wished we’d done it. I think it’s another example of engrained external pressure that engaged people imagine they “have to do.”

  • Just wanted to point out to the APW eds that Indian people may not be “everyone” (not quite sure who everyone is referring to in that intro sentence) but they probably are pretty likely to serve Indian food at their weddings.

    Congratulations to Jessica and Matt and thank you for sharing such a beautiful and lovely wedding! :)

    • Becky2

      Thanks for the perspective. You’re right about that.

    • meg

      True! I was saying that catering in food from a restaurant (Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, you name it), is so smart. Affordable and tasty. More people should do it.

  • Here are my thoughts: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m particularly with you, Jessica, on the fact that THESE ARE YOUR PEOPLE. You’re inviting your closest friends and family members to your wedding. They already know and love you. They just want to celebrate with you.

    Also yeah. Cut your DIY list in half. I remember that from mine, too.

  • Jessica

    I love that you ran a 5K race on the morning of your wedding! Your comments about it keeping you grounded and giving to charity during a time of huge monetary purchases really resonated with me. What a great way to spend your last moments as fiance and fiancee on the morning of your wedding! All your pictures are gorgeous and all your advice is so so true! Congrats.

  • Jessica,
    I’m so glad you found a way to volunteer/give to charity during your wedding weekend. That’s one thing I wanted to do but let other people’s negative reactions get in the way. I imagined our immediate families volunteering together the morning of the wedding, or planting a tree or something. Perhaps I should have used my “I’m the bride” trump card to get people to cooperate (although I don’t know if it counts as volunteering if they’re forced).

    • Jo

      So, we donated a portion of our cash gifts from the wedding to a charity. Your guests don’t necessarily have to KNOW they are involved in this, if it’s scary for you.

  • “What I realize now is that, I didn’t give my guests enough credit.”

    yes, this. I wish someone had said this to me the month before my wedding. I don’t know that it would have calmed me down much, but I can hope.

  • Oh congratulations, such a beautiful wedding and such a smart post. I loved the part about doing something to give it back, even if unplanned. It kind of happened to us. The box for the kids activities that we had prepared (play dough, coloring books, crayons, bubbles, coloring pencils) made it to the venue but somehow got forgotten in the floor at the entrance even if we explained what it was for. But 2 weeks or so after the wedding a colleague from work organized a cinema + kids activities for the amazon kids fundraiser where he collected that kind of stuff and we were so much happier that our activities would go to these kids in Brazil. Also, I couldn’t hep but smiling at the mention of a sports photographer (my dad), you being a doctor (like my brother in law), and veterinarian in your family (vet is me) in your family. But yeah, no master chef in the family.
    Also, am I the only one or does Jessica look a little bit like Jennifer Garner?
    I wish you both all the happiness in the world.

  • Clair

    Yay an NC wedding! We NC folks like to read about them. What a cool venue! I love Bay 7, but this looks like an alternative. Sweet couple as well.

  • Gigi

    We were just married on Saturday (after 16 years together – Yay New York!!). I have to agree with each and every one of Jessica’s points – especially GET ENOUGH SLEEP, and make more time for friends in the week before the big day. And it is very important to remember that the people you invited to your wedding – they really are “your people” and they will get it. Even if they don’t exactly agree with everything, they’ll try to support you they best way they can. We had a few guests that we were worried about. But, I figured that as long as their behavior wasn’t any worse than it usually is, they did their best for us and we were happy to have them with us.

    Congratulations, Jessica & Matt, on your beautiful wedding.

  • Jo

    Take time to be with the people you love.

    This. Your parents. Your best friends. Even your honey. The days before the wedding, you NEED these grounded moments. Plan them in, if you are one of those who might plan everything BUT those. Breakfast with my mom to kick off wedding weekend. Ladies brunch the day before with my closest female relatives and friends. Night before wedding gab with my maid of honor alone in my house. Driving hither and yon with the hubby, holding hands and kissing sweetly (in between discussions about logistics). All very key.

  • Nikky

    “Doesn’t it seem like everyone in the blogosphere has a first-rate florist, a top wedding photographer, and a master cake-baker in their family?”

    Oh man, I’m glad I read back far enough to hear this, haha. I don’t really have extended family (my mom and her brothers are estranged, my maternal grandparents are gone, and I hardly know my dad’s family since he wasn’t around when I grew up), and my bridal party consists of my little sisters who are all 20 and younger. Most of my friends live at home still and are of a distinctly non-domestic variety.

    Luckily, my mom is pretty crafty. Still, it’s hard not to get discouraged with all the, “Ooo… a wedding for $500? But wait… they had friends who could donate their photos, food, video, DJ services, venue, flowers, decorations, invites, etc.”

    I still fully intend to make due and skip anything I don’t care about, but it’s nice to hear someone say, “But if you DON’T have this, it’s no big.”

  • Liz

    Jessica and Matt! So funny to come across your wedding here :) Morgan and I totally ‘got’ your wedding and often talked about the way it felt so warm and personal and loving when we were planning our own. And we had a blast on the dance floor! I love reading a little about your process here and you totally nailed the advice. Hope y’all are doing great! xo