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

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