Wedding Undergraduate: Something Like Zen

Well. You didn’t really think we were going to get through this week without a wedding planning post about Staying, did you? Of course not. This post by Sarah is about that classic APW topic of somehow finding Wedding Zen, of finally being able to stay in the moment through, well, struggle. It made me go reread Alyssa’s classic Wedding Graduate post (now in the APW book), and my post on my own cake hunt and planning realizations. Because other than the part about not planning her wedding since she was six (um, I started planning mine at four), this post could have been written from inside my head. In fact, reading it, I felt the ghost of past-planning-Meg sitting on my shoulder. All of it sounded so familiar: stressing about not stressing, not wanting to include people who you feel won’t hold true to your vision, and then caving and letting people lift you up.

This, wedding undergraduates, is my confession: it is so insidiously easy to overplan your wedding.

I haven’t been planning my wedding since I was six. Until I got engaged last August, I never spent a lot of time looking at bouquets and favors in craft stores. I made concentrated efforts in school—which I am impressed with, in retrospect, because it was insight I had no clue I would ever need—to enjoy my time with friends and not worry about dating, and especially not worry about marriages or babies or any of the Big Changes I was nowhere close to ready to experience. I am definitely the last person you’d expect to be anxiously going through page after page of monogrammed anything six months before the wedding.

Several friends and my brother have gotten married in the past couple years, and the more I gleaned from their processes, the more I sort of mocked the whole wedding industrial complex. My bright, crafty pals shared with me the triumphs of venues and the bummers of sticker price, so I thought by the time my wedding process began, I was prepped. I thought that armed with the reflected glow of their nuptials, I could do the whole thing. By myself. On the super-cheap. With zero stress. And it would still look chic as hell.

Well, as you can guess, this combination of options is awesome but didn’t happen. One of my friends told me I would stress, stress, stress about the details and so I became determined to not stress about anything. This started a chain reaction of becoming very defensive about all of my decisions. I blocked out my friends, my mom—everyone but my fiancé, and he has been so genuinely calm about the whole thing that he wants whatever I like the best.

My very-soon-to-become-my-husband Joe is a very laid-back character when it comes to most things. He gets intense about his work and he listens to me fiercely when I have something on my mind, but generally speaking he takes things as they come. He doesn’t have to-do lists or concerns about how to spend an afternoon, and there is definitely zero fuss about what he is going to wear to any specific occasion. He even has a large Latin tattoo on his leg that means, “It is what it is.” I’m much more, “It is what I think it should be maybe today but you know we’ll check back on it and hopefully it will get better.” That phrase doesn’t fit quite as elegantly on the ankle.

I went through some…weird quandaries. I fretted that my guests wouldn’t have anything to do or enough to eat (we are having a very casual reception), I fretted that I wasn’t involving Joe enough, I fretted that if I wore a veil in my hair the entire mood would fall apart and it would all seem way too formal. I stressed and stressed so much about being stressed and stressed, I stopped putting care into my decisions and just started assuming that I needed to do it all and not let anyone in, lest they learn my terrible secret that being a bride can be hard.

I also forgot a key element in my fervor to do the whole thing as though tiny fairy godmothers followed me wherever I went: I have never planned a single thing, not even a friendly birthday party or a 4th of July barbecue, alone and under-budget without a single bit of stress! I am a planner at heart, and I relish planning. But sometimes that fun has come from splurging on Halloween decorations for a party at the last minute, worrying about the timeline of a TV show marathon, or having no idea how to feed a dozen people with one bag of pasta. Seeing everything come together in the face of adversity, that’s where the joy is. Planning is about challenge. If you enjoy planning, and you enjoy challenge, why kid yourself? You’ll just become miserable that you’re not the perfect, blushing bride model in the magazine spread that shows a giggling bridal party gluing together handmade wooden bird pew decorations. You’re probably much more likely to be the bride with greasy hair and a hot glue gun, your one friend with the night off from work stoically counting out bits and pieces of ribbon for you. There may be wine involved, there may be nervous mannerisms. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I reached my moment of planning zen a few weeks ago when my second photographer turned me down for our wedding, and the following day the bakery I had connections with told me they were no longer selling wedding cakes. It was so far from perfect, and sitting there holding my cell phone, the whole thing felt silly. I texted Joe, who promised me he’d make sure it worked out. I broke down to my mom that I felt like a failure, and after reassuring me that I wasn’t, she was more than delighted to take me around town to look at other options.

After that therapeutic weekend of phone calls and wedding shopping, someone casually asked me what kind of cake we were serving. “I have no idea,” I told them. I realized in that moment that I really didn’t have any idea. I realized I didn’t care! I knew that we’d get one, people would like it, and the day would be great. I suddenly felt free from all the self-imposed expectations of throwing a not-too-traditional, classy, DIY, carefully-budgeted wedding planned on a cloud of happy, easy choices. I just want to get married. I don’t care if there are ten or two hundred pictures commemorating the day, I don’t care if I freak out about something as the day draws near, I don’t even care if the cake doesn’t make it to the table. I get to spend a joyful day with a room full of the most important people in my life, and the most important one of all will be there—and has been there—with me through all of it.

It is what it is.

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  • Ahhh! May I just say that “it is what it is” was part of my wedding graduate post ( And although I didn’t talk about it, if my husband and I had tattoos, they would match yours.

    Congrats on reaching the zen and may your day follow suit.

  • ProjectWed


    We worry, fret and stress over aethetics of one day which seem SO important at the time (and they are important to a point), just as after your first day of college your high school grades do not matter and never will again. At the end of the day–you’ll be married with wonderful memories, a planned party under your belt, surrounded by people who love you– and THAT is what matters.

  • Oh, hey there Stressing About Not Stressing! Thanks for ruining my life!

    Seriously, is there a pill I can pop to cut this shit out? I am so stressed out about making sure things aren’t stressful. It is ridiculous. And pretty much agonizing. And now I need a glass of wine at 8:42 in the morning.

    Hooray for Wedding Zen! I can’t wait to join you there!

    • Stressing about whether I’m stressed enough/involved enough/care enough about things is the single biggest bit of wedding stress I’ve had.

      Has to be better than stressing about a million things not working out as planned, though.

      • Right? I just feel like a rat stuck in a wheel. Stressing about not stressing! Could there be anything less productive and more obnoxious? (And if so, I just hope I don’t succumb to that as well!)

  • Lynn

    I hit Wedding Zen the Monday before the wedding: the moment one of my three best friend bridesmaids sent a text saying that she was having an RA flare, literally couldn’t walk, and probably wasn’t going to be able to make it to the wedding. I was already a little freaked out about the fact that I had three bridesmaids while the PA had 9 groomsmen, and I realized it was just going to be that much more unbalanced. Knowing that she was so sick really made all of the other little buzzing gnats of ideas and plans and problems somewhat irrelevant.

    I totalled my car the week before the wedding? Outstanding.

    The weather on the day of the outdoor wedding is calling for an 80% chance of severe thunderstorms? Great. Because there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

    The mini cheesecakes aren’t working out the way they’re supposed to? OK. Someone fix it.

    The dress needs a sash and there’s no sash available at the local bridal shop? Fantastic. Who’s got a needle and thread? Best friend’s husband? Get after it. Please.

    Uncle Texas cut too big of a hole in the top of the cardbox and now it looks like hell? Super. Someone get out the batting and the staple gun and go to town.

    The photographer isn’t returning my phone calls, texts, or emails? Hooray!

    We forgot to pick up the chicken and no one can find my debit card to pay for it? Pass the xanax because there’s 80 pounds of pork out there and gallons upon gallons of baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad and macaroni salad. Oh, other Uncle Texas will go get it? Sweet, but I’ve already taken this xanax and the bourbon lemonade is looking quite appealing so whatever.

    Which is not to say that standing in line at Sam’s to buy the gallons and gallons of food that I didn’t call the PA crying because I was overwhelmed right that minute. A long drive to the wedding and a reminder that we were still going to be married regardless of whether the music got put together or the photographer showed up put all that right too.

    (and for the record, even with all the crap, it was fantastic. I’m so glad we had the wedding we did. It happened just the way it was supposed to)

  • Faith

    Right on, sister. You have made it to the happy, peaceful place. Enjoy the ride:)

  • ” … it is so insidiously easy to overplan your wedding.”

    Thank you for this. We’re t-minus 23 days and not once have I thought about FAVORS until this week. We should really have some favors, right? Because planning – and paying for – a wedding, dinner, dancing and party for 130 of our nearest and dearest isn’t enough, we should also give them a gift, right?

    Talk me out of favors, APW!! Please!

    • Lynn

      We had awesome favors. Homemade blueberry jam. And we were begging people–literally begging people–to take an extra jar home with them. Just try it, you’ll know it’s awesome once you try it. And we were BEGGING people.

      You don’t need favors.

    • Catherine B

      You don’t need favors! Your guests are there to witness your vows and celebrate with you, not receive some trinket. I have never left a wedding thinking, wow, what a great favor. More like wow, what a privilege to be there.

      Here’s some classic APW to back this up:

    • If you don’t want favors, don’t have favors. Nobody will ask, and if they have the audacity to do so, give them a high five and call it a day.

      • Wait, no one actually has the gall to ASK for favors? Right? If so, that’s crazytalk!

    • amysee

      I’m always just so honored to have made the cut onto the wedding guest list that I’ve never thought about whether I should have received a favor. Being asked to be part of the couple’s day is gift enough.

      Or, if you like puns, do your guests the favor of not sending them home with an item for which they may or may not have any use.

      • Jessica

        Amen to that. I had when the favors are ridiculous things that I don’t need, which is pretty much everything!

    • Maddie

      Oh lady, you so do not need favors. But in case you need more convincing, here you go:

      This post changed my life in 2008, swear to God.

    • MC

      If you don’t want favors, favors are not needed AT ALL. I have never heard anyone ask for them (although, like “wedding colors” and all sorts of other things, people may ask about what you’re planning in a making-conversation, let’s-oooh-over-the-wedding sort of way). We did not have favors (although, um, there may have been a couple of weeks during wedding planning wherein I considered giving everyone a pair of tiny bobblehead turtles) and no one had a problem with it at the wedding.

      If you want, you can justify no-favors with the following excuses as appropriate:
      a) reduces stress
      b) simplifies the reception/decorations (don’t have to figure out how/where to give favors)
      c) is ecologically friendly (less stuff made and then thrown away!)
      d) is budget-friendly
      e) no leftovers (so many couples I know *still* have tons of their favors, since many people just don’t take them; hello, friends’ adorable pictorial boxes of matches still being used up and given away three years after the wedding)
      e) good memories are the best wedding favor!

      Which is not to say that wedding favors are bad or anything, and anyone who really wants to do wedding favors is very welcome to go for it and enjoy it thoroughly. But they are *totally* optional. So, if you’re not into them, SKIP THEM and breathe easier. :-)

      • We had leftover cutely packaged pairs of maple cookies in the freezer, in the car, everywhere for a YEAR or more after the wedding. And that was after giving a big bag of them to somebody right after the wedding.

        Yep. In general, I would say favors tend to be hard to give away and totally are not worth the effort. (And I say this even though our favor was the exact reason we started our first conversation, so it was meaningful in the context of the relationship. But I doubt anyone even read the little sign we posted by the favors that told the story.) SO unless it is super important to you, don’t worry about skipping them! :)

    • meg

      DUDE. APW was founded on the NO FAVORS rule. You know they are such a totally made up wedding industry thing that your mom and your grandmother won’t even know what they ARE right? And the people who do know what they are will just leave them on their plate or throw them out in the hotel room 90% of the time? (God, the number of favors that I ‘ve thrown in the hotel trash sadly). It’s not a children’s birthday party, you don’t need to give people prizes to bribe them to be there. You’re feeding them, and being and awesome host. That. Is. Enough.

      I mean, you know I have a special APW tag called “Die Favors Die” right? ;)

      • Ohmygoodness I come out of a meeting to eleventybillion “Youdon’tneedfavors” replies.

        I am so glad I found APW.

        Does it mean I am entering into “wedding zen” when I’ve realized I just don’t give a —- about most *things* about the wedding? Chairs? There will be chairs, I don’t care what color. Napkins? Crapkins. We don’t need our monogram printed on something people wipe their dirty fingers on. Ew.

        I just want to focus on the marriage part of the wedding day. Not the crapkins.

        THANK YOU … I feel so much more sane now about our No Favors Decision. Or, our Die Favors Die decision.

        • youlovelucy

          Crapkins = my new favorite word.

      • One of the most recent stress triggers for me has been what to do for favors. Today, after reading this thread, I feel liberated. Fuck ’em. TODAY IS THE LAST DAY I WORRY ABOUT HEXAGON JARS OF HONEY VS. MUSLIN BAGS OF JELLY BEANS.

      • I have the feeling that favors started being A Thing just as my mother’s siblings all got married- we have them from all of their weddings (Most of them are Christmas ornaments, so they go in a box all year, then we take them out and go, ooh, Uncle Joe’s bells, or Aunt Joni’s hearts and put them up). I ended up having them because they solved the problem of glasses- my venue was JUST a venue, they had tables and chairs and you had to bring everything else, and it turned out it would be cheaper to buy plates and cups from Costco than to rent them. However, neither my mother nor myself wanted to end up with 200+ wineglasses to store somewhere, so I painted all the glasses over the course of almost a year and people took them home as favors.

    • YOU DO NOT NEED FAVORS. Here’s a list of some awesome favors at friends’ weddings and the ways I entirely failed to appreciate them:

      1. Mini first aid kits with band-aids and painkillers and a pretty dandelion stamp. I think this is adorable and lost mine before I got up from the table.

      2. Sunflower seeds. Also adorable! My partner’s an avid gardener! Perfect! Except we’ve never had space to plant sunflowers, because they’re huge.

      3. Homemade jam. Need I say more? Most awesome favor ever. Unfortunately I flew to the wedding and was not checking a bag, so no homemade jam for me.

      The only favor I’ve ever actually held on to is a screen printed tote bag with a pig on it, which I use almost every day. But I am also fully capable of buying my own effing tote bag.

  • PA

    It’s just a few short hops from, “I want a simple wedding,” to, “I must do ALL the crafts and have ALL the cute things!” Surprisingly easy to stumble all the way from one to the other, even during a single pinterest session.

    But I think that’s just a part of the process – you start with your convictions about the wedding planning process, and then those get tested (by cultural pressure, family pressure, and some really well-thought-out advertising), and then you re-center! And, sure, maybe some THINGS don’t turn out exactly the way you planned, but you can definitely stay true to your values.

    It sounds like your Planner nature (“Plan the BEST party!”) and your Not!WIC (“Don’t have a ridiculous wedding!”) values clashed for a little bit, but have settled into a wonderful harmony now. Best of luck!

    • Yes to the Simple-to-Craft hop! How does that happen? Since when is burning all the skin off my fingers with a hot glue gun and spending every spare moment folding origami flowers out of old book pages “simple?”

      (For the record, I love the hell out of my wedding crafts, and am a crafty person who genuinely enjoys this stuff. Where I was totally lying to myself, though, was that any of it is SIMPLE. I can do it if I want, but I should at least have the decency to be upfront about it with myself!)

  • Ahhhhh this post is aMAZing.

  • KateM

    I am getting there, at 3 weeks to go, not much we can do about it now. However, I am definitely having a hard time with managing other people throwing things at me, like my venue emailing me yesterday saying that maybe we should rent a tent too because it is going to be snug if it rains, or my bridesmaids being so nice to the point where I just want them to decided one something, please pick your own shoes, wear your hair the way you want etc. It is sad when the bride is trying to get everyone else to relax….

    • Colleen

      I don’t even know how many times I’ve told my (two!) bridesmaids to just pick out their own shoes. I don’t have to wear them, so why should I care?

    • Carrie

      Haha! From the very beginning with my bridesmaids, I was like “Dude. Wear a black dress and some black dress shoes or sandals. Pick them yourself, I trust your fashion sense. Likewise, I trust your hair and makeup sense. You are all beautiful and I want you to feel beautiful standing up at my wedding, and you can accomplish that much better than I can do it for you.”

      I just did not have the energy to negotiate all of these choices for grown adults who I know can dress and groom themselves!

  • Chrissy

    I loved this post! I hope someday I reach my wedding zen. My fiance and I got engaged during our backpacking trip to Europe. He proposed atop the Eifell tower. It was unexpected, romantic and incredibly windy! We were due to be in Europe for another few months and so we chose to enjoy the engagement for a few days. Revel in our proposal bliss. Thank goodness we did. We’ve been back two months, are living with parents, and searching for jobs and all my family can do is work themselves up into a fit trying to plan a wedding worthy of a reality TV show. All we want is a chance to devote ourselves to each other and to share that meaningful moment with the people who have supported our relationship all along. This really shouldn’t be so difficult.

    Already I’m a ball of stress trying to talk my mom out of spending her life savings for a museum wedding. I secretly want to elope to the magical city where we met (New Orleans), but what about my 18 immediate family members?

    All I can say, is, you go girl! It sounds like you’ve let go and reached your zen. You are an inspiration. Stumbling on A Practical Wedding, the book and now the blog has been a godsend!

  • Chantelle

    Yes! This post is so needed. I’m a planner at heart, who somehow deluded myself that my superior organizational skills would just remove all stress from the whole wedding experience (hollow laugh).
    There’s the whole compulsion to deny that you are stressed,as it feels like a failure of sorts. You should be the cool indie bride who just doesn’t give an eff about all the stuff that needs to happen.
    Planning a DIY crafty destination wedding in Italy, working through guests travel plans, arranging numerous events to showcase the country I fell in love with, all while working with a venue I have never seen and in a foreign language I don’t speak …yup, it’s overwhelming, and I can admit it here, stressful. But it feels like a dirty secret.

    Wedding zen where are you?

  • Less than two months out from my wedding, I SO needed this today.

  • Ashley

    First, I feel like I wrote this… Because I’m going through the same thing with very similar thoughts. I recently got engaged and we decided that we don’t want a fall wedding, we want to be outside and that July is the best time for us… That was three months of planning. And of course I expected all of the people in our lives to embrace that day and listen to my DIY, low-budget, completely unique ideas about our wedding. And when that didn’t happen I saw it all falling apart so quickly.

    Me and my fiance had three words for our wedding theme: relaxed, joyful and relaxed. It took some tears and frustration to finally see that we are blessed and things will fall into place.

    And with only three months it seems to be working for us.

  • Ashley

    First, I feel like I wrote this… Because I’m going through the same thing with very similar thoughts. I recently got engaged and we decided that we don’t want a fall wedding, we want to be outside and that July is the best time for us… That was three months of planning. And of course I expected all of the people in our lives to embrace that day and listen to my DIY, low-budget, completely unique ideas about our wedding. And when that didn’t happen I saw it all falling apart so quickly.

    Me and my fiance had three words for our wedding theme: relaxed, joyful and relaxed. It took some tears and frustration to finally see that we are blessed and things will fall into place.

    We will have the classy, unique, frugal beautiful wedding I always hoped for… Where I will become his MRS.
    And with only two months it seems to be working for us.