When It Comes to Weddings, What Matters the Most?

"I want a love like that"

My wedding fantasies included, but were not limited to, eloping with a taco truck after party in downtown LA, a three-day extravaganza in my Sonoma County hometown, going to Paris with immediate family only, and hosting a small brunch at our house. My fiancé offered his own ideas, which were primarily film focused and soundtrack based. My folks had an idea that included hymns, his were concerned about a Pulp Fiction themed reception. In the end, we decided to compromise our fantasies with those who would be footing most of the bill: our parents. We worked hard to make sure that our wedding was a reflection of our personalities, but we were also dedicated to honoring many traditional expectations of our families. I think this decision contributed to creating a planning process that our loved ones felt included in and respected by, and saved us all a lot of dinner table discussion headache.

My parents are religious, but we are not; we managed to connect with a Presbyterian minister who could create a sacred ceremony without a specifically Christian perspective. My fiancé feels strongly about music; finding a DJ that promised not to play his extensive “no” list was possibly the greatest challenge of the planning experience, but we did it. (To be fair, our entire planning experience was really easy, so to say the DJ was the hardest part is not saying it was very hard, after all. Just don’t play “Blurred Lines,” k?) When the music of Federico Fellini’s films graced our cocktail hour, it was lovely for everyone, but especially fun for Kalen and his dad because they are obsessed with Italian film. We also knew that this was a precious time for our extended family members, so we created an evening that honored the multiple generations of relatives that came from near and far to be with us. To counterbalance all the formalities, we hosted a pizza party at our house the next day, and I wore my pajamas. It all felt right.

A few weeks later, I learned that a friend of mine was overheard saying, “We will NOT be doing that at our wedding,” more than once during our ceremony and reception. I let out a short, loud laugh when I heard this. This is congruent with aforementioned friend’s personality but also, who says that at the wedding? Did this person never learn the privacy-of-your-car protocol of wedding recapping?

I think most of us have a tendency to use other people’s weddings as real-life sampler platters: yes, I want a bouquet like that; no, I won’t ride in on a carriage; definitely more succulents; absolutely no burlap. I did it at every wedding I attended after I was ten-years-old. And I’ll admit it… I created a Pinterest board before I was engaged. I know I’m not alone; not-getting-married wedding boards are among the most popular on Pinterest, which is a curious by-product of the billion dollar wedding industry’s rise to world domination.

Sure, this commitment might be the bravest step you’ve ever taken, you might have hundreds of people watching, your family might be happy or unhappy, your uncle might drink too much, and your life may change forever after this day… but we have been conditioned, massaged, manipulated into focusing on the exact shade of cream table runners. Everything is screaming at us to make every detail magazine perfect and simultaneously unique. Learning that my wedding choices were on someone’s “no” list, taught me that it isn’t only something that the industry is doing to us; we are doing it to each other.

A wedding isn’t defined by the flower arrangements, the officiant, the cake, or the prayers. A wedding can have none of those things, and I think we can all agree that it is still a wedding. I searched for the definition of wedding: “A marriage ceremony, especially considered as including the associated celebrations.” Nothing said a wedding was defined by what the bride wears, or what the guests eat, or if there are guests at all. Zero definitions I found mentioned mason jars, photo booths, or flowers. There were no charts—anywhere—measuring one wedding against another or whether matching bridesmaids dresses correlated with the length of the marriage.

I looked through APW and measured the most traditional wedding against the most untraditional. You know what is the common denominator? Love. (Duh.)

My wedding has nothing to do with anyone else’s wedding, and vice versa. I had a semi-formal dinner in a downtown loft; you can have a three-day extravaganza that includes a tea ceremony and live animals, or you can go to city hall all by yourselves. You can whisper vows to one another alone on a cliff—or yell your vows together in the shower—without an officiant or any legal papers at all.  How each individual couple decides to take this step for one another is nobody’s business but their own.

I want to feel excited about the way my friend’s wedding is gong to be different from mine, instead of approaching it as an opportunity to compare and contrast.  I want to walk away saying, “I want a love like that,” instead of whether the fire dancers were overkill.

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  • Lian

    Ha, yes, critiquing in your car only!

    Not related to this beautiful essay, sorry, but has the font size of APW changed? I noticed it both on my computer and tablet. It seems smaller. I liked the old font size better, this way I have to strain my eyes…

    • emilyg25

      Yes, I’m curious about this too (the font size).

    • KM

      I also prefer the larger font size. (On chrome browser, in case that matters)

      • Lian

        Wow, clearly I am not the only one! Good call about including the browser. I am also using chrome.

        • Alyssa M

          Oooh… chrome on my phone too… Maybe it only changed on chrome?

          • Rhie

            Nope, it’s smaller on Firefox too.

    • Alyssa M

      Yeah, I noticed the font size too… makes it really hard to read on my phone

    • Lisa

      I’ve been noticing this all week, too. It’s even difficult to read on my office desktop!

    • Jess

      I’m zooming in on chrome this week – it’s definitely different.

      • ktmarie

        Same for me

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Thanks guys! We’re looking into it!

      • Lian

        Thanks! As far as I’m concerned you can delete this whole thread cause it’s not relevant to the discussion, I just didn’t know how else to let you know!

    • Moe

      I thought my glasses needed to be updated, again.

  • Candace Armstrong

    Beautiful. As someone who is as month out, this is a great reminder of what we’re actually doing

    • Four months out, here, and yep, this was very much needed. Thanks, again, APW, for the gentle reminder about what is really important.

    • Kristen

      9 months out here! And I am constantly reminding myself that I am not only planning a wedding, but planning a marriage.

    • Gina

      8 days out and APW blogs like this are legitimately the only thing keeping me sane. Every time I feel overwhelmed by the details, I type in apw and look for a post on love. THANK YOU for keeping me grounded!

    • kate

      yep! just under 6 months out, with a close friend (the type who would potentially say “we won’t be doing THAT at MY wedding” if hers was after mine) planning a *very* different wedding from mine that will happen about 3 weeks before, so i very, very much needed to hear this and have a feeling it’ll become my mantra as we get closer.

    • FancyPants

      I’m 6 weeks out….and am feeling a little disorganized for the wedding-part! But the love part? We’ve got that part DOWN!

  • Nell

    “There were no charts—anywhere—measuring one wedding against another or whether matching bridesmaids dresses correlated with the length of the marriage.”

    This reminded me of that godawful TLC show “Four Weddings” – where 4 strangers go to each other’s weddings and judge each other, all to win a “dream honeymoon.” It is the WORST wedding shaming imaginable. And yet, I used to watch it all the time when I was in college (and super far from thinking about marriage). Now, I can’t imagine not being grossed out by that show.

    • Amanda L

      I was *thisclose* to being on that show. Two weeks before the wedding, they still hadn’t locked down what dates I’d need to go to the other weddings, and they *thought* I’d meet the three other brides on the Thursday before my wedding. I said ‘Um, no… I have plans that day with family that are here because they love me and my husband, I am not wasting another minute trying to figure out how to show a 10-person production crew into my already-crowded reception space. I’m out.’ It was the best decision I made during the whole planning process.

      Also, it turns out one of our ushers was in another wedding three weeks later, and that one was on 4 Weddings. I watched that episode and was SO GLAD we changed our minds.

    • Jade

      That show burns my chops so bad! Especially once I was
      engaged, every time it was on TV I’d just rant that I was going to make my OWN
      damn show where 4 brides attend each others’ weddings and spend the whole hour
      gushing over how happy and in love the couple are with interjections about
      awesome the cake/DJ/dress/etc. is.

    • Kate M

      That show is the worst! Not just the wedding aspect of it, although it terrible, but that we setting women up against one other to deliberate criticize each others decisions. It is kind of a one hour capsule of the rest of their lives. We deride each others careers, houses, clothes, children, all the life style choices.

    • K.

      Oh man… I’ve never seen my father angrier at something silly than when I had TLC on in the background when I was staying over at their place for a weekend visit. I was working on my laptop and not paying attention, and he sat down next to me. Then suddenly he yells, “That is AWFUL! This is the WORST show. Why are you watching this?!” I had no idea what he was talking about, but it was Four Weddings and apparently one of the brides rated another bride’s dress very low because “she doesn’t have the figure to pull it off.” He went on this long rant about how choosing a wedding dress is a very personal thing and that every woman is beautiful on their wedding day, and how DARE this other woman be so cruel on what should be such a happy and joyous occasion…

      So that day I learned that my dad apparently has very strong opinions about the importance of wedding fashion and woe be to anyone who says anything other than glowing things about MY dress. Oh, and Four Weddings is indeed the worst.

    • Kayjayoh

      I had never heard of this show, and I am horrified (though sadly, not surprised) by its existence.

    • It made me think of that show too. I was never able to watch more than a minute or so while flipping channels. The whole idea behind it is disgusting.

  • Jess

    “My wedding has nothing to do with anyone else’s wedding, and vice versa. I had a semi-formal dinner in a downtown loft; you can have a three-day extravaganza that includes a tea ceremony and live animals, or you can go to city hall all by yourselves. You can whisper vows to one another alone on a cliff—or yell your vows together in the shower—without an officiant or any legal papers at all. How each individual couple decides to take this step for one another is nobody’s business but their own.”

    This whole paragraph is beautiful and needed! Of course, now I want to get married by whispering on a cliff with the wind carrying our words off into the world to be witnessed by the trees and the hills and the birds. But still, no matter what choices anybody makes, the point is the confirmation and intention to love.

  • I loved this so much. That last sentence, man — so good!

  • lady brett

    i love this. it gives me flashbacks to our wedding, which was not a particularly…well planned…event, and was just the damn best.

  • E

    “There were no charts—anywhere—measuring one wedding against another or whether matching bridesmaids dresses correlated with the length of the marriage.”

    Sort of related:


    • K.

      Hrm. Yeah. This has been floating around the internet for awhile. I’ve yet to see it do anything other than create division and holier-than-thou smugness though to be honest, especially since the way the study is reported makes really blanket statements without any (important) context.

  • Monica

    Would you mind sharing who this DJ was? I live in Los Angeles and am struggling to find a DJ that will accept my fiancé’s long list of no music as well!

    • kelly

      I second this!

      • Renee

        Kelly, see above. :-)

    • Renee

      DJ Aristocat from Scratch DJ’s. (I was Eve’s wedding planner!)

      • Eve Sturges

        this is true and true. Scratch DJs. DJ Aristocat (real DJ name) was FANTASTIC.

  • Sosuli

    I – shamefully – have to admit to once having used the phrase “we are not having this at our wedding” during a wedding… and it was when the DJ played ‘Blurred Lines’. I whispered it to my fiancé though, so hopefully no one else picked up on it. :/

    • Lian

      I have also uttered this phrase, but it was meant as “there is no way we could afford that…” and that is how my fiance took it. I hope nobody overheard and understood differently. It was at a cousin’s wedding and it was gorgeous, just, you know, entirely out of our budget. Actually when we left my fiance was very stressed because he started worrying his family would have really high expectations of our wedding which was only a few months later. It all worked out fine of course, because both weddings were about love!

    • Lindsay

      Our band got a “don’t play” list that only included 2 songs. The first one was Blurred Lines and I wrote “if this gets played the bride will walk out of the room.” That song is the worst!

      • Sosuli

        I totally understand that. Out of interest, what was the other song? My fiancé LOVES making spotify playlists, so we’re DIYing our wedding music. We’re a year and three months out, but he’s started planning it already…

      • Libby

        God, if only I had remembered to do that. I didn’t think of it for our “do not play” list and then when it came on as I was dancing I think I stopped in my tracks. Luckily, I was on such a general high and someone ran up to me for a hug about two seconds later that it just ran out of my head. Everyone seemed to be having a great time so I went with that and let it go. BUT in retrospect, wish I had thought of that!!!

    • Jess

      I’ve done it due to a bouquet toss. There were about… 3 unmarried women total and not a single one moved. Upon returning to our seats we agreed that it was an embarrassing ritual for everyone involved and we were never doing it at our weddings.

      It’s one of those things that feels ok if you’ve got lots of unmarried people, or kids or your friends just really enjoy it… but otherwise? nope nope nope nope nope nope.

      • Sosuli

        Some wedding traditions are really problematic and should be critiqued at some point, though I guess during someone else’s wedding is probably not the best place to do it. It’s tricky – while I agree that people shouldn’t be judgmental about each other’s weddings, it’s hard when there are some relatively unpleasant traditions sometimes involved.

        On the bouquet toss note, we’ve already decided against it, and will be doing a non-gender/marital status specific Moomin toss instead.

        • KC

          MOOMIN TOSS! That is hilarious and exciting. And now I want a soft, squishy Moomin to go with the books…

        • Jess

          Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m super proud of it, but all three of us were pretty uncomfortable in the moment. It’s tough to pretend to be super enthusiastic when you and the two people next to you were literally dragged by the arm to get there.

          Other than that moment, I’ve never left a wedding saying anything other than, “I loved how they did this!” or “That worked so well for them”

      • Kayjayoh

        I put out an informal survey to the unmarried ladies I knew would be attending. “Do you like this tradition? Would you do it? Would you miss it if we skipped it? Would you avoid it?”

        As a result of their answers, we skipped the bouquet toss and just did the pinata. (Though I did toss a wee extra bouquet to two little girls, and gave the one who didn’t catch it a flower to pin into her hair. Everyone was happy.)

      • jubeee

        I’ll admit that at a cousin’s wedding, there was two of the strangest/most awkward toasts I’ve ever heard. OUr table, all the way at the back was definitely running commentary. Looking back we were very rude but FUCK those were weird toasts.

    • pajamafishadventures

      I did the exact same thing, at the exact same moment. I also left the wedding right as ‘Blurred Lines’ started playing but it wasn’t in protest- it was a Sunday night at 9 and I had to drive two hours to get home and then work Monday morning- it just seemed like a sign I needed to get going.

      I’ve also said it somewhat facetiously. When asked how the Catholic mass was I said “Well, I certainly wouldn’t have one at my wedding!” which elicited some laughs in a “well duh, neither of you are Catholic” way

  • Jenny

    Yes! I love this!

    One of the things I love most about my close circle of friends weddings was that they were all awesome, but also so different. But the common denominator was love and happiness. That said, in the car I still turn to my husband and say, I still like ours best. Plus, just because I personally didn’t want to host a wedding that had a scotch bar doesn’t mean that I didn’t love the shit out of attending it!

    • LisaG

      Totally! While planning our wedding we attended a morning wedding with a brunch reception. IT confirmed that we wanted a more formal sit-down evening reception, but it was still awesome. Day drinking and kobe sliders? Yes, please. And we got to spend the whole afternoon at the brewery next door after the wedding was over.

  • Sarah E

    Beautiful sentiment here, I totally agree. One thing that struck me as we began to plan our wedding (which is now under two months away), is how our wedding will be the first “non-traditional”–read: secular and informal–wedding among our close friends, even though our friend group is full of atheists who love to be casual. When I attended my friends’ beautiful weddings, I of course thought to myself that we totally aren’t spending three hours with a caterer picking napkin colors or months going to religious-based counseling to get married in the church. But the real deal is that I won’t have my friends’ weddings. . . but I also won’t have their family expectations, their guest list, their hometown, their budget, or any other factor that goes into those choices. As all of us who have planned or are planning a wedding know, there’s so much more that goes into these decisions than “Oh, I never pegged them as barn wedding people.” So OF COURSE our weddings would be different. I wouldn’t expect them to have my wedding either.

    • jubeee

      I wish people would realize this. I’ve gotten slack from people for cutting people from our family to invite because we want a small wedding and we are paying for it ourselves. One cousin had close to 200 guests and her parents gave her 25K to pay for it. For her to tell me I am wrong for not inviting a cousin who is 15 years younger I see once a year feels insane.

  • Anon

    “I want a love like that” – nailed it. All the couples I know and admire are vastly different; some are fancy, some are simple, some are world traveler adventurous, some have lived in the same town their entire lives. But they all have that love that radiates and is so contagious.

  • Moe

    My wedding was about three years ago and my car-critiquing has changed since I’ve crossed over to the other side.
    “Did you notice how quickly everyone went through the buffet line? That was executed so well!”
    “I wonder how many people sent in their RSVPs on time…”
    Now that I understand how much effort, worry, planning and money goes into a wedding I am truly honored to be invited.

    • Emily

      I feel this way too! I still sometimes notice things I wouldn’t have liked or chosen, but I really believe that if you’re only there for the centerpieces/linens/buffet than you shoulda just stayed home.

    • Lindsay Carlisle Shay

      Same here! A friend is a HUGE wedding critiquer, and it was a stress before our wedding knowing that Jen would spend the week after saying things like, “The dinner plates were cold! Can you believe it?” But at a point, I just didn’t care anymore. And now, having had to make all those decisions and knowing that the couple has no control over the temperature of the plates, those types of things don’t pop into my mind and I don’t indulge her in those conversations. When I attend a wedding now, I’m just so happy for our friends and family who are in love and celebrating it!

      Before planning a wedding, I think it’s hard to understand how complicated and personal every decision can become. Once you’ve done it, it’s easier to cut everyone a lot more slack and just enjoy it.

      • Moe

        I had a friend spontaneously apologize for *anything* she might have said or did during my wedding planning that was remotely close to complaining. She got engaged and married right after I did and immediately recognized that you can not make everyone happy or control every single detail.

    • Daisy6564

      I will admit that I was a wedding criticizer before I got married. I usually found many things to gush about at every wedding I have been to but also some to criticize. My targets tended to be things that I found overly ostentatious or things that inconvenienced the guests. My laid back, hipster friends having a black-tie affair? The hour-long wait in a buffet line? Yup, I ranted about both those weddings in the car to my now husband afterwards.

      Since planning my own wedding and having an 11-month long battle with my parents about every aspect, I now have a better understanding of how not everything at a wedding reflects the couple’s taste. A wedding is a community affair and there are other stakeholders that get a say. I am still embarrassed that I was less than gracious when my friend could not invite my boyfriend (now husband) who I started dating just four months before her wedding. I had no idea the complications of guest lists and seating arrangements at the time.

      I am now much more sympathetic to the aspects of a wedding that might not be what I would have chosen. I realize that wedding planning is hard and that I have no idea what went in to any one particular decision. I still gush over all of the details I like and now keep quiet over those I don’t. None of the details are really why I am there anyway.

  • Amanda

    One of my best friends(?) got engaged 2 months after me. I got married this past June and she’s getting married this coming May. Said friend is a comparer, in all things, always. It’s a habit of hers that has always gotten under my skin so I knew wedding planning, kind of alongside her but also with her getting married almost a year after mewas going to be a bit of a nightmare….but never could I have imagined the extent to which it was. The coooooooonstant comparisons and statements of what she would or would not do both to my face and mutual friends put me in more of a fury than all other wedding planning drama combined. To the extent that it really hurt/ruined our friendship.

    So, yes, I second every single thing you said but especially this: “I want to feel excited about the way my friend’s wedding is gong to be different from mine, instead of approaching it as an opportunity to compare and contrast. I want to walk away saying, “I want a love like that,” instead of whether the fire dancers were overkill.”

    Also, I’ll add that, it is slightly satisfyin now that now that my friend is into the actual details and execution phase of wedding planning how many of these I WOULD NEVER DO THAT things have become what she is, in fact, doing. However, it would have been better to just have some compassion along the way.

  • Why, Disqus, why??

    My best friend is a caterer for the impossibly stylish, almost hipster blogger set in a big city and I thought we pretty much had a lock on critiquing since we saw every fashionable trend executed “perfectly” twice a weekend for years. Then one day we were analyzing succulents in reclaimed wood planter box centerpieces and my dad jumped in and asked what the best wedding we’d ever been to was. That answer was easy and instant. Then he asked what their centerpieces looked like. And neither of us could remember. Like, even the color.

    Nothing matters at a wedding other than the couple in love. Gorgeous sentiment in this essay.

    • Gilit

      The dad in this comment thread are awesome

    • researchwarrior

      ETA: this is my comment! For some reason, Disqus wouldn’t let me sign in under my username.

  • And now I want to see APW feature a wedding where they say their vows in the shower and then have a fire dancer. Because – AWESOME!

    • Anon

      I want to see a movie in which they yell vows in the shower! I want to yell vows in the shower! Eve=awesome.

  • Lindsay Rae

    I have to admit I am a little guilty of this sometimes.. even though I firmly believe what’s written here!! Great reminder to stay grounded. It’s all about the love, the couple & the marriage.

  • Avianti Jewelry

    I agree especially with the part about trying to stay true to your and your husbands style, yet allowing your parents say, because they do have the burden of the bill.

  • Candid Catchers

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  • Karen

    Dear APW, sorry to be pedantic, but you only hyphenate ages when they are nouns: “A ten-year-old will be in fifth grade.” This one would be “every wedding I attended since I was ten years old.”