Whitney & Nathan

As someone who, just like today’s wedding grad, started planning her wedding as soon as she could talk, I appreciate Whitney’s frank discussion of how planning a real wedding is very different from planning an imaginary wedding. Whitney says, “It took me a really long time and some tears to recognize that this was no longer my wedding; it was our wedding.” And, indeed. For those of us who’ve always dreamed about our wedding, it can take time to really realize that this a real life, messy celebration, full of lots of people’s opinions and actual limitations… is actually going to be way more amazing than the perfect celebration we made up in our head. So with that, here is Whitney, sharing what she learned.

If brides fall into two different categories—those who have had their wedding planned since they were five, or those who hadn’t given a wedding a second thought until they were engaged—I most certainly fell into the former. Not only did I already have my wedding planned before I met my fiancé (or really, was old enough to legally be married), I had weddings planned for different seasons and different locations, with different colors: periwinkle and pink for a spring wedding in Denver, red and black for a fall football wedding in Lincoln, black and white for a winter New Year’s wedding, and purple and green, the colors I thought I would have for my summer 2010 wedding.

But let me tell you something: planning an imaginary wedding is way different than planning a real wedding, for many reasons. For starters, the groom is a real person, and if you’re lucky, he’ll want to help and be involved. Secondly, your family and his family and your friends and his friends will be part of the planning, whether you want them to be or not. And finally, sometimes you have to let go of your expectations and accept what has evolved rather than what you have planned.

Let’s just say that I learned all of the above the hard way. But in learning those important lessons, I really learned what marriage is about—because after all, a fake wedding is only about the wedding; a real wedding, however, is about a marriage.

We will start with Lesson 1: You Have A Partner

While I didn’t realize it then, I was lucky to have a fiancé who wanted to be a part of the planning. I was also lucky that he agreed with most of the things that I wanted: the book theme, an outdoor ceremony, appetizer reception, and no DJ to force people to dance. However, it was the things we disagreed on that caused so much conflict. It took me a really long time and some tears to recognize that this was no longer my wedding; it was our wedding. And even though I did eventually figure it out, it took a long time, and looking back, I wish I would have given him more of a say, rather than just steamrollering him all of the time. I also encourage you to accept his help, if it’s offered. Because the best part of a marriage is that you have two peoples’ strengths to rely on, and that definitely came into play when patient Nathan covered 75 books in vintage wallpaper, made all of our card catalog guestbook cards, and made 150 bookmarks. Turns out he’s better at executing projects than I am.

Lesson 2 is complicated: The Wedding Is About Other People, Too

As we talk about on APW a lot, a marriage is the start of a new baby family. But, a wedding is also about the people who are a part of it. I’m not saying that you should accept all of the ideas that people give you, or change your mind on things that have already been decided because someone doesn’t like it. But let your family and friends be a part of planning the day, especially in regard to things you don’t have such strong opinions about; it’s worth it. And on that note: Let. People. Help. You. It is not an imposition, and people want to be involved. Especially accept help from people who understand you and have a calming presence in your life—they will be priceless in the days right before the big day.

Lesson Number 3: Let Go

I’m sure letting go of expectations is easy for people who are not quite as Type A as I am. In fact, before the wedding, someone gave me this advice: No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong. At the time, I thought, that seems like the worst possible thing to tell a bride. Now, I realize that it’s true, and more importantly, it doesn’t matter what goes wrong, and at the end of the day, nothing matters as long as you’re married. And things will go wrong. Despite my crazy, OCD planning, our photographer quit and we didn’t know until the week before the wedding, every road surrounding the ceremony site had construction on it, and the reception site was locked when we went to set up the morning of the wedding. I was late for pictures, the rented candle screen fell down and broke, and we couldn’t get the unity candle to light because of the wind.

But it was the unexpected parts of the wedding that are my favorite memories, including the unity candle not lighting. The way I felt when I said my vows, the happiness and love that overtook the ceremony (and reception) in ways I couldn’t imagine, the butterfly that flew down the aisle as we said our vows, our family friend (who shared their wedding date with us) bringing her cake knife with her for us to use. My dad said it best on the way to the wedding; he said, “From now on, remember the moments, not the minutes.”

Lesson 4: It’s About The Marriage

It’s been almost a year since the wedding, and I learn something about marriage every day. Marriage is not about colors, registries, a pretty dress, delicious food, and spectacular photography. Marriage is about two people joining their lives together and committing to each other, and it requires an open mind and heart, compromise, dedication, love, and the willingness to accept someone, all of someone, for who they are. Sometimes you don’t even need a wedding to have that.

And so if you can take these lessons into account when you’re planning your wedding, it will be easier. You realize that in the end, nothing about the wedding matters as much as your marriage does.

Photos By: Something New Productions

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  • Renee C

    Oooh, Whitney, thank you for your post, and for reminding me again how lucky I am! I am two months out from OUR wedding and am still reminding myself that it is OURS. I am so fortunate that my fiance really cares about the little details . . . I am also sometimes very frustrated with the fact that he cares! For example, having just been introduced to the world of rubber stamps and gold embossing powder in the construction of our placecards, he is now absolutely obsessed with stamping. and embossing. everything. multiple times. I think he really enjoys watching the embossing powder melt in the heat. . .maybe it’s an engineering thing? But what do I care? I keep reminding myself that it doesn’t matter if all our thank you cards and drink menus have five layers of gold floral embossing topped off with green glitter embossed text. The point is, HE REALLY CARES about our wedding, and more importantly, he cares about our marriage. If these gold and green glitter menus make him happy on our wedding day two months from now. . . then that’s what matters most.

    • I always jumped to frustration when Nathan wanted to be invovled, because it’s so easy. But you have the best attitude in realizing that he just cares. I personally think anything embossed is gorgeous!!

      • I really love your post! I’m completely on the other side of the spectrum – never thought I’d get married, never really wanted to, and now that I’m engaged (to be fair, there is an important practical reason) I would have been happy with showing up on a morning at the courthouse wearing jeans.

        If it wasn’t for my fiance and our parents, I would not have planned anything at all. Now that the planning is begun, though, I’ve started to care increasingly more, and it feels interesting that I seem to take a role that you have had to deal with from the other side. Reading your post makes it easier for me to understand all the questions I have been getting and the expectations people have (which then also makes it easier to decide if they are important enough to compromise on).

  • I suspect these lessons might be one of those things you can’t be taught, but that you can only learn. I understand how wise they are, but I worry without experiencing them I won’t actually get it. I really appreciated that you shared your regret about steam rolling your fiance into some things, I’ve been doing that more lately and it doesn’t feel good.

    • Renee C

      yes, agree. I, too, feel like I’ve been steamrolling a bit. One of the things I really like about APW, though, is that we have discussions like this with real content and introspection. If there IS anyplace to get some shared wisdom, it’s here. Reality check from the other side = very, very good thing :).

      • I’ve learned to narrow down all the options to a few that work for what we want, and then send him those along with my editorial notes. So he gets to have a say and doesn’t get overwhelmed looking through every single choice. But also gets a sense of where I’m coming from on my picks.

        Because SERIOUSLY it took a while for him to get over his need to look at every. single. option. ever. I finally convinced him that I can’t infuse his brain with 26 years of event planning knowledge, and that I know what I’m doing and that I really am taking his tastes into consideration.

        That was an annoyingly big hurdle.

        • Also, totally agree, though Nathan was all about the options and I was all, this one looks good in my head, so we should just go with it regardless of anything else. :) I said that a LOT–it looks good in my head…

      • APW is what helped me realize all of this, totally. If not for finding the site, I probably wouldn’t have even thought twice about taking over the wedding, and steam rollering him. But it totally is something that is definitely learned as you go, and one of the best lessons for marriage prep. You won’t know how to plan an event every day, but you will need to learn how to accept help and opinions from your partner!

  • Steph & B

    “And finally, sometimes you have to let go of your expectations and accept what has evolved rather than what you have planned.”

    This most definitely. Our wedding was three weeks ago and the fact that nothing goes quite according to plan is what I really came away with. But what I really wish I could have told my engaged self was that the day of, I really didn’t care that things went wrong or were forgotten. I forgot so many things like the video camera to record the ceremony for my grandparents. And I’m sure there were lots things that went wrong. But I don’t remember. And I don’t really care. And I didn’t care then either. I just allowed myself to be fully present and drift along in a happy bubble.

    And the best part about the whole wedding? IT’S OVER. No more wedding planning! Or at least no more real wedding planning.

    Thanks for sharing Whitney!

    • msditz

      FOR. REALS. I am three (what?!?) days out from our wedding, and a few days ago we got some surprising news about the bar at our reception. Long story short, I was thinking my guests would be drinking a lot more than they actually will be. At first I flipped out, but after awhile I just couldn’t care anymore. My grandmother was recalling her own wedding from the 1940’s and how she was mortified that her in-laws did not allow champagne at her reception. And she ended with, “And you know? The sun came up the next day.”

  • So full of wisdom. That is all.

  • EEEEEEEE, wedding graduate day!!

    You are my wise trailblazer forging your way through the married wilderness so that you can send missives to those of us who have yet to head down the trail. I love both of you and will look to you when I am planning my wedding (and building my marriage) as an example of how to get it right. It was an honor to hold your dress train, hehe.

    <3 <3 <3

    • Just FYI, Leah is the one in the gorgeous blue dress holding my train above–personal attendant awesomeness. She kept me grounded and not crazy and let me bounce ideas off her every. single. day. for a year. seriously.

  • Lincoln, Nebraska, huzzah!

    This is a wonderful post. And the truth even those of us in camp #2, who hadn’t even considered bridemaids’ dresses and napkin folds until the engagement, have to learn these things as we go along. Beautifully articulated, and I wish you every happiness.

  • Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say this:

    “Marriage is about two people joining their lives together and committing to each other, and it requires an open mind and heart, compromise, dedication, love, and the willingness to accept someone, all of someone, for who they are. Sometimes you don’t even need a wedding to have that.”

    This is lovely and true and so heartening for those of us who, though not yet married in the technical sense, are married in our hearts, despite pressures from outside who insist that our relationships aren’t legitimate until someone puts a ring on it. :)

    • This is the part of the post that makes my heart sing too. So wise, so true and so beautifully written.

      And, Whitney, you are hysterical!

  • I second Lesson 1. My husband was the driving force behind a lot of our wedding planning, and the whole thing was so much more memorable for it. Even the parts where I cried because I couldn’t have my way :)

  • Lisa

    Yes, yes, yes…it’s all true. Especially point number 4. I don’t know how many people told me that it’s more about the marriage than the wedding while I was in the midst in planning insanity. Did they not know how many years it had taken for me to actually, really plan the wedding?!?! With about two months left before the wedding, I realized they were right. I’m a little jealous of those who are able to keep that mindset the entire time.

    Oh, and a little extra happiness to see a wedding where I was all, hey, I know where they are… made me miss home just a little!

  • So many wise words here. I could quote quite a bit of it and say exactly to all of it.

  • Nicole

    Yay Whitney! Awesome and beautiful, just like you.

    • aww thank you my APW friend. :)

  • faith

    Perfect thing to read 3 days before my wedding!

    Having a wonderful man to share the load with took me a while to realize as well. Not only will he help, he’s darn good at what he does!

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom:)

    • Sending happy thoughts for your wedding!

    • msditz

      OMG! Three days to go for us too! *high-five* fellow July 23rd bride! Deep breaths…deep breaths… :-)

  • Hilary

    Oooh! Are there pictures of card catalog guest cards somewhere?

    • Umm…I’m not sure! I found the card catlog drawer on etsy, and then the cards were just 4×4 cardstock paper with a flower punch in the corner.

      • I feel like someone has to have a picture somewhere, right? Maybe? We should go Facebook-digging.

      • Hilary

        This is helpful though! Thank you!

        My mom wants wedding projects and I think the card catalog guest cards would be perfect for her… (and obviously cool for us too — we’re getting married in a science building that has a library too).

        • I found a picture of the card catlog and have it on my blog today: http://www.wordfancies.com. I am so jealous of the library/venue!!!! :) Sounds wonderful.

  • Vmed

    omg your DRESS.

    (yup, today I am that girl.)

  • KJHC

    Oh, Whit, I loved this post! Your knack for writing shines through the good advice, too. I’m thankful I was a part of your wedding!

  • “…in the end, nothing about the wedding matters as much as your marriage does.”

    AMEN!!! I am now almost two years out from our wedding, and the thing I value most about the wedding planning, in hindsight, is the time we took to read through marriage books together and to seek out the advice of wise, trusted married couples who were in our lives. The marriage is the thing. The wedding is a marvelous, meaning-filled party that kicks it off.

  • mere…

    “But in learning those important lessons, I really learned what marriage is about—because after all, a fake wedding is only about the wedding; a real wedding, however, is about a marriage.”

    This line meant so much to me today. I’ve just started planning my wedding and I have friends coming out of the woodwork to ask about wedding details, yet very few have asked about my fiance and me. It’s been a little disheartening, because I so want my wedding planning to be focused on the marriage and not the “wedding.” Thanks for sharing your lessons with us!

  • Class of 1980

    Pretty outdoor wedding. I loved that a butterfly flew down the aisle while you said your vows.

    The wedding day will slowly recede as new things come to take your attention in the present, so you might as well enjoy the day whatever happens.

  • Great story and great lessons. I am myself a bit of a Type A person but am trying not to bring that tension into the wedding planning, involving both families, my friends, etc… the wedding is in two and a half weeks and I am to the point now where I can’t wait till it’s over and hopefully have a story as happy as yours!

    • bec

      Don’t forget to live in the moment. I, too, just wanted it to be over with. Now, years later, I cannot remember most of it and that makes me sad. “Remember the moments, not the minutes” Best. Advice. Ever.

      • hol

        I’ve been married 23 years now, and I can’t agree more with this comment, “Don’t forget to LIVE IN THE MOMENT”! The day of your wedding, be a sponge, and simply absorb all the love around you. The planning is finished, it’s now your day, with your True Love. Let go, and enjoy!

  • I love this quote from Whitney’s dad: “From now on, remember the moments, not the minutes.”

  • Renee

    I’m pretty sure if I were ever to write a grad post and be eloquent all at the same time it would pretty much be exactly this. Absolutely lovely. :)

  • As someone who has also been planning my wedding since I was 5, this has just become one of my favourite ever grad posts. My favourite part? “You have a partner”. YES! Like most good wedding wisdom, it applies to the whole marriage too, for what would a marriage be without the ability to negotiate?

  • bec

    So well written, I love every bit of advice. Go Whitney!!

  • Wren

    Thank you for this lovely post – I really needed it today. I am just beginning to realize how vastly different planning an imaginary wedding (Okay, a dozen imaginary weddings. At least.) is from planning a real one. And you’re right, it is messy.

    Right now, I could be pretty down thinking about the fact that we may not be able to afford a wedding at all – only I’m not, really. Because, as you said, “sometimes you don’t even need a wedding” to have what matters. So no matter how discouraging the logistics and the financial realities of this process may become, I know that the most important piece is already in place. We love each other, we’re committed to each other, and we want to continue that, for the rest of our lives, wedding or not.

    Giving up on a wedding when I’ve been dreaming about them for years and years isn’t my first choice, and I’m still hoping to avoid that option, but it will be an easy decision if it turns out that that’s what we need to do in order to start our marriage off right.