Elisabeth: Going The (Intercultural, International, Wedding Planning) Distance

Today I’m thrilled to give you a post from intern Elisabeth, who’s writing for us once a month about her wedding planning process. Elisabeth converted to Islam just about a year ago, and she is currently in Saudi Arabia, with her fiancé in London, planning a wedding in Dubai. (And you thought your wedding planning was complicated!) But everyone on staff laughed till they cried over this post, because RIGHT? YES. We’ve all totally been there. I mean, just look at these annoyed Skype faces. I rest my case.

When Amin and I got engaged last November, I didn’t give a second thought to how long distance would affect our wedding planning. After all, we were world champion long distancers. If we could handle ten years in different places, surely wedding planning over a distance would be a walk in the park, right?


Let me be the first tell you: long-distance intercultural wedding planning is a special, special flower. A puce-colored flower, covered in thorns and smelling of poop. One that steals all your money, runs to the shops and buys a diamond-encrusted baseball bat with which to beat you over the head.

Thinking back, the situation with my engagement ring really should have tipped me off.

Early on, I told Amin that I had actually been given my grandmother’s engagement ring when she passed away. This is something of a tradition in my family—my mother wears her grandmother’s wedding ring, and plans to pass it along to her eldest granddaughter when the time comes. So we identified the ring, and that should have made things simpler.

Enter long distance. The ring was in the US, in my parents’ house, and Amin and I were in London. A year ago, Christmas-time, he called my sisters and tried to enlist them in getting the ring without letting me know. They didn’t know where it was. My mother didn’t know where it was. Time passes. Eventually he has to ask me for help, so I called my mother and walked her through the house to find it. Then we knew where the ring was, but it was nowhere near to me, or to Amin.

Lo, the many months passed, and eventually the stars aligned, and I finally got my hands on the ring. I brought it back to London, and handed it to Amin. Family visits ensued, and the ring burned a hole in his mattress during months when we enjoyed almost no time alone together. Finally, last November, three days before I was flying out of the country, the time was (finally) right. He put that lovely ring on my finger, but then took it right back off… the alterations still needed to be completed. My grandmother wore that ring every day of her more than forty years of marriage and, though it broke my heart to change it at all, it was wearing pretty thin in places by the time it came to me. So when I took off for Saudi Arabia, I left the ring in London. Last week, nearly two full years after we first discussed the subject and four months after getting engaged officially, everything is finally arranged, geographically and otherwise, and the ring has found its final place on my happy little finger.

This ring was meant to make life easier, cheaper and more meaningful for everybody, and instead sucked up almost two full years of time and energy on three different continents.

I’ve dedicated quite a lot of thought over the past months to what, exactly, makes the wedding-planning process so excruciating. With the help of Meg’s book and its wisdom, I have narrowed it down to two major factors.

First, logistics. As Meg astutely observes, a wedding is often the first big party a couple has ever planned. This is doubly true for us. Since we’ve lived in different countries for most of the past ten years, this is really the first time that Amin and I have needed to make any substantive decisions together on a deadline. Talking about our days and our futures together is just really different from trying to find, transport, and alter an engagement ring. And yet here we are trying to pick venues in London or Dubai with neither of us able to go for site visits, and test caterers with neither of us there to taste the food. Thus far, to be honest, it’s something of a train wreck. Amin works in London until 9 or 10pm and comes home exhausted. I’m three hours ahead of him, so when we do get to talk it is because I’m still awake at 1am, and also exhausted. This has led to some lovely moments. Highlights have included “This is MY day! I should be able to have it exactly the way I want!” (from Amin, hilariously) and “Fine, go to sleep, but when you wake up in six hours I WILL STILL BE CRYING!” (me, at my best).

Secondly, we’ve run into the age-old APW problem of trying to carve a place for our baby family in our families of origin. The cultural and religious differences between our families make it very hard for us to meet (or even anticipate!) all of the variety of expectations that are being thrown our way. Long distance only serves to exacerbate the problem. Contacting our far-flung family and polling them on a venue or a date or any of a million other questions takes a week or more, and there are no opportunities for all of us to sit down together (we are getting desperate enough to consider family conference calls, however). Perhaps most importantly, since we’re all in different countries, we have very limited opportunities to make our families and friends feel involved and helpful, and this has made for added tension. For example, it appears that our mothers both have fairly specific ideas about what their roles in planning are supposed to be (read: large). But how can my mother go shopping for a dress with me, or help me choose wedding china, when she’s in the US and I’m in Saudi Arabia (and the wedding is in neither)? And how can his mother choose a dress for me or arrange the food when she’s in Pakistan and the groom’s in London (and I’m in Saudi Arabia)? Side note: yes, they both want to “help me” choose my dress. Please join me in the “we’ll deal with that later” room.

In particular, I think everybody is a little uncomfortable with how very different from any family precedent our wedding is shaping up to be. My parents met in California where my mother’s brother was in medical school with my dad. After living together for a few years, they were married in a ceremony at my mother’s childhood church followed by a small cake-and-punch reception in a nearby social hall. My mother wore an inexpensive white dress. My father and his groomsmen wore ruffled shirts with their 70s-era tuxes and all of them sported terribly fashionable tinted shades.

Amin’s parents, on the other hand, never met before their wedding day. Their marriage was arranged through mutual acquaintances and the informal network of Pakistanis that traverses the globe. At the time of their wedding, they were both living and working in Saudi Arabia, but their wedding took place in Pakistan. Like most traditional Pakistani weddings, it took place over three days. The bride wore a succession of gorgeous and brightly colored Pakistani gowns, embroidered with gold.

My mom told me the other day that she had had a dream. In it, Amin and I were standing together in front of a preacher. I was wearing bridal white, a veil over my face. The preacher solemnly said, “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.” Amin slowly raised the veil over my face, looked into my eyes…. and gave me an awkward little wave. I found this intensely amusing, but it clearly made my mother a bit sad.

We haven’t even gotten to the questions of what I will wear or what we will eat, because we’re finding unexpected trouble with the basic expectations our families and friends have about what the day will feel like. For example, traditional Pakistani culture expects the bride and groom to be subdued and reserved with each other. Western culture, on the other hand, encourages the bride and groom to publicly declare their love and then party with their nearest and dearest. Now, Amin is not a terribly demonstrative guy (I, on the other hand, like to dance while walking down the street), but it’s important to both of us that we don’t pretend to be strangers on our wedding day. So how do we plan a party where we can be joyful and happy without offending the sensibilities of those expecting reservation and bridal shyness?

We’ve now spent three months talking and negotiating (and crying) and trying to make everyone happy and, as a result, have not yet answered any of those basic necessary questions like where, or when, or how many people. I turned to the APW book in my desperation and found predictably sage advice: you will never be able to make everyone happy, so stop trying. Well, we can’t stop altogether, because we do really want our families and friends to feel comfortable and included. Instead, we’re performing a sort of wedding planning triage: focusing first on what is important to us, and then satisfying as many of the expectations of our nearest and dearest as possible. Things are moving forward slowly, thanks in particular to some very necessary same-geography visits. My engagement ring is finally out of alteration purgatory, we’ve visited some site venues, we’ve chatted about our priorities, and we’ve reminded ourselves that we don’t hate each other. Onward and upward!

When I told Amin about my mother’s dream, he laughed, but then, with panic in his eyes, said, “Uh… We did agree not to have any kissing, right?” Clearly, we’ve still got a bit of negotiating to do.

Photo: A screenshot of Elisabeth & Amin’s frustrated Skype faces

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  • Paranoid Libra

    Your planning is a great reminder to me that it could be worse as I am in the “CRAPWEHAVE2MONTHSLEFTTHERE’STOOMUUUUCCHHH”. Thank you for reminding me why we chose a local to us wedding and making everyone come out to us.

    I really can’t wait to read how you navigate all this because daamn there is a lot going on here. I am actually at the end of my seat wishing there were more posts.

    Good luck and I hope for no more crying on skype situations.

  • PA

    So much to quote with an “exactly”! I’d love to give a shout out for Skype wedding planning and its many unexpected breakdowns (“You’re going to get home from deployment and I’m just going to be another civ and you’re going to hate me!!!” “…okay, we don’t have to talk about the venue if it will upset you”) BUT… This post has made me very shame-facedly aware of how easy it’s been so far. Very similar cultural norms, very hands-off parents, and many more things.

    So I raise my tea to you for a toast to all the things you’re doing with such resilience and humor: planning a wedding over Skype, planning on a time lag, honoring two disparate wedding cultures, and – lest we forget – maintaining a long term relationship and dealing with a recent conversion to Islam (because that doesn’t take any emotional energy, right?)! Cheers!

    • Kamille

      YES. Planning a wedding over Skype. It is SO HARD! I am deployed, my fiance is in NC, my parents are in California, the wedding is in NONE of those places. So I get it.

      We take it one thing at a time.

      I think I’ve cried on Skype way too many times in the past few months.

      • PA

        And why is it that the Skype video is all slow pixelated when I look fantastic, but it works JUST PEACHY when I’m all red-nosed and snot-covered from crying? So unfair!

        • Kamille

          So TRUE! Although lately it seems to cut out ALL THE TIME!

          • PA

            Hahahaha, that it does. I know there was a weird couple of weeks where my fiance was, when there were lots of sandstorms. So sometimes that interefered with wifi. (Sandstorms and wifi … it’s a strange world we live in.)

            Almost every call there’s a few minutes of audio-stacking, though, you know where you don’t get anything and then it all compresses into a few seconds?

    • Elisabeth

      I cannot even imagine the sort of extra difficulties you must get trying to do all of this while you or your loved one is deployed overseas. What a ridiculous extra stress that nobody needs. You all are rock stars. And also, can I add an “Amen!” to your “Okay, we don’t have to talk about x if it will upset you.” because seriously, why is it SO EASY to just fall back on the good old “we’ll talk about it later” trick. I find myself doing that constantly. No worries, Elisabeth, I’m sure the magic wedding fairies will come out of the walls and arrange your wedding for you…. Sigh. If only.

      • PA

        Thank you! *offers e-hugs* It seems like you’re planning like a rockstar, too – there’s a certain amount of emotional fortitude that it takes to deal with interactions with future in-laws when you’re in a long-distance relationship, because you don’t have any backup. Not that it’s confrontational, but especially in this case I’m sure at least one thing has been tossed out there as, “And of course you’ll need to do this…” and you’ve had to wonder, “Okay … what do I say now? Is this something HE wants, or not? What’s going on here?”

        Magic wedding fairies would be nice! I was stuck in the land of “do it all tonight!” So, because of the time difference (and missions), often I had found several potential solutions before my fiance knew we had a problem. “NEVERMINDISHALLFIXIT!”

      • Kamille

        We fall into the “we’ll talk about it later” trick all of the time….I really want magic fairies too.

  • Please join me in the “we’ll deal with that later” room.

    :) That room gets crowded sometimes. It might need its own convention.

    • amigacara

      Hell yes

      • LPC

        CLASSIC APW sentence. Classic. I think we need a section on the site called the “Deal With It Later Room.”

    • The booze flows freely in that room, right? Be right there.

    • kathleen

      we are very good and frequents hosts of the “don’t worry about it” room. It’s full of xanex, wine and lots of cookies, if anyone wants to come hang out.

  • Oh yes!

    I can’t tell you how many frustrated, tear-filled Skype chats I have been a part of during my cross-cultural, cross-continental relationship, engagement and wedding planning. There were many a moment when I stormed away from my computer yelling, “I’m DONE! I REFUSE to talk about this anymore” and stomped away angry at how complicated things can become when you’re exhausted, dealing with ridiculous time differences and trying to have real conversations via video chatting.

    Something that has helped us continually returning to the root of why we’re doing all of this: because we love each other and want to start a new family together. And remembering that eventually we we will get to yell at each other in person! :-)

    The bonus of marrying a man from a country where they don’t really “do” weddings is that his parents are just happy for us….and content to have no other expectations for us. (If only that were true for American culture!)

    • Elisabeth

      “And remembering that eventually we will get to yell at each other in person!”

      Oh man. This. A million times this.

      Here’s to living the dream!

  • Carbon Girl

    Wow. That sounds really complicated. I have a friend in a cross-cultural marriage that ended up having two weddings (one in the U.S. and one in India). I had assumed it was so neither family had to travel halfway around the globe but maybe it was also due to the majorly different cultural expectations!

    • amigacara

      Yeah a lot of intercultural couples do it that way–just so that both families can have a chance to do it “right”…for some people that is less painful than a lot of compromises.

      • Jo

        We’re taking inspiration from that cross-cultural just-have-multiple-events concept. BUT. We’re not cross-cultural. At least not in the simple easy-to-write-off way. We just come from three families (my parents and my partner’s two sets of parents b/c of divorce) who live in very different American bubbles. They each have different experiences and expectations (or lack thereof), and after a bit of heartache we realized that we couldn’t comfortably accommodate them all at the same time.
        I think if they each lived in different countries or came from more substantially different cultures it would be easier for everyone to understand. It would be so nice to be able to say to my mom “well, my partner’s family doesn’t do things that way b/c it’s not normal to do so in India/China/wherever”. Instead she just thinks they’re weird or missing out or under-informed or what have you.
        We decided that the added stress of coordinating multiple events was worth alleviating the pain that we were facing trying to make one event work for all our loved ones.

      • Elisabeth

        Zen just wrote an awesome post on having more than one wedding for cultural reasons. And Amin and I really talked about this possibility a lot.

        Part of the reason we decided not to, I think, is that we both really like the idea of taking our traditions and synthesizing them into a new whole. It’s a fabulous challenge. But at the same time obviously it’s a bit of a struggle to keep everybody happy with just one all-or-nothing event. We ended up kindof deciding on something in the middle. We’re going to do one wedding, where we try to mush everything together. And then we’re going to do a walimah in Pakistan later, which will be fully South Asian. Or, that’s the plan.

        Sometimes I’m not sure whether the multicultural wedding we’re inventing is worth the trouble. But then I figure I’m going to be living a multicultural life, so I’m probably going to have to have many of these arguments eventually anyway.

        • Jo

          You are very articulate. These are tough questions.
          And yeah, I realized after my comment that yesterday’s post by Zen was right there. I guess it’s just what’s on my mind lately, it’s basically the only thing we talk about when the word “wedding” comes up.

          • Elisabeth

            JO, these ARE tough questions! And honestly I don’t see why they should be any easier if you are lacking an obvious excuse like different cultures or religions. It would be interesting to hear more about why people choose to have multiple weddings, or not. I certainly don’t think there’s a right answer.

            And the more I read about these compromises, the more I think Amin and I actually have shockingly adaptable families. I mean, fine, there are lots of cultural differences, but I’ve avoided fights about whether or not I’m going to have a garter toss, and I’m not sure anybody is very bothered about the cake or the food. I think perhaps I need to be more appreciative about exactly how much our families are willing to compromise!

            As for your decision, it sounds like you’ve landed upon a brilliant solution for what seem like really frustrating problems. And it is kindof hard to over-celebrate a marriage, don’t you think? I am sure your wedding(s) will turn out beautifully, and I hope we get to hear more about how you’re managing!

      • Zen

        We had a bunch of different reasons for having two weddings — the main was practical, i.e. we wanted all our relatives to come and realistically they wouldn’t’ve been able to if we’d chosen just one place to have the wedding in. But also it never really occurred to me to do a mash-up — I mean, how do you mash up a Catholic nuptial mass and a Chinese tea ceremony? At best you’d only be able to do two consecutive ceremonies, and if we were going to do that we might as well do it in our different countries of origin.

  • N

    I have to admit that I am insanely curious about what you’re up to in Saudi Arabia since I am also, at this moment, in Saudi Arabia. Future post topic?

    My husband and I planned our wedding in the States from Saudi, and it was really hard, especially since the woman who ran our venue was terrible at email. Even things like the dress… I bought my dress at a sample sale, took it to be altered, and didn’t see it until 12 months later, a week before my wedding (I had strict instructions not to gain or lose weight). On the other hand, I had a perfect excuse to not have a bridal shower without offending anyone. =)

    I can’t wait to hear more about how you go through the process, especially about how you interpret Islamic wedding traditions and how you merge all of these cultures.

    • Elisabeth

      It is totally awesome to find another Saudi person on APW! I’m in Riyadh at the moment, enjoying a very bizarre stretch of rainy weather. Not here for much longer though. And I’ve mostly been working on my Arabic and writing by the pool. Ah, it’s a difficult life. What are you up to over here?

      And as a lady with a Masters in Islamic Studies, you can all rest assured that I have plenty to say about negotiating Islamic wedding traditions.

      I have nightmares about ending up with vendors who won’t talk to me. I hope once we pick a site (and please God let it be soon) that our liaison will be more attached to email than yours was!

  • amigacara

    Oh man that is even more complicated than our wedding planning process was…my husband’s parents are Muslim Bangladeshi Americans living in NYC; my parents are Christian White Americans living in Africa, but at least he and I were living in the same city.

    We did have to make some serious interfaith and intercultural compromises though. I hear you on the dress–both his mom and my mom wanted to give me a dress so i finally ended up wearing three outfits over the course of two days: a sari from his mom, a white dress from my mom, and a lengha that I picked out and they each paid for half of. But OH MAN were there tears and drama before we got there.

    Also kissing: He told me early on that his parents would not be cool with us kissing during the ceremony, and I got really upset and emotional about that even though I wanted so much to be culturally sensitive. But we were super scared to bring it up until finally the night before the wedding we asked his mom privately about and she basically said it was okay as long as it was a quick kiss and not a prolonged make out session.

    Overall, our parents all managed to be surprisingly flexible and we managed to avoid really horribly offending more of our guests…so I guess that’s a good thing, right?

    • dysgrace

      (Hi Cara! :) It turned out beautiful anyway – Grace)

      I can’t even begin to imagine organising a wedding where neither party – nor your families – is in the same place as the venue. We are organising, from Singapore where we live, a Cleveland wedding where his family lives. Parents-in-law have been a TREMENDOUS help.

      We’re also have a multi-stage year of wedding celebrations (tiny one in Singapore, Cleveland, big fat Chinese wedding lunch in Singapore) so as not to leave anyone out or make anyone unhappy. I feel like that in itself has made some folks unhappy.

      • amigacara

        Haha hi Grace! I didn’t know you were on here. :)

        The multi-stage wedding thing must be tough…we thought about that for a while but in the end we just wanted to get it all over with! On the other hand maybe it takes some of the pressure off?

        • dysgrace

          I wish I’d found APW even earlier. Oh, the sanity! :)

          On multi-stage weddings – yes, it does take a great deal of pressure off, as you’re not worried about anything having to be Perfect. Plus, the more practice you get organising parties, the better the parties get…

      • Yay for Cleveland! I live in Cleveland, as does my mom, who is an event planner and is quite experienced in weddings. Let me know if you would like me to put you in touch with her for day-of assistance or anything else regarding the planning process! I’m not sure that it’s something you’re even interested in since it sounds like you have awesomely helpful future in-laws, but I wanted to throw it out there just in case. :o)

      • We had a multicultural, multievent wedding day in Boston (where I lived), but my mom is still planning an unofficial-but-still-official Chinese dinner in Singapore later this year (where we’re from, but where no one in my immediate family lives anymore)!

        The best advice I can give to anyone doing a multicultural wedding is to be more inclusive than exclusive. You might think this is obvious, but my mom sincerely didn’t want to “impose” the Chinese tea ceremony on my Caucasian American husband’s family, and it ended up being a big deal of hurt feelings and miscommunication.

        • Elisabeth

          Inclusive rather than exclusive! Excellent advice!

        • dysgrace

          Oh, yeah. Oh boy. Our respective sets of parents have not met. They will in December when his visit Singapore. Which will be…interesting.*

          * meaning ‘omgwtflolbbqlgurgleargh stressful’

        • Zen

          “my mom sincerely didn’t want to “impose” the Chinese tea ceremony on my Caucasian American husband’s family, and it ended up being a big deal of hurt feelings and miscommunication.”

          Hah, my parents were similar! When we announced we’d got engaged my dad said, “So you won’t want a proper wedding here [in Malaysia], you’ll have it in England and we’ll just have a small dinner here.” I think he said it out of a desire to be accommodating to the in-laws/my perceived desires, but I shouted him down instantly. *g*

  • Karen

    The no kissing part blew me away. Good luck with the negotiations! And thank you for being so real and honest. This sounds like it is very challenging. We are rooting for you!

  • Ali

    We live in Colombia, but are getting married in my hometown in the US. Thankfully my dad is in the hotel business and his hotel does weddings all the time. During a two week visit over Christmas we accomplished the following: Premarital Counseling, Venue – Food, DJ, Cake, Flowers (kind of), Dress and Tuxes, Photography

    We basically had two choices of everything and made those choices lightening fast. It also probably helped that I had just read Meg´s book (on my Nook) sitting on the beach in the Colombian coast. Let me just tell you how DONE I was after the first week and a half.

    Everything else I have preferred to conduct over WHATSAPP with my parents. That way I can pretend I didnt get their message if Im getting frustrated and then come back when im calm!

    Invitations was the big thing I had to do from afar. One shipment went to the US and one shipment was just brought to me in Colombia by someone who was in the US for vacation. And they are bilingual!!! Very happy to have gotten that done. Now I just have to hand deliver all the Colombia ones since that is the tradition here and the mail system doesnt really work….!!!

    Lots of Luck to you and I look forward to continue reading your experience!

  • Granola

    Oh man, I just want to bring you a hug and a drink (though perhaps turkish coffee would be better given both where you live and religious sensibilities.)

    Good luck. I feel completely out of my league offering you any sort of advice, however, I want to try because maybe it’ll at least bring you comfort, if not any actual help. (I got lucky that both of us come from large Lebanese-Irish-Catholic families. Lots of crazy, but at least it’s the same crazy.) I’ve but pleasantly stunned by how little reaction I’ve gotten to some of the non-traditional choices I’ve made. It seems that my family and friends know me, and are cool with it. So perhaps if you and Amin bring these thoughts up with your respective parents, it’ll go better than you expect.

    That being said, when I suggested I didn’t want to do a garter toss, all hell broke loose. Which I just had to let die down. That doesn’t mean I’m giving in, just that I’ll fight that particular battle another way. Also – strategic compromises are massive bargaining chips. Grandma, you think I should have roses in my bouquet? Well I hate them, and you how about you just sit there and be content that the wedding’s in a church? Deal? (yes, that conversation did actually happen. My mom sort of chuckled and said “Well grandma, she’s got a point”.)

    Either way, best of luck to you both. Weddings are hard. May it turn out lovely and into a great story for your future children if you have them.

  • Elizabeth

    Although my fiance and I are not long-distance, I can definitely relate to everything you’re going through. My fiance is first-generation American, his mom is from India and his dad is from Pakistan. I am planning to convert to Islam at some point before our wedding this fall.

    Negotiating the different traditions and expectations of our parents has been extremely difficult and stressful. It’s been met with a lot of “huh?” and “what?! that’s not how WE do it!” on both sides. And there have been a lot of tears (luckily, APW has taught me that’s not only interfaith/intercultural couples who go through this! That’s been a great source of comfort to me!).

    Ultimately, we decided to go with an option that sounds completely impractical, but for us made the most sense. We’re having an Islamic ceremony the weekend before, for my fiance’s parents and their family and friends (my immediate family will attend). The next weekend, we’re having a Catholic-inspired outdoor wedding (weather permitting!) and reception on Saturday. On Sunday, we’re having a Walima (party that the groom’s parents throw for the bride and groom). It sounds complicated, but families are messy and although it’s not exactly what we pictured, I am now looking forward to it–even the parts I initially hated the idea of.

    Elisabeth, good luck coming up with a wedding that celebrates who you both are, and where you both come from. I’m sure over time you and Amin will find that happy medium!

  • Wow. You win for most complicated wedding planning process as of yet! I had a bit of a battle aligning expectations for my Argentine- (North) American wedding and honestly, culturally speaking, the US and Argentina are quite similar. We also had 8 weeks of long distance planning and wow… We basically spent the entire time fighting and crying over Skype. And ultimately ended up planning everything in the 3 weeks before the wedding when we were reunited. We didn’t even hire the caterer I think until that period. And somehow it worked out. So congrats… t takes one strong relationship to handle all that distance!

  • Kristy

    WOW. Just wow. Congratulations – it made my head spin reading this- I can’t imagine living it!

    We had our biggest fight over china. Seriously. I don’t even want to talk about china anymore, much less choose it, much less own it at this point. It’s amazing the things you fight about when you marry someone from another culture.

    May God in all her/his/their forms bless you in this process. Whew! Sounds exhausting.

  • Gloria

    sounds a bit like my friend’s wedding planning experience. the groom is hindi (1st generation american), and most of his family live in new jersey, the bride (white and christian) is from california. however, she was living in north carolina, and he was on deployment in afganistan for 90% of the planning period.

    skypeing and phone calls ensued. he told me the biggest annoyance for him was people making decisions without consulting him beforehand (especially by his parents). they ended up getting married in north carolina (where he was stationed), with a garba (hindu dance ceremony) in new jersey for those who couldn’t come to north carolina, and a wedding day with two ceremonies! one hindu, and one christian. it was a bit of a longish day sitting outside for 2 ceremonies (in 87 degree heat…i got some sweet tan lines from my dress), but it was pretty sweet that they found a way to honor both of their family traditions on their wedding day.

    good luck with all your planning. just breathe, and when things get frustrating it’s okay to walk away and come back to a conversation later (after you have a drink). hopefully you and your fiance will be in the same place soon!

  • Beb

    Great post! I related to a lot of this, even though I’m not facing any of the same inter-cultural challenges you’re up against. I’m marrying a Canadian and although we like to joke that the cultural gulf between us is vast, that (pretty much imaginary) cultural divide hasn’t impacted our wedding planning. :)

    I related most to your description of the stress you feel about long-distance planning, planning a wedding in a place where neither of you are, and good ol’ logistics. My fiance and I live together, technically, but he travels for work during the week and we only see each other on weekends – enter Skype! We’re also planning a wedding in a city where we don’t live and where none of our family or friends live. Brilliant. His family is mostly in Scotland and my family is all in California. The logistics are, let’s say, trying.

    My wedding is a month away, and things are slowly coming together, so all I can say to you is to keep on keepin’ on and embrace the fact that you will never please everyone and can only do the best you can. In the end, I bet your wedding will be so unique and beautiful, maybe all the angst will be worth it. :) Good luck!

  • When my brother announced his engagement to the family, my parents were two months into an extensive remodel of their primary residence. My brother was also weeks from graduating law school and months from attempting the Bar exam. This left much of the communication of my family’s (read: mom’s) wedding hopes and dreams (for my brother) to my sister and me. When my brother’s bride-to-be announced that one of her chosen colors was black, my fairly traditional Chinese mother nearly fainted.

    I never thought my mom had hopes and dreams for her children’s weddings. She did. Unfortunately, her hopes sometimes contradicted those of my sister-in-law and her family.

    This multi-cultural, inter-faith wedding and marriage business is a tenacious and sometimes tumultuous feat. Speaking from experience, the effort is worth it. Effective communication is good practice for the future. Good luck and best wishes!

  • While I’m not planning a wedding as long-distance as you, and I live with my fiance, I totally understand the frustration. We’ve been engaged a month and have already chosen our wedding and reception venue, our catering menu, our colors, my gown, etc. Our argument right now? The rehearsal dinner. I dont’ want to talk rehearsal anymore.

    • kathleen

      I totally agree- I’m living with my fiance, and yet I MAY still make the skype face many times a week. MANY TIMES.

      • That will ALWAYS be “the Skype face” to me from now on. I make it a lot during wedding planning, though to be fair, David makes it rather a lot, too. I tend to make it ahead of time, though. Like, I’m already banking on being frustrated before we even start the discussion and I whip out the Skype face first thing.

  • The posts this week have really been driving home for me how very lucky I am to have a mother and future in laws with little to no major wedding expectations.

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  • …and this is why we eloped… ;) well, we didn’t really elope, because our families knew we were getting married but we did it in a different country with only 5 friends as witnesses. I admire you for going through all of this, and wish you all the best in the planning and, mostly, in your marriage.

  • Abby J.

    Oh man, I have SO been there and I really will need to read this post multiple times to take it in.

    But let me offer some help, as my wedding was in Dubai in December 2011 – seems like forever ago even though it was only 4 months! We planned our wedding from the US, which was not easy. If you need any, and I mean ANY help from a girl who has planned stuff in Dubai and been really happy with it, then please feel free to email me and I will give you any help I can, including contact numbers and all my spreadsheets.

  • This brings back so many memories!!! Like the fight everyone had over whether we would sit (per Hindu tradition) or stand (per Jewish tradition) during the ceremony. Or when my husband got mad because his dad refused to wear a kurta for the ceremony.

    You know that there are going to be fights about the big things, but sometimes it’s the little things that get you.

    So Meg is right that you can’t please everybody, but I will say that in the end, all our parents, friends, and family thought our ceremony was perfect and wouldn’t have had it any other way. We honored both our traditions, families, and cultures while staying true to ourselves, our relationship, and what we want our future to be. And because we stayed true to our ourselves, our ceremony was incredibly meaningful and right for us.

    So in a way the fights were worth it. But they sucked at the time.

    Hugs to you.

    • Elisabeth

      Ruchi, I remember reading about your wedding, and Amin and I were both EXTREMELY impressed by how you manage to blend cultures and traditions. This is exactly what we’re trying to do! I can only hope we are as successful as you two were.

  • Snow Gray

    Long distance planning is immensely frustrating! (And YAY for having a post about it!)

    This is a wonderful post and just makes me grateful that at least I’m planning a wedding where I actually LIVE (though my fiance is 5500 miles and 8 time zones away!)

    It’s clear you have a lot of patience and a sense of humor, and hopefully those will keep you strong throughout your planning. Best of luck!

  • Zen

    Elisabeth, I love your posts! The frustrated Skype faces are SO familiar, ahaha.

  • ico

    We have a community where people shares images of their long distance relationships, we will love to have some of your wedding planning

  • ico

    We have a community where people shares images of their long distance relationships, we will love to have some of your wedding planning

  • ico

    we have shared your picture and post in our facebook page


  • Red

    Thanks for this post..I feel you girls! I’m also planning my wedding on Skype, as I’m a Spaniard and my partner is Australian. I’m am getting married and moving to Australia all at once. It is overwhelming and nice to know I’m not the only one out there. Even though I have been to Australia, it’s still a huge culture shock! I’m planning this solo, since my most of my family can not attend, including my father, and my mother is deceased. My partner’s family is not very supportive or helpful, so Its hard. My fiancé helps me with the venues, church stuff etc, but obviously cant help with the dress and the girly side, even though he tries! Im still grateful! I’m trying to stay positive. Good to know I’m not alone out there. I know that Skype face!! haha! best of luck!!

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  • Tchorek

    Dear Sir or Madame,
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