I famously hated wedding planning. I deeply love weddings, but I disliked planning our wedding immensely. In fact, I hated it enough that (gestures around) all of this exists. APW, The APW Book, The APW Planner, all the interviews I give to the press… all of it rests on the foundation of me finding wedding planning a miserable racket, with a zillion stressors, minimal support, and almost nobody supplying the basic information I needed.
Advice To Myself Ten Years Ago
Fast forward to now, and I’m planning my Vow Renewal/Ten Year Anniversary party. Is planning better than it was? Yes. Is it amazing and super pleasant? No. Am I doing things differently with a wedding and ten years of being a wedding expert under my belt? 100% yes. So, I want to talk about what I’ve learned, and what I’d pass on to myself ten years ago as words of advice.
(And I should note here: David and I really planned our wedding together. This anniversary party though? Thanks to working in the industry and having a team of industry folks at work, I’ve done the planning on this one. David cares less, and after a decade of splitting up projects, we’ve pretty firmly classified social events as my ballgame. Turns out I’m fine with that.)
Put Less Emotional Value On Things
When we were planning our wedding, I put a lot of emotional value on… well.. everything. I could list all the details that I weighted with so much significance, but that list would be long, boring, and full of unnecessary worry. Suffice to say, I was so uncomfortable with the idea of having a traditional wedding that I made every step insanely complicated. We were going to do it our way—even when doing it our way involved more money, more time, no shortcuts, and a lot of stress.
Looking back, my approach was a mix of insecurity and fear. Fear of the traditional wedding. Fear of the traditional marriage. Fear of what all of it meant. And as a result, I felt insecure about each and every choice. I thought we needed to communicate the life that we wanted through every detail of our wedding. It was exhausting.
This time, not so much. All those things I cared so much about last time, and imbued with so much meaning? This time I’m mostly just going with what’s easy and affordable. After all, we already have the life we want (and I realize now that we would have that life regardless of the wedding dress I picked).
And while I won’t bore you with every example, let’s look at how I thought about food, then and now.
Ten years ago: What we were going to feed people felt really important. I wanted the food to say something about our culture and identity, and be all organic and local…. and we didn’t have a ton of money to spend. We ended up with Middle Eastern food to reflect our Jewish wedding, and organic and local to make sure we spent extra money on 125 meals. The food was great. The amount of emotional energy I put into it was wild. And when it came to booze, I didn’t make it easy for myself either: we hand-selected it all from BevMo, lived for a month with wine piled under every table at our house, and then hired a bartender to serve it.
Now: This time, I looked at the possible menu options and picked pasta. Why? It was the cheapest, and it looked tasty, and they wouldn’t let me bring In-N-Out. When it came to picking bar options, I asked if I could skip all the fancy and expensive packages, and just serve a batch of margaritas and a few bottles of wine. And if we run out of that, we’re sending people downstairs to the cash bar, and I don’t feel even a tiny bit badly about it.
Get Help & Focus On The Fun
Beyond that, I made two key changes. I freed up some of our budget to hire a planner to do some Day of Coordination, and help be my experienced back up on everything. And I focused on the fun.
When I planned a wedding, it was before Pinterest. But I was deep in the world of blogging (obviously) and surrounded with beautiful inspiration pictures. I collected them. I thought about cute wedding ideas and decor. I loved it all. And in the end, I did basically none of it. About two weeks out from our wedding, I turned to David and said, “But what about the decorations?” and he said, “We’re kind of out of time… and that’s why we rented a pretty room anyway.” So we shrugged and gave up.
And spoiler… it was fine. In fact, it was perfect for us. Our wedding pictures are beautiful. The place we got married was stunning and did most of the work for us. The few big things we built—like our chuppah—showed up in a lot of photos. But the smaller things we slaved over, like flowers? Didn’t even make it into our wedding album. (Which is why I always advise that you put your DIY efforts into large things, not tiny ones.) In short, my approach worked just fine. But I realize now that I spent a ton of emotional energy focused on things that were not at all fun for me (like food), and denied myself a whole part of planning that I would have really enjoyed (like decor).
So this time, I’m flipping it around. Everyone is going to eat pasta and like it (or not, I don’t care). But I also brought back ombré fabrics the color of the sunset from Mexico to make table runners. I bought bubblegum pink chairs for folx that need a seat at our ceremony. I rented wild and amazing dresses for our kids. I’m going to fill a pool with a bunch of sparkling MINNIDIP inner tubes. The more fun a project or idea is for me, the more I’m going big with it.
Stop Caring About What Other People Think
The other thing I’m going big with: refusing to care what other people think.
At 29, marrying into a new family, I felt a lot of pressure to keep people happy, and to live up to other people’s standards. And that meant reigning myself in, and making decisions we couldn’t easily afford, because that made us look like we were keeping up with other people’s Jonses.
The great part about a vow renewal is that it’s 100% made up from the start. Unlike a wedding, which rests on thousands of years of traditions, vow renewals have no rules. And when there are no rules, we have full permission to do what we want.
So this time, I don’t care. If people want relative normalcy, they have our wedding to look back on. This time I’m wearing an epic dress (more on this tomorrow), having a ritual in the middle of the desert, taking photos with dinosaurs, and jumping in the pool with my clothes on. I even rented a formal made of scuba fabric just for that purpose. And you know what? Thus far, everyone has survived.
Life Is Short, Go Big
I can’t take away the pain of losing both our fathers and my grandmother in three years. I can’t take away the pain of the family drama and splintering that comes with that. I can’t make life longer, or less painful. But I can lean really far into the joy.
As my friend told her when I worried early on that having a vow renewal/ ten year anniversary party might be silly, “If it’s silly, even better.”
Life is short. Let’s get all the silly joy out of it that we can.