I was married for the first time in January of 1986, and divorced—after twenty years, two children, and some life—in 2006. I married again in 2013. This implies, correctly, that I’ve had two weddings. Had I learned anything by the time I put on that second white dress?
We’re going to leave aside discussion of what I learned about marriage itself. Thank you in advance for the privacy; I reserve the right to provide hints.
My first wedding took place in the Helmsley Palace, in New York City, on a white cold evening. The second, in San Francisco’s City Hall, in blue August. While that might sound like a big difference, actually not. Both times I chose ornate and other-era venues, beautiful without decoration. Both times I chose a season slightly unusual for the town. New York is drizzly and gray in January, as is San Francisco, in August.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: I had strong aesthetics and a knack for the different, even at twenty-nine. Recognize your talents early, and enjoy. This applies to way more than weddings.
For the first wedding, the dress mattered terribly. I had a Vision. One of my sisters came to one dress salon with me, but nobody had enough time to keep me company for the full dogged hunt, so I found the prize alone. In the days of pouf and pearls, I was in love with a lace mermaid I’d seen in one of the roughly twenty-five copies of Brides or Modern Brides I’d read. This particular dress might have been in my GMAT break reading, a full three years before I actually got married.
The second time around, despite having become a style blogger in the interim, I cared less about the dress. I ordered a few short white lace numbers online, returned most, kept one, would have worn it if necessary. Then I went shopping with that same sister, plus my sister-in-law, ten-year old niece, and six-month old nephew. We found a sample, and had ideas about how to alter it. I wound up in one-shouldered, tea-length tulle, at fifty-seven.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Don’t worry about dress hunting. Better you transform the clothing than it transforms you.
GUEST LISTS, INVITATIONS, & SEATING CHARTS
The first time I married, my mother was living in Sweden. I had no one to counsel me on guests or invitations. I made a bunch of mistakes. I neglected to invite cousins, people brought surprise plus ones, I was unclear about our dress code. Imagine all the men in dinner jackets and one guy in a suit because of my ineptitude. I still feel bad about that. Imagine my dear aunt unable to attend because I’d not considered her children’s schedules. About that I only recently stopped feeling bad, having talked it out twenty-five years later.
I did have cool invites though.
For the second wedding, I wanted small. It was very clear who would come, immediate family, first cousins, a few lifelong friends and colleagues. I limited invited children to nieces and nephews. To the best of my knowledge, I offended no one.
This time I had not one but two cool invites. Paperless Post for practicality, and Precious Bugarin, for the glories of thick paper held in one’s hand. By the way, nobody found email invites to be bad mannered.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Unless you plan to ditch your entire family and set of friends the minute you say I Will, everybody who cares about you has a stake in your wedding. Sort that out with intent and compassion.
EAT, DRINK, REMEMBER
The first time, at a hotel venue, food options were limited. Menus were pre-set, prices high. We had sole. My stepfather recommended Sancerre. I took all the advice.
The second time, choosing from San Francisco entire, we bought out a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. The menu? Seventeen dishes, many of which the guests had never tried before. We brought our own wine from my husband’s collection. The in-situ decor included an aquarium, unlit paper lanterns, overhead fluorescents, a vacuum cleaner hidden behind a paper screen by the bathroom, and extra flowers.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Nothing. People like food and drink, that hasn’t changed, feed them as well as you can afford to. I told you this part just because a good meal is always fun to remember.
The first time, a designer friend of mine volunteered to do the decor. I trusted her—besides I thought flowers were too frivolous, too stodgy, and too bourgeois to care about. We wound up with Avante-Garde-For-The ’80s amaryllis and curly willow on the tables, English garden roses on the mantelpieces. I did not carry a bouquet myself, and I do not know why.
The second time, I wanted Sarah Rhyannen from Saipua—where ever we wound up, whatever I was wearing—to do our flowers. We flew her out from Brooklyn. I carried a bouquet with roses the color of my skin, and black cosmos. It was one of the top five most beautiful things I’ve ever held.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: If you care, you care, and give yourself that right. Pretty things can be meaningful.
PLANNING AND SCHEDULES
The first time around I didn’t actually plan, as in Envision An Event. I crossed off tasks from a checklist and chose pretty things. The intellectual equivalent of throwing confetti, albeit beautifully colored. Then I showed up at the wedding. The hotel coordinator told me the schedule, I said okay. My first wedding bossed me around, without my knowing it.
That said, everything went swimmingly, except toward the end of the evening. We never cut the cake. Nobody told me it was time. The band quit at midnight when guests were still on the dance floor. Nobody had told me I’d have to pay that very night for extra hours, and I had no instrument of payment on my person. If you are relying on someone else to be the boss, they may steer you wrong.
By my second wedding, I’d been a manager for years and knew how to run a complex project with help and without anxiety. I wrote my own checklist and a timeline for the entire event. Then I gave the schedule to an expert who stage-managed the day of. This time she was a friend. This wedding seemed to be in charge of itself. I floated free of everything but total and complete joy. I now understand the phrase, “Walking on air.”
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Plan the heck out of everything up front, then delegate management to someone you trust. Boss your wedding around from a light-filled office in the sky of your heart.
Getting Ready With The Husband-To-Be
In 1986 we dressed with entourage, in our room at the Palace. To add to the hubbub, a woman I’d met only once came to do my hair. She was from Long Island, and insisted that I needed blue eye shadow. Sometimes outliers define the curve.
The second time, my husband-to-be and I dressed together, alone. That intimate stillness remains one of my favorite memories.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: The sweetness of time quiet with one you love, know, and trust.
In 1986, I was an atheist. A Unitarian minister my mother found in the telephone book performed the ceremony. We used the traditional King James’s vows. I wrote an extra paragraph about what a mystery marriage was, and how nobody knew why they did it.
In 2013, I was still an atheist. But I knew that ritual mattered, and if you’re going to be there anyway you might as well show up. My brother-in-law officiated. We wrote our own vows. Imagine a lot more hugging.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN: Pay attention to your vows; your promises just may come true.