Brytani & Will

Today’s wedding graduate post comes from Brytani, who wrote an achingly honest undergraduate post last fall, about her relationship recovering from her partner’s deployment to Iraq. We called it When The Road Ahead is Dimly Lit, and she said, “Somehow I had the constant conviction that it would pass and that after this, we would know, just know, that we could rely on each other. We would know that one of us was bound to break and that when it happened, things wouldn’t stop. We would go on, spiraling forever toward some uncertain future like a marvelous double helix with two sides always turning and the two compensating for each other. I believe very much that if you stay in a relationship long enough, you will have ample opportunities to pay each other back.” And, “We fought, I kicked him out, he went to counseling, and we spent a lot of time crying and holding onto each other. We were not more virtuous than other couples. We were not smarter than other couples. We just got so, so lucky that while we were in the dirt, we found gold beneath us.” So I suppose, given all that wisdom, that it’s not surprising that Brytani’s wedding graduate post might be one of the most useful in the history of APW. Brytani not only talks about how she moved from being skeptical about weddings, to being pretty happy that she had one—but she also gives unbelievably sensible ground rules for dealing with family during the wedding planning process. And with that, lets dive in:

Dear wedding-skeptics,

Hi, it’s me and I’m one of you. Let me start by saying that I did not want a wedding, did not believe in weddings, and hadn’t even spent two minutes daydreaming about one when my parents crushed our dreams of elopement. When I thought about what marrying my fiance would be like, I saw the two of us on a rooftop with candles and wine and a jazz trio. Me, in a slinky evening gown and my fiance in…whatever he wanted. I wanted short and simple vows and then romantic dancing and drunk-getting followed by a night of great sex. That was all. Turns out, that’s not so easy to plan when your parents decide to pay and then inform you that they will be joining you along with at least 150 other good-hearted folks. After getting this news, I had two options: I could either tell them politely that wasn’t happening and incur the lifelong wrath that only my mother can inflict, or I could go along with it, making them both happy and trying my best to be happy as well.

Yeah, I went with the second. If you’re wondering how that went for me, it went like this: I moved back into my family home to help save money, took a job that I absolutely despised just to cover the things that went over my parents’ budget, fought with my mother every step of the way because she often disagreed with my choices (of course), and wound up with a bare bones wedding that wasn’t anything like most of the lavish affairs and was certainly far from my images of elopement. Still, on my wedding day, my mother shed a tear, kissed my cheek, and told me everything was worth it. Everything was perfect. And you know what? I have to agree with her.

I learned a lot planning our wedding, and not just about event planning. I learned that a balance exists somewhere between getting everything you want and telling others to go screw themselves. I figured out that you can compromise cleverly and still be happy with what you get. I know now that I will never again take a job in logistics. A lot of things fell into place that changed the shape of our wedding day and shocked me to hell in a good way–in a healing way, even.

See, I grew up with an Air Force Dad so I only got to see my family once every three-five years, if that. And Hubs? He grew up in a family situation where there were splits and tears and no one could trust anyone else. One day, I learned my entire extended family would be taking flights from all over the US to come to my wedding in coastal NC. The next day, we learned my father-in-law is in his last stages of battling cancer. My cousin was having her baby only a few months from the wedding and I would get to see my grandmother with her new great-grandchild. Will’s step-dad’s parents rallied everyone in their community, people we’d never even met, to give us a pantry shower and filled our cabinets with enough food for months. The biggest surprise, for me, was a gift my parents gave me just a few days before the wedding. The necklace I wore on the big day was one they had custom made from the engagement ring my grandfather gave my dad’s mom. All around us, life was happening and changing and we ran with it. We woke up on our wedding day knowing that this was bigger than us. Even though it wasn’t exactly as we’d planned, it was perfect.

Our wedding was simple, like I said. I was a laid back bride. I let my bridesmaids wear whatever they wanted. I got two friends to play the music for our ceremony and I didn’t care what happened with that as long as I walked down the aisle to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” We chose a venue where we could have the ceremony and the reception. Since there was a turn-around involved, we had a mocktail hour on the second-floor balcony. That’s right, I couldn’t talk my parents into allowing alcohol so our wedding was totally dry. We decided that we could choose two cohesive decorating styles to separate the mocktail hour and reception and went with an Up-theme for the upstairs area. Some of our vendors heard this and said, “really?” but others were all over it.

We collected vintage pieces and made many of our decorations, incorporating vintage elements to keep the feeling of an adult celebration and to blend with our garden tea party reception. I worked with our florist to design a look for our banquet tables and insisted that everyone sit at one long table. I set the guests’ favors and a cupcake by each place setting to streamline the event. Since it was a lunch reception and we opted out of dancing, I didn’t want anyone waiting, bored, for us to cut a cake or waiting for the appropriate moment to pick up their favor and leave. I wanted people to hang out with us for as long as they liked and then be able to leave without a timeline. It worked perfectly for us. Our whole event lasted around three and a half hours and during that time, we got to hang out with every one of our guests for as long as they wanted.

Sure, lots of things didn’t happen that we would have liked and some things happened that we definitely didn’t like. We forgot to give the venue our iPod so they played a random assortment of music that kinda made us queasy but we laughed and ignored it. I had to do all the setting up after our rehearsal and missed a good bit of our rehearsal dinner (and I’m still sad about that). Our photographer forgot to send the B shooter to cover our DIY photobooth so that was never used and someone forgot to turn on the Wii for the mocktail hour. Oh, and then one of my bridesmaids started a fight with another during photographs and I had to take time out of my day to deal with it. You know what I have to say about all that, though? Oh, well! Glad it’s over! Over a dozen people left saying it was the most beautiful and comfortable wedding they’d ever been to and I still love it when I visit Will’s family and they say, “we want to go visit your aunt and uncle in Washington! They were just lovely!” Or, “We sure do miss your grandma.” I feel like I succeeded at something after all.

What I remember most is the immense feeling of family on that day. I managed to work with my mom on weeding our guest list down to 70 of the most important family members and only a few close friends. Then I focused on making those people feel included and special by incorporating them in our ceremony. We had them give us a verbal pledge of support and then invited them to pray with us at the “altar.” Also, although we didn’t choose to be married in a church, we had a definite knowledge that God was present and joyful in our union, maybe even working somehow at binding us all together. My favorite picture from the day is the one of everyone gathered around, heads bowed in prayer, and towards the edge of the crowd you can see Will’s dad with his arms around his daughters. We didn’t think he would be well enough to attend but everyone pitched in to help him along and we both treasure the memory of his happiness there. My whole family stayed in a beach house nearby and after the wedding was over, our photographer graciously gave us a family photo session on the beach, so for the first time in the history of our family, we have a picture of four generations. Even the picture of my dad and his dad is precious to me in a way that all people who live far from family understand.

I would have loved to elope…but this was okay too. So, to close, here are my tips for future brides and especially those who are struggling with parents who are paying:

Establish ground rules and boundaries early with outside parties who might have input: I cried and screamed so many times because my mom kept coming around  to criticize my choices or to make decisions of her own without consulting me first. If this is something you anticipate, may I suggest saying something like, “You can only ask me to change something if it exceeds your budget and even then, I would appreciate it if you didn’t overboard in giving me suggestions on how to change it.” Establish that you have authority over every detail of your wedding and though you care about their opinion and will consider what they want, yours comes first…all the time.

Think about giving that person/group a job: I suspect a lot of conflict with overbearing parents stems from them feeling left out somehow or being made to feel like a piggy bank. Maybe if you have something you don’t particularly care about (like choosing favors or dessert options), you could let them take care of it.

Keep them in the emotional loop: If you kick out one of their ideas, take a moment to explain why and to tell them what’s most important to you. This is actually how I got our guest list cut in half. My parents didn’t agree but they understood my desire to spend my day with only the most important people.

No matter what, someone will say they wished they’d had more time with you: I spent a few days with my family in the beach house and I still had people say they felt like they didn’t get to see me. Do what you can with whoever you can and then don’t feel guilty beyond that. I can guarantee that most people will understand but there’s always at least one person in the crowd with silly expectations.

And one more thing. Good luck!

Photos By: Melody Kristensen of Aria Images

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  • j

    Yet another graduate post I would have looooooved to have during the wedding planning process. Those tips Brytani provided could not be more accurate. They’re all things we figured out gradually along the way and a few we found out a little too later. Like she said, establishing authority and making sure that what you and your partner want comes first are key concepts when dealing with those who raised you. It’s tough to do because it forces us to reverse the child/parent role we’ve filled all our lives, but it’s so necessary. Glad everything worked out well in the end, congrats!

  • This is so helpful for me. We’re in the very beginning stages of a very long engagement (2 1/2 years). We planned a long engagement mostly because my family (though they are great) is very overbearing and I need space between the decisions to de-stress from them. We are starting to look at venues (emphasis on starting) and already the opinions and requirements are flying! Thanks for the tips Brytani…I have a feeling this will be one post I read over and over throughout the next few years.

  • Mollie

    Wonderful, wise, touching, helpful, true… but OMG YOUR DRESS IS GORGEOUS!! Can’t handle it. Love it.

    • Justyna

      Yeah, I didn’t ant to sound vain, but your dress is gorgeous! I’m trying to hunt one of those, but apparently they haven’t got into Poland… Congratulations on your marriage! This post made my day and hepled me to breathe and let go a bit during my wedding planning :-)

  • Frances K


    This is the perfect moment for this graduate post to appear. I want to elope (I still can’t quite bring myself to say wanted because if I’m honest I’d drop all the plans right now and go to the town hall if my FH would agreee) but that’s not really an option and although I’ve been reading APW and a few other wedding blogs for a long time I’ve never really thought about what I would want for my wedding so it’s pretty hard to make decisions between things when all options seem weird and unecessary to me.

    Yesterday me and my mum went to look at dresses, I was thinking something plain and elegant and I mainly just wanted to get an idea of styles not buy one, but I now own the biggest, most floofy dress in the whole world – it looks great on me but it’s not what I expected.

    I’ve now come to see that this wedding is a mad crazy beast and trying to control it is a waste of my time and energy. I’m just letting go and letting myself be carried along by the madness and not getting stressed about it.

    If I didn’t want a wedding at all then really a traditional fancy wedding isn’t that much worse than a “simple” wedding, as they say “in for a penny, in for a pound”

    I can see that it’s all going to come right in the end, just like yours.

  • Such a thoughtful post. I feel like Brytani’s experience in planning is probably way more common than the happy-wedding-dream feeling. One point I especially liked: “No matter what, someone will say they wished they’d had more time with you.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard this kind of advice before, but it makes so much sense. I know that at recent engagement-ish parties, I’ve felt bad about not talking as much with my immediate family because I’ve tried to make the rounds with all the guests. But I think Brytani’s point means that it’s almost impossible to spend that much quality time with all your family/friends during the wedding festivities and, as a result, you can’t feel so guilty about that.

  • Casey

    Everything in this post is so meaningful and true, but for some reason, the part that gets me is the Up theme. My Adventure Book …. oh god … so beautiful … (sobs in corner)

  • Britany, you sounded wise in your previous post and even wiser in this one. I like how you managed to steer to a compromise between your wishes and your family’s.

    Keeping the people close to you and the weeding in the loop is really important, I agree. It will generally create tons of understanding if you can explain why you want or don’t want certain things.

  • What a gorgeous wedding! SUCH an important post…setting boundaries is so key, and something I’m just learning now!


  • Vmed

    Ok, yes your dress and also the. styling.

    But more importantly, the inspiration. I am trying to stop fighting my October wedding, and this post is helping.

    Can you give more specifics on how you whittled down the guest list with your mom? The whole thing has my stomach in knots.

    • Well, I didn’t really consult my mom on the actual drafting of the list. I just made it and then I talked with her about it and if there were people who were super important to her, I added them with no resistance.I took a lot of time to explain my feelings on having a small guest list and as I said, she didn’t understand but she respected that if she didn’t go with it, I would confiscate all her mailing materials. It helped that I already listed our entire family (we don’t have a huge one) but even after all the discussions, she still verbally invited people we hadn’t talked about. She also mailed invitations to the wrong people from my mother-in-law’s list and I felt truly terrible about that. So if your mom has a tendency toward insensitivity, don’t let her do the mailing. Even if she really, really wants to. Think that’s all the wisdom I have to offer on that topic.

  • Lori

    …and now I am studying your line of how to deal with people that want to make decisions. LOL thanks!

  • charm city vixen

    GAHHHHH your dress!!!! It’s beautiful!!!

    Thanks for all of this wedding advice — so perfect!

    My FH and I are in the end-phase of our pre-engagement (meaning that the ring is here and I’m just waiting for him to pop the question in the oh-so-magical way he is envisioning it… lots and lots of suspense!), and although we would love financial help from our parents, I am worried that there will be some influence with guest list if the extended family helps out. One option is for us to pay for our own wedding by ourselves. The second (hopefully more reasonable) option is to follow the guidelines you have suggested!

    What a great post, fantastic advice… and those pictures and the Up theme are so moving. Family can be so great :)

  • Jo

    What a wise post! And your wedding just blows me away with the beauty of it, the humor and the love. An UP! theme? Yay!!

    Just last night we talked again about how much we both wanted to elope, but that this made us realize that we are not islands and that our families are vital to us. How our vision is just us and one or two people, but that our vision can adjust.

  • Jori

    Your first paragraph is one I could have written myself. We have less than two months until The Big Day and I am still wringing my hands and staring wistfully into the distance about not being able to elope.
    That said… I sincerely hope I can relate with the rest of your paragraphs once it’s all said and done.
    Yet again you are a wise writer. Thank you for this.

  • Edelweiss


    Your venue, your hair, your dress, your post, cutting your guest list down and then REALLY incorporating the ones that came.

    But mostly – your wisdom in looking at life in balance both from this post and your prior post. I feel like spending time with you would give me the same feeling I get when I girst grasp a hot mug of tea.

    I’m crying from the beauty.

    (PS where in NC was that?)

    • Downtown Wilmington. The venue is 128 South. I have always wanted to be compared to a hot cup of tea! Especially if it’s Earl Gray because then I could imagine myself in the hands of a certain Star Trek captain. Mmm, dreamy.

  • First off, that is one beautiful looking wedding. And Up… *weeps*

    This is the post I need to read. I am excited about having a wedding, but not for any of the wedding schmaltz and stuff. I want to hang out with my friends and family and high five all night long, but do I care about centerpieces? Do I care about bridesmaids dresses? Do I care about favors or guest books or whatever? I certainly don’t feel like I do. But, like Brytani I think I’m just going to go with the flow. A+ for laid-back brides.

    • Allie

      YAY for going with the flow brides! I am totally following that path, I just want to be married and see my friends and family all together and have an amazing time. Luckily my mum likes sorting out the details :)

  • amy*

    Great post! (Should I expect anything less from APW?)

    I am a new Army wife. (Not newly married, my husband recently joined), so I re-read your undergrad post. The things you said are so spot on! Being apart from each other (physically, emotionally, and with our experiences – I’m teaching middle school while he’s battling bad guys) is really difficult. I also like that you talked about when people give you advice. That’s really hard for me because everyone I know wants to give me advice, but none of them really know what I’m going through. I’ll just have to remind myself that I am the authority on my relationship, just like you said.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Brytani. I can tell that it was hard earned, and I can feel already that it’s helping me!*

  • This is a lovely post, and it echoes a sentiment that is found often in the APWesque corner of the blogosphere – a point that A Los Angeles Love recently made very well in her post about the importance of saying yes.

    And while that particular perspective is one I appreciate very much, I must play Devil’s Advocate and discuss what can happen when one says no, and means it, and with their partner, holds their wedding near and protects it from outside influence.

    What can happen is a series of incredibly difficult discussions and arguments full of tears, and maybe even accusations that one need to get their priorities straight. In fact, all of those things DID happen for me and my husband, whose parents offered to pay for a wedding much larger than the one we wanted and could not understand our insistence on a: paying for it ourselves, and b: including only our immediate family members and our good friends.

    But we held fast and we remained calm and rational in the face of momentary insanity, and then something else happened:

    Our wedding day rolled around and it was everything we wanted and nothing we didn’t, and my in-laws, who’d long since gotten over the fact that it was not the wedding THEY envisioned hugged us, kissed us, told us how proud they were of us and had an absolutely fantastic time. They held no grudges and we incurred no wrath.

    And a year later, on my husband and I’s anniversary, my mother in law sent me the loveliest email about how much she loved our wedding and how befitting it was for the two of us and how happy she was to have me as a daughter in law.

    All that to say this: It IS possible to simply say no and incur no lasting resentment or repercussions.

    So please, if you DO say yes, say it because you want to and because you mean it. not because you fear the future, because while it’s true that feelings may be momentarily hurt, it’s also true that they heal remarkably quickly – much more so than you might imagine.

    • And that’s a totally valid view–one that I thought over for weeks before I agreed to the wedding. I don’t disagree at all with your point that you shouldn’t feel pressured into the decision by fear of what will happen if you don’t. I hope other people seriously consider your point and don’t validate their fears with my post because ultimately, the things that made my wedding worthwhile came at a very high cost and some of them happened entirely by chance.

      Unfortunately, I know I’m not alone in having a mom or parents or other loved ones who will treat us differently (read: worse) if we don’t do things within their parameters. Or maybe some people will go with a wedding hoping to heal a relationship with those people. My decision was a complicated combination of both. There are probably dozens of contextual reasons to let your loved ones give you a wedding when you hadn’t pictured it their way but those reasons, however unfair, can sometimes still be right. Sometimes you just do things differently because you love those people and it feels like a right kind of obligation. If you are in that sticky position, I just wanted you to know that it doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. It’ll still be challenging but it can turn out as well or better as the wedding you envisioned. I definitely don’t feel less happy for not having an elopement.

  • An Up theme is absolutely brilliant! And made me teary. I love it. That movie is associated with some special times with us. Perfect.

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Superficial comments first because I can’t stop looking at your photos. OMG, gorgeous!

    We woke up on our wedding day knowing that this was bigger than us.

    That’s something the boy has been saying to me since before we started dating (ok, not about our wedding day, per se) — that our relationship is bigger than us. I used to shake my head at him but, now that we’re planning a future together, I can see that he’s right. And, having eloped already, that’s really why we’re still planning a wedding. Thanks for sharing your wise words!

  • I just loooove that you had an UP-themed reception!

  • Krista

    I absolutely love this. The UP theme is so, so sweet (I can’t be the only one who tears up during the beginning of that movie…) and the venue is just gorgeous. So, so beautiful!
    I experienced similar frustration with my mom during the planning process, but found that really explaining why I wanted this or that (or didn’t want this and that) helped things. I love my mom dearly, but I cannot imagine living with her while planning.. so kudos to you, Brytani!
    Also I LOVE that everyone sat at one table! Way to foster “togetherness” :)

  • honestly the photo of your ceremony with everyone bowing their heads gives me chills.

    from one wedding skeptic to another congratulations.

  • Emily

    Wow, the first wedding grad picture to make me cry, and it was totally unexpected–the picture of the empty aisle and flower petals. I don’t know what came over me, but it just looked so…happy! It’s exactly how I want my wedding to feel, but I didn’t know it until just right now at this moment.

    Also, I LOVE the Up-theme, especially the adventure book. Genius.

  • peanut

    wow, your wedding certainly doesn’t seem “bare bones” to me! Gorgeous!

  • I love this post, thank you for sharing. Your advice is spot on and this? “We woke up on our wedding day knowing that this was bigger than us. Even though it wasn’t exactly as we’d planned, it was perfect.” Beautifully said and so true.

  • olivia

    where did you have the wedding? its a beautiful building!

    • 128 South in Wilmington, NC. It used to be a Thai restaurant which, oddly enough, sold me on the place.

  • Kristen

    I love the graduate posts because I always finish them thinking, “I like that person.”

    Don’t worry at all about people saying they wished they’d seen you more. It only means that you truly had a wedding with all of your besties. From people who genuinely want to get to know you better to the people who already know how much they love you. Just means they’d be happy to spend loads of time with you and that’s a wonderful thing.

  • Hi, greetings from bali wedding. I am very impressed and gave me new knowledge. Thanks for the article.

  • Krista

    Such a thoughtful post, thank you! But what I really want to know is, where did you get your dress!? It’s amaaaazing! And the flowers in your hair? Gorgeous.