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Molly and Michael’s Atypical Traditional Wedding

When Molly sent me her wedding, with the disclaimer that unlike a lot of APW weddings it was traditional, but she wanted to raise a flag for the traditional brides in the house. I thought, “Ok! Cool,” and then I opened her pictures and TOTALLY cracked up. Because…. yeah….. tradition is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Molly’s wedding, at a traditional wedding venue or not, was as f*cking vibrant and full of joy as Every. Other. Team Practical. Wedding. Ever. Which brings me to the traditional/ non-traditional dilemma. Ariel said something really smart at the OBB book reading, which was that the only couples she worries about are the ones that set out to have an “Offbeat Wedding,” because “there is no try, only do.” Which is to say, the best thing we can do is just to make our weddings what we need them to be, and that’s it.

I actually have been known to get slightly offended when people refer to our wedding as non-traditional… or worse as “casual” (What? Was I suppose to wear a ballgown and have David in white tie at our summer morning garden wedding? It wasn’t casual, it was appropriate). Non-traditional? Because why? Our bridesmaids didn’t match? We didn’t *have* bridesmaids? We said vows, didn’t we? We had a huppah, didn’t we? I wore a WEDDING DRESS for goodness sakes, didn’t I? Define traditional! So, with that rather lengthy preamble, this one goes out to all you other atypical traditionalists, in, you know, wedding venues, wearing wedding dresses, saying wedding vows and still being your bad-ass selves. (and *tell* me this wedding isn’t style-tastic…)


I thought about writing a wedding graduate post for APW a few months after I got married, but I didn’t think I had anything new to say. As time passed I kept reading other wedding graduate posts and thinking, “Me, too!” Then I read a few more and started to feel like my experience wasn’t represented among the fabulous, off-beat, style-tastic weddings. And then I started thinking that maybe if I’m feeling this way, other brides-to-be might be too and I could share with them.

What I want to share is what surprised me most of all when I look back at my wedding. My wedding was traditional! Whaaat?! My wedding wasn’t innovative? My wedding wasn’t a beautiful, unique butterfly the likes of which none of my family had ever seen? For a teeny-tiny second I felt bad. Then of course, I mentally slapped myself because if there’s one thing APW taught me it’s that ALL thoughtfully planned weddings are unique, beautiful butterflies.* So this is for all the practical brides who aren’t really bucking any big traditions, but are still pretty badass.

I knew I didn’t want our wedding to look like a “wedding” (to which my husband consistently replied “Honey, it IS a wedding”, but I also know our families and there were many conventional wedding bits and pieces that weren’t going anywhere. Namely: a large guest list, a DJ, seating arrangements, and a catered meal at a venue that specializes in weddings. Just because everyone’s ultimate happiness rested on having a traditional wedding didn’t mean our wedding couldn’t make people think “Oh yeah, this is definitely Michael & Molly’s wedding.”

Our most important decision was to get married in Flagstaff – a place that’s not our hometown, but is a town that feels like home. Our love of simple, outdoor loveliness made it’s way into our decorations Our music selection was a mix of guest requests and songs that just make us smile. We served those Lofthouse pink cookies because everyone knows that I die for them (and who doesn’t?!) We ended up creating a lot of the décor ourselves. The centerpieces were handmade (by the hands of some very good friends, but handmade nonetheless) with bulk flowers and old bottles my husband had collected over years of working in the woods. Our favors were nature-inspired pictures my husband took himself (mostly while out backpacking) in cardholders we made of sliced up pieces of wood.

The only element that we bucked tradition on was our ceremony. It was the one area that I couldn’t compromise on. The ceremony is the heart and soul of the celebration and it’s the part I spent the most time dreaming about. I envisioned us saying our self-penned vows on the top of a mountain with all our friends and family surrounding us – and nothing else. Our great friend helped us write our short, funny, sincere ceremony and also officiated (with a bullhorn, mostly because we knew he’d love it).

We scrapped chairs, save two for our grandmothers, and everyone gathered around in a huge clump. The only decoration was the plain aisle runner (solely for marking where not to stand), our beside table to hold our friend’s notes, and the kitchen stool that helps me reach tall things and give my husband hugs. It was and still is my favorite part of the day.

Along the way, I learned things – both good and bad – about myself. I am a great organizer (hello, color-coordinated schedules!) but a lousy delegator (hello, crying over working through our after-rehearsal party). Everyone advised me to dole out the projects and I wanted to think I had. I enlisted the help of dozens of friendors who own flower shops, work in organic bakeries, are hairstylists, & knit gorgeous green sweaters, but I held the really “important” projects close to my chest. It’s hard to let things go, but know that most DIY projects won’t matter in the end, especially if they’re costing you your sanity.

Sanity is a hard thing to come by in wedding planning and I’m jealous of many a wedding graduate who has had that elusive experience. Of course, it’s all relative, but I tried to keep the crazy to a minimum. I tried to go with the flow for things that obviously didn’t matter to me (“The flowers came in the wrong color? You want to take a taxi back from the reception? Oh-kay!”) and ignored nay-saying of what I knew mattered (“Mad that our friend is officiating our wedding first? Don’t want to stand during the ceremony? I’m sure you’ll get over it.”)

For us, staying sane came down to just remembering what mattered (the ceremony and having a frackin’ amazing dance party) and the people we were spending this best day ever with (family and friends who seriously cared about open bars and garter tosses). Weighing the expectations of our guests against our own let us make choices we could be happy with. It was difficult to let go of the things I thought would make our wedding original and cutting-edge, but I know it was the right choice for me and probably for lots of other brides too.

I will say this, though. If wedding planning sanity is hard to come by, wedding day sanity couldn’t be easier to find. On your wedding day, you Must. Not. Care. about anything except you and your husband. Don’t worry about making sure you talk to Great-Aunt So-and-So or how your super cute trail maker escort cards are lopsided or that the DJ started the music too soon.


So just wake up. Smile. Surround yourself with people you love and who are also smiling. Get ready leisurely and have a treat. Meet up with your soon-to-be husband. Tell him you love him. Smile some more. Hang out for hours doing what you enjoy doing (eating, dancing, not-dancing, etc). Go to sleep next to your husband with a smile on your face. If you do this, nothing else can matter. Even if you get your photos back and your hair looks stupid and you realize that no one took home your favors, you’ll remember the smile on your face and you just won’t care.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to sign that marriage license either! We got all the way through dinner before we remembered!

Pictures by Melissa Dunstan Photography

*Meg’s note: I would add that also, NO weddings are unique butterflies. We’re getting married, the very point of getting married is to embrace an age old tradition, and in so doing, make it your own. All weddings are weddings, and that’s just it. And as my dad smartly said, “With weddings, tradition always wins. So as far as I’m concerned you can do whatever you want.” And once your realize all weddings are just weddings, AND that all weddings are unique… well… it takes a lot of the pressure off, no?

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