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Is Planning Ruining Our Wedding?

Dreaming of a Simple, Passionate Wedding

I wanted a simple wedding. A casual wedding. We’d been talking about it for months, about throwing something—a small party, just for our family. Maybe I’d wear a dress, but a minimal one, without any tulle, because I wanted him to be able to get close to me that day, not be pushed away by all that fabric. He could wear his grey suit, the one that matched his eyes and the new silver flecks in his hair.

I’d wanted flowers too—a bouquet of lavender because when we first got together he’d always brought me bunches from his garden. He told me that if I put them in my sock drawer they’d keep everything smelling fresh. That year the little apartment I shared with my daughters was sprinkled in dried purple petals; crumpled parts across my desk, along my nightstand. I’d have to hold and place them so carefully or they’d break. On our wedding day I wanted to recall those moments of delicacy.

I craved a little cake as well. Something slightly sweet and scented, maybe with cinnamon, or apples, like the tart we ate with our bare hands on the steps of Trafalgar Square when we discovered that the London bakery we’d visited hadn’t packed us forks. A dessert with a bit of earthiness, because of the way he’d always grounded me, pulled me to him and held his rough cheek against my neck whenever I wanted to run away. And I’d hoped to have a dance; maybe just one, the way we used to sway in his 1950’s kitchen while dinner baked overlong in the oven. I knew we’d need wine too, because our relationship might have never happened without that sharp sweet scent of a cheap chardonnay, the flavor in our glasses, on our lips.

The Dreams We Had

And then I wanted to go to bed, because that’s where it really began for us, curtains half open and a warm stream of sunlight lining our skin. Back then we’d spent hours in my pink sheets, tracing each other’s jaw and hipbones, talking about renting a van and driving it all the way down the west coast in the summer; one summer, any summer. The future lay blank and open for us like the canvas of my mattress, and our ease was found in that freedom from roles, and rules. When he later proposed, surprising me entirely with a sapphire ring, it felt like we could stay in that place forever.

But it was a dream. As soon as we woke up and faced the structured reality of wedding planning, we had to acknowledge our limits and the fact that, unlike me, my fiancx has never been married—he has an extensive list of friends and family who are deeply invested in his life, and have long hoped to celebrate a particular kind of day with him. And unlike those eternal afternoons we’d spent tangled in tumbled sheets, this wasn’t just about us anymore.

At first we were okay with that; our happiness was addictive, and contagious, and we wanted to share it with everyone so we hurried into commitments that could make that happen. But eventually we discovered that once you reach a certain number of guests, a casual wedding becomes an expensive wedding; a simple wedding becomes a surprisingly stressful one. It is much simpler to adhere to tradition: to buy a package, to pay for a pre-planned event, surrendering your independence and originality for affordability and sanity.

Reality Hits

But I don’t know where, in scanning the charts of alcohol prices and writing out lists for invitations that I am supposed to find this man, this beautiful, wonderful, truly mine man who’s the reason for all of it. He isn’t there, in the notes I’ve made about the florist, and the sound system. I can’t find him in the sketches of possible décor. All I can see is the way that weddings can morph into entities all on their own and hang over you, like Frankenstein’s monster watching him sleep. And how we’ve inevitably, unintentionally begun to waver from our original vision, as though planning itself has the power to pull you apart instead of bring you together. Or maybe it just places itself in between you like a new child, exchanging your goals and intentions with predefined burdens and expectations.

Because it’s not only my fiancx I’ve lost track of. When shopping for a wedding dress recently, I felt like a fraud, both undesiring and undeserving of the big event I was finding an outfit for. I spent most of the appointment either trying to stop the room from spinning, or running to the bathroom to throw up, as though all the lessons I’d learned since my first marriage and subsequent divorce were literally coming to the surface. I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror either, draped in those ivory, satin, full-skirt, A-line gowns that flattered her reflected figure so well. With every dress change my energy drained, and I realized the reason I couldn’t find one I liked was because they were all meant for a woman having a very different wedding (and life) than me. The dresses belonged to a stranger in a magazine, the faceless good-girl I’d once hoped to be; not this flawed, scarred, tattooed, divorced, stubborn, raw, independent woman I’d suffered so much to grow into.

Changing Direction

I’ve learned enough over the past several years to recognize a big red flag when my conscience is waving it in front of me—and after several days spent on the bathroom floor, I realized that my dress-shopping stomach-flu was a flash of scarlet. So I stopped, and paused, and prayed, and in that silence it occurred to me that the expectations and traditions you see on Pinterest and Instagram are empty promises. They assure you that a certain type of wedding is the key to a certain type of life, but somehow the actual concept of marriage gets lost in the mix. In my case, it sits somewhere between my first, dusty wedding album, and the divorce certificate I have that proves I’m no longer locked in that initial legal union. Together they serve as dichotomous pieces of evidence that a single day doesn’t define a lifetime; a specific celebration offers no guarantees. And when real life happens, it isn’t actually important how you’re your marriage kicked off. Instead, it matters how your marriage endures; how, hopefully in parallel with your lives, it eventually ends.

My own paternal grandparents married in April 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War— and from what I’ve seen of the pictures, it wasn’t a particularly extravagant event. My grandma curled her dark hair in the fashion of the day and perched a little hat on top, above her best suit-dress. My grandfather wore his army uniform and a wide, toothy grin. After the church ceremony, they posed in the back of a car together before driving off into a union that lasted six decades, spawned four children and, until their deaths, served as place of happiness and stability for their many grand and great-grandchildren. It wasn’t ever perfect, but they consistently honored their bond despite enormous conflicts, personal tragedies, and divergent theological beliefs that would have tested the most committed couples. In the end, when my grandma’s illnesses wore her down, I watched the way my grandfather cared for her even when her pain made her irritable, impatient, and impossible. And when she was gone, I saw the way that he never stopped missing her, moving around her presence in the house like she’d never really left.

Keeping It Simple

That is what I’m going to try to remember today, and every day, as my partner and I change direction and plan a union that resembles us more. The day will be special because we’ve decided it will, and we’ll host our friends and family happily. But we aren’t going to entirely stick to the script, or do anything that feels misaligned with our characters; we have to wrestle control back because in the long run, how our nuptials proceed might not be important, but our honesty and integrity as we enter that union is. And whether or not we have the courage to stick together and honor our instincts in planning our wedding is ultimately a reflection of the type of marriage we can expect to have.

After all, we’d wanted a simple wedding, a casual wedding; to have a dance, and a piece of cake, and then get on with savoring the real flavors of life together. Like linen sheets baked in sunlight. A tongue dipped in wine. The cool night air crossing cut grass. Sweet sweat in a collarbone cradle. And lavender, always lavender, a spray dangling from our rear-view mirror, sprinkling little remnants on the dash.

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