Melanie & Ben

*Melanie & Ben*

I want to say that today’s wedding is about awesomeness (hello amazing blue dress with a white veil and a reading from Calvin and Hobbes). But what it’s really about is how even when we really think we want easy and simple, worthwhile things are sometimes really difficult. And that’s okay. As it should be, even.

I worked very hard to prepare myself for the inevitable bumps in the road to our wedding. I knew to try to be present, to focus on the ceremony, to understand that people will be who they are, to remember that things will go wrong and it will all be okay. I honestly thought I had everything down.

Whoa, was I wrong.

I love details, and I love little things. I also know that detailed little things are time-consuming. I quickly realized that even smallish, simple weddings have dozens of moving parts—so we picked a beautiful venue and let go of most other aesthetic considerations. Our colors were “Um…all of them?” I told my bridesmaids to wear whatever they wanted. The cake was very simple, with minimal embellishments. Favors were added at the last minute, because they required almost no effort and we got them at cost from my friend’s soap company. Centerpieces were mason jars with whatever flowers were in bloom at the venue. Ultimately I kept thinking, “I’m not going to spend months of my life putting together all these little touches that I would love that most people won’t notice, and that will most likely fall by the wayside.” Besides, our friends were already doing so much to help—brewing beer, officiating, picking up the cake, wrangling dogs, etc. I didn’t want to overburden anyone (especially myself or Ben; more on that in a bit). So early on, I threw my energy into the invitations and kind of shrugged off a lot of other decisions.

I had a lot of trouble accepting my friends’ generosity. My mother couldn’t go dress shopping with me, so a couple of friends offered to take me. I was uncomfortable with the idea that anyone was willing to devote an entire day to helping me find a dress (I’m usually pretty slow to make decisions). So we went to Nordstrom, and I picked out a dress in less than two hours. A month later I looked at it hanging in my closet and realized that the dress was not only uncomfortable, it mismatched my personality; I didn’t particularly like it. So I took it back, and took myself dress shopping. Alone. It was surprisingly liberating, and I ended up with a dress I really loved.

Our families accepted our cavalier approach to the whole process surprisingly well. We wanted something simple and poignant, and tried not to let the weight of our decisions overload us. For the most part, our families took their cues from us in this regard. But while some people appreciated our casual approach, it was problematic for others. My mother asked me literally dozens of times what she and my father should wear, and could not accept the fact that I didn’t care. My bridesmaids loved that I told them to wear any dress they liked, but it wasn’t helpful that they didn’t know each other and I live a thousand miles away—and I was reluctant to give them my opinions. Ben was nearly as bad—he’s a bit indecisive, so asking him to help make decisions regarding things he cared little about (Chicken or pork? I dunno, both?) was trying for both of us.

The process, in a weird, almost backwards way, brought out the people-pleaser in everyone. I just wanted people to be happy and excited about coming to the wedding; they wanted to show their love the only way they knew how—by doing (or wearing) exactly what I wanted. I refused a lot of help because I didn’t want to take advantage of anyone, or to make anyone feel stretched thin. In retrospect, I could’ve been more willing to let people help; emotionally, I ended up being the one who was stretched thin. In the end, our friends were incredibly generous with their time, energy, and love, in spite of my not knowing how to accept it.

The exception to this behavior presented itself on our wedding day. I was surprised, and a little hurt, by one or two family members who had decided that our wedding day was entirely about them, and behaved accordingly. This was compounded by my wanting some extra attention and doting in the hours before the ceremony, but not asking for it because I didn’t know how. What I eventually realized was this was consistent with how we all usually behave around one another. This was a painful realization—one that only came upon me after the wedding, and it’s a lesson I’m still learning from.

But, as the universe would have it, we get what we need, even if it’s from an unexpected source. I was doted upon by the two most amazing bridesmaids I could ever ask for. They practiced yoga with me that morning; they did my hair and fastened my veil; they made sure I was fed and hydrated and had whatever I needed. They ran interference for me when I started looking bombarded; they loved Ben and me in a way that only good friends can.

People told me all week that they were surprised by how calm I was. By all outward appearances I seemed completely relaxed—but I wasn’t. I was in physical pain from the Thursday before until the Monday after the wedding. My stomach was twisted in knots, and I couldn’t sleep. I was thrilled to be marrying Ben, to show our out-of-town friends and family our home, to get fancied up and have my father walk me down the aisle. I didn’t cry until five minutes before the wedding, when I was hiding in a back room at the venue and Ben came in to help me rally. I really wish I’d said, “Makeup and timing be damned—I need to really have a good cry right now.” Instead I pulled myself together, and Ben took his place in the processional. I took my dad’s arm as the wedding party was making its way down the aisle. We were both fighting back tears, so I looked at him and said, “There’s no crying in baseball!” He smirked. It was entirely us.

In spite of my very best efforts, I was not able to be entirely present on my wedding day. I listened to everything that was said in the ceremony, I thought about the vows I was taking, I looked straight into my groom’s eyes and let his calm carry me through it. But my memory of being the bride standing there is fuzzy at best. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was happening. During the reception, I was barely able to eat. I laughed and gave big hugs, and chatted with people I hadn’t seen in years. Thing is, my stress response is usually more fight than flight. So even now I have trouble understanding why my brain chose flight on that day.

Our guests really loved the ceremony, and that was mostly thanks to our officiant/friend Sam. He was poignant, funny, and articulate. Sam, Ben, and I worked to build a ceremony that fit our personalities. This meant a unity cocktail (a Sloe Gin Fizz), and friends choosing readings that they thought reflected our relationship (including a Calvin and Hobbes strip). We weren’t aiming for perfection, but we ended up having a perfect ceremony. It started raining just as the ceremony was ending, at which point our guests put up tents and moved everything indoors. Nobody cared, and nobody panicked. They dealt with it within twenty minutes! Later, the clouds broke just enough to give us a huge rainbow in the distant hills. That evening, folks were so busy catching up with old friends and getting to know new ones that, outside of our first-dance, nobody danced. That’s the one thing that I thought would matter but ultimately didn’t.

The biggest lesson I learned was that while the ceremony is what bound us to one another, it was the fifteen months we were engaged that married us. I feel like the process of planning the wedding together is how we changed from two people to one team, and the ceremony was the symbolic gesture at the end of that transformation that acknowledged all the work we’d done. And I don’t mean picking out food or talking to vendors—I mean the learning and the growing that comes with making decisions as a team, with respecting one another as members of a new family, with trusting ourselves and each other, with having faith in our strengths and working together on our weaknesses. That’s what the wedding was about to me. The reception was for everyone else (which is maybe why I was so reluctant to make decisions about it).

Bottom line is that I worked my butt off to have an easy, relaxing wedding day. But it was neither of those things—not because a few things didn’t go exactly as planned, but because the process of planning a wedding and getting married—like everything worthwhile—is a steep uphill climb.

The Info—Photography: Josh Duffus / Venue: The Gorge White House in Hood River, Oregon / Caterer: Riverside Catering / Wine and Flowers: The Gorge White House / Cake and Cupcakes: Crave Bake Shop (Gluten Free!) / Favors: Level Naturals

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  • Granola

    Such a beautiful thought:

    “The biggest lesson I learned was that while the ceremony is what bound us to one another, it was the fifteen months we were engaged that married us.”

    I’ve come to so similar conclusion as our year of being engaged comes to a close. I’m glad that we chose this time frame – it was just right for being able to digest everything, both us and our families.

    • You know how people say the first year of marriage is the hardest? I think that’s because people used to not be engaged for very long. I’ve learned SO MUCH about my fiancé’s family and my family and how to best care for our baby family during these last 14 months. If we hadn’t had an engagement period, we would’ve had to learn all that during our first year of marriage.

      • Maybe. Or maybe it would have been condensed more? We had a 3.5 month wedding planning time frame, and our first year of marriage was pretty rosy/easy/laid-back. We didn’t have any major stuff to work through, thankfully…and we hadn’t lived together before. For us at least, those short months of wedding planning somehow managed to formed us into a solid team-family. And our community looked at us differently too after. But we have relatively laid-back family-of-origin dynamics, so that probably helped a lot too in the process.

      • meg

        Huh. That’s a super interesting thought. I never looked at it that way. Our engagement period was tough… and our first year was just bliss (relationship wise). Those things are probably related.

    • carrie

      So much this. David has told me so many times that there isn’t anything WE can’t do together. It’s only looking back some time later that I really see it. So true.

  • Class of 1980

    There you go. You never know how you’re going to feel.

    But you are married! CONGRATULATIONS.

    • Melanie

      Thank you, Class of 1980! I’ve enjoyed your comments for…years (!) now.

      • Class of 1980


  • Jashshea

    This is everything I’m worried about! Again with the APW sneaky timing!

    I’m really good at being “on” but exceptional at being so inside my own head that I appear standoffish. I’m concerned that I’ll need something that I won’t ask for because a) I want people to just know what I need or b) I don’t want to disturb the flow.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned around here it’s that I need to allow the day to be as it is. I have no idea if I’ll spend the entire day crying or if I won’t shed a single tear. And this is the toughest thing for me to deal with during this whole process – I don’t get to decide how I am on the day of.

    Your wedding looks gorgeous (rainbow!) and you and your husband are too cute for words. Thank you for sharing.

    ETA: I’m book marking this to read the days before the weddin’

  • Meg


    “I mean the learning and the growing that comes with making decisions as a team, with respecting one another as members of a new family, with trusting ourselves and each other, with having faith in our strengths and working together on our weaknesses.”

    The Mr. and I have already been tested on this (and we’ve only been engaged for a little over a week!) and we both agreed that every decision we make, we make as a united, team front. I think that this is incredibly important as it’s the foundation of your “new” family. Excellent post!

  • KB

    This post is totally bang-on. I’ve been doing the not-asking-for-help, whatever-you-guys-want thing for the past couple months now, partially because I’m so content to be alone with the prettiness and also because I don’t want to bother anybody (I know, I know, I’m hearing Meg say in my head, “Your wedding is not an imposition.”). It’s so hard to ask people for help or even to help you make decisions because it really is putting yourself out on a limb in a way.

    Also – I LOVE this: ‘Our colors were “Um…all of them?”’

  • E

    This is a beautiful post, and I’m also just really excited that somebody else incorporated Calvin and Hobbes into their wedding. We didn’t do a reading, but did have a quote on the back of our programs (could it be the same one?). My mom thought we were crazy, but most people thought it was hilarious and fun.

    Calvin: What’s it like to fall in love?
    Hobbes: Well… say the object of your affection walks by…
    Calvin: Yeah?
    Hobbes: First, your heart falls into your stomach and splashes your innards. All the moisture makes you sweat profusely. This condensation shorts the circuits to your brain and you get all woozy. When your brain burns out altogether, your mouth disengages and you babble like a cretin until she leaves.
    Calvin: THAT’S LOVE?!?
    Hobbes: Medically speaking.
    Calvin: Heck, that happened to me once, but I figured it was cooties!

    (We found the “medically speaking” part especially funny as the hubster is training to be a doctor)

    • Melanie

      Indeed, that was the one. We told our friends to pick something fitting, and that was what they chose. It was no doubt influenced by the C&H tattoo I have on my shoulder :)

      Also thank you!

    • meg

      This needs to go on some sort of official ‘APW readings’ list.

  • congratulations and thank you, thank you, thank you for your words. i get married in 18 days and your paragraph on the engagement experience is exactly what i feel like as we meet this final swing. which calvin & hobbes strip did you use?

  • Rachel

    Are you me? I think you are. Seriously, this is EXACTLY how I feel about my wedding three weeks ago, and exactly how I felt leading up to it. We were really flexible and really didn’t care what people wore or whether or not they were able to help, but people were so concerned with making us happy that they were reaching out for guidelines or parameters on issues that we really, really weren’t concerned about (like what the wedding party wore, for example). The number of times I heard “are you sure? really? what about length? don’t you want to stick to a certain colour scheme?” was in the dozens, at least. Not because people were judging, but because they genuinely wanted to make us happy, and thought they needed specific rules to do so. Our loved ones really struggled with the lack of guidelines, even though our intention in being so flexible was to make things easier for them (that, and we really just. didn’t. care. about those details).

    As for the wedding day, same story, I felt exactly like you described. I wanted to be fully present, but I really wasn’t. I’m not a social person, I’m an introvert, and although I felt happy and loved and so excited to marry my husband, I also felt very overwhelmed, and as a result, even only 3 weeks after my wedding day, it’s already mostly a blur. I was calm, but definitely overwhelmed. I wouldn’t change it. Like you said, I think the reception was as much (or more) about our community as it was about us, and I know that celebrating us in that way was important to them.

    I’m so glad someone can relate :)

    • HOLY CRAP, me too…also married 3 weeks ago. Also had moments like that. It culminated a couple days before the wedding with three people urgently asking me what to wear at once and me yelling, “I don’t want to talk about clothes anymore!”

      And your description of being present is very similar to what I experienced at points. THERE, taking in what was going on around me, but maybe so absorbed by ALL of it, that I wasn’t PROCESSING it as being present, if that makes sense.

      • JEM

        My husband and I both described it as if we had a bird’s eye view and watched moments of it take place from above. It was amazing and so incredibly special but…surreal.

      • Melanie

        Thanks to both of you :)

        Being present was so much harder than I thought it would be… I’m a bit of an introvert, myself. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in feeling that way. I had been reading APW for *years*, and I thought I would be able to take all of the wise and amazing lessons I’d learned from Meg and Team Practical and have exactly the wedding I needed. Well, it worked as well as my stress-filled brain would allow.

        Also funny: I told myself I would lurk today, but sharing with this community that I’ve loved for so long feels wonderful.

        • meg

          Well, you know, you probably DID have the wedding you needed, right? It just never actually feels like you expect it to feel. Ever, I think. The tricky bit is that you can’t plan your emotions (DAMN IT).

          • Melanie

            I did indeed. And I realized (in retrospect, of course) that I was letting what I thought were less-important decisions slide in favor of trying to wrangle my own emotions AND other people’s. This was an intense lesson to re-learn on my wedding day.

            Also congratulations, Meg, on the impending addition to your family :)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Whoa. 2 months out, I hate the what-to-wear questions. 3 days out, I’ll detest them.

        Maybe I’ll need to get a throw-away phone for the week before the wedding – only my future husband and mother are allowed to call me.

        Gosh, I wish that trial the 4 weeks leading up to my wedding hadn’t been kicked. “Elisabeth is unreachable. She’s in trial out of state. We have to handle it without her.” Ah, lost dreams.

    • Ana Maria

      I felt the same way about my wedding, two months ago. I was upset about feeling this way and my own inability to remember anything but the superficial elements that stood out rather than things like vows or what the pastors were saying.

      And this:
      Bottom line is that I worked my butt off to have an easy, relaxing wedding day. But it was neither of those things

      It feels good to know that I am not the only one who experienced this. But I am still working on how to get over this and to focus on the positive memories.

      • Melanie

        What makes it easy for me to remember the best things about my wedding day is to remember the old adage that says the most worthwhile things in our lives are often the.most difficult to obtain. Our wedding wasn’t easy, but it was worth the work. So I look back on the day and I am proud of myself and my husband for doing what we needed to do to have the wedding we needed to have.

  • carrie


    You are geniuses. Also, the picture with the rainbow makes me want to weep with joy it’s so amazing. That, and the cocktail.


    • Melanie

      Admittedly, the unity cocktail idea was taken directly from an Offbeat Bride post way back when. There were also fist bumps, as a nod to (TV show) Psych.

      But the coin toss to see who says their vows first, with a coin carried by my 4-year-old nephew, was all ours ;)

      • carrie

        It’s still amazing!

        And awww. I love it. You guys rock. :-)

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        Coin-toss vow order? AMAZING! That idea is being tucked away.

      • Jo

        LOVE the coin toss idea! We may have to use that.

      • meg

        Also: rock paper scissors on vow order.

        I remember that OBB post… AGES ago!

  • Abby J.

    “I was surprised, and a little hurt, by one or two family members who had decided that our wedding day was entirely about them, and behaved accordingly. This was compounded by my wanting some extra attention and doting in the hours before the ceremony, but not asking for it because I didn’t know how. What I eventually realized was this was consistent with how we all usually behave around one another. This was a painful realization—one that only came upon me after the wedding, and it’s a lesson I’m still learning from.”

    Oh man, this was ME EXACTLY. I spent months after the wedding feeling awful and exactly this way. Angry at those people for making it all about them, but probably even angrier at myself for not asking for what I needed. Well, I did ask, but not strongly enough to make myself understood. (Although it probably would have taken me holding a sign and/or a bullhorn with the personalities involved on the other side.) But I was so upset about it for so long, and it’s only time that’s helping it fade.

    I was also not fully present my whole wedding either. I have bright spots that stick out in my memory where I was fully present, but at other times, I was totally in my head. The small things that people say will go wrong and you as the bride won’t notice them? I noticed them ALL. As they were happening. And it really stressed me out and kept me from being able to ever fully relax and be present in the moment. Which is another thing that makes me really sad about our wedding.

    But in the end, time does help. Time doesn’t make everything happy – I’ll never be able to look back on my wedding and have completely forgotten the sad stuff (though well-meaning but dense people say I will.) Time does soften the urgency with which it hurts, though. It makes it easier to accept.

  • Sam

    Totally. Awesome. Post. I desperately hope I feel that way when I’m done with all of PLANNING. I can’t seem to get past the first step of booking a venue.

  • Oh, this: “The biggest lesson I learned was that while the ceremony is what bound us to one another, it was the fifteen months we were engaged that married us.”

    How perfect. Thank you so much for sharing and congratulations!!

  • Just stopping by to say I love the shrug you wore. Did you or a loved one knit that?

    • Melanie

      Thank you! My mother-in-law knitted it for me. I’m looking forward to wearing it this fall :)

      • Knitters can always spot one of our kind! It’s always more awesome when it’s made with love.

  • jodi

    I am getting married in 17 days and I just sent this post to my mother. I am hoping she will read it and understand my perspective a bit better. Why is it so hard for them to figure out what to wear? I keep telling people who ask to wear something that makes you feel good and that you feel good in. Why is that so hard?

    Thank you for writing this!

    • Melanie

      Ha! Yeah, this was a big hangup for my mom. She lives in Georgia, and I live in Oregon, so her involvement in wedding planning was minimal. She desperately wanted to help out, and to contribute in a way that would make me happy, so that was the thing she knew how to do and stuck to it. Ultimately I gave her some guidelines, and when she picked something she liked I made sure I voiced my approval wholeheartedly, as a way to help her feel involved. So looking back on that experience, I’d say help your mom pick her outfit as much as you can without stepping on your own needs. If she’s like my mom, she will relax if you give her some gentle direction.

  • AndyGirl

    “Thing is, my stress response is usually more fight than flight. So even now I have trouble understanding why my brain chose flight on that day”.

    This is my experience of my wedding day. Exactly.

    My body was there. I smiled I laughed I ate cake. But my brain was somewhere peaceful, calm and not at the wedding. I never realised it until you said it Melanie, but that’s exactly what it was. My brain taking all the stress and emotional blackmail of the week leading up to the wedding and deciding it needed a break. I have some regret that my brain chose that moment to go to its happy place, but I’m learning to trust that my body / brain knew best. And that that’s exactly where I needed my brain to be to get through the day.

    Thank you for expressing it so perfectly, and giving me the chance to actually figure it out (two months post event).

    • Melanie

      Yep. You’re very welcome :)

      I can also say that this was something that occurred to me as I was writing my graduate entry. I took the APW team advice and wrote something for myself, and that (very profound, in my mind) realization kind of rose to the surface. I love being able to echo a sentiment on APW by saying everyone should write their own graduate post, whether they submit it to APW and whether it ends up on the site or not :)

      • meg

        That is what I always say about grad post writing. You should do it… but you should do it for you. (Sending it to us is MUCH appreciated by us and the community, but we’re not really why you should do it at all.)

    • meg

      I think that your brain often knows what you need. That doesn’t mean you weren’t PRESENT, right, just that you were present in the way you needed to be (to keep yourself safe, in this case).

  • Man, and now reading more comments, I’m not sure I articulated my experience right either. I WAS present…it was surreal, and I think the bird’s eye view describes it for me too, a little, but hmmm.. I was very present, but I was present in a different way than I was expecting to be– not in the way I’ve tried to practice to be through meditation (though there were moments of that too), but more in an OVERSTIMULATED/how could i not be present when there is so much here to pay attention to?! kind of way, and I think before the wedding I hadn’t thought much about how those kinds of presence are different?

  • Melanie — I’ll just say that there’s no higher honor than to see my images sharing the page with such honest and beautiful prose.

  • Lynn

    There’s so much here with which I identify. So many similar circumstances.

    There were a ton of people who wanted to help. I decided a long time ago, though, that if people make an offer of help, I accept it. I believe that particularly those people who are close to us make an offer out of a genuine desire to help and out of their love for us. When it was difficult for me to say, “Yes, please do this for us,” I remembered that it was their love prompting the offer and accepted their generosity. No one offered what they couldn’t comfortably do, and we were extremely grateful.

    I really wanted to be present, and I think I managed that through the ceremony. But once we walked out through our community, it’s mostly gone. I wanted to remember everything but there was just too much to deal with in the days leading up to the wedding. Too many emotions, too much going on, too difficult to manage everything. The Xanax our awesome officiant TaTa gave me about 3 hours before the ceremony probably didn’t help, but without it right that minute, I was going to have a breakdown. I just couldn’t handle dealing with one more question, solving one more problem.

    “That evening, folks were so busy catching up with old friends and getting to know new ones that, outside of our first-dance, nobody danced” was exactly what happened at our wedding. I remember thinking, why aren’t people dancing? Which shouldn’t have been a question anyway. Pooh and his buddies can do a mean line dance now and again, and they did. But when it comes down to it…we aren’t dancing people. We’re sitting around, talking and drinking kind of people. Which is just fine.

  • Rosie

    Just thought I’d congratulate you: we also had sloe gin (home made!), a rain shower just after our ceremony and a rainbow later on :) I agree that planning a wedding is an uphill climb, but one that is worth it.

    • Melanie

      Oooo! Homemade sloe gin sounds great! It took some legwork finding a liquor store who carried the real stuff instead of the sloe berry-flavored liqueur. I’d love to see a ‘recipe’ for how you made it.

      • Rosie

        We made it about six months before: we filled old (washed out) plastic milk cartons about three-quarters full with sloes, put in loads of sugar, filled the cartons with gin and shook it up. We let it mature shaking it every now and again, then near the wedding we drained out the sloes and mixed the batches so they were all about the same sweetness. We eyeballed the amount of sugar to sloes: my husband reckons we used about the same weight of each, which came out fairly sweet. It’s quite expensive to buy sloe gin here in the UK so we were really pleased it ended up being easy and cheap!

        • Melanie

          Fantastic! Thanks :)

  • Wow, I felt so many of the same things here. The notion of a mental presence, and to what degree it was there, was something that I was very mindful of during that day. However, like others have said, I almost ran on auto-pilot. I would have given anything to have an omniscient, bird’s eye view of the day and everyone having fun. I guess that’s why people hire videographers? Another reason why, at the very least, photography is so important.

    To top the post off, I got married a month ago maybe just a mile up the road from this location! Recognized the background immediately. Hood River <3.

    Also, last note, I love the idea of a "unity cocktail."

    • Melanie

      Oh, wonderful! Hood River is my favorite place in Oregon (and not just ’cause I got married there).