Why Wedding Planning Isn’t Project Management.

I read last week’s post about wedding planning as project management and cocked my head to the side, squinted my eyes, and looked around my empty office for some verification that this was actually wedding planning they were talking about. Throughout the day, I swung between envious and confused. Envious, because easy and calm and organized is exactly what I thought (due to both experience and temperament) I’d signed up for, and confused because, yeah. HA. That is so not what I’m experiencing.

What I’ve found about halfway through a six-month engagement and wedding planning process is that no to-do list can capture the work of wedding planning. (Take that, The Kn*t!) I should say though, that my partner and I—we are doers. We are deciders. We are not by title project managers, but we are get it done, don’t look back, celebrate and have a drink-ers.

And while wedding planning is certainly partially to-lists, that’s been the easy-ish stuff for us—we are ahead of schedule, we are under budget (on a wedding we are paying for ourselves), and we’ve dealt with little-to-no family or friend stress/advice/bullshit. On paper, this is the easiest wedding planning process ever.

Oh, but guys. That doesn’t even begin to explain my experience—it has been work. There have been tears. There have been hard conversations. And here’s why:

I don’t think wedding planning is to-do lists. Some days I convince myself it’s to-decide lists, but even then I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s actually “What does it mean?” lists.

By “What does it mean?” lists I mean the emotional work of the wedding planning. By and large, with the only exception maybe (maybe!) being the menu, our to-do list has fostered big, important conversations about big, important things. For us, our to-do list has actually been a way for us to hash out and dig into the bigger ideas and questions and desires about and for our partnership. While I wish it were all simple task flow charts, we get stuck or caught on items not because we can’t decide on colors or centerpieces, but because we get deep into the meaning and significance of our wedding, as we hope it will accurately capture and communicate what we believe and want our partnership to be.

Here’s a list of items that could just be to-do, but for us have been what-does-it-mean:

  • Rings (to wear or not, diamond or not, buy together or not)
  • Ceremony (religious or not, private or not, in our home or not, create our own or not)
  • Guest list (family or not, intimate or not, East Coast/West Coast or not)

While I sometimes wish these were simple decide-and-move-on items (and know that for many people they are), for us they’ve opened up some of the most important conversations I’ve ever had. This is both the stress and the surprise and the gift of wedding planning for me.

I can’t overstate that I know that I’m in a very lucky space—little money or family or uninterested partner wedding planning anxiety. I can’t imagine general planning stress on top of the emotional work, though I know it’s the most common experience. But I can say it is still work; it is still important; it does still demand my thoughtful and clear heart and attention. And it cannot be summed up in a to-do list.

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos

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  • This was my experience too. It wasn’t particularly hard, planning wise. And I was lucky to not get much friction from any of the stakeholders. For me and my husband, conversation and tears sprung up from deciding on this important things. We wrote our religious ceremony from a variety of sources, and grappling with language was far more difficult than checking off items on a list.

  • Kara

    Thank you, Elizabeth. I think you just encapsulated what took my now-husband and me 4 months (of our 10 month engagement) to figure out: that for us (and particularly for me), it wasn’t just a to-do list. Even basic discussions about budget became a discussion of what we value, how, and when; how we spend, how we save, and how we’ll pay for our (still theoretical) children’s college education. Whew. Once we were more honest that the to-do list wasn’t just a to do list, it all got a LOT easier.

    • kathleen

      Kara- YES. Once I realized I wasn’t upset over a to-do list, but rather worked up over important meaning matters, it did become much easier.

  • Kat

    I’m at the very beginning of my wedding planning travels, but in the five months since we began discussing the “next step called marriage” there have been lots of tears, smiles, laughs and deep discussions over what marriage means to us, why we want to get married, and then like Kathleen said very serious conversations over rings or not, diamonds or not, … children or not or maybe or wait and see …and little snippets of things like budget, guestlist numbers etc.

    So far every experience I’ve had surrounding the “next step called marriage” has been so completely different than how I expected that I’ve just started throwing out my expectations. I didn’t expect to find my wedding dress without my mom and sister there. I had always imagined us traipsing through several stores champagne in hand trying on dresses and collectively crying when the right one was found.

    I’m certain the rest of the wedding and marriage planning will be full of twists and surprises too, which lets be honest, makes things that much more interesting. I couldn’t imagine getting married following the standard “wedding” script.

  • Allie

    Umm… I have a confession to make as I always feel a little awkward when reading about wedding planning experiences on here… I delegated over 95% of the planning of my wedding to my mom. We flew in (trans-Atlantic) the day before and went with it. (And it was gorgeous and perfect and way better and more meaningful than I could ever have imagined)

    • Chelsea

      This is awesome

    • Carmen

      I’m so glad that it came out well! My secret? I delegated 70% of the wedding planning to my honey. Which has cut WAY down on wedding conversations with family and friends. And even still, have found that this wedding has been much more emotionally demanding than the first.

    • Jashshea


    • Hypothetical Sarah

      Don’t feel awkward… write a wedding grad post! My favorite grad posts are the ones that showed me that I wasn’t the Only Bride Ever to do things a certain way, even if it felt like it.

      We had a 2.5 year engagement to let us plan trans-Atlanticly (but, really, I needed the time to figure out what “married” and “wife” meant). I stopped stressing (as much) about wedding planning when my dad told me that he could plan the whole wedding if we wanted him to. Except the dress. He just couldn’t get me a dress.

      • Jamie

        My fiance and I will have an almost 2 year engagement by the time we get married (Oct. 2013), and that decision was mostly financial. We are paying for the majority of things, so longer engagement = more time to save.

        We are mostly making the major decisions together, and then consulting family for their opinions as we go. It works for us, but I am so happy to see that we are “normal” as far as there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to plan a wedding. This site and every one involved are amazing.

    • Sara

      One of my best friends did that as well – she got married in a civil ceremony in California to her Marine for logistical reasons. Then her mom planned the entire church ceremony and reception in Illinois for four months later. Outside of her dress and the color of bridesmaid dresses (which was like pulling teeth to get her to decide upon), she didn’t really help or decide anything at all. It was a fantastic time, but it did make me laugh when she was served her soup and whispered “what is this?”

    • Ambi

      Don’t feel awkward – and please do write a post! My future MIL told me that she did the same thing for her wedding. She didn’t want a wedding, but her mom did, so she let her mom plan everything. She never even went dress shopping – her mom picked up three dresses from their (only) local dress shop and brought them home for my MIL to try on, she picked on, the other two were returned, and that is how she found her weddng dress. I’m pretty sure the couple gave some input on the guest list, but other than that they literally just showed up that day and were pleasantly surprised by everything.

    • This is awesome. My future MIL is planning a good chunk of my wedding since it’s going to be halfway across the Pacific from where we live now. Delegation can be hard in its own way, so I definitely agree with the others here that you should write a wedding grad post. I’d love to read it!

    • Jes

      My mom was also wonderful. Any time I said “I really don’t care about (fill in the blank wedding detail)” she took me at my word, figured out said detail, ran it by me for an okay, and went with it. It left my fiance and I time and brain space to focus on the parts that were most meaningful for us.

      • Paranoid Libra

        My mom and sister didn’t take my word. They wound up doing a good chunk of planning. I had all the big things I wanted already, my groom, my dress, location, food, and the best baker I know (my sis). They came up with center piece ideas and i just said that would be cute or no im not digging that as more of an executive. They took it upon themselves to make my card box and table runners.

    • meg

      Dude. That sounds like HEAVEN to me. Write a grad post indeed.

  • honeycakehorse

    Yes, the “what it means”. It lurks under the most innocent and seemingly trivial decisions you make about “the party”. And it’s really tough when you realize that, at least in our case, our families are so painfully laid back about it all that we need to actually TELL them what is important to them, and then see the relief in their eyes when we actually ask them to do whatever they loudly proclaimed was “totally unnecessary” just to be über-helpful to us :). Tricky business, wedding planning. But also Project management. Definitely also that, and I am finding both incredibly interesting, rewarding and fun. Clearly, this can change. But I very much hope not :).

  • Chelsea

    AMEN! Every list item is more fraught with emotional power than you thought possible. I’m one of those people who puts too much meaning into things that needn’t have meaning. This is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for this site and the book: being given permission NOT to ascribe a deeper emotional meaning to EVERY item on the list (I let go in a major way when it came to the shoes, which I thought would be so important, now my thirty dollar target shoes seem to have meaning for other people!) Even with this emotional freedom, with each list item, there’s still the process: how much emotional value does this have? does it need to have emotional value, can I relax about this one?

    So yes, the emotional work of the wedding to-do list is insane.

    • meg

      Totally. Sometimes surprising things have meaning (like for me, the dress) and you have to roll with it. But if it doesn’t have meaning for you, trying to *give* it meaning is an invitation to the crazy party.

      • Marie

        For me, the most surprising things in the whole wedding planning process have been those items on the to do list that ended up being fraught with meaning for my husband-to-be. After several heated discussions about his adamant refusal to have table numbers (something seemingly so innocuous), I realized that it wasn’t the table numbers that were freaking him out, it was his idea of what kind of a couple we truly are and how our wedding would reflect that. He wants a laid back vibe without the stuffiness (to him) of seating arrangements whereas for me it was totally a logistical planning tool. How do we get the food to table in the most efficient manner? He didn’t seem to care about how the guests would eat their food, but rather the atmosphere they would be eating it in and how it was a reflection of who he and I are. This turned in to a larger of discussion about why we were having a wedding in the first place and our original guidelines we laid out at the beginning – we wanted to throw a kick-ass party with friends & family with a casual vibe and without any WIC trappings (also no wedding party, no bouquet toss, no favors – these things are fine but we didn’t care about them). Table numbers & escort cards were for him the ultimate representation of exactly the opposite kind of wedding we are planning, and even thought it would make things easier on the caterer he wanted to maintain our original vision. He thought the fact that I wanted to use them meant that I wasn’t really on board with our plans (not true! I’m just efficiency minded!) and this spiraled into him freaking out that we weren’t on the same page about pretty much everything and “omg why are we doing this if we don’t see eye to eye what are we doing!” but in the end I realized how important our original vision was to him and if table numbers aren’t a part of that then we’ll just have to get creative with our caterer.

  • carrie

    Truth, sister.

  • Edelweiss

    Thank you! Because that came as a shock to me in the very beginning. Where (as in what state) we would have the wedding turned into about 3 months of tears and uneasiness (with a combo of typical problems and unusual problems) – that was all further complicated by the fact that as a couple we too are “check-it-off-the-list”ers and I was frustrated that the very first item on the list was this hard, and no one had said it was going to be this hard.

    What did it mean for the rest of the planning process?
    Why was I such a failure?

    But really I came to the conclusion that the ring had been steeped in a what-does-it-mean context, the timing of the engagement had been the same way, and so it made sense the first decision would be this thoughtful. I wasn’t as eloquent as you but coming to peace with the idea that we were a couple that put a lot of thought into these items helped resolve the guilt I felt for how hard they were and the length of time they took.

  • Jashshea

    While I don’t have the exact same issues (I’m not religious, I love diamonds, our families alone are over 100 people, so “intimate” wasn’t ever going to happen), I do think this speaks to one of my comments on last week’s post re: analysis paralysis. Trying to think of every possible outcome to every possible branch of a flow chart isn’t actually helpful, generally speaking, and really just gums up the decision making. In proj management, thinking through an issue is great, but so is swift, decisive decision making.

    Unfortunately (fortunately?) in your situation, it seems like what’s requiring analysis is some big picture stuff: religion, family and the symbolism around rings. I think it’s great that you’re figuring out what all of those mean for you and your new family. But I have to add here that even if you were someone with an address database, a MS Project Wedding project plan and a master spreadsheet (Me? No, I’m *totally* talking about a friend), these issues are going to crop up. I never gave a moments thought to getting married in a church or by a religious officiant – Not one second. But I still had to have the icky conversation with my parents and my FILs about how I am not religious, do not personally support organized religion in any way** and do not see that changing anytime in the future, including when/if I have children.

    All this to say, in my view, I’m still project planning a wedding. At work, the environmental issues around a project are pointy-headed bosses, internal politics and complicated accounting. For the wedding, the environmental issues are more personally complicated – who you are, who your partner is, who your families are, how you fit/don’t fit with that, money, etc etc etc.

    **Beyond, of course, everyone else’s right to take part in organized religion if they want to.

    • Alexandra

      I seem to be in the same boat on Religion, Family, and rings, though I had an even more bizarre conversation regarding a religious ceremony… From my fiance, who is an atheist. It was a very confusing conversation.
      “Okay, explain to me why you’d like a religious ceremony for a religion you don’t believe in?”
      “It’s the pomp and the ceremony from someone who truly believes that they’re uniting us beneath a God!”
      “But… You don’t believe in that God.”
      “But they do.”

      I’m still not sure I got his point, he gave up on the idea too quickly. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of this “What does it all mean?” conversations going on. Even with the idea of religion in a wedding between an atheist and an agnostic.

      • Jashshea

        I think that proves religion can never be divorced from wedding planning :)

        Pardon the pun.

        • kathleen

          Yeah, I think they can never really be divorced. We are non-religious people, but to different degrees. He’s not comfortable having my favorite auntie officiate, as she happens to be an Episcopalian priest. For us, it’s not how much religion we put in the ceremony, but how much we can extract or remove. So even for the non-religious, is all still very ‘what does it mean.’

      • MDBethann

        Alexandra, was he maybe getting at the whole “it’s important to our community” aspect of weddings? If your families are religious, even though your fiance isn’t religious, he was maybe recognizing that for your families and friends to feel like it was “a real wedding” because it had all of the religious pomp and circumstance, it should be a religious wedding. Just a thought….

        • Alexandra

          Neither of our immediate families are religious… I believe his grandparents and some aunts/uncles may be, but his sister was also just married in a very secular wedding, and so far as I know, no one even made a peep. And my side hasn’t really had anyone religious since my Nana died. So it’s not really our families.

          Best I got out of him is that there’s over 2000 years tradition behind Christianity, so they really have a lot of conviction in what they’re doing.

  • Hillori

    After reading the two posts, I wonder: is wedding planning one of those times when a person’s personality defines the experience?

    For instance, an emotional person may experience much meaning and significance throughout the process but a non-emotional person may not.

    Certainly there is a place for self-discovery in the process, but as personality that can only be describes as a less-smart Bones, I found other people’s emotions puzzling during my planning. I’m interested to know if any non-emotional people were suprised by feelings during planning and conversely if emotional people were suprised by non-feeling.

    • Jashshea

      “less-smart Bones” LOL

      I’m pretty emotional, but I’m not usually a cryer – I have a short fuse and spend a good portion of my job-time cussing about something or another. I’m equally expressive when I’m happy. But…I can turn into a robot at the least opportune times (funerals, for example, leave me dry-eyed).

      I’m deliberately being a wedding planning robot. Not every detail can mean something to me – I simply don’t have that capacity (emotionally or timewise). And when I don’t care, it honestly matters very little to me if someone other than the betrothed cares. My go-to line of thinking is “you seem to really care about videography/a band/flowers, why don’t you figure it out.” It’s unkind, but it’s getting me through it.

      So, yeah, limited emotion.

      • Hillori

        Jashshea, that is really interesting to me. I hope the delegation and deliberate forward motion works! Perhaps, that is the middle-road for planning!

        • Jashshea

          Yeah, I’m still working on making ““you seem to really care about videography/a band/flowers, why don’t you figure it out” sound nicer.

          I’ve tried “Dad, videography isn’t something we’re interested in pursuing. It seems to matter quite a bit to you, would you mind taking that off my plate and sending us the completed contract?” Which is similar to what I’d say during a work project. But no one can quite understand why I’m so emotionless about all the pretty! fun! wedding! things. I can’t understand why so many people care about place cards and party favors.

          (BTW: I’ll keep everyone updated on the great videography saga of 2012 – It’s quite compelling)

    • I am super emotional–I cry at commercials sometimes–and my planning was not in any way emotional. Fun, but not emotional.

      • Hillori

        Ha– well, so much for THAT theory!

        • Ha! There’s always an outlier.

      • Remy

        This sounds like me. :) I tear up over Chicken Soup For the Soul, and I have quite a temper… but wedding planning has not been an emotional experience for me. (Other than happy! But sometimes not even that much. It’s a project.)

        The hard conversations about rings, ceremony, family, guests, etc. — well, we’d either had those conversations in another form by the time we started actively planning a wedding, or we miraculously felt the same way about them (at least, when one of us felt strongly about an item, the other was fine with doing it that way).

        We’re good at deciding and moving on (and coming up with a backup plan when things fall through), but the part that I’ve really appreciated in planning is that when something DOES go wrong, it’s an external issue, not something in our relationship. We turn to each other and remind each other why we’re doing this and how we want it to be (our mission statement), squeeze and snuggle, and then we get going on the next step.

    • meg

      I think it’s actually a time when the * experience* defines the experience. IE, you can be project manager to the core, but if you or people around you have emotional issues to work out, it’s going to be emotional. For me, it was both. Project Management AND super emotional.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      It also depends on where your values come from. My future husband and I are both catholic. Our churches define marriage. The ceremony script is almost entirely written for us. We can read countless books on the symbolism of the wedding ring I must have. (We’re both converts, so it’s not like we’re blindly accepting these ideas. We just considered these issues before we met.)

      After our faith, placing importance on family and tradition (real tradition, what actually took place at other weddings we’ve attended, at our parents’ weddings, at weddings 50 and 100 and 1,000 years ago) also answers lots of questions for us, or maybe it avoids them, which I think is OK too. We don’t care if a father-daughter dance smacks of patrimony. It is traditional, and our family and friends will enjoy it. We have examined issues of gender equality outside of wedding planning.

      That’s not to say wedding-planning has been drama- and emotion-free. I want to pound something about how many times I’ve had to ask my parents to call their insurance company to find out if we can get the liability insurance our venue requires for free. Obviously, this gets at bigger issues of communication styles, but the fact that those issues have come up related to wedding planning is accidental. My future husband has parallel issues with his parents, and the sparking discussions have been weight and his retirement savings.

      • meg

        But even this isn’t the explanation. We’re religious, and pretty traditional in some ways, but we were still grappling with a MILLION things. I think it just varies. A lot. In totally unpredictable ways. Also, sometimes you’ll have an easy planning process and think you won the lottery, and then a hard newlywed period, or vice versa. Or something else. But there is balance in all things, right?

  • Kestrel

    I feel like the emotional experience planning a wedding has a lot to do with how your relationship was beforehand. For example, my SO and I are currently in the ‘pre-engaged’ state and working our way through a lot of the conversations that you’re ‘supposed to have before marriage’ like kids, finances, where to spend holidays, etc. However, this is all still very hypothetical and it’s possible the true emotions might not be coming out quite yet because all this seems so far in the future. We’ll likely have a fairly emotional time wedding planning when the time comes.

    A couple who doesn’t quite have that abstract feeling before they get married might have a less emotional time with wedding planning simply because they’ve already internalized those decisions and discussions.

    • Ambi

      I agree that your wedding planning process has something to do with how your relationship was beforehand. My guy and I have been talking about weddings for so long that we have already ironed most of our preferences for both the big stuff and smaller details. We’ve already talked through quite a few of those “what does it mean” issues prior to engagement. BUT, now that it is getting closer, I am suddenly revisiting things that I thought were settled. I have always planned to change my name and even discussed it many times on here. It just wasn’t a question for me – I’d be doing it. And then suddenly, yesterday, while driving down the freeway, I was struck out of the blue with frustration and resentment about why I had to change my name and not him. This is an issue I thought I was way past – so who knows how many other things that we have discussed in the abstract will now have to be rediscussed. :)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Exactly! to both the specific name-change issue and to other things.

        The name-change issue is on the back burner right now, on the front burner is whether to have separate civil and religious ceremonies, possibly months apart. We discussed this as soon as we got engaged, between ourselves and our religious officiant. Now that I’m actually looking at dates for an appointment at the court house, he can’t remember any of that, and we’re at square one.

      • MDBethann

        Ambi, I had the same “why do I change my name and not him” feeling during my planning process. The posts over the last year about that subject were really helpful for me as I was struggling with that issue. I would say the most contention we had over anything pre-wedding was when I asked him to CONSIDER adding my name. Without discussion or even pausing, he flat out said “no.” I was not happy – I just wanted him to think about it. But he’s an only son of an only son, so it was important for him to keep his name. I respect that, but the gesture of at least thinking about changing it would have been appreciated.

        Now I’m in the process of double-barrelling my last name – keeping my maiden name first for professional reasons and then adding his on the end (no hyphen). Its unwieldy, but so far I’ve been able to navigate switching the use of the names pretty easily. I’d thought about this route for awhile as having the best of both worlds, which it seems to be, but it was still really emotional when I tried talking about it with my DH.

    • meg

      Maybe! But really, I think there is no way to predict. We’d worked on a ton of stuff before the engagement over many many years, and had an emotional engagement anyway, but then had a really easy super joyful newlywed period. So it goes… you never know.

  • PA

    I think that my fiance and I have thus-far been very lucky during wedding planning, and I would say that while it has been a deeply emotional time, none of the specific plans or details have spawned the emotional discussions we’ve been having.*Those have all happened right on their own, as we’re looking towards marriage.

    I’m fascinated by both articles, and the comments, because I continue to see how broad the range of wedding/marriage/wedding planning experiences is. I don’t know how to convey how awesome I think it is to see that, because seeing other people’s takes on all of that deepens and clarifies my understanding of what wedding/marriage/planning is about to me. Again, I don’t know how to say this, but it’s oddly comforting, for some reason, to know that other people are seeking and having completely different experiences with wedding planning than I am.

    * I have, on the other hand, SOBBED over my wedding reception playlist. Does anyone have tips on choosing music for the processional (and also the parent/child dances) that is beautiful enough to be moving, but not so moving that you end up a snotty, crying mess?

    • Alexandra

      Sobbed because you didn’t know what to pick, or sobbed because it was just that moving? Because honestly, if you’re crying because you’re that moved by the pieces you’ve already picked, I think you’re doing it right.

      Alternatively, pick a song that will make you smile and laugh when you hear it, and let the seriousness of “Oh wow we’re getting married and there’s my partner” move you.

      • PA

        Sobbed because of the music itself. There’s one classical piece that really helped get me through the deployment, and I wanted to use that, but … I feel really uncomfortable with so many people seeing me break down and cry. (Also, it’s not all about looking good, but while many women can cry gracefully, I really can’t.)

        On the other hand, one doesn’t want to walk down the aisle to something that has no significance…but also, you’re right that, “Oh, wow, we’re getting married” will be at the forefront. I may not even hear the music!

        • Alexandra

          Well, I really wouldn’t know how to not cry over that song if you do use it (I tend to cry at the drop of a hat, if anyone does have tips on how to not cry, let me know).

          But you could try moving the song that will make you burst into tears to another space, like maybe the first dance (Yeah, people will still be watching, but you don’t need to look at them) or recessional (You’re on your way out anyways). And then you can put something that reminds you of happy thoughts for the processional.

          • PA

            And then you can put something that reminds you of happy thoughts for the processional.

            The recessional! Awesome plan, thank you!

        • Also, you may end up reacting in a way that surprises you with whatever song you pick. I thought I had a good chance of crying with some of those songs (when I would listen to them before the wedding I would cry happy, emotional tears), but on the wedding day….I just felt happy….with no tears due to music choices. So I would suggest you choose the song that feel right to you, trust that, and give yourself the freedom to feel what you feel. Plus, after the wedding whatever song you chose will have that meaning of “this was our first dance song” or whatever, so the meaning will grow with whatever choice. Good luck!

      • MDBethann

        You often have prelude music too, for when the guests are being seated before the ceremony. There were a couple of pieces of classical music that I liked that just weren’t right for a processional or recessional, so I put them in at the prelude. I am a (lapsed) trumpet player, so it was really important to me to have trumpet music for all of the processional music and for the recessional as well (in part because I’d played a bunch of it when I was younger).

        To figure out what I wanted and narrow things down, I created a “wedding classical music” playlist on Pandora to listen to at work & then kept an Excel spreadsheet open to jot down the song and composer for the pieces I liked. I did the same thing with a “wedding reception music” list on Pandora to come up with songs for that. Your DJ might also have a list. DH and I looked through it and came up with songs we both liked. The first dance became “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel because we liked the song and had learned the appropriate ballroom dance for it in class. And we kept each other laughing and smiling during our first dance by chatting about how bad our dance positions were and how our teacher would be disappointed in us.

  • Amen. Two months into a seven-month engagement, I know that most of my tears and crises have not been about the actual details– our wedding will be in my FH’s hometown, and his mother has been doing an awesome job of taking care of so much of the logistics for us (yay for delegation!). Rather, the hard stuff is the upcoming changes that are terrifying and stressful (like moving out of my dear little apartment), the fears of accidentally offending or excluding, and the feeling of pressure that i should have some deep-seated wants and demands for this day stemming back to my six-year-old self. Well, my six-year-old self would be disgusted that I’m actually planning to wear a dress. But all this hard stuff has started some good conversations. We’re beginning to figure out what getting married means for us. And that’s good.


    I wanted a super short (6 month) planning process since our wedding is long distance, and I didn’t want to have wedding brain any longer than absolutely necessary. It’s been fine for most things, and we’ve been able to make a lot of quick decisions.

    Except for invitations. It took us 2 months to decide on invitations because I first had to explain to my fiance that the invitations not only tell people where to go and when, but that they’re also our first official documented communication to our friends and family from us together. The way that they look reflects on our taste/sets the tone for the wedding, and people will judge us if the font’s weird or the design doesn’t match the formality of the event, or if we print labels instead of handwriting addresses…

    It took forever, but we finally ordered them last weekend! Sigh.

    • kathleen

      the invitation language has easily been the biggest “what does it mean?”-ness of all of the “what does it mean?” for us as well.

      • Karen

        Very good point. A whole post could be dedicated to invitation language. Very tricky!

    • Haha, we used labels and just decided people might infer from that choice that we had decided that we had illegible handwriting or that we didn’t care about handwriting envelopes…if they decided anything from our labels. We decided we were okay with that interpretation since that is exactly how we felt. :) So we decided it was a right choice for us. (Though I must say we worked really hard at designing those printed labels because I wanted them to be very pretty…)

      However, the language of the inside part was extremely important to us because half our invitees were French-speaking and half English-speaking, so having a bilingual invite was HUGE to us because it set the tone for the use of language (and the equality and value of both languages) in our marriage and community. And we spent tons of time working all that out.

      So I would say that if the message the invite sends is very important to the couple, than the couple should certainly care about that and invest the time they want into that aspect….and I would also say that if the invite is not important to the couple, than that’s okay too if the couple invests little time in it, because that choice also aligns with the couple’s values (ie. the message could be “as a couple, we don’t care about these invites and we regard them as just a functional thing to convey basic information”)….if that makes any sense?

      And congrats on getting your invites all sorted out! That felt like a huge step for us and made things feel real.

  • Mara


  • Margaret

    The emotions made the project management side of it hard.

    I’ve done a lot of events in my career, many more complicated than my wedding. I’m really good at producing events. But my emotions, and those of family, made the logistics occasionally more complicated than they should have been.

    • Remy

      I find that I have more problems with my emotions getting in the way during work projects. Usually it’s because I feel strongly about a project, or at least its success reflects on me and affects my job and my larger quality of life (all true of marriage, of course!), but the difference between it and wedding planning is that I don’t like my coworkers nearly as much as I do my partner! When they get on my nerves, there’s nothing to balance out the aggravation. When I’m planning wedding stuff with my sweetie, we team up against the aggravation, and that helps a lot.

      • Margaret M.

        Oh, I get that, totally. I am always emotionally invested in my work which, to be honest, often makes things so much harder for me. But getting married was like a whole other kettle of fish. At least for me.

        I’m glad you have your sweetie to help you out, that’s a good thing to notice and appreciate!

  • I found wedding planning to be incredibly difficult, even as a list maker and planner. I am not an event coordinator, so I didn’t think about things like how many napkins I needed to order and how to decide on the diameter of tables for cocktail hour, which are actual issues that came up in my wedding planning. Each step of the process involved a lot of discussion. Our budget was small, so there was a lot of stress every time we had to make a decision, because each decision impacted what we could do in other areas. Lists can’t account for things like your dad deciding he can’t make it at the last second and the emotional toll that can take on you, or when your soon to be stepdaughter asks 2 weeks before your wedding if we can talk about the possibility of her moving in with us.

    I think that amount of emotion and stress involved in wedding planning varies from person to person depending on all the variables of your wedding and your life. I found the first post frustrating because it tapped into my fears that perhaps if I’d just worked a little bit harder, I wouldn’t have been so stressed out, or if I’d just uninvested in some of the details I cared about, I could have done better. Not everyone is able to divorce emotion and stress from planning a huge life event, and I’m glad to see this counterpoint.

  • Megan

    Thank you so much for writing this. It was exactly what I was thinking about last night when I was having a planning crisis. I feel like our wedding has become too much about “to-dos” and not enough about “what does it mean?”

  • Interesting. As someone who isn’t a project manager by trade, but has done this sort of this with volunteer organizations, I can see where something can be a “to-do” list and still have important meaning. I am on the planning committee for a youth leadership group (and, um, OK – where are my fellow Outstanding HOBY alumni/volunteers? I KNOW FOR A FACT I am not the only one!), and a lot of our “to do” list stuff has A LOT of meaning.

    But it still needs to get done. Completing a task and crossing it off a list does not necessarily mean that it wasn’t something important, with a lot of emotions tied in. I can see where couching it as “project management” might make it seem like it’s being viewed that way, but not so. At least, not for me. Rather, by looking at it from a more pragmatic/practical standpoint (as if I was planning a party to celebrate an important event, rather than Planning a Wedding), it helped me to compartmentalize what meant a lot to me vs. what really didn’t. It also helped me to reconcile the decisions I didn’t so much like, but I made as concessions for other people (because you can’t always have your way on everything).

    By doing this, I was able to sort through the important stuff. Like, for example, increasing the line item on our budget for wedding rings, because C and I both thought it was worth it to spend money on rings that we loved. Or choosing a ceremony reading that fit our personalities and what we wanted to say to one another and to our loved ones. Or booking the bagpiper, which for me had very significant meaning. It all still required due diligence and follow through and, in some cases, tough conversations.

    At least, that’s my take on it – I don’t think the two ideas need to be mutually exclusive. However, everyone’s planning style is different, and my planning style won’t necessarily work for someone else.

  • Totally, totally, totally. Totally.

  • Yes! This pretty much sums up the part of the list we’re on at less than 60 days from the big day. This is my second wedding. In many ways almost a second lifetime as I am approaching 40 with the planning of this one and I was barely 18 at the onset of planning my first. The to-do’s look the same, but the gravity is weightier, and what it all means sans the blissful ignorance of the first go round is HUGE. Thanks for this post!

  • Teresa M

    I agree. We just had a moment like that this evening. On our list: decide who comes to the rehearsal dinner. When I sat down to do it I said “Dane, we can’t deal with 2 gigantic parties 2 nights in a row! We’re introverts! You’d die and I’d be tired and mean!” and we thought more about that. And realized it was important to pick our attendants first and not just do things to get them done.

  • Mel

    THIS is how I feel!!! YES!

    Logistical things and mood boards and timelines and etiquette don’t bother me. That’s fun stuff. But I can’t for the life of me choose a CITY to have my wedding in, or what TYPE of wedding to have (elopement? intimate? huge? outdoors? brunch, or dinner?), because of all the deeper things associated with those choices and what they say about my values.

    This post just took what I didn’t know I’ve been struggling with this whole time, and made it make sense. You are brilliant and I feel less crazy now!!

    • kathleen

      Oh Mel, I’m so glad! I’m quite happy to host the crazy party– we will all pace and ask a lot of questions and reflect and re-circle around the big questions posed as small decisions. Wishing you much luck and clarity in your planning!

  • I can’t exactly this enough.

  • Entropeanut


    I’m a good list maker, but have somehow struggled immensely with my own wedding lists. Think you’ve hit it right on the pin with the “what does it mean?” discussion. Honestly, I think I’d be so much more efficient planning any wedding that is not my own.

  • Jenn Blesh

    How can you say that project management and wedding planning are not the same?
    You have a budget you have to adhere to, do you not?
    You have a legally binding contract that outlines the work to be done that you and your client signed, do you not?
    You have a schedule and deadlines you have to adhere to, do you not?
    You have to approve work done by the other people hired to do work, aka the florists, the cake, decorations, etc, do you not?
    You have a client to answer to, do you not?

    Yes, deep down at the root of wedding planning, it IS very similar to project management whether you want to see it or not. The biggest differences is as project managers in a business world outside of what wedding planners do, we do not carry emotional baggage nor do we wear our hearts on our sleeves when we do our work.