Your Wedding Is Not A Show

I’ve heard a lot of talk on APW lately about people’s fear of being the center of attention on their wedding day, and I thought we needed to chat. Because here is the thing: the whole wedding industry is built around this idea that the wedding is a SHOW, and you are the STAR(s). Which… of course that’s enough to make an introverted girl freak out. But more to the point, we’re so stuck in this idea of the wedding as a show, that we put a huge amount of thought, energy, and stress into the idea of entertaining our guests.

But here is the thing: Your wedding is not a show.

Before we get into this, let me just state my biases up front. Both David and I have our degrees in theatre and co-produced several shows, and a gala. And, for the record, I have never, since the beginning of time, been scared of being the center of attention. But. But. I did not feel like the center of attention on our wedding day, and it was wonderful.

Weddings are about two things, and we only ever talk about one. Weddings are about everyone gathering to see two people make vows of lifetime commitment, and to celebrate that. But weddings are also about something else – they are about old friends and family getting together, sharing stories, catching up, hugging, laughing, talking… and making new friends, and creating new memories. The two of you are the reason why everyone is gathered together, but (blessedly) when a wedding goes right, it is about so much more than the two of you. The secret is that a happy wedding looks like this:Or like this: The bride and groom are not the center of attention, but they are the reason.

So if your wedding is not a show, or a constant-entertainment-marathon, you don’t need to worry if your guests will be bored if you don’t provide *something to do* (croquet, board games, scavenger hunts, mixers, dancing, mad libs, god knows what), you don’t need to worry about finding a substitute for dancing if you don’t want to have dancing (as David wisely weighs in, “There is no substitute for dancing. You either have it or you don’t. That’s it.”) Because this is what no one tells you: no matter what you provide for your guests to do (we provided dancing) many, many, many of them will want nothing more than to sit back, to talk, to laugh, to reminisce. I know our wedding was successful because we have pictures of old friends, hanging out, looking like this:So be showy if you want to (I understand showy). Provide entertainment if you want to (I understand entertainment), but remember, in the end if your guests decide what they really want to do is laugh, and drink, and tell tales? You’ve done your job. One day, in twenty years, the story they’ll be spinning will be the story of your wedding. And there will be laughter, and faraway looks, and maybe even a few happy tears of memory.

So don’t worry about being the center of attention. Because you’re not really. You’re just the center. And that will be enough.

Title photo by Lauren McGlynn, next two photos by the always fabulous Lillian and Leonard, bottom of our wedding by One Love Photo

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  • I needed this post this morning….thank you!!

  • Excellent. Thank you. We did not have dancing at our reception. We rented a big tent and went for the family reunion vibe. Most people wanted nothing more than to talk, but we have croquet & frisbee & soccer balls for kiddos and adults alike to play. We had good music playing and it was fabulous.

  • I knew I liked you! Yay theatre majors!


    PS: Your "Creative. Thrifty. Sane" motto is keeping me all of the above in my entire life, not just with wedding stuff! Keep it going!

  • *pat on the back for you Meg!*

    When we began our walk into planning our wedding, I'll admit I was freaked about being the center of attention and talked about it a few times on my blog…but just recently has that gone to the curb. And now I just can't get over how RAD all of this jazz is going to be. I'm PSYCHED about all these different groups of family and friends coalescing for our event!

    My parents are always quick to remind me that their own table-less dinner party wedding was the "favorite" of both families. People mingled..laughed…ate themselves silly…and didn't need an orchestrated musical ensemble, or ice-breakers, or full open bar to have a wonderful experience.

  • Well it's about time someone acknowledge this issue. Thank you! Since we've been engaged, I've been told about all of things we "need" to do in order to entertain our guests. And I kept thinking to myself "this is our wedding, won't our family and friends be happy enough that they're simply in attendance?". But of course, the wedding industry made us doubt ourselves and I began stressing about the entertainment value of our wedding. Which is ridiculous when I really think about it. I like the idea of a family reunion/merging of two families vibe. It's much more us.

  • Great post — I especially like the bits about not needing to stress about entertaining people. But I have to disagree a bit about the center of attention part. I agree that the bride/groom are not always the center of attention, but someone is, always, paying attention to them. Even if the majority of your guests are occupied with conversations, dancing, and the like, there's going to be a significant group of people watching you. And I think that's what makes people nervous — the idea that you're always in the spotlight, even if you don't conceive of your wedding as an elaborate production or show of any sort. But your post is still reassuring to people with those concerns, because you remind them that the attention need not be stressful, that they can just try to relax and mingle, and that their guests have other, nicer things on their minds than watching and judging them.

  • Meg

    maybe our wedding was deeply odd, or maybe I was just otherly focused, but I totally didn't feel watched the whole time…

  • This was good to read b/c I have been stressing a bit. Not over entertainment b/c that wasn't even an option but on if I should provide more food or more alcohol or more of this or that for our guests. But really if they are coming to celebrate our vows and our love does it really matter if we ordered the extra fruit display? I think not. They are presumably there for us and not the open bar. As for being center of attention. Never in my life have I ever been the center of anything and while it not enough to turn me into a bridezilla I must say it does feel pretty good and I can't think of a better reason then to celebrate me and the love of my life.

  • Emily

    I'm a longtime lurker, but I felt inspired by this post to comment…

    I've struggled a great deal with this whole center-of-attention business, though I think my personal anxiety has little to do with being introverted and a whole lot to do with feeling like a burden. It might seem silly, but the entire idea of people traveling from far away, paying for a hotel room, etc just to see us get hitched…well, it all makes me feel a bit guilty. I think that's why this post is so very comforting. I love the idea that we're not the center of attention, but rather the center of something warm and wonderful and communal…and that the wedding becomes as much about our family and friends as it is about us.

    So yeah. Thank you! This blog keeps me sane.

  • After the wedding I did realize that people were paying attention to me, but only because they said things like "you were having so much fun!" and "you seemed so happy!". Not one comment about how skinny my arms were or were not.

    This is also very timely since I just overhead a conversation of some of my best girls, who talked at length about how much fun they had with each other and new friends at our wedding (six months ago). They were recounting stories like it was just a regular old kick-ass party.

    That was exactly what I hoped for. Success!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Meg, I couldn't agree more with you when it comes to receptions – thinking of my experiences at receptions (also helps me realize what plates etc you choose – no one will notice, even detailed people like me)I know people get absorbed into their own groups and just have fun.

    That being said, I still can't get over the fear of walking down the aisle and having all eyes on me, and being in front of people saying my vows. The actual wedding is the part that terrifies me.

    The rest of it I can be okay with – I'm not worried about dancing and dinner and reception (esp because I can choose to not do a grand entrance etc)- I can just be normal. I can deal with attention from small groups at a time, but during the ceremony the bride/groom ARE the center of attention.

    So, I think there is a validity to being concerned with the attention when it comes to people like me who shake and their heart race when speaking up in a meeting at work – let alone getting up in front of all your family/friends and talking about private feelings (something that's hard when it's even just me and my man!. It certainly can be a lot for a super private person like myself.

  • I absolutely agree…perfects post!

  • Thank you for this… it's a needed reminder that this "thing" we're putting together can't possibly fail…we keep referring to it as "the Party", or "the Love Fest", because we want it to be about our extended family, not just us. I get a little bound up with it now and then (what if it rains, what if there's not enough food, what if no one dances, etc), so thank you for being here to help loosen those knots.

  • This is a really timely post for me; We're in the midst our our planning, and have been getting more and more comments lately about "putting on a show." My husband and I love to dance, and we keep hearing from people about how they can't wait to see our choreographed dance routine, or how we must be working on our crowd pleasing/hilarious/highly skillful/painstakingly planned dance steps. Which has given me some feelings of guilt re: what we want to do (pretty much just dance like fools!) versus what we "should" do. Thanks for this affirmation :)

    I don't post comments very often, but I read this blog everyday, it's such good work Meg.

  • I feel ya, Anonymous.

    I'm really, really nervous about exchanging vows in front of everyone. I have terrible stage fright and visibly shake when I'm nervous. Forget the red face, quivering voice and lack of memory.

    The logical conclusion appears to be to have an intimate ceremony . . . but here's the kicker – I want those people to be there, watching and supporting us as we get married.

    So yes, the reception is not the "bride and groom show", but the actual marriage ceremony is. And that's what I refer to when I say I'm nervous being the center of attention.

  • Meg

    We can talk more about the ceremony, but in sum: you have lots of options, and it feels very different than you think it will… I've been in a lot of shows, and that is only 10 percent of how it felt to me… The rest was… Something else, something intangable. More later…

  • Frances

    thanks meg *hug*

  • Jen

    I am definitely nervous to stand in front of everyone and say meaningful, from the heart things. But I want that to be part of the day, so we are working on ways to minimize it. One idea I had is that me and my dude will meet each other at the aisle and walk down together. It will help me feel less nervous and get rid of that 'giving away' part that I don't like. We might also say our vows together "Do you, John and Jane, yada yada blah?" "We do" or something.
    There are options!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks – Sorry for veering in the ceremony direction. I wasn't trying to disagree with what you said, because I think it's spot on when it comes to receptions. I just wanted to kind of justify where I (and assuming others) were coming from with the being the focus.

    @Rianne – I totally feel you. I work as an event coordinator (lots of wedding) and I am constantly getting, "well your wedding is going to be so great – we're expecting big things!" It's hard to be like, well… I don't choose to spend my limited money on what everyone else does, I only care about those things if the client does. If anything it makes me want a more simple wedding.

    but yeah – I understand the pressure you're getting from peoples' expectations…
    but seriously, YAY for dancing like a fool. ALWAYS a winner.

  • Last week my dad came to visit, and my fiance and I cooked a big dinner and we just sat around eating, drinking and talking and laughing all night at home. The next day, we both agreed that's what the best weddings feel like, and how we want ours to be – people who love each other spending a night together having a ball catching up. Thanks for this post!

  • Liz

    there were only 2 points in the whole day where i felt center-of-attention.

    [1] when we came into the reception. but as has been noted in a previous post, the grand entrance isn't a necessity for everyone.

    and [2] when people would do that tap-on-the-glass thing and watch while we kissed. (which is really weird to me, but i didn't think of a way to get around it, and i kind of like kissing my husband anyway)

    the ceremony wasn't all center-of-attention-y because i was more focused on what was happening and the importance of it than all off the faces behind me.

  • @Emily: I felt the same way about being the center of attention (is it something about our first name??) but my bridesmaids and large family have assured me that I am not the center of their universes. Our guests are at least as excited to see each other as they are to watch us, and that's the way we like it!
    Great post, this!

  • I really needed this, thank you! I was a theater major too, way back when, but I've always hated being the center of attention, unless I'm on stage, hiding behind a character. That I can do. But this? A little scary.

  • Well said, Meg!

  • Thank you!!! I am pretty nervous about being the centre of attention on any regular day and I do feel pressure to be perfect on The Day. I've been freaking out about entertaining on a small budget and trying to find ways to keep guests amused because I want them to have a great time. But this has made me think about all the weddings I've been to and, you're completely right, it's not all about the bride and groom. So many great memories are made at the table or on the dance floor or in the ladies loos! Thank you for bringing me back to sanity!

  • fleda

    Yes yes, a wedding is not a show! Or a theme park. Many blogged weddings that I see seem to be heading in the theme park/circus direction.

    BUT I've got to say: I cherish the idea that a wedding is "theatre" in one sense (stay with me here!).

    Theatre (in Western culture) goes back to in ancient Greece, and for ancient Greeks theatre was a ritual that was also an intense emotional experience shared by a community. That's exactly what I hope our ceremony will be: a publicly performed thing that is a shared emotional experience for everyone present.

    Thanks for this post: it helps me think about/explain to my fiance why I'm not keen on scheduled activities and games…

  • Mariana

    This post is amazing. "You're not the center of attention. You're just the center." That's freaking right. Love it!

  • Marisa-Andrea

    This is sooo true. As a frequent guest of weddings, I can testify that me and Chris have certainly attended weddings where all we did during the reception was gab, gab and more gab. I think we might have danced SOMEwhere in there once or twice. But mostly? We gabbed.

  • *nods* While planning my brother's wedding, he kept insisting on having really expensive musicians sing during his cocktail hour. I kept telling him, "people are there to love you and your wife or just hang out with each other. They won't notice musicians. They notice food and free drinks." I convinced him to have 1 entertainer during the cocktail hour. No one watched, listened or paid attention. Money wasted. Instead, people chatted, wondered around my parents yard and drank cocktails.

    For my wedding, we are dragging 25 people with us to Hawaii that don't all know each other. A dance would be silly, so we are doing a luau. It gives us all something to bond over without feeling over programed or too planned. In fact, I have no idea at all what is going to happen when we get to the luau.

    I'm reminding myself for my home reception that we are just throwing a big party. We don't have to entertain people or do anything traditional. A keg of beer, a few pictures from our Hawaii wedding, some cupcakes – bang – everyone will have a good time. I don't even care if people remember that they are there to celebrate "my bliss." I just want to see both sides of my (divorced) family in the same place with my in-laws having a good time. D & I are just the excuse.

    Oh, we are former theatre people. Now current drama-queens and musicians. No centre of attention problems at all.

  • Meg, you did it again! My mother-in-law just got engaged and at 60-years-old, while planning her second wedding, is STILL suffering from the "but you must have…" (Honestly I thought that was the beauty of the second wedding. Don't people EVER back off?)

    I sent her this post today and she just e-mailed me back with the following words:

    "This is exactly what I want!!!"

    You are superb.

  • Like Emily, it's not the idea of being the center of attention on my wedding day that's troublesome, its the feeling that our wedding is in some way imposing upon others that causes worry. But I turned this feeling into a positive for me. Our inspiration for the mood of our wedding is a night we spent in a bar in rural Wisconsin with my almost all of my fiance's family during a family reunion. We drank and danced and sang along to the jukebox and just celebrated all being together for the first time ever. It was a blast. Since we made this conscious decision, the worries about imposing on others have just melted away. If we're trying to make our wedding similar to a time that was so much fun for everyone, how can that be an imposition?

    I would recommend this approach to anyone who is struggling with feelings that their wedding is a burden on their guests. Not that you have to make your wedding feel like a night out at the bar, I know that's not for everyone, but think back to a family reunion or other time where everyone had a great time, and remind yourself that your wedding can provide the same kind of experience!

  • Oh and just throwing this out there, but worth considering nonetheless – I went home for Christmas and was visiting with an aunt and uncle and was surprised to find that my uncle had videotaped our wedding ceremony and parts of our reception. Cool, right? Fun for posterity's sake, no?

    NO. But because they are sweet people who I love very much, I buckled to my aunt and uncle's insistence that I watch our wedding video (only three months after it took place, mind you). It was awful considering our wedding as something that could be watched for entertainment value. It was such a deeply personal experience that watching it with my family (who were all there at the time) sort of felt a little bit like I'd been watching porn and they'd walked in on me getting a little too personal. Can't figure out exactly what it means, but I think it definitely signifies that I will not have a camera in the delivery room when THAT day rolls around.

  • Meghan

    I remember a few days before my wedding walking the dog with my sister and all of a sudden thinking, "holy shit", everyone is going to be staring at me and I forgot to go on a diet and never did the push-ups so I could have skinny arms and haven't tried on my dress recently what if it doesn't fit and I tried to figure out a way out of being up there in front of everyone. I told my sister this and she just laughed. And I laughed. And it turned out ok.

  • April

    FABULOUS post, Meg. Months before the wedding, I remember feeling SO scared about being "front and center" for our reception. The smart fiance (now husband) said, "Well, you won't be. Not with 65 other people dancing around like teenagers." Good point.

    We didn't have games, or a photobooth, or a guestbook, or any other "entertainment". We entertained each other. And we danced. Oh, how we danced!

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    Did I ever tell you what my uncle said when my Mum told him we weren't having dancing?

    "What does she expect us to do? Sit around and talk to each other?"

    Um. Yes. That is exactly what I expect.

    The centre of attention thing is weird. I never had a problem with it but equally the ceremony was the only 'performance' bit of our wedding, there were no speeches, no first dance, no grand entrance. Nye however HATED it and dreaded it and wanted to elope for that very reason. But I think in the end the only bit he was really uncomfortable with was standing at the front before the ceremony, once it was under way he was fine. Not quite oblivious to it, but fine and by the end of the meal and the start of the Talking it really didn't feel like it was about us any more, it was about everyone having a party.

  • I LOVE THIS POST!!! I will come back and read it again and again!!!

  • Nina

    To the first Emily, I TOTALLY understand about the stress of "feeling like a burden." Several friends have to travel far and even though consciously I realize that they are choosing to come because they want to be at our wedding, I still feel this great responsibility and guilt over it. It is a nice reminder to hear that while our wedding is bringing them here, they are also coming to reconnect with friends and have fun. I'm not solely responsible for them having a great time!

    Thanks for the calming words Meg… I'll have to re-read this post in a few months when the wedding is close and I'm feeling extra jittery.

  • handmade romance

    nicely put. i am introverted and the center of attention freak-out thought has crossed my mind while beginning to plan our wedding. this is just what i need to hear – a little perspective goes a long way!

  • Marisa-Andrea

    @ Erica, I had some of the same issues when it came to our wedding especially since we solicited a lot of help and I felt like, "Gasp! You can't invite people to a wedding and them ask them to WORK?!" Now if that isn't an imposition, I don't know what is. This is what I have learned: The people who love you and care about you will not feel like your wedding is a burden or an imposition. They will be thrilled that out of all of the people you could have invited, you want THEM. The people who do feel burdended — eh. You are always going to have someone who isn't satisfied. Your fear and feelings are valid, but I think on the whole, you will be pleasantly surprised by how NOT like an imposition your wedding will feel. Cheers :-)

  • Sarah

    hmm… i am wondering if somehow this post was somehow inspired by my comment on your previous entry about the grand entrance…? while i do feel that the wedding is somewhat of a production that i am in charge of orchestrating, i do know that not always everyone will be constantly watching me. at the same time, i do agree with Bookbag's comment that at some point in time, someone will always be looking at the bride and groom (even if the majority of people are not). however, i also agree with you when you said that there will be lots of other touching and awesome moments going on around us, that have nothing to do directly with us. for me, it's bringing together the 2 very separate sides of my family (my parents have been divorced for pretty much all of my childhood) and for one day, getting to pretend that i have a "normal" family… lol (b/c who's family is really "normal" anyway??), but i seldom get the experience of having so many of all the people that i love, and love me, all in the same place at the same time. i hope, that as you say, it will be a wonderful shared moment of communal love that will last for many years to come!

  • Cate Subrosa

    Yes, yes, yes.

    I am always trying to explain to people that one is supposed to arrange (at least a small) gathering for one's birthday, not because it will be the most enjoyable occasion of the year (for the party-thrower at least) but because it is THEIR TURN. We all need to celebrate our birthdays so that we can all get together and celebrate periodically. It doesn't matter how you feel about turning 27, or 32, or however old you are.

    A wedding is a huge, much more important version of this. Weddings are the big events in everyone's lives, and if you're lucky enough to find someone you want to share yours with, it's your turn to host a party so we can all celebrate.

  • Sara A.

    Thank you. Would it be weird to write you an thank you note or email or something after the wedding for being a pillar of strength in the circus tent of wedding planning? Because just when I reach my most obstinate, I read a post like this and remember why we are having a wedding and not an elopement and a party after.

  • I really needed to hear this, as someone who is freaking out about being the center of attention.

  • Anna

    The purpose of guests is not to have an audience. Guests are invited to a wedding because, ostensibly, they are friends and family whom the couple, and those hosting the wedding for the couple, care about. If it is just about the couple, there is no reason to even invite guests. One good rule of thumb is, don't invite more guests (or have more wedding attendants) than you have the time or resources to care about and for. Reality, compassion, caring, inclusion, simplicity are more important than how things look. Adjust your plans to fit your budget.

  • Meg

    Right. That's what we're discussing. Are you new to the blog? Show yourself around. We've been discussing this for the last two years.

    Please don't condescend. This is a group of smart, kind, thoughtful, patient, and polite women. They don't need one more person assuming they don't have their heads on their shoulders. They do.

    • Sarah

      I don’t think she’s trying to be condescending. I think she’s providing her own perspective, which really is consistent with what other people here are saying. She’s agreeing and elaborating.

  • Interesting post (as always)! Not what I expected (projected?) given the title. Any references to putting on a good show that theatre-nerd hubby and I got were in reference to performing our ceremony or first dance, not to entertaining at the reception.

    We were adamant that our wedding was not going to be a performance, not because we have trouble being the centre of attention, but because we felt that expectation of performing would take away from the genuine honesty we wanted to feel while saying our vows, and throughout the day.

    Specifically because we're theatre nerds, we didn't want to be acting when we made such solemn vows. It was definitely a struggle and took a lot of focus and mindfulness.

    Can wait to see what comes in the "more later" ceremony-related post!

  • This post is a perfect way of explaining a perfect wedding. I will be sharing with my fiance. :)
    Thank you.

  • Not a show! Genius. Reminds me of something I stuck to my guns on. I knew I did not want a "grand entrance" (because it would feel like a show to me). Our caterer's "coordinator" kept pushing back and all I could say was, "They know who we are" (and "I'll be the one in the white dress"). For us, it made everything feel more normal to just go on in and start mingling with our loved ones.

    Someone mentioned the aisle walk…I was a little nervous about having all eyes on me then, but it was the happiest experience of my life. I don't know if a lot of people just look at their spouse-to-be while walking, but I couldn't stop smiling and trying to make eye contact with people. It didn't feel like I was on display…I could feel all the love and support from everyone in the room.

  • Bridette

    Ok – I love you! I know I just met you today through blog link to blog link but I love you.

    I am terrified at being the center of attention. My fiance loves it. i tried taking out all the parts that make you the center – I nixed the king’s table, cake cutting, bouquet toss..everything, because i didn’t want to stop the party. I wanted to hang out with people and not be forced to do something at a time that didn’t feel natural. Fiance wants to be the center of attention and do all of it. Makes sense…bigger permutation of our normal selves. I like to sit and talk with people at parties, he likes singing – invited or not ;) Thank you for posting this – Made me feel much happier.

    • meg

      (I think he should sing… shhhhh…. surprise sing).


    i totally agree!

    This is what i’ve been trying to explain to people who then look at me with eyebrows raised and most likely refer to me thereafter as the ‘anti-bride’. From my experience of being to too many weddings where I feel like I bought tickets to a show, I strongly beleive that the “bride and groom are not the center of attention, they are the reason” theory of a wedding is the way to go.

  • Thanks for this Meg! I just stumbled across it and it is EXACTLY what I need to read right now!

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  • annejieun

    The second wedding celebrant whom we met, had a day job as a marketing major and we could clearly hear his marketing point of view when he said (directly), ‘your wedding is like a show’. He had ideas regarding ‘the guests will be disappointed if it is too short’ and ‘we’d like them to experience x/y/z emotion’. He had come highly recommended by our wedding planner, who it turns out, was his student at Uni. Suffice to say, we did not hire him.

  • Alyssa M

    /tears OMG this is so what I needed to read… I’m super glad someone linked here in comments on another article.

  • albert

    Regarding all aspects the blog was perfectly nice.
    live tv

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