Zen: Embracing the Nonsense

I’m at the age when pictures of the weddings of friends and friends of friends are almost a daily feature on my Facebook feed. I was looking through some of these recently when it hit me—that all too common feeling that strikes the planners of weddings and followers of wedding blogs. I wanted someone else’s wedding.

The bride and groom, acquaintances from university, had planned their wedding in about four months. It was the simplest of simple weddings—it took place in an undecorated hall; the bride wore a red cheongsam and a tiny white birdcage veil; there was a desserts table laden with homemade cakes baked by loving friends, some of whom had flown in at short notice from distant places to be there. At the end of the day the bride and groom put on their helmets and departed on bicycles.

I don’t envy huge frilly weddings, as much as I enjoy attending and looking at pictures of them. It’s the simple ones that make me side-eye our plans for a bi-continental, guest-list-in-the-hundreds, two-week wedstravaganza. Oh, to have had the boldness to be simple! I say to myself. Why didn’t I have a bare-bones ceremony at the registrar’s office, followed by an unfussy meal at a local restaurant attended only by close family and friends? How did I end up entangled in the sort of event that requires me to know how to pronounce “boutonnière”?

Planning not only one but two traditional weddings seems to me to involve a lot of pure nonsense. There are all sorts of things I figured were optional—the veil, the traditional long white wedding dress, the tiered cake, the specially hired fancy wedding car, being escorted down the aisle by my dad. I think of wedding traditions as comprising two types—”stuff you’ve just made up” and “actual traditions”—and it seemed obvious to me that these were all the former rather than the latter. I was happy to jettison them.

Except, turns out, the wedding’s not just about me and what I’d like to jettison. It’s also about a lot of other people whom I’m rather fond of, and who have strong feelings on all the things I’d like to jettison. What I think of as “stuff you’ve just made up” might be a really vital tradition to people I love, such that they’d feel something was missing if you had a wedding without it.

I suppose the alternative wedding blog party line would be: “It’s your day—do what you want!” But I’ve had a lot of wants to do with the wedding, some of which were totally random and ultimately fleeting (*cough* elephant topiary *cough*), and some of which have caused squabbles and sobbing. What I need, though, and the whole reason I’m going through with the thing in the first place, is simple.

1) I want Cephas and me to get married in a way that feels meaningful to both of us.

2) I’d like to make my family and friends happy.

There are lots of reasons why simple weddings are lovely and appropriate and desirable—and there are lots of good reasons why I’m not going to have one. Why my weddings, comparatively fussy as they are, will be just right for us. Cephas wouldn’t feel married without a Catholic ceremony; I wouldn’t feel married without a traditional Chinese ceremony; and we both want to celebrate with our relatives and friends, including the ones who wouldn’t be able to fly the 10,000 km between our respective countries for the event. And those relatives and friends have expectations—some of which I’ve fought, much more of which I’ve gone along with.

APW is all about giving yourself permission to dig in your heels and fight for what really matters for you—but also about it being OK to give in, to do the expected thing. Because frankly, life is too short to spend too much time arguing over the hemline of a dress, or the benefits of a selection of ordinary-sized cakes vs. a single multiple-tiered cake.

So I’m letting go of my frustration over what feels to me like nonsense. If it makes people happy, it isn’t nonsense. My mom loved having an excuse to spend weeks hunting for a reproduction nyonya tea set we could use for the tea ceremony. Strange as it seems to me, given that the custom is no part of our cultural traditions, it makes my dad happy to get to walk me down the aisle. Sure, none of this is necessary. But nothing about weddings is absolutely necessary. They’re just a nice flourish. Wouldn’t a flourish-free life, a life of pure necessity, be a bit grim?

The weddings I’m going to have may not be the simple, stripped-down wedding part of me secretly thinks is the coolest kind. But that’s all right. They’ll be messy and unoriginal and boring at intervals, but they’ll be what we need.

Photo: Emily Takes Photos

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  • Bridget

    exactly. to all of it.

    especially: The weddings I’m going to have may not be the simple, stripped-down wedding part of me secretly thinks is the coolest kind. But that’s all right. They’ll be messy and unoriginal and boring at intervals, but they’ll be what we need.

    a weight has just been lifted.

  • Ambi

    Thank you for this. I have daydreamed about all the fluffly pretty details of my hypothetical wedding for years, and now that it is time to actually plan, I feel very strange about them. I personally am giving myself some serious time to sit back and NOT plan anything so I can start fresh and pick out the stuff that I really do care about (be that meaningful ceremony readings or coffee filter wreaths or whatever it happens to be). But I have to declutter my mind of all this wedding flotsam before I can figure out what I want.

    • This is precisely what I have been doing. We are taking it super easy and trying to get as much done way in advance as possible, but not freaking out if it doesn’t work. My only advice is to start the venue search as early as possible. We thankfully found the perfect spot, but that was after weeks of nail-biting budget crunches and overbookings.

      I think the calmer you are about the picking, the better everything will turn out.

  • It’s funny that you envy small weddings for their simplicity. I am finding myself envying small weddings for the details. The DIY diva in me keeps coming up with awesome ideas for a guestbook, or table numbers or escort cards or favors or centerpieces, and then realizing that those ideas are totally unfeasible when multiplied by 250 guests.
    I hate to think that my creativity can’t keep up with the volume of people, but I’m having to accept that sometimes a card box is just a card box, and table numbers are just table numbers. Sometimes I just need an efficient way to organize 250 people, get them seated, with drinks and have food served to them.
    *sigh* repeat mantras, “our guests are adults,” “6 more weeks”

  • Em

    as always, exactly what I need to hear, precisely when I need to hear it. I’ve been stressing lately about all of this — most recently, I realized that the many wedding-related parties being thrown in our honor are literally going to use up every hour of vacation I have, so a honeymoon (other than our post-wedding mad dash across the country by car) is pretty much off the table for the next two years. APW, is it totally crazy to consider taking an unpaid leave of absence to be able to spend a couple days in Belize with my guy after we get married?

    • JenMcC

      I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. I took unpaid time off before I had accrued vacation time at my most recent job so I could go on a family trip, and it was SO WORTH it. Of course, only you can decide what works for you, but a few days in Belize (which is a great place) with your new husband seems pretty worthwhile to me.

    • Paranoid Libra

      Em if you can financially afford that, it’s not crazy too do….hell even if money was an issue, the want to do that isn’t crazy. I was so greatful to have a few days at home before we left for the ‘official’ honeymoon to just decompress and BREATHE from the constant go go go the days around the wedding. A few days to just enjoy your new spouse is wonderful even if its not going away persay.

    • Alexandra

      I agree that if you can financially afford it, then you should do it. In my opinion, working and having a job are things you do so you can afford to have a better life… Not something that should force you to do less with your life and enjoy life less because “you have to work.”

    • Ambi

      I don’t think it is crazy at all, and if you can do it, by all means go for it. But, please make sure it is something your company is okay with. I know that at my current and former jobs, unpaid leave was frowned upon. Since I’ve never had to take it, I really don’t know the details or whether there are official policies about such things. But unofficially at least, it was pretty much understood that you didn’t take unpaid leave unless you had a real emergency and had already gone through all your paid leave and gotten then gotten permission from the bosses to take unpaid leave. This came into play a whole lot with staff members who would run out of paid leave days and then call in sick or put in a leave request for a day off and say “oh, I know it will have to be unpaid, but that’s okay with me – I need to be off.” The issue wasn’t really whether they were okay with having a slightly smaller paycheck, it was that the office had already determined the number of days it was willing to do without that person and given them those days as paid leave, and so when the person starts adding more unpaid days, it could start to create a shortage of labor. It seems small, but if several people do it, it can be a problem. So, in my experience, many offices have policies about unpaid leave, and I’d just suggest you check into yours before making plans. Considering it is your wedding, I would imagine (and hope) that your office is flexible and won’t have a problem with it, but better safe than sorry. :)

      Your HR department should be able to answer this for you very easily, and there is absolutely no harm in asking. I hope you get to take a great vacation!

  • I love everything about this post. I too secretly envied small, intimate weddings but I also wanted to make sure those around me were happy and happy meant inviting the whole gang so be it.

    Love, love, love this post.

  • Sara

    I love this.

    I should preface that I’m no where near ready for a wedding (would need a boyfriend for that!), but when I try to daydream about them, I get caught up on some major flaws in my day dream. I would love to have a small understated wedding. But I come from a large, close extended family and am fortunate to be friends with a lot of amazing people. I’ve already been a bridesmaid five times and two of my closest friends aren’t even married yet. And when I think of not having all my aunts and uncles be there to dance to “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” (which they do at every wedding, and its just completely awesome)…I know I’m going to have to be big. But man, those small, simple weddings with just like fifty people? I’d LOVE that. But when I told my grandma that my friend had 220 at her wedding, she said “Oh that’s a nice small wedding”. So I know I’m screwed :)

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      Maybe this will help you a little, because it did me. I really wanted a smaller wedding (say,50-80 people), but Eriks family is huge, and he wanted them all there, and they would be sad not to have the opportunity. So, 150 for us (and thats the smallest we can do…). I was not completely happy with this. However, I just went to a wedding for one of his cousings, with 350 people. It didn’t feel huge, because so many people were family. I’ve decided to hang on to that mindset. Also, you can have a big wedding without it seeming super extravagant-it’s all in the decor and food choices etc.
      So you can still dream about an understated wedding for several hundred if you want! :)

  • lindsay

    Some of us that had small weddings think to ourselves, “Man, why didn’t I have a big-ass, balls-to-the-walls wedding extravaganza?”

    And we small-weddingers didn’t, for any number of reasons ranging from financial to practical to space reasons to family strife to a desire to keep it small to the fact that your sister is leaving for the Peace Corps and if you want her to be your maid of honor, you have to do it before she leaves.

    I think it’s part of the human condition to, at some point, want what we don’t have.

  • JenMcC

    I too have small wedding envy! My fiance and I have big families and lots of friends we love, so as much as I like the idea of one, there’s just no way we’re going to have a small wedding. But I get so envious of them – how low-key they seem, all the DIY details that are more manageable for 60 versus 200 people, the intimacy. This post was really, really helpful for me, and I so appreciate the reminder that our wedding will be what it needs to be. And it’s okay if what it needs to be is bigger and more traditional that I might personally fantasize about.

    Also, it just helps to know I’m not the only one who gets envious of other wedding – and to know that that envy doesn’t mean I’m planning the wrong wedding. So thank you!

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      I think about all the cool ideas I see, and realize they aren’t really practical for me to carry out at a party for 150 people. However, then I remember that a lot of them would work for any sort of party. This makes me happy. So if I want to make that awesomesauce diy centerpiece/wreath/incredibly awesome decor item, I can do it another time. Same with those ‘big bbq in the back yard with lawn games and a scavenger hunt’ type ideas. I can do them some other time, and it’ll be less stressfull, since I won’t be starting a marriage on that day too!

  • Thank you for this post. My guest list is about twice as big as I would consider ideal to include my FH’s multitude of relatives (whom we love). And we’re also planning a multi-location multi-cultural multi-celebration affair that includes many traditions that are incredibly new for me. But as I think about who’s coming and how much our families are looking forward to this, I wouldn’t change it in order to have the small wedding I’d prefer.

    “So I’m letting go of my frustration over what feels to me like nonsense. If it makes people happy, it isn’t nonsense.” – Exactly!

  • Taylor

    Thank you thank you thank you for this

    When I think of my wedding, which is ending up to be very WIC-y I get a little light headed. We compromised on lots of things: our guest list ballooned from 80 to 130, we’re having the big white dress and tiered cake and country club plated dinner. But we have stuck to some of the core things that mattered to us–we wanted to be married outside, by the lake, and we wanted to be married by a judge, not a priest. We don’t want any strangers to us at the wedding (that 130 person guest list was still cut down from the 200 our parents wanted)

    We figure, in the long run, we can do stuff like invite extra people for our parents, have a ton of booze for our friends, I can wear a veil for my dad. Those things will give them much more happiness than the minor unhappiness it will give us.

    And let’s be real…there is no little unhappiness that is going to tarnish the enormous joy I will feel about *Actually* getting forreal married to the man-friend on that day. So if that means I have to wear a stupid piece of tulle on my head that is gonna make my dad bawl like a little baby with pride? Whatever.

    • kathleen

      Taylor- I think this is a great litmus test: is it going to tarnish the joy of the day? I think there are a number of things that might fall in the yes category, and those are the things to push back on. the no things? yeah, dad crying is a fair trade.

  • kathleen

    oh yes. this this this.

    a list of the types of wedding I’m a little sad I’m not having:
    – elope to paris/spain/costa rica
    – destination wedding with our families in a big house on the beach
    – tiny wedding at super fancy restaurant with our ten closest friends

    i see weddings like this and my heart goes eeeeeeeeee. and then i remember that i’m trading that for a big wedding in my backyard with everyone i love and donuts and boozy root beer floats. those other weddings would be great, but ours is gonna be the bestest.

    • Jen

      ooooooh! boozy rootbeer floats! gotta get me one of those…

  • Every time Bunny and I talk about our wedding plans (can you call them that if you keep changing your mind and don’t actually fully commit to any of them? that’s another issue entirely though) I end up having a twinge of sadness at all the other weddings we’re not having but are also super awesome. Just because you love the wedding that you’re planning doesn’t mean you can’t envy all the other weddings a little.

  • Tattered Notebook

    Exactly. At the end of the day, it’s about what matters to you and your partner and the people you love. Wedding will always be a communal event – it’s not just bilateral.

    For us, we try to keep everything in perspective. For our essentials:
    1. someone to marry
    2. someone to officiate the marriage
    3. wedding church (we’re having a Catholic wedding)
    4. reception venue
    5. food to serve

    As long as we have those five things, everything else is just a bonus. Sure, we’ll still work on our wedding program fans. Sure, we’re still having our DIT quirky invites. But if all the details and cutesy stuff don’t come out as we expect them to. Or we just simply run out of time, energy or money to accomplish everything, as long as we have our essentials, then we’re good to go. :)

  • Kelly D.

    I really hope that I can get to the place that you’re at in terms of letting go. But I’m just not there yet. And the thought of having to please all sorts of people by including things at our wedding that we don’t want to include when all we want to be doing is concentrating on making the commitment to be in a marriage together makes me want to gouge my eyes out.

    I’m going to bookmark this post in the hopes that the more I read it, the more I can learn how to stop digging in my heels as the ride is starting.

  • practical cat

    I wanted to “exactly” all of this. Especially:

    “Except, turns out, the wedding’s not just about me and what I’d like to jettison. It’s also about a lot of other people whom I’m rather fond of, and who have strong feelings on all the things I’d like to jettison. What I think of as “stuff you’ve just made up” might be a really vital tradition to people I love, such that they’d feel something was missing if you had a wedding without it.”

    I think that’s the big thing I learned in my planning… and I applaud you for having figured it out before your wedding (I only really got this in retrospect).

    Also, to EM: absolutely not crazy. it’s worth the lost income to have a few days off, if you can swing it.

  • woo… it looks good ,thank you for your post !

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