Zen: The Indolent Engaged Person’s Manifesto

If I were a wedding magazine editor, I’d have a feature on What Every Engaged Person Needs When Planning Their Wedding. (My magazine would not refer to brides, since in a wedding usually more than one person gets married, and often the couple is not exclusively female. It would use a time-honoured gender-neutral pronoun when speaking of people in the third person. It would sell five copies, all of them to my mother.)

Top of my list of The Engaged Person’s Essentials would be “indolence.”

Being an epically lazy person is very helpful in countering the mind-control rays emitted by the WIC. More than once, in the course of my obsessive perusal of wedding literature, I’ve come across some charming idea—a decorative elephant made of flowers, for example, or paper lanterns that look like owls. I’ve sat bolt upright in my chair and said, “I must have it.” I’ve spent hours googling elephant-shaped topiary frames.

Then I usually went to bed and woke up the next morning and reflected, “I could buy that topiary frame for £50 and spend the next six months stabbing myself with gardening shears while perched on a throne of floral foam—or I could forget the whole shebang, get a cup of coffee, and read some shoujo manga.”

It’s a delightful way to spend a year and a half planning a wedding. And you get the best of all worlds. When someone asks you to sign up for a 10 km run or collaborate in a limerick chapbook, you have the excellent excuse that you’re too busy working on your wedding. And you totally mean it! You totally are going to fold those 1,000 paper cranes using only scanned copies of you and your affianced’s childhood photos! Except then you get home, realise your favourite “chilled out bride marries charmingly disorganised Bajan dude” episode of Don’t Tell The Bride is on, and decide that nobody would really have noticed the cranes anyway.

Laziness has been working out great for me so far, though admittedly only because Cephas is hardworking and organised and has sorted out all the things people would actually notice, like the food and somewhere to go to the loo.

But recently I came home to Malaysia for a visit, and I’ve run into a snag. The snag is made up of two parts.

  1. My mother is retired, has boundless energy from an organic diet of sweet potato and coconut oil, and seems curiously invested in seeing this wedding come off nicely.
  2. I am having a Chinese wedding.

It’s not like we’re having a super traditional wedding. Even at the time of my great-grandparents, people had started catching on to the fact that a month-long wedding is a pain. But there are certain things that have to be done if your 200-person foodfest is to qualify as a wedding—an irreducible minimum of required rituals to go through.

The difference between me and my mom is that I think we ought to do the minimum, with a couple of flourishes if we’ve got the time. Whereas my mom wants to tick all the boxes, dot every i, cross every t, and maybe make up some new alphabets while she’s at it.

Which leads to things like Trousseau Question.

Mom: “Do you want a trousseau? Before the wedding the bride’s side goes over to the groom’s house to decorate the bridal suite, and they like to hang up the bride’s clothes next to the groom’s clothes in the closet.” [Aside of Cultural Clarification: Traditionally the bride left her parents’ home to live with the groom and his parents.]

Me: “Er, but I won’t be going to Cephas’s house ‘cos it’s a twelve-hour flight and a two-hour train journey to get there. We’re just using my brother’s old bedroom.”

Mom: “Yes, but we’re still going to decorate the bridal suite, right? Where else are we gonna have the little boy bounce on the bed?” [ACC: This is done so the couple will have sons. It’s always mystified me why the Western stereotype of Asians is that we are subtle and inscrutable.]

Me: “Um, I guess so — ”

Mom: “We like to have even numbers for the trousseau, so six sets of clothes, or eight or ten or twelve. You have four days left in the country, so if we buy you three outfits a day we’ll be done!”

I was saved, not by my ineffectual response of outraged squeaking, but by the fact that neither my dad nor my aunts thought a trousseau necessary. My mom relented. We only bought six outfits.

I don’t even feel particularly guilty about this excessive consumption; I’m too busy feeling bewildered and overwhelmed. Having my mom take over as self-appointed wedding planner has been like being overtaken by an affectionate but extremely determined tornado. “Don’t make work,” I keep telling her, in a desperate attempt to get out of having to do wedding stuff—but it’s work she wants to do.

So I’m riding out the storm, and trying to remember the message, repeated over and over on APW and in the book, that your loved ones want to do stuff for you. They want to give you stuff. And you gain merit not only from doing stuff for other people, but letting them do stuff for you, whether it’s celebrating your happiness or sourcing wedding fans for you. (Yes, wedding fans. Don’t even ask.)

Meg says in the book:

It’s easy to get sucked into the guilt of accepting money and to lose track of the fact that your wedding is an important milestone, in which your family wants to be involved and to show their love and support for you.

It applies to every other form of generosity your loved ones offer. People want to be nice to you, I tell myself. Let them. And if that means I have to get off my ass once in a while so I can go look at red umbrellas, why not? I can always catch the rerun of Don’t Tell The Bride.

Photo by: Studio Mathewes Photography

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Cali

    “I could buy that topiary frame for £50 and spend the next six months stabbing myself with gardening shears while perched on a throne of floral foam—or I could forget the whole shebang, get a cup of coffee, and read some shoujo manga.”

    THIS. So, so, so true. Every now and then I find these crazy detailed things that I could do… and I obsessively try to figure out how to do them… and then I decide that, really, it’s just not worth the stress. I figure as long as we have places to sit, food, drinks, bathrooms, and some way for everyone to entertain themselves, we’re good.

    • DanEllie

      I loved this post and wished I’d had more of this reinforcement prior to the wedding – be indolent! Do what’s important to you, and let it go if it’s not important to you, and important to someone else :)

      Having just come through our wedding, happily, joyfully, and most importantly, wedded, I can tell you that I am so glad I did not obsess. I periodically felt “I could be crafting X” but then remembered it needed to be transported nearly a thousand miles and back, and figured that spending time enjoying my fiance and the place we lived was more important.
      During and after the wedding, I’ve heard from many guests that they had a a great time – and I was glad that we found the right space for everyone to enjoy each other’s company and relax, rather than stress about the perfect decoration. People spent more time noticing the location than the flowers I put together with some of my ladies the day before. I’m glad we had flowers, because they make me happy, but I’m glad we didn’t spend more time or money on them.
      We ate, we drank, we danced, we played cornhole, but we didn’t have a table number theme (but people could find their seats). We had clear directions to the site and the area, and lodging suggestions, but trusted our grown friends and family to be able to find their own water and snacks.

      • Zen

        “I periodically felt “I could be crafting X” but then remembered it needed to be transported nearly a thousand miles and back”

        This thought definitely helps me maintain an attitude of determined laziness! Nothing like a continental landmass or two to dampen enthusiasm for floral arrangements.

  • “your loved ones want to do stuff for you. They want to give you stuff. And you gain merit not only from doing stuff for other people, but letting them do stuff for you”

    This has been one of the biggest shocks for me in wedding planning. My engagement has been a big learning lesson in how to graciously accept help and things from people who want to provide it. It’s a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that so many people want to give me parts of their wedding outfits to wear, or are offering their homes as venues or are intent on throwing pre-wedding events for me.

    All of which are things that, in and of themselves, I couldn’t care less about. But letting my loved ones love me? That bit is pretty awesome.

    • Lynn

      I embraced this whole-heartedly during my planning. It took my in-laws a little more to come to grips with it. People came out of the woodwork in the week before the wedding to make sure everything happened nicely. And then people came out of the woodwork to clean it all up afterwards. All of the in-law’s fears about not being able to enjoy the wedding? Never materialized.

    • Zen

      “But letting my loved ones love me? That bit is pretty awesome.”


      • alana

        That said – you may also find some ‘helpers’ may in fact go on and on about how much work they are doing for you (and implicitly, how grateful you should be), such that you may prefer not to let them ‘love you’ in that way!

        We did the vast, vast bulk of everything for our fairly simple wedding – planning, organising, crafting, admin, driving, etc – and had no ‘bridal party’, but we still had one or two people saying how much WORK our wedding was for them (literally, the only jobs we outsourced were the hen & bucks party, collection of any surprise ‘telegrams’, and one of our friends acted as informal MC on the night, to a comprehensive and simple runsheet).

        Memo to people volunteering to help – I’m grateful, but if you’re going to make me feel guilty about it for the next year, don’t bother!

        Wow, clearly I had to get that off my chest…!

        PS – this is connected to the other great lesson of our wedding planning – do NOT expect anyone to ‘get’ the significance of your wedding, especially if they are younger/haven’t been through it etc! Many of your friends will be bewildered by the whole shebang, or not really see the point of it. This is also culturally determined – in my experience, I’ve found that Americans and Australians are much more invested in the meaning and significance of weddings than Brits or Northern Europeans. But it doesn’t mean your non-wedding-minded friends don’t love you!

  • I am crying laughed-so-hard-my-cheeks-hurt-ow tears right now!

  • YES YES YES! Two and a half weeks from my wedding, this is exactly what I needed to hear!

  • So good. So brilliant. It can be extremely difficult to remember that people are doing things for you out of love, not out of pushiness, but it’s overwhelming regardless. Acquiescing has the tendency to be emotionally draining and put stress in all involved, but it often helps our loved ones justify their role in our weddings. And that’s OK. They can freak out, because it makes them feel important and involved. But as long as we keep our heads level and our emotions cool, it creates balance. And a sense of zen, even. (heh)

  • Jen

    OH MY! How I can relate to this! I am glad that I am not the only bride whose laziness seems to be at odds with her mother’s extreme go-getterness when it comes to wedding planning. My mother is recently retired and I am an only child. She is so excited and I really can’t complain as I am so lucky to have such support. Yet, I take her insistence on doing certain “traditions” (and hence investing time and money into making them happen) as completely at odds with my wedding approach. However, as I am not opposed to any of these traditions, but I really just don’t care whether they happen or not, I should probably just realize that her excitement and enthusiasm is her way of being generous. Although I didn’t know I needed the lesson, I find that planing a wedding has taught me quite a bit about graciousness.

    • Zen

      “Yet, I take her insistence on doing certain “traditions” (and hence investing time and money into making them happen) as completely at odds with my wedding approach.”

      Yeah, I struggle with this too, and sometimes feel guilty when I acquiesce — as if I’ve betrayed myself somehow! But y’know, part of my wedding approach is to be nice to my family members and let them have their way (when their way isn’t too wildly unreasonable). I try to keep that in mind! You’re right, graciousness is the word.

  • Kara

    I saw a lovely picture of wine cork escort cards and thought to myself how great it would be. Then I stabbed myself in the thumb, I think we’ll do without.

  • Karen

    I’m all for laziness – and asking “What is going to happen to this stuff afterwards? Go in the trash? Then I’m not making it.” In my way of thinking things need to serve a purpose AND be reusable. My partner’s even talked me out of programs because of the trash bin. I’m even reconsidering paper invites. Who knows what’s next?!

    • I think that’s a good way to go through obtaining things for the rest of life: is it going to end up in the trash next week, or is it going to serve a purpose and be reusable for years to come??

  • “My mother is retired, has boundless energy from an organic diet of sweet potato and coconut oil, and seems curiously invested in seeing this wedding come off nicely.”

    This. This is my biggest fear.

  • Kerstin

    Thank you Zen! I love how your personality shines through this post and I can imagine this all happening so clearly. Very well written!

  • Elaine

    Yes! I am surrounded by incredibly crafty, gifted girlfriends who had beautiful, DIY weddings. I, however, was a little bit lazy and a lot bit apathetic. I was traveling a lot for work, training pretty aggressively for a series of running events, and still wanted to spend time with my fiance and friends, etc. I also knew if I started with making stuff, I’d be a ball of stress for the entirety of our engagement because I have the artistic abilities of a kindergartener and everything wouldn’t look perfect.

    We had an inexpensive, tiny destination package wedding a few hours from home, and other than baking cookies for guests (which, I will admit, resulted in tears), making like two signs using MS Word, and telling the venue to let the vendors do pretty much whatever they wanted within our limited budget, I. did. nothing. I was somewhat worried that my lack of DIY prowess would result in a less personalized experience for guests, but the only comments I got was how great it was that we were so NOT stressed and able to have fun.

    I was a bridesmaid two weeks ago in a friend’s wedding, and she cried the whole morning of the wedding because she was so inbelievably stressed about all of her thoughtfully considered details coming together. Though everything ended up beautiful, I’m sure every single guest at the event would have foregone the flower arrangements, choreographed dance, etc., for her NOT to be in that state, ya know?

    • One of our friends got married a few months before us. She had a total meltdown after the wedding while she was helping clean up. Yes, she was cleaning up her own wedding. She had four ushers (plus me — my now husband was an usher) to do the work for her, but she never wrote a list or told us what to do with anything. I ultimately just walked her out to her car, had her sit down, and told her she could hang out there while I went to get her groom to take her home while we figured stuff out.

      Their wedding was lovely, but I came away with the confirmed notion that I would delegate. Our whole families helped us decorate the day before hand, and I typed lists of everything that needed to be cleaned up afterward. When all was said and done, the only thing I lost was a nice tape dispenser. If that’s the exchange for being able to leave my wedding when I wanted without doing any cleaning, I’ll take it.

    • Zen

      Your wedding sounds awesome! And oh, your poor friend. I hope her wedding went off nicely and that she was able to enjoy it!

  • My dad regularly reminds us that it’s okay to let people do favors for us without feeling the need to pay them back. And, of course, the flip side that we should jubilantly do favors for others without expecting payback. That really helped me out with our wedding planning. I think that we planned a good wedding, but our friends made it great.

    I know your mom can be trying at times (mostly because my mother is too!), but I also think it is lovely that she wants to help. I imagine, with time, that you will look back fondly at all the little touches your mother put on your wedding. It is touching and lovely that she is so excited for your upcoming nuptials.

    • Zen

      My mom is awesome! That’s not say I’m not relieved that I’m now on another continent, rendering it difficult for her to demand my input on wedding fans. :P

  • “…an affectionate but extremely determined tornado” Ha! Love it! I’m hoping that keeping this phrase in mind will give me patience for when my mother arrives and attempts to make up in a few days for my many months of indolent planning.

  • Ceebee

    After spending hours, days, weeks, months, years wondering if things would come together, when the day comes, if you’re happy it will. If you’re not happy, there’s Always a stray bud to pick in any of the flower arrangements.

  • Suzanna

    I love Zen posts. All the time.