Wedding planning is a very silly thing. But it’s a very silly thing that somehow, in the silliest of ways, manages to prepare you for what comes next.
The whole truth of the matter is that much as we would both like for it to be, this is not our first trip down the aisle.* I was young and I tumbled my way into a big mistake with an embarrassingly Kardashian end. Mark was more traditional, but also young, and gave it a good go. We both made mistakes that we will never make again.
This time, knowing what we knew, we waited until we were sure… until we knew it was right… and we were careful not to rush into anything. Until, that is, it came to planning; and, technically, we didn’t rush into that either.
The day after our engagement we agreed to wait over a year… give it time. We were paying, we were planning, and we wanted it to be perfect.
We considered eloping. We considered a tiny ceremony with just our parents and best friends.
We considered downplaying the whole thing.
But in the end… we decided that we wanted to celebrate. We wanted to celebrate because damnit, we were doing it right this time and it deserved just as much credit as any first marriage. Maybe more.
My first time around is a blur. I was in a tough relationship that nobody was denying was tough. My dad saw a hint of the alcoholism, but my parents were far away and I made a lot of excuses. In my mind, I’m sure I thought I could fix it. He proposed at a time when I wasn’t sure I could stay but I knew I couldn’t go, and the word “no” only meant one thing.
And then there was a party to plan.
But to tell you the truth, I didn’t take on the bulk of the work. My mother might just be the world’s best party planner, and since the wedding was to take place in my home town, I left most of the logistics to her.
I looked at pretty pictures… and, every once in a while, apartments I might move into if I had the guts to jump ship.
The truth is I was miserable, but I was lost and scared and as the months ticked away, the wedding became more real and the decision to leave more impossible.
((Brides, if you ever find yourself here, reconsider. At the very least, share your feelings with someone you trust. Maybe they can help you sort them out. I made a lot of mistakes, but keeping my feelings to myself was my biggest.))
So, here I am. I’m planning a second wedding and wondering how it might be different… or entirely the same… and I’m doing a lot of things for the very first time.
I’m planning. I’m budgeting. I’m thinking about this very big step in a very real way. I’m not considering divorce.
But that’s not to say I’m not still capable of getting carried away.
Planning a wedding… yours, your daughter’s, your first or your last, is a slippery slope. We know what we want going in, but somewhere along the way we start to discover obligations we never knew existed. They might be in our head… but that doesn’t make them any less real.
While Mark and I wanted a celebration, we didn’t want a “wedding.” And if you’re wondering right now where that fine line lies, well, you’re probably right on target for where we went wrong.
The small celebration of family and friends we had envisioned quickly began to grow, and with it our budget began to balloon. I started to have the occasional breakdown… spouting nonsense about “weddings” and what we really wanted, but the truth was I’m not sure we knew. All of this was uncharted territory. We were stuck somewhere between the obligations of tradition and the freedom of the “second time.” And rather than succumb to the (real or imagined) guilt of asking everyone to gather, give gifts… rather than hide… I planned beyond the plan, competing in a race of my own making with the brides in Martha’s magazines… ready to take them on and win… not to somehow make up for the mistakes of my past, but to prove that this event was no less important to my future.
But debt is a pretty scary thing. My mom will be proud to know that her many years of advice have not gone unheard… I truly hate to be in debt. And with a graduate degree in a field that leads even the lucky ones to work at non-profits, well, I am already in enough of the student variety.
As our budget escalated from $20 to $30, $40, $50 thousand, I crashed. We could do it, but was I willing to accept $30 thousand in debt for a day? Could I have eloped and traveled the world and still had money to spare?
This was not going to happen… but I didn’t know what the alternative was.
So we started to think. We could have a private ceremony and small parties with our family and friends at home… but that would still require a lot of money, and a load of extra work. We could elope and send out announcements, but we would miss out on the love and togetherness of our friends and family that only a wedding can provide. That support was important to me… for better or worse.
In the end… after days, weeks, months of worry… the answer could have been there all along, but I didn’t hear it until a note from my sister put it in the only way I could truly understand…
“… take one minute at a time, knowing that you are loved and that this truly is a new beginning and a new life. It will not be without its stressors or its complications and neither will the marriage, but remember, it is the simple stuff that matters.”
It wasn’t about the vintage china or the family style dinner any more than our marriage was about fancy clothes or cars. It was the simple things that mattered. It was about standing across from the man I feel lucky every day to have found and pledging to love him forever. It was about watching his son walk down the aisle and welcome me as stepmom. It was about having the people we love in one place, and knowing that we all make mistakes… but we learn. And we try again. With full faith that this time, we’re getting it right.
We fired our caterer and hired a food truck. We turned major before and after events into casual get-togethers. We focused on the simple… the meaningful… and we changed everything.
I would say, because the planning is not yet complete, that I hope our guests will enjoy this celebration just as much as they would have the other… but I already know that they will. Because it’s not about the party… it’s about the celebration… it’s about the life it begins.
The truth is that somehow, if you let it, planning a wedding can teach you a much bigger lesson. The ups and downs, the compromises, the love, the light, the simple things… they’ll all be there long after the party is done. That’s the stuff that matters. And though I’ve heard the advice a million times, it might be the case that this, like many life lessons, is only truly learned through experience.
It certainly was for me.
* A lot of folks who read this blog are aware of this fact. For those who are not, I’m sorry I haven’t shared sooner, and I hope you don’t feel that I have been dishonest, or held back something critical to your love of the details I’ve shared along the way. I’ve shied away from too many personal details, and will probably always balk at the idea of blasting every last one… but I felt that in this case, the past has truly informed the future… and I wanted you all to know. Who knows, maybe it can help someone… somewhere. I could have used a similar story, once upon a time.
Photo: Trent Bailey Photography