The Wedding Industrial Complex is a fickle beast with its judgement switch always in the on position. I get it. I was a bride once too…and actually planned two weddings because the first one had to be canceled due to Hurricane Ike!
Even if you’ve never heard that term, if you’re in the thick of planning a wedding, you intuitively know what it means. It’s the societal obsession with anything having to do with weddings that can suck a newly engaged couple into the never ending cycle of wedding/bride/groom shaming causing them to fold and provide a party to the political figureheads in their lives rather than serving their marriage from day one.
Whew! That was a mouthful!
Having been on both sides of this phenomenon, I’ve learned a lot about what is important to couples and their families in the short and long run and how to serve those concerns in a meaningful way. But before I get to far, let me share a story….
At a wedding consultation, the couple that was booking me casually mentioned they had looked into eloping. Not the run off without telling anyone kind, more of a planned elopement, now often referred to as a “micro wedding,” with immediate family only. They really wanted to have a small destination wedding, but that wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t inquire much further because it’s my job to make the wedding they are planning the best it can be, and not to commiserate with them over the wedding they wanted.
A month before the big day I met with the Bride one more time to go over some generalities. I could see the stress on her as I set down a piping hot cup of coffee. “How are you doing?” I asked. She was exhausted and frustrated. After we had settled into our conversation she said one of the most devastating (and yet true, more often than not) things I’ve heard to date. She said, “Our wedding isn’t even about us, it’s just a show for everyone else.”
Are you already noticing that your wedding has become more of a political issue than a loving celebration? This is what was on my bride’s mind when she was thinking about her wedding day, the first day of marriage to her love. The evil and ever present Wedding Industrial Complex had struck again, leaving anger, frustration and sadness in its wake.
I’d love to say that these kinds of statements are a rarity, but I hear them fairly often. Even couples that have been married for years will tell me, if they had it to do all over again, they’d cut their guest list in half, and chill out about “the details” in favor of spending their time (and money) more meaningfully.
With that in mind, I’ve come to realize there are 4 basic rules to keep you from getting sucked in to this same downward spiral. If you’re newly engaged you can implement each of the items below and really tailor a day that brings you joy and comfort. If you’ve already been planning for awhile, with vendors booked and money spent, you can still take the truth of each tip and apply it to decisions going forward.
1.) Realize the “wedding” is the ceremony ONLY. What about the reception, you might be thinking. The reception is the party that comes AFTER the wedding. A reception is not mandatory for getting married. The only things you need to get married are your partner, some kind of officiant, a witness (the officiant can also act as a witness in many locations) and a license. BOOM. MARRIED. How many people are you REALLY CONCERNED about seeing you get married? Let me rephrase that…how many people will be personally invested in the success of your marriage? For most of us this list wittles down to parents, grandparents, siblings and a few best friends. The marriage happens at the ceremony. The ceremony is the most important part of your wedding day.
2.) Think about WHAT YOU REALLY WANT before you look for inspiration or talk to vendors and otherwise start planning. I recommend having this talk with your fiancé first. Think beyond the “details” to things like, how you want to feel, moments you want to experience and traditions you want to share with your guests. Write down your ideas in as much detail as you can. For example, one of my couples wanted 15 minutes of completely alone time after the ceremony, so they added an hors d’oeuvre to the cocktail hour to keep guests happy!
Once you have a clear vision for the important moments, I recommend making a list of big ticket items you’ll likely purchase for your wedding. Venue, wedding dress, tuxedo, rings, decor, bouquets, boutonnieres, DJ, caterer, bartender, honeymoon package, etc. Make two copies of your list (or hit the link below to download our pre-made worksheets). Keep one for yourself and give the other to your partner. Separately (without discussing it first), look over the list and rate your TOP 5 most important items in order by priority. Your top priority should be rated #1. Then, cross out your 5 LOWEST priorities. Once you’ve each done that, you can compare notes.
Maybe you both crossed out wedding cake, meaning you can go ultra simple and use the savings toward one of your priorities. Deciding first how you want to spend your time and the emotions you want to make room for on your wedding day will help guide all your financial decisions. Knowing that cutting the cost of the centerpieces will allow you to have the DJ for an extra hour so you can party longer with your out of town friends makes the decision easy because you had pre-planned how you wanted to spend your time. Just remember…time and emotions, then money… so you can fully plan the day rather than just book vendors and hope it all works out.
Download our free Wedding Priorities and Ideas Workbook and see where your priorities overlap!
3.) Be very candid with family and friends who might have been hoping for, or expecting something different. Openly and candidly share with them, “we realize that you might have been dreaming about a different kind of celebration from the one we are planning. There is an immense amount of pressure to have a certain type of wedding which just makes it about everyone else rather than about us and our union and we don’t feel comfortable starting our marriage that way.” Be firm but kind and try to come from a place of understanding. When your parents got married, weddings were not so free form and boutique as they are now. They might be in a situation of living vicariously through you, hoping to plan the kind of wedding they would have loved, unknowingly putting you in a situation you feel overwhelmed by.
My own mom hates the water and I am a water baby married to a water baby. We had a nautical themed wedding. A few years later I was helping my mom and dad plan a 35 year anniversary wedding of their dreams complete with a Cinderella theme and pink chair sashes. Your wedding day is not a day to plan a party that will appease your parents or friends. In fact, the venue, centerpieces and mashed potato bar should be the things that your loved ones are least concerned with. It is 100% okay to tell a family member or friend that is putting on the pressure that they are making you feel uncomfortable, less than, or pressured. Don’t be mean, of course, but be honest and forgiving and then stick to your course.
4.) Be forthcoming with your vendors from the beginning about EVERYTHING. Tell them your budget, your ideas, priorities (your top 5 from #2), what you don’t care about (your bottom 5 from #2), special considerations, everything. Tell them those sweet moments you are dreaming about (especially your photographer 🙂 They are dying to know that you want to share a special dance with your grandparents, or you’ve got a fabulous day of brunch planned for your wedding attendants.
Vendors are there to serve you and your vision. They are not there to try to trick you into spending more or doing what they want. If a vendor is not listening to you or is pressuring you, find a new vendor. Most vendors that I have worked with genuinely care about their couples and want to do good by them. A wedding, whether there are only two people or 200, requires teamwork to create. It might not seem like your florist needs to know about your photography goals or your invitation suite design, but sharing details from one vendor to the next can actually help inspire them.
Perhaps your florist, upon seeing your invitation, can help you choose a flower that matches the artwork. Or maybe your caterer can recommend a timeline for the dessert bar that gives you 15 minutes of alone time at sunset. Each vendor is looking at your wedding through their own professional and artistic lens, so the more information and detail they get from you, the easier it will be for them to serve you, maybe even in more ways than you expect!
Happy marriage day planning!!!
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