In 2017, my husband and I will be married for 5 years. We often look at each other and declare in amazement how fast everything has gone.
The popular phrase is a wedding is one day, a marriage is a lifetime. We can have debates about the relativeness of that phrase for today, but I think it holds true when one considers that a wedding is just one day and the relationship is the thing you continue to work on together for the days to come.
I bring this up because having been married myself, attended a fair amount of weddings of family and friends, and lastly, being a part of the celebration as a florist, I feel like I might have some insight to share. I mainly do this because already 2017 wedding season is started. Inquiries are coming in. Over the last few years I have watched couples deal with the stress of planning their "big day" and feel moved by compassion to share some thoughts. I'll even share a few of my own wedding lessons learned.
First, step away from the Pinterest boards (the magazines, the wedding shows, etc)!
Now that you've stepped back and your eyes feel less glassy, turn to your partner and ask "What really matters to us? What are the things we love? What do we want to share with our dearest and nearest and how do we want them to experience the day? And how do we want to experience it?"
I think its hard for people to start with things like colors, themes, etc because well, its not very natural to label your life that way. Instead, think about the atmosphere, the feeling. Do you want a celebration full of laughter, hijinks, surprises and celebration? Or do you want it to feel cozy, warm, intimate, with detailed touches? Or do you want to be barefoot, dancing, outdoors, and comfortable? Or anything in between? When you have the "feeling", then you can move to the "stuff" and will be able to ask yourself, "Well, this dress is beautiful, but will I be able to do the limbo in it?"
For our own wedding, we knew that we wanted something more casual and whimsical, but still classy. We wanted it to be homemade and local, but well crafted. We wanted people to have enjoy being in a beautiful setting. We wanted to have fun too. And eat. And dance. And we wanted as little waste as possible.
Remember Pinterest, magazines, etc they are tools to help you formulate ideas. They are not lists of what you need or formulas for how to do it.
Don't believe you need all the "stuff".
I have such mixed feelings about the wedding industry because of the pressure to add more and more "stuff" to one's wedding. I got married before Pinterest was really on my radar, but I did have a stash of wedding magazines and google at my disposal. I felt shocked and overwhelmed by what "they" told me I should be having. For Tristan and I, it was fairly easy to shut down those voices because both of us are guided by strong environmental views of "no waste," but it was a slippery slope we had to keep walking up and a lot of noise to ignore while planning.
I also sorta hate the magazines and Pinterest because I feel like couples don't understand how they work. A lot of what you see are not even real weddings--they are stylized photo shoots, which are fun, creative ways for vendors to share new ideas, but also don't really take into account affordability. Second, a lot of the real weddings, at least in magazine, don't discuss the cost. There is only a certain percentage of people that can afford to drop serious money on a wedding. Most of us can't. So if your looking at the photos and wondering why your vendor fees are stacking up at alarming rates, stop and assess what matters. Pull out that decluttering mantra of "does this bring us joy" and I'll add, "does this fit with our vision?"
Everyone has a budget, use it wisely and put your money towards what matters.
Tristan and I love to eat. And even before I turned to farming as a profession, local, sustainably grown food has always been the priority of my household spending. Therefore, it was logical to get the best caterer in our area that served as much local, seasonal as possible. We designed our entire menu with them to feature the best food. We even picked the time of year to get married based on when the best food in the greatest abundance was (August and September). And you know what, we used at least half of our overall budget to feed folks.
So where did we cut? A lot of places, but we were still happy with our finds and purchases. I'll even tell you a secret: we spent $400 on my flowers. I got most of them in bulk from a local florist. I had friends arrange them except some arranged pieces for the wedding party from the designer. They were wildflower type flowers. Things you'd find in the field where we got married: golden rod, asters, sunflowers, yarrow, daisies. That's it. Yes, looking back, I wish my bouquet was a different style, but other than that, no regrets still. That's why I still offer DIY and a la carte in my business. I get it.
What I see with a lot of couples is they want it all and all like the photos. For flowers, I'd always recommend, put your money towards the most important pieces, the things that will be photographed the most and in the places that need the most flower power. For instance, elaborate garlands started trending a while back. They are so beautiful and magical. But a lot of time they can only be used for the 20 minute ceremony and they are done. Designers charge a lot for them because they are tricky to make and have to often be installed onsite, day of. If you are getting married outdoors in a beautiful setting, why not skip? But if your in a indoor setting and its kinda plain, maybe do order it.
When you put money and effort towards what matters, it shows and is memorable.
You have a budget, stick to it. Seriously.
This is a big one for me. I have watched a lot of people plan huge, elaborate affairs that that I know they can't afford. It just crushes me to see it. The worst way to start off a marriage is to start off in debt.
Here's the thing, weddings were meant to set couples up for their new household. In some places, its just an elaborate tradition to basically pass the pot around with the understanding that this time, you get the pot of money and later, you'll help contribute to the pot for another couple. Read Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert who writes an informal history of marriage--she talks about this.
Before you set a budget, look at your personal finances. If you are lucky to have family who will contribute, let it be clear how much and to what extent. I think the average is now between thirty and forty thousand. Thats a lot of money. That's a downpayment on a house in some places! Remember, in the end, your family and friends want to see you happy and settled. Not it debt trying to please some made up expectations. Be creative and clear about your budget. Outline what you can spend on each piece of the day. Share that with vendors. It's not gauche. It just saves time. Be clear with what your limits are and make sure you understand all of the fees, taxes, etc included. Give yourself wiggle room. And if in the end, you want to save some of it to have a rocking honeymoon, don't feel bad, do it!
You don't have to invite everyone (unless you want to).
Who are the people that have had significant impact on your lives? That you stay in touch with? That you would be sad if they weren't part of the smiling faces in the crowd?
I know this gets a little controversial. There's etiquette, etc. There's distant aunties. There's family co-workers. In the end, there will be people that you cannot fit. You may even hurt their feelings. But if they have been married or know someone close that has, they will get it. Its a little harder when it comes to your parent's guest lists, but just kindly remind them of those questions. Weddings should not be about tit for tat. I went to theirs so they should come to mine. It should make sense. So if you haven't talked to your university roommate in 10 years, do not feel obligated. If you have to have a small event and you have a large family or social circle, suggest all going out for drinks, or dinner, or meeting up at a park. No presents, no obligations, just fun social time celebrating. I attended a wedding this summer where they had their reception on a Friday and a get together at a park the next day. The wedding was smaller. The park party was a potluck and anyone and everyone was invited. It was perfect.
Emotions will run high on this, but remember, who do you love and want to be there to celebrate?
Traditions are only meaningful if they have meaning for you too
Another controversial one. I know at our wedding we ruffled some feathers on this one, but lucky for us we were just stubborn enough to do it. And you know what, it paid off ten-fold. By simplifying and just keeping what mattered to us, it left time and room for creativity. People like traditions, but too much makes for stuffy affairs. Also don't be afraid to do something new or outside of your traditional background. Careful taking random religious or cultural traditions, but you know what I mean. For instance, two friends of ours are deeply devoted environmentalists, so they planted a tree as a part of their ceremony. Another green pair had their wedding in a science museum (the BEST!). We incorporated a small part of a Quaker ceremony in our own, which was about community support. We're not Quakers, but we are pacifists and needed something about a community blessing that wasn't strictly religious.
So speaking of religion, now I will proceed to myself into perhaps a deep hole by saying consider not having a religious ceremony unless you are religious yourself or its very important to you culturally. I attended a wedding ceremony where within 1 minute I could tell how deeply uncomfortable the couple was. I turned to my husband and said "they don't go to church do they?" and he laughed and said "never." The next hour we watched them stumble and race through the ceremony and man, did they knock back the beers and relax when they got to the reception. Why? Why?!
I know for some faiths, recognition of the validity of the marriage depends on the proper ceremony. Be compassionate but determined. Explain your reasons to you mom/grandpa/uncle and if they still won't budge, let other family members work on them. Or ask them what really matters to them and try to have a compromise.
Do what you can to take the pressure off.
Do you know your mom/grandma/dad/whoever is going to be a stressed out tyrant the day of? Plan for it. Send them to the spa for the morning. Assign a family member to keep them company.
Are you terrified of the ceremony and don't want to do it in front of everyone? Don't! Go to the town hall and then have another ceremony for your family--at least some of the pressure will be off.
You want DIY, but can't do it alone? Assign willing family and friends tasks. They ask to help. Give them something to do with good directions.
You can't afford X, but you really want it? Hire a friend who does it as a hobby, DIY, ask for discounts from new vendors, be creative.
Etc. etc. Remember, you have never (likely) planned an event this large and complex before. You didn't go to school for this. This isn't a part of your job. Be kind to yourself and find ways to let off the pressure.
Listen to advice, but take only what serves you
I felt like this would be a great one to end it on. Listen to people who have done this before. To their struggles, triumphs and the things they absolutely loved. And then take what works for you and run with it. Leave the rest behind. You've got enough to keep track of. You'll get there and then it will all be over, so make sure you plan to enjoy it? Its the first day of many to come. Its the first work, the first joy, but certainly not the last.