We’ll call this edition of BSB True Life: I Was an English Major. Why is this relevant to anything, you may ask? Because when I first got engaged, I did what I have always done when I’ve been excited about something I know little about: I read everything I could get my hands on.
Sometimes it feels like you need to read this many magazines or books to plan a wedding–and then, they don't even say the same things!
In fact, I was ordering wedding-related books from the library so often that the librarians started leaving me voicemail messages saying things like “You have another wedding book available at the circulation desk” or “Wow. You’re going to have the best wedding ever!”
I read everything: books about flowers and cakes and money-saving. For my academic side, I read The Offbeat Bride and The Anti-Bride Guide. The feminist (and semi-anti-consumerist) in me examined Committed: A Love Story and One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding. I was posting wedding trivia on my personal blog at least every couple of days. I read blogs on topics like “choosing the perfect wedding photographer” and “quelling wedding-day drama,” and attended bridal expos. I visited bridal shops and monitored Craigslist daily for The. Perfect. Gown.
I obsessively sifted through friends’ wedding pictures and asked everyone I knew for recommendations on various vendors. Where I couldn’t find personal recommendations, I consulted community sites like Wedding Wire and Yelp.
I learned how to integrate unusual words and phrases like “venue,” “e-session,” “portraiture,” “boutonnière,” “pomander,” and “first look” into my everyday vocabulary.
In other words, I became a major wedding nerd.
But you know what the problem is with this whole process? Weddings, like children, are one of those topics that everyone thinks they have expertise in. Everyone you know has either been married themselves—maybe more than once!—or been to someone else’s wedding. Everyone has a story to tell—and usually loves telling it. Vendors have years worth of experiences and insights. Everyone’s “friend’s cousin’s niece” has a delicious horror story about the photographer who disappeared (oh wait, that was me!) or the fond reminiscence of Aunt Linda’s beautiful bouquet—made even more perfect by the inclusion of Grandma’s locket.
Yet not one of these perspectives comes without bias. Family members may have a personal investment into whether or not you invite Great Aunt Sally and her Band of 1,000 Cats. Friends may be worried about who else is going to be there that they do—or do not!—like. Vendors are people who make their living off of your spending habits, so it’s never going to behoove them to downsell you.
The problem with reading and watching and listening to people talk about weddings is just that—they’re talking about weddings. Plural. Many, or in general. They’re not talking about your wedding. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, they can’t possibly know everything there is to know about you, your fiancée, your beliefs, your priorities, or your wedding goals. Conveniently, they’re also not the ones spending what is easily thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars on this particular soiree.
It’s really easy to get lost in the whole planning process. Even if you’re not particularly interested in cake flavors, monogrammed napkins, chair covers, color swatches, or whatever, other people ask so often about these elements of your wedding that miniscule details can suddenly seem incredibly important. No one, I have noticed, really asks about you—as a person, a woman, or as the partner you will soon be. A lot goes into the wedding-planning process. Sure, there are countless inane details, but there is also a marriage going on. There’s this big commitment happening that is—all at once—invigorating, exciting, terrifying, and reassuring.
There are two people, building a whole new life for themselves—a life that now establishes them as a unit to the outside world. These two people, when all of the wedding guests are gone, will be living that new life, so it should be those two people who set the terms of that agreement.
True wedding personalization—particularly if you are trying to combine it with budget-savvy-ness—is a challenging prospect. Making things uniquely you can be very difficult in a culture that rewards excess and mass-production.
So, before you get too involved in wedding planning, I recommend setting goals for your day. Do you want to get married outside? Is spending the maximum amount of time with your guests most important to you? Do you have particular traditions you want to uphold, or that you don’t value at all? What is most important to you as a couple, and how can you convey that to others (or do you want to)? Being budget-savvy may mean doing without certain extras that others will say you just have to have, but it can also mean an opportunity to integrate this day into your life—a celebration not of a wedding day, but of the lifelong marriage yet to come.