“If you don’t like it, then you/they pay for our wedding….”
I love him to death but my fiancé has said this a few times whenever the issue comes up about our guest count (under 80) and/or the reason for keeping our wedding small. And it drives me nuts. He knows this. But I think he says it more to get a point across because going into the explanation that I’m about to vocalize, well, it’s not really a guy thing to do.
Our wedding is small. 78 guests small. That includes my hairdresser and my DJ and our photographer and videographer (who are all our friends, coincidentally). 80 if you count my fiancé and I. There’s a chance that a few nieces and nephews we think are coming, won’t be there (he has 17 of them, 10 we “know” are coming). Our wedding could very well be 75 or even less.
When we talked about getting married, before we even got engaged, I had voiced (on several occasions) that in a perfect world, we would be married in a secluded place, just us, nobody around, parents as witnesses. It would be private and intimate.
I have a very emotional view on marriage at this point in my life. I never felt this way before about it – and especially not when I was 22 and married the wrong guy. My view on marriage in 2005 was different back then. It was a party, it was becoming an adult, it was independence. And it was a presentation. The dress, the decorations, the food, the whole thing. It wasn’t about a commitment or about a step towards my future with a man I loved. I made a big mistake 8 years ago. Yes the decorations and the dress and details down to the programs are still things that I’ve incorporated into our wedding day, but they are not the focus. They’re just something extra to the day for us. And if any one of those things weren’t there, it would not matter one iota when it all boils down to it.
I’m 8 years older, and after living a fake life with a man who wasn’t who he said he was (he actually confessed he was gay after being together for 12 years), I’ve realized that the little 8-year old girl in me who wished upon a star to fall in love and live happily ever after, she had it right. That it existed. Honest, passionate love. When I was married before … wow … I had no idea. I just thought it wasn’t “us” to be “that” couple who showed any affection at all. Well, I guess in a way I was right … The thing is, I am a very passionate person and a love-sick romantic at heart. I tucked that piece of me deep, deep down and did my best to be a wife and fit the “profile” of the life I lived for a long time with the wrong man.
That's my past.
I’m about to marry the man who, when I was 10, scribbled his name on my notepad with hearts around the words “Mrs Jennifer Stevens” and prayed at night that someday I’d find the man of my dreams and fall madly in love … and that if I was really good, God would make sure that man was John. My John.
20 years later, I’m about to marry that man.
And when I look back on the life I lived for the past 13 years, and know what a love-less, and dishonest life I was stuck in, and as I now battle the PTSD overcoming what happened to me during that time of my life, I can’t help but feel like I lost something. That something was taken away from me. Nothing can be done to change what was done to me or the choice I made to blindly enter into what I felt was a love-less marriage (but we made such good friends, wasn’t that enough?!). It makes me look at marriage differently. The storm I weathered in a terrible marriage for almost 7 years left me battered and bruised … and lost. But it made me believe that my true love was out there. Waiting.
And now, it’s here. It’s finally that time of my life that I get to live the rest of my life with this amazing man who wraps me in his arms and holds me so tight and tells me every chance he can how much he loves me. That passion. That love. That pure honesty. It’s us.
So the 78 people who are going to be showing up, are 78 people that we had to narrow down from hundreds of people in our lives who we would have loved to have with us … except it wasn’t what we wanted. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, and after attending a few weddings and even working several weddings with me as my second photographer for my wedding business, my fiancé saw what I saw.
The public de-sensitization of the wedding.
The bride and groom at the weddings we worked, yes, they were jittery and excited for this moment. There were emotions and tears and the parents were looking on with tears in their eyes during the ceremony. The ceremony was truly a moment between the bride and groom who were committed and the looks on their faces, the look of urgency for that kiss and the nervousness on their faces all showed me each and every time that for them, this was the most important moment in their lives.
But the guests. As I looked around, many preoccupied with their cameras or on their phones (which is why our ceremony is strictly an “unplugged” ceremony – no phones, no cameras). Some even sitting in boredom. Moments where at some point in the night I would hear the bride, stressed out, saying “Why did we even have to invite them?!” or “Ugh this is a nightmare!”. It happens. It’s not every wedding, but it’s more common than I think we’d like to admit.
Even your closest family can get on your nerves but the thing is, as a culture, and as guests, the wedding itself has been desensitized by both media and social media alike. It’s all about “Say Yes To the Dress” or David Tuttera transforming your wedding day into a magical place that is straight out of Hollywood, or centerpieces that stand out and bridal wear for the wedding party that sets the tone. I know – I am just as equally sucked into it. But the thing is, it’s not real. It’s material. Take it all away and what do you have?
A moment where two people are standing together, before God (if it’s their belief) and witnesses to confess an undying and honest truth to one another. That until hearts stop beating, they will stand side by side as man and wife.
Call me crazy, but that little bit right there, brings me to tears. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about the bouquets I made, the great deal on my dress or my hair or the 1,000 yards of tulle that is being used to transform a barn into a reception site. It’s about us.
A tiny guest list may help for a smaller budget, but as I’ve gone through this process, and the excitement over saving a few bucks here and a few hundred dollars there (which no doubt, made me jump for joy!), I can’t help but feel the need to point out what the priority of this day is. Yes, I want this day to look beautiful. But the feeling … that feeling is something we aren’t needing to create or decorate-up. And it’s an intimate and private feeling.
You know it in your heart how important this part of your day is. Your fiancé knows it, too. Not all of your guests are going to see it this way. It’s a party, there’s booze (maybe) and food and dancing. In the world we live in, to most of the guests and the idea from the public in general, a wedding isn’t about the ceremony – it’s about the reception. A fantastic party to celebrate this event, and I totally LOVE that part. Don’t get me wrong!
I had this realization many times over the last 4 months, when friends and family didn’t understand why we were so strict on our guest count. Why we could and would not allow for a cousin or niece/nephew to bring a friend. Why we had to say “no” so many times. Why probably both of our families may look at me and think I may be a bit of a Bridezilla. I had to firmly say no and firmly explain that it wasn’t a question, it wasn’t an option. It wasn’t all about the budget or the numbers … it was about keeping our day just that … our day. This is a private and intimate moment – so who is there to share it with us, that matters.
We are sharing this day with only our immediate family: our parents, grandparents, our siblings and their spouses and children only. A couple of my aunts and uncles who I am close to will be there with my cousins. Our bridal party and their spouses, all very close to us, and 10 couples of our closest friends beyond the bridal party. No more. Unfortunately, a few less. If we started inviting more, it would have turned into 100 …even 120 … the intimate and private moment we both wanted, would be gone.
When I stand at the end of the aisle in that ball gown with my dad and see my fiancé … the man who will be my husband, I know without a doubt that I am going to start have waterworks going like no other. I’m marrying the man I dreamt of marrying as a child. I am marrying a man who, today, completes every part of me that was missing and who compliments my own strengths and makes up for my weaknesses. Nothing makes me happier. I am going to be vulnerable and emotional and as we say our vows, these are words that hold so much meaning to us both. 78 faces around us are ones who we know and love and who we cherish and want to be there during this moment. And there are a few who I wish with all my heart could be there, who can’t …
Our wedding is not about the reception. It’s about our ceremony. Our reception following has some food to grab a plate and eat but there is no formal meal. We have some home brew in a keezer my fiancé made (which is awesome, by the way) while we get our pictures taken, privately, with our photographer. There will be dancing and a live performance from our DJ who is a good friend and there will be a small cake and cupcakes and candy. Yard games and a bonfire, and the lighting and releasing of 40 paper lanterns after dark before we leave for the evening. The reception is just a bit of fun after the important moment – the part where we commit our lives to one another, where our hearts beat as one and where I take his name and cry uncontrollably at knowing that dreams do come true. I hope this serves as a reminder to focus on what really matters when it comes to your big day.
Even if you’ve gone so far down the wrong road you never think you could possibly find your way back … happily ever after does still exist. I never stopped believing that one day, I would be with the right man. And now, I’ve found my way back to him, and am only days away from devoting my life to him. And I can’t wait …. !
So I know this didn’t exactly give you any tips on saving money. But I hope that I shared a bit of insight into keeping the focus on what is most important about your wedding day. Knowing yourself what’s the most important thing about your wedding day, and focusing on that. On not bending for others to make them happy and doing what you want to do to make your wedding day exactly what it is – all about you and your fiancé.
One good thing about being a second time bride … I’ve been down the aisle before and I’ve been down a road that looked a little bit like this one. Except this one … this is the right road. And I hope for all of my fellow brides and brides-to-be and hopeful brides out there reading this take to heart what this is all about. Don’t make the same mistake I did 8 years ago.
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.