Wedding Plans: The First Step

You’ve decided to get married. Now what?

Maybe celebrating your marriage with a wedding reception (and other events) is a foregone conclusion. Or maybe it’s a decision you’ve approached gradually. Whatever the route taken, the first step in planning a wedding is to talk things through with your mate and then, talk with those who will be directly involved.

Ask yourselves, what are our expectations? What’s important?

From my experience, bridal couples usually report one thing that is very important to them right from the start. For some, that ‘thing’ is very specific. Here are a few examples:

One couple I know felt that the music was really paramount in their planning.

 “We wanted live music and went to hear a lot of bands before deciding on the right one. It was more important to us than the food, decoration, or a lot of other stuff. We were so happy with our decision – everyone danced and the music really made the party.”

From another couple:

“We have always loved cooking and entertaining and at first, we thought we’d do our wedding reception ourselves. But we decided instead to have a wedding at a small (but cool) hotel with special cocktails and great food. So, what was most important to us? Not doing it all ourselves but staying within our budget. We saved up for the wedding because we planned to buy a house and didn’t want to rack up a lot of credit card debt. Our reception was just what we wanted and we felt so good about the whole experience.”

And yet another:

The location. We had family coming from out of town and found a great place that had plenty of room for everyone, a great reception area, beautiful grounds, and good food. It all worked out so well.

In the same vein:

“We rented a big beach house. We wanted to spend the time with our family and friends over a couple of days. It was unforgettable.”

To home in on your own plan, think about your wedding in general terms. What do you think would be important? You might think the size of your crowd is the first thing to determine or setting the date but I would not agree. Whatever your particular ‘important thing’ is (and it might change), envision that first. Don’t immediately start making lists.

I have posed the “What was the most important thing?” question to many couples but I found this response very touching:

“Mary, I’ve thought about your question a lot and I have to say that making my parents happy was the most important thing to me.”

This came from a young woman in her twenties whose parents threw the wedding. Quiet and scholarly, this bride would not be the one to focus on all the bells and whistles of wedding planning.

“To my surprise, my parents had a much clearer vision than I of how the event should take shape. I realized I cared less about the small details and more about seeing my parents enjoying the planning process. I would add that it wasn’t only my parents. My fiancé’s mother was also very involved with the rehearsal dinner and I got the sense it also pleased her to plan and that she also had strong opinions about how things should go.”

I think it would be hard to find a more mature and thoughtful response.

A wedding is a shared celebration.

 When parents are the funders, it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t have a say in planning the event. The young bride mentioned above understood this. Moreover, she and her fiancé recognized that the wedding day is an event involving families. Her attitude was not one of self-sacrifice or cringing agreement but rather, recognition that the day is a shared one.

Another example of sensitivity comes from a couple marrying for the second time, each with children.

“We really wanted to celebrate and get our families and friends together but we also were in the process of blending our respective families. We thought an over-the-top event would be confusing and uncomfortable for our children.”

They opted for a small afternoon wedding (but it was on Valentine’s Day!) at the bride’s brother’s house. It was comfortable, cozy, romantic, and elegant. It was in a familiar place. Everyone had a great time – including the kids.

In my questions to brides, I have never heard one say that her dress was the most important thing and or that the wedding was ‘her’ day. This is not say that brides shouldn’t be excited and interested in their appearance but rather that wedding clothes, as with many other details, are one aspect of a larger picture.

Families all have their specific personalities, quirks, and yes, peculiarities. But you know each another. I’ve always thought that bar mitzvahs are joyous and straightforward because it’s all the same family. Wedding are, by nature, a delicate dance: when two people get married, two different families come together.

So, as you think about your wedding in a broad sense, inform and include those who will be directly involved in your plans. A lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication can be avoided if the participants are clear and frank with one another right from the start.

A final thought: talking is fine but listening is critical. When I was married (for the first time), my father said two things:

“I’d like champagne at the wedding.”

And “I won’t wear a rented suit.”

 What he meant was:

“I want you to have a nice party and I’m prepared to be generous.”

And “Please don’t ask me to participate in an event I’m not comfortable with.”

In the previous year, I had been to a couple of very fancy weddings in New York where the men in the wedding party wore white tie and tails. I suppose I did have a fantasy about something similar. But that style of wedding wasn’t right for my fiancé, our families, or me. As it turned out, we talked and we listened and it was a very nice party indeed.

So that’s step one in wedding planning.

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