Try a little wedding de-planning

Someone I know once worked at Michael’s craft supply store. It wasn’t a very challenging job, so she took it upon herself to add a new duty: Wedding De-Planner.

When feverish brides-to-be (or their mothers) would approach the counter with armloads of what could only be described as frilly garbage, she would try her best to talk them out of buying it. Put some of it back, let some of it go. Snap out of it! Nobody needs this stuff. (No, she did not work on commission.)

It’s not just that they were buying tasteless decor that would look ridiculous in six months, when the current hot trend had cooled. It was that they were openly making themselves miserable trying to pursue some ephemeral aesthetic ideal, and spending gobs and gobs of money, trying to create something that . . . wasn’t really anything. They were letting themselves be bullied (by Instagram, by magazines, by the wedding industry and the culture in general) into loading themselves down with a bunch of stuff that won’t and can’t make anyone happy.

I can’t claim any credit for not having fallen prey to this impulse myself, when I was planning my own wedding. The only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t have the time or the money. We had something like two months and maybe $1500, and we ended up with what looked on paper like a bare bones wedding and reception, but which I remember as being loud, colorful, and joyful. There was singing and dancing and laughing, and everyone had plenty to eat and drink, and if anyone was dissatisfied, I either missed it at the time, or I’ve forgotten it by now.

We got away with such simplicity because we were young, only the second couple in our group of friends to get married; so the standard wasn’t very high yet. Also, the overall emotion of the day was rejoicing (and more than a little bit of relief on the part of my parents), which goes a long way to making a good day. I’ve been to weddings that are extremely elegant and tasteful, but are bogged down with an invisible fog of hostility and tension, so that’s mainly what the guests feel.

Looking back, there are very few details I would have changed, and none of them have to do with spending more money.

I don’t remember what the organist played, but it was something appropriate for Mass, so no harm done. I don’t remember which readings we chose. I don’t remember our wedding vows! But we’ve spent the last 25 years figuring out how to live together, which I imagine we also would have to do even if we had painstakingly crafted some personal and meaningful vows and memorized them.

There was a Mass. We got married at it. The ceremony was done the way it was always done at that parish, which included an ultra-tacky Unity Candle that has a little story attached to it and the priest repeatedly saying my name wrong; but we definitely got married.

My husband’s brother took a bunch of pictures, and some of them turned out good. I had asked my bridesmaids to choose their own dress, as long as it was dark green. Everyone had a few flowers to hold (I do wish I had spent more on their flowers and on flowers for the church, and less on my own bouquet). We had bought wedding rings at a kiosk at the mall, and we still have them, and they are still ring-shaped, so that worked out.

The reception was in the church basement. My plan was to decorate with freshly-picked wildflowers, but it turns out there aren’t any in late October; so we had baskets of polished apples and bottles of wine on the tables, instead, which turned out to be both festive and practical. I borrowed a stack of CDs from the library, and a friend volunteered to play them for dancing. We bought lots of cheap wine and good bread and ordered some plates of meat and cheese from the deli, my sister made a giant bowl of pasta salad, and my father made a giant pot of French onion soup.

My mother was going to bake my wedding cake, but she got sick, so I baked it myself, but completely forgot to plan any decorations, so a friend strewed some bridesmaid flowers and ferns around it. Voila, a decorated cake. There were balloons and bubbles and lots of little kids at the reception, and . . . we were happy. It was a happy day, and off we went.

I remember being annoyed that one of the groomsmen wore a tan sweater instead of a dress jacket; I remember being annoyed that the best man gave a speech that was basically a lament over losing his best friend to some random chick (me). I remember getting over it, dancing with my new husband, and leaving early, because we couldn’t wait to be alone together.

I wish I had thought harder about thanking everyone for pitching in so much. I dropped the ball with that. Something else that would have made the day better: An opportunity for confession and adoration before the wedding. I’ve heard of couples doing this and vastly altering the atmosphere of the entire day, for the couple and for everyone in attendance. But still and all, even a wedding day is just one day. We’ve had plenty of confession and adoration since then, and we plan to keep that up.

Like every other married couple, we’ve accumulated some regrets. We’ve been married for nearly 25 years, and it’s not hard to look back and find some things we wish we could have changed. But I will tell you, not a single one has to do with something I wish I had bought at Michael’s, or anywhere else. There’s nothing I wish I had gone into debt over, to make the day more special.

So if you’re planning your wedding and feeling the tug to add more things to your cart, and make it more elaborate, more loaded down, more fancy, more expensive, may I encourage you to resist? Or if you need some encouragement, I know a wedding de-planner who can help.

I’m really not joking! I know there are a lot of cultural and circumstantial pressures that go into weddings. But when you’re planning the day, do think most of all about how you’re going to spend your life together. Think about how to make that joyful. Believe me, believe me. The details may seem important now, but eventually, very little else will matter besides everything else.


A version of this essay was first published at The Catholic Weekly on July 25, 2022.
Image: Tom Harpel from Seattle, Washington, United States, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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11 thoughts on “Try a little wedding de-planning”

  1. This was great – yes, your wedding matters because your important milestones matter and you deserve to be celebrated. But don’t spend so much you saddle your new married life with a lot of debt.

    My suggestion is to think about what things are important to YOU and get those details situated, spending money if you need to. For everything else – just let it go. For us, we got our flowers from Sam’s Club, we had a non-wedding cake (very simple), and we created our own wedding playlist and just put it on shuffle. I wish I had actually spent money on a photographer, but that’s really my only wedding regret.

  2. Amen, amen, amen. It can be a lot of fun to think of ways to make an enjoyable day for yourself and your guests, but not if you’re making yourself almost crazy worrying about all the details (many of which aren’t appreciated or noticed), or if you’re going into debt for that one special day only to have regrets when you wish you had that money now for things like car repairs! I also wonder sometimes if the Barbie Dream Wedding wasn’t an option, would some people even follow through on getting married at all? I guess I’m thinking about someone in particular in my family who had that dream wedding, and a year later a dream divorce – in retrospect, it was all about the wedding; not so much the relationship. My own wedding was extremely small for a number of reasons (mostly family issues – my parents didn’t come – they did get used to my husband eventually) – my husband bought a new shirt, I borrowed a dress from my sister (and she let me keep it!), we found a ring for him in a store that was going out of business, I bought my own at a secondhand store , and it will be 41 years in October. I do wish we hadn’t left the cake top at the restaurant, though – it would have been nice to have for the 1st anniversary! I can’t remember the homily, either, or if we even had flowers at church. BTW, our parish does not charge thousands for a wedding – come see us!

  3. Your wedding sounds lovely. It reminds me very much of Devra’s wedding. We attended that one. Our daughter was one of her bridesmaids. The wedding and reception were lots of fun – much like Baron’s many years later. That one was memorable for a number of reasons – including the rain. Those are the best weddings! The ones we remember are the ones that are put together with lots of love, friendship, laughter, family and close friends. My hunch is that those are also the best indicator of a happy couple who will bring the same to their family life for many years to come.

  4. My wedding cost $5,000, and $3,000 of that was the smoked BBQ dinner at the reception (no regrets. I love BBQ). My dress was from a thrift store. My best friend and I made the cake, we got a friend of a friend to DJ, and we used a lot of white Christmas lights, candles, and silver Christmas decorations (all bought on clearance) with black tablecloths. It was exactly what I wanted. Lots of kids running around and having fun, minimal structure (people started eating before we got there, and we didn’t have a set schedule for cake cutting, etc), and just a really nice atmosphere.

    8 years under our belts, so I guess it worked.

  5. That’s very true.
    We had to give up on our dream wedding because of the pandemic. Yet we chose not to postpone the sacrament.
    We could only have 30 guests and no party, with a very simple decoration.
    Going down an (almost) empty aisle was the weirdest thing.
    Yet I regret nothing. Deep down, I did want a simple wedding where being together was all that mattered … now I see it was a given grace.
    Despite much anxiety and sadness not to have everyone we wanted to be there, our 2020 wedding brought a lot of joy around us.
    People told us it felt great to hear good news at last !

  6. One thing I’ve noticed (while a family member was planning by their wedding) was the way that churches seem to have jacked up their prices lately. When I got married the church was free since we were parishioners, but now the costs were all around $3-5k. That is a ton of money! If I were kind of a tenous Catholic who was religious on some level but not super serious about it, I’d definitely be looking at finding another venue.

    I didn’t get married that long ago either—just a bit over five years.

  7. Someone who used to comment on Simcha’s old blog once remarked that a wedding is a microcosm of the marriage in that it captures all life’s big issues – faith, finances, in laws, food, and family backgrounds and expectations. I loved that comment and repeat it all the time. When we got married, we both had fairly well established careers (and the crippling student loans that came along with them). Coming from two huge families, just our brothers, sisters, their spouses and kids were 83 people. And then we invited who we had to from work and then a few close friends. Our list was so trimmed down, we didn’t get a single no. Our wedding theme could aptly be described as what’s the cheapest we can get through this thing without embarrassing ourselves.

    That said, I’ve mellowed a bit and wish I had enjoyed the wedding planning more and spent a little more effort to jazz it up and had a wedding that reflected who we were as a couple. I might have actually found a wedding dress I liked, gone to see different DJ’s, paid more attention to what the florist was doing, done little wedding favors, etc. At the time, I saw the whole thing is a giant pain in the neck that had been thrust upon us by society and a church that insisted on a six month prep period. If we could have gone to city hall, we would’ve. If only we could have just shown up to work on Monday morning – “guess what? we got married over the weekend!” – it would have saved us so much money and so much grief.

    As it was, the caterer had agreed to wait a few days to cash our check so that we could deposit some of our wedding gifts, so what difference would it have been to us if we’d given the caterer the contents of a few more cards? These days, nearly 30 years later, I see a wedding as the most important public mile marker in a couple’s life – Live it up! I’m not inclined to go frou frou or confetti. It’s not my nature. But making it an extra special day, whatever that might mean to a couple, by all means, do it. And tell the caterer to wait a few days before they cash your check. 😉

  8. I love this and agree wholeheartedly, although my experience was quite different. The thing is, my mom LOVES weddings (the bigger, the better), so I happily let her take the reins and plan the reception while my then-fiance and I worked with our priest to plan the ceremony. Color palettes, flowers, decorations — they are not in my wheelhouse at all, so I was happy to have her take the lead. (I realize that this is not everyone’s mother/daughter relationship. I am truly lucky.) I wouldn’t have minded a smaller reception, but I’ll always cherish the time my mom and I spent planning together. It was a beautiful, joyful day! (And we’re still married six years later.)

  9. I love this! Our fifth anniversary is this Friday, and I still think we had our dream wedding, except my dad we insisted we have a buffet dinner instead of an assemble-your-own-sandwich lunch like I wanted (and he paid for it). Reception in the church hall, friends made all the desserts, dress that cost $100, just a maid of honour and a best man and we told them to wear whatever they wanted. Plus, we started the Mass praying together at the front of the church rather than having a procession, and it was perfect. I can’t think of a single thing that costs money that would have made the day better.

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