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 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons