Monday, June 6, 2011

Unsolicited Advice for your Engagement: Part I

{polaroids taken by my mom and Leonel Medrano and Iris Bai}

Remember what I said about not making this into a blog about my wedding (which has been over for 8 months -- clearly outside the zone of relevance)?  I still promise that.  But I am going to a take a little detour to talk about weddings in general today and tomorrow.  If you could care less about such things, please excuse me, and come back in a few days for another L.A. post!

The resurgence of wedding thoughts bopping around in my head is due to the fact that TWO of my best friends in the world, Melissa (in the pink dress/tourquoise necklace) and Tasha, both recently got engaged within a week of each other (YAYYY!), and it got me thinking about what advice I could give them for planning their weddings.  I've only planned one, so I'm clearly not an expert,* but a friend has a duty to warn, no?  And when I sat down to write this, I realized that I actually have a lot to say.  So much that it will be split into two parts -- the emotional stuff today, and the gritty business of planning stuff tomorrow.

First, let me explain to you where I'm coming from so that we're all on the same page.  I have a theory (one of many) that women in the world fall into two categories: those who are meant to be engaged, and those who find themselves engaged.  The first category of women seem naturally suited for the role of "bride to be."  For them, the engagement period is easy breezy.  They are just born with it.  If engagement were a survival skill, they'd be the last ones standing in the Darwinian race.  They happily and confidently pick out dresses and rings, colors and themes, and they not only know what to put on their wedding to-do list, they actually do those things and check them off.  They know the difference between a cushion cut and a princess cut diamond.  They probably have a wedding binder.

This was NOT me.  I am much more of a woman who found herself engaged, and while being very excited about the prospect of marriage, was decidedly unsuited to the role of "bride to be."  
I am still not convinced that there isn't some fiancee gene that I'm lacking, but beyond genetic incompatibility, I blame these identifiable factors for my bride-to-be shortfalls:

- I had a case of wedding blankness.  I never played bride as a little girl, had banned myself from consuming any form of wedding porn before I was engaged for fear of becoming that girl, and I had only been to two weddings before my own.  I didn't have the slightest idea what was supposed to happen during an engagement, or at a wedding, let alone what I actually wanted to happen during/at mine.  Turns out "I don't know" is a disappointing and unsatisfactory answer when you are asked 50 times a day what your "colors" are (there are supposed to be colors?!).  The other problem with this is that when you feel like you're in unknown territory, all the "supposed to's" loom large, and you start believing them.

- I am uncomfortable with PDA, or mushy feelings.  I'm an open book about most things, but I keep the lovey-dovey relationship stuff to myself.  Unfortunately, it turns out that being a good engaged person involves living up to people's expectations that you act sickeningly in love at all times (in public!), and excitedly discuss all of the intricacies of planning your life together with anyone who is so nice as to ask (in public!).  Engagements are awkward for people like me.

- I am uncomfortable spending large amounts of money (on two levels).  I've been a student for 20 years (in a row), remember?  I get itchy and hot just thinking about a bill that has more than one zero at the end of it.  And the principle of spending unnecessary pennies upsets me.  (Things should cost what I'm willing to pay for them.  Eff all those other buyers out there with their inflated willingness-to-pay dots that skew the damn demand curve!)  This is a problem when other people around you think you should be excited about the tablecloths, and all you can think about is how stupid it is to spend money on tablecloths instead of buying them at TJ Maxx or making them yourself.

- I come from a place where you do things yourself.  I do most everything myself, and I come from a long line of DIY-ers who didn't even realize that there was another way (i.e. one time, 
my dad reconstructed my broken sandal with a piece of twine that he just had in his car on a family roadtrip).  I'm generally not into delegating; it makes me feel guilty and lazy for illogical reasons.  The problem is that you can't put together a wedding by yourself.  You end up on the day of the wedding without a cake because you didn't have time to bake it (yeah, that happened to me).

Clearly, I was not a good candidate for a bride-to-be, but somehow, I threw a wedding that was genuine and meaningful for me and Brian, and I think everyone else had a good time, too.  So if you share some of my bride-to-be deficiencies, let me assure you -- you, too, can do this.  And if it makes you feel better, 
I have a theory (another of many) that the worst engaged people end up being the best married people (I'm clearly a reliable source). In any case, here's the first part of my wedding manifesto, where I give you unsolicited but tried and tested advice on how to survive an engagement and a wedding without causing serious permanent injury to your bank account, your relationship, or your self-respect (with some random pictures thrown in just because I like them).**

Maintaining Your Sanity in the Midst of the Storm (aka how to deal with the wedding crazies)

Celebrate.  As often as possible.  This is one of the few excuses for celebration of love that you get in your life.  Seize it.  Throw parties with your friends; throw parties with your fiance; drink champagne on Wednesday nights with your parents.  Do it.  And take a few pictures so that you can put them in your family album (because you'll have one of those when you're married because you're family then - intense, I know)

{celebrating at the "champagne-in-shackles" engagement party we threw for our friends - who says you have to wait for someone to throw you a party to celebrate?}

 {Me and Melissa, celebrating at my bachelorette in Vega$.  Please note that my tiara says "Bride To" because the "Be" fell off -- I find it quite fitting.}

{celebrating at our wedding}

Read a book about marriage.  A happy one that will make you excited to be married.  I read a Nora Roberts romance novel about a wedding planner who gets married (does it get any girlier?), and then I read Committed by former marriage skeptic Elizabeth Gilbert to balance it out.  This is maybe the only time in your life you will feel justified marching up to the Barnes & Noble cashier with a wedding book in hand, so read one now!  Oh wait, you have a kindle?  Well, you should still read one, electronically if you must.

Listen to people and make them feel appreciated, then do what you want.  I'm sure you've heard by now that "this is not just about you," and I'm sure you think you get that ("only bridezillas think a wedding is just about them, and surely I am not a bridezilla...").  I thought I did, too.  But when people start offering their unsolicited advice (kind of like how I am right now), it's hard not to react (snappily, probably) like it is all about you.  This is another symptom of the wedding crazies.  If you are having this problem, try to think about it this way -- if you've been thinking about this moment for a few years, your mother/father/grandmother/aunt (+ the in-laws) have been thinking about this since you were born.  The people who love you want things to happen just how they imagined they would.  And they have a right to, arguably.  So listen to them, make their ideas feel needed and helpful, make them feel loved and appreciated.  But the secret is to keep doing what you’re doing on the DL.  What you will probably spend most of your time worrying about is which traditions or non-traditions to include in your wedding, and how many people will be upset by your decision to do X.  But in the end, it's not about what you include or disregard, it's about how you handle the people around you in making those decisions.  The more respectful you are, the more likely you are going to be able to do whatever you want in the end (like make your guests wear crazy visions of love glasses), and still please those who matter.

{walking down cement stairs in 3" heels and a long floofy wedding dress is another kind of leap of faith}

Talk to your fiance about how you're feeling, but not always.  Something about being engaged makes us think that we not only have the license, but the duty to tell our significant others everything we are thinking.  Every feeling, every thought, every doubt is suddenly valid, of pressing importance, and must be communicated, aired and discussed.  This is part of the common affliction of the wedding crazies.  Don't let it get to you.  You will be forced into an emotional hurricane - by your friends and family, by the WIC (wedding industrial complex), by yourself - and your sanity will falter.  You will be overwhelmed - sometimes by sadness, anger, frustration, and other times by love, hope, excitement.  Not all of these feelings will be based in reality, and not all of them are worthy of validation through communication.  So pick your battles (or your sob sessions, or your pity parties).

{This is one of those times when you should talk to your fiance.  Please note my huge piece of computer paper.  Oops.}

Your wedding will happen even if there are things left unresolved.  A wedding is not a deadline to get all of your emotional and familial ducks in a row.  For some people who just have their sh*t together, a year or however long your engagement lasts, might be enough time to really make the transition, but for some people, and for me, it was not.  Sometimes a wedding has to happen to actually put some issues to rest.  Sometimes, there is just not enough time to work through the complications that come along with blending two families and making a third before the wedding date stubbornly arrives.  And that is OK.  After a wedding, people's opinions change and tensions dissipate.  You don’t have to be in this perfect peaceful place to get married; you just have to know that you want the person you're marrying to be standing next to you tomorrow, and when you get a job, and when you buy a house, and when you become a mother (or decide not to), and when you are faced with grief and loss.  The rest of the debris can be dealt with after the wedding.

You are not on “America’s Next Top Wedding Planner.”  This is not your livelihood, and you are not expected to be a professional.  I was supposed to have a photobooth, but the DJ ended up taking up all the plugs and there was nowhere to plug in the lights for it.  There were supposed to be bubbles to blow and flower petals to toss, but those things somehow never made it from the caterer to the guests.  I was supposed to bake a cake (whoops), and my bridesmaids were supposed to have purple bouquets (that story's coming tomorrow), but neither of those things happened.  You will not be able to do everything you think you will (unless you quit your job or something), and you will hire people to do things, and they will not perform perfectly.  But in the end, you will not have let your guests down by not throwing the most amazing party ever of the world -- no one goes to a wedding expecting that it's going to be the best party they've ever been to except the bride and groom.  So just let the mistakes happen, and know that it’s not your fault, and no one expects anything from you except to look pretty and say “I do.”

{this is the face of a bride with no cake and no bridesmaids bouquets, but a pretty dress and a whole lot of champagne}

You cannot control what other people do at your wedding.  As the host of this big event, you will probably feel pressure to make sure that everyone has a fantastic time (see above).  But the problem is that you are not the boss of the world.  People will probably misbehave at your reception (hopefully not at your ceremony), depending on whether or not you have an open bar (JK...kind of), and other people will probably not be happy about it.  Hopefully this misbehavior does not go beyond someone making out with the DJ, or ranting in outrage when the bartender refuses to serve said blatantly inebriated guest any more tequila shots.  These are the stories that make a night memorable, and that you'll laugh about later.  But if there is further misbehavior and offense, don't let it upset you that night, and don't feel like you have to apologize for other people's bad behavior.  You cannot control other people, and while it would be wonderful if all of your guests clear-headedly decided to act extra respectfully since it is your wedding and all, that doesn't always happen.  So let it go.

Get over the cheesiness.  If you are anything like me, you will absolutely dread the showy parts that come with the wedding territory.  The idea of dancing real dances (twice) in front of people, being "announced" into the reception, and speaking the most private of love thoughts in front of a room of 150 people sounded like completely unnecessary humiliation bordering on torture to my PDA-opposed self.  Frankly, the whole thing made me want to run to city hall and elope.  (If you're thinking about eloping, I mean really thinking about it, then go here for some advice).  If despite this intimidation, you are actually committed to the idea of having a wedding, then you have to remember that a wedding is a ceremony, as in "a formal act or set of acts performed as prescribed by ritual or custom."  Which means that as a ceremony, a wedding requires unnecessary and silly things for no other reason than tradition.  And if you embrace this inevitability, then some of those embarrassing traditions will become the memories that you'll look back on with the most happiness.  I am not a very tradition-minded person, but even I thought that in the end, it was all the silly customs and embarrassingly weddingy aspects of our wedding that made it feel special -- that made it feel like a wedding.  You only get to experience the wedding feeling once, so instead of dreading it, face it, look forward to it, and when you feel it, remember to remember itEmbrace the day for what it is - the one day you have a license to be openly, shamelessly in love for everyone to see, cheesiness and all.

{wedding-day cheese for you}

Let your wedding day feel like what it feels like.  Your wedding day may not feel like the glitz and glamour you see plastered all over the wedding blogosphere, and you are going to have to be OK with that.  The reality is that if you plan your own wedding, you will not magically wake up and turn into a princess who everyone fusses over.  There will still be a to-do list, you will still have to remember to bring the music and call the caterer, etc.  Your friends and your family will treat you the same as they always do, not like "a bride" (whatever that means), and you will probably still have moments of stress (like when you realize that your vows are in someone's car and you have to reproduce them verbatim on a piece of computer paper from memory.  Yeah.).  But you will probably also have moments of incredible joy, and just plain old happiness.  

The real point is that your wedding day is not about being a bride; it's about becoming a wife.  And that means something different to everyone, and I'm certain that it feels different for everyone.  But I'm also certain that you will feel something transformative, and that is what's important.  So adjust your expectations, keep yourself open, and be honest with yourself about the whole experience.  

For me, it felt kind of like this:

{note my 5-year-old-smile face}

{this one and the next were taken by my friend, Aditi}

{taken by my friend, Dana}

Whew, if you made it through all that, congratulations!  You've won another day of wedding manifesto talk coming up tomorrow!

*Disclaimer: please note that there are many book writers, blog writers, and just people in general who are more qualified to speak on this topic than me, and this is by no means a novel list of considerations or advice.  I would direct you to APW for some real guidance if you haven't been there already.  I mean, the woman's got a whole book coming out about these things!

**All wedding photos taken by Iris Bay and Leonel Medrano (family friends and photography students) unless otherwise noted.

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