Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Planning to get married in the near future? Probably not. Know someone who’s heading—maybe—towards marriage? A lot of us fall into that category. So whether you’re heading towards marriage yourself or know someone who might be, this is for you.
Memories. That’s what you have to plan your wedding around.
The average age for marriage in the US is about 29. Based on life expectancy, people married at the average age could expect to be married to one another for 51 years.
So while your wedding is just one day, you’ll have 18,615 days to relive the memory of that one day. How would you like those memories to be?
When you ask people about the happiest memories of their weddings, it’s almost always about loving, joyous, generous moments. (Okay, maybe it’s also about the fun moment when Aunt Sadie tripped over little Tommy and spilled cherries jubilee all over herself.) The least happy memories? Some act of bitterness, resentment, anger, selfishness.
So if you want to talk about how to plan your wedding, you now have something to plan it around: creating an experience that will create moments of love, joy, and generosity. Of connection and kindness. Of warmth and fun.
And anything that leads you into the land of worry and difficulty, anger and resentment—run away from that as fast as you can.
How exactly can you do that? Here are my three top tips, based on helping countless couples work through this.
First, create a budget based on what you or your family can afford, and stick to it. I mean, come on! Unless you’re rich, you never ever want to spend a dime on your wedding that you need for your life. Why would you embitter the memories of your wedding with the knowledge that it stole from your life? Have a nice wedding, and then have a great life. And believe me, a couple starting out needs so many things!
And sticking to your budget may be the first big hurdle of your life as a couple. It’s a good time to practice crucial skills. So here’s a suggestion. I know that both of you may have wish lists. You’d love to have the wedding on a romantic island. Your partner would like to invite all 1,700 friends and relatives. Fine.
But in realityland, I suggest you each write down the three most important things to you about the wedding. Not in terms of wedding features—a 6-foot-tall cake, 12-dozen doves, a white Rolls-Royce limousine—but of experiences. Formal? Relaxed? Family-oriented? More for friends? Lots of people? Intimate?
As part of this, ask yourselves—you and your partner—who you’re trying to make happy with this wedding. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not your cousins or your friends from college. It’s not even your parents (though hopefully it won’t make them unhappy). No: this is your wedding and it should make you happy. Remember...you’ll be the ones living with the memories of it.
Based on sticking with the budget!
Second, agree on who’s in charge of what. This area is the single greatest source of bickering, so if you nail it, it can be your single greatest source of satisfaction. And basically, you apportion tasks based on caring and competence. Whoever more or less cares the most and is most competent with a task is in charge of it. (And yes, I’m well aware that this’ll probably mean that one of you will end up having to do more than the other. But you can get out of it! Care less! Those are the easiest, simplest weddings—and usually the funnest—where neither person cares about anything, except each other, very much.)
I know that in practice this means that the bride or the bride’s mom is in charge of most things. So be it. What’s key is that you avoid bickering.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say that because I am known as a dessert person I’m put in charge of the cake. Now I would be well advised to ask my partner about their preferences and those of their parents. And I’ll take my parents’ preferences into account. So if I know that the mother of the bride loathes and detests chocolate, it’d be kind of stupid of me to order a chocolate cake.
But if that’s the only major signal I get, then that’s it! Otherwise, I’m free! No discussions, which means no bickering.
Plus we have an understanding that we’re going to go along with this thing of knowing who’s in charge of what. Whoever is in charge of that thing is in charge! No post mortems!! No quibbling after the fact.
At the same time, we have a commitment to good will. I have to try to make sure whatever I do in the realm of what I’m in charge of doesn’t go against anything that’s important to my partner. My partner has to accept the choices I made as ones made with the best of intentions.
And you know what? If the cake isn’t perfect, we have the rest of our lives to eat cake.
Third, (and speaking of perfect) let go, now, immediately and completely, of any notion of “perfect.” If I had a nickel for every bride who said, “Oh, I just want everything to be perfect on my wedding day.” Oh, sweetie, there’s no faster way to condemn yourself to a lifetime of bad memories.
Let me tell you: your wedding is not going to be perfect. And that’s because people aren’t perfect. In life, any attempt to massage imperfection into perfection is a recipe for only anxiety, irritation, aggravation, annoyance, rage, meltdowns, and the inevitable emergence of BrideZilla.
And here’s the hilarious part. With all the pain and tumult that go along with these attempts at perfection, the try-for-perfection approach is least likely to produce happy memories. How does an exhausted, burnt-out, pissed-off bride, surrounded by people who are sick of her, add up to a recipe for a day of love and joy and generosity? It’s more like a day of everyone hating everyone else! I’ve seen it far too often.
So this is where—God willing!—the two of you have the conversation where you talk yourselves off the ledge. Where you bring yourselves to a relaxed che sera, sera place and you
Identify what’s really most important to you and focus on that
Assign tasks based on interest and competence
Let go of any need for the wedding to be anything close to perfect
And, most of all, make a commitment to this being a day for the two of you to enjoy one another, love one another, have fun together, and create memories that’ll feed you for a lifetime
It is far, far easier and cheaper to have a wonderful wedding that gives you wonderful memories than going about it any other way.
And remember, in law and in most religions, a wedding is basically two people standing up in front of witnesses and pledging their commitment to each other, with the acknowledgment or blessing of an official or member of the clergy. It’s just saying, “I do,” and understanding what you’re saying, and meaning it. If you get that sliver of the wedding day right, really nothing else matters.
See? There’s so much to be relaxed about!