Welcome to Wedding Guest Wednesday, a feature in which Solo-ish explores the joys and woes of attending other people’s weddings. Because it’s not all about the happy couple — it’s a big day for guests as well.
When I got engaged in 2015, I was elated. And petrified.
At the age of 26, I could count on one hand how many weddings I’d attended, and most of those were before I had even turned 15. How do you plan a wedding when you’ve barely been to one? With no married friends and no knowledge of the wedding industry outside of TLC shows, I began navigating this bizarre world, guided only by the clashing opinions of bridal advice columns and my mother’s two cents.
From the outset, I felt unsure of myself as a bride. I was certain of the important parts — that I wanted to marry my fiance, and in a way we could afford — but I felt inadequate for my utter lack of “vision.” The wedding industry is hell-bent on identifying and fulfilling the bride’s “vision.” Prospective vendors asked all the same questions: What’s your theme? What are your colors? What’s your vision? Uh, the theme is marriage, I guess. The colors should be whatever looks good. The vision is us getting married?
I was in over my head.
Then came dress shopping. When I booked my first appointment at a bridal boutique, I arrived alone. I’m habitually indecisive and wanted to try on dresses by myself to get an idea of what I liked before factoring in anyone else’s opinions. But the consultant at the boutique greeted me with both skepticism and pity. Just you? Any bridesmaids coming? Anyone else at all?
I was the only bride in the store without a plus-one. Or a plus-12. I was an afterthought to my consultant, who prioritized the girls with army-sized entourages as they acted out all the tropes they’d seen on TV: Moms and future sisters-in-law wielded homemade signs to rank the dresses on a 1-to-10 scale, squirrelly bridesmaids waited with bottles of André to pop (carefully, lest you spill on the sample dress) once a decision was made. Nobody wants to pop champagne for a loner.
Our culture reinforces the myth that a bride-to-be must be perpetually surrounded by a gaggle of women fawning over her, complete with a nonstop parade of parties, showers and girl’s nights. Yet none of my close friends or family lived within an hour’s drive. Despite distance, my mom was a huge source of help, along with my bridesmaids — four of the greatest women I know, none of whom are married and only one who had previously been in a wedding. At first, we were collectively pretty clueless. But my wedding party checked in often, asking how they could help, how was I doing, did I need anything? I felt bad when I wasn’t sure how to respond. I searched Google for “things to delegate to your wedding party.”
I could tell I wasn’t doing this the way it’s usually portrayed, with a self-assured bride calling the shots and every bridesmaid responsible for some mission-critical task, such as filling Mason jars with glitter or tracking down a Channing Tatum lookalike for the bachelorette bash. I wanted to do a good job playing my role as the bride, and I felt completely inept when I wasn’t sure how.
So, the months leading up to my wedding didn’t look the way I thought they should, based on every wedding on Facebook or those twee staged ceremonies featured in bridal blogs. There were no tacky games at my shower (thank God); I did not order the now-obligatory floral silk robes for the morning of the wedding.
As the months chugged along and the wedding day neared, I noticed myself trading my uncertainty for gratitude. During evenings that I got sucked into the vortex of online wedding forums, I read about brides dealing with overly involved aunts and grandmothers.
By contrast, my own wedding planning had been quiet in the best way: my fiance and I interviewed our vendors and made decisions as a unit, without interference. My mom and I braved the bridal shops together, pushing past the entourages and reacting the same way to every dress because, well, this apple didn’t fall far. We would have made a boring episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” — there was no climactic moment of tension when my mother disparaged my dream dress. But I was grateful to receive only the feedback I wanted and none of the outside noise that could have sent me into a spiral of self-doubt. And my bridesmaids were a godsend, continuing to check in, volunteering for wedding-day tasks I hadn’t even delegated and indulging my desire for a laid-back, co-ed bachelorette party in my hometown — no penis necklaces, no pedal taverns, no huge group of girls stumbling into a drag show.
Planning my wedding without ample wedding experience was, in retrospect, a gift. I was freed from expectations; there was no opportunity for disappointment if my lofty “vision” could not be fulfilled. Besides, I only wanted a day that would be meaningful to my husband and me and a fun night out for our guests.
And that’s exactly what we got. We’ve been to a few weddings since ours, but even with my tendency to second-guess, there’s nothing I would have done differently.
My advice for brides like me: You can always pop your own champagne. The other brides at the dress shop — the ones with the 12-person entourages — they might need that André much more than you do.