Where Logic Meets Love

It's about the Experience: A Post that Will Probably Be Uninteresting to Those Not Planning Weddings

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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It's about the Experience: A Post that Will Probably Be Uninteresting to Those Not Planning Weddings | Faith Permeating Life
I have a lot of friends entrenched in wedding planning at the moment. I've talked a bit about our wedding planning process before (heck, I started this blog when I was just a few months away from getting married), but I feel compelled to spend some time talking about what worked well for us. Because it did go well -- exceptionally well. In fact, practically every time we see friends or family we haven't seen for a while, they tell us, "Your wedding was the best wedding I've ever been to!" (Embarrassingly enough, this usually happens at someone else's wedding reception, but since as often as not it's the bride or groom telling us, I guess it's OK!)

Our philosophy during the whole process was a balance between what we wanted the experience to be and what we thought would make the best experience for our guests. And that did not include what other people thought a wedding "should" be or include. So, for example, we did not have favors or a bouquet/garter toss, and I don't think anybody missed either one, even though people who inquired during the planning process ("What kind of favors are you having?" "Did you order a toss bouquet?") were surprised/shocked by our decision. It's amazing how much other people get invested in what other people's weddings should or shouldn't be like. The fact that we made our decisions together helped us have a united front -- I think people feel more of a right to weigh in if they know there's disagreement between the bride and groom.

We also chose to go back to our apartment for our wedding night, and took our honeymoon two weeks after the wedding, both of which made people think we were weird -- but it didn't affect them, so it didn't really matter. We were both pretty laid-back about a lot of things where it didn't seem to matter too much, like what the ring bearer's pillow looked like, whereas I'm sure other people get obsessed with every little detail.

We tried to focus on the things we thought would have the biggest effect on the experience of the day. We tried to be realistic about what was actually going to affect the experience for ourselves or our guests, and what really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. We chose not to order special toasting glasses because -- who cares? If you do, great. We didn't. And nobody else did, either, when the reception was in full swing. Also, I had a floor-length wedding dress, so I wore velcro biker sandals. Best decision ever. Nobody I talked to afterwards had a clue.

In terms of guest experience, we really tried to think through what the experience would be like for our guests. We had a Catholic wedding, and I knew there would be non-Catholic people there, so in addition to making up a booklet that had the songs everyone would be singing, I added in where people would be sitting/standing/kneeling and what the congregation responses were so people could follow along and join in as much as they wanted to. We also had "stations" for dinner (Mexican station, pasta station, sushi station, etc.), which was something our reception place offered, and that seemed to make a huge difference to people. I've been to weddings where everyone is served the same thing and there's no vegetarian option or there's something a lot of people don't like (like a salad covered in blue cheese -- Mike's favorite, but yuck!). We had the dance floor in the center of the room and cut the cake in the middle of the dance floor right after we entered, so everyone could see us and already had their cameras out. I've been to many weddings where the cake is over to the side against the wall, so when they go to cut it almost nobody can see the cake, let alone take a picture of them cutting it (which is apparently important to people... not so much to me).

We didn't want to do something like a dollar dance, which always seems to end up awkward, and I was really not keen on people banging on their glasses all night to make us kiss, so I stole an idea from my cousin's wedding and we got a "Cruise Fund" jar from a garage sale. People had to donate a dollar if they wanted to make us kiss. Given that Mike and I waited until our wedding day for our first kiss, we had a lot of takers on this one.

Because neither of us really drink but we knew a lot of our friends and family members expected alcohol, we ended up compromising by having an open-bar cocktail hour prior to the reception, then closing the bar and just having a champagne toast and wine with dinner. Those who were bound and determined to get drunk helped themselves to lots of wine, but for the most part we didn't have people getting sloppy or embarrassing and that kept everything light and fun. I did find out later that several members of the bridal party loaded up with two drinks a piece right before the bar closed (to tide them over, I guess), then realized they had to make an entrance for introductions about two minutes later and pounded down the drinks! In retrospect, I probably wouldn't have told everyone ahead of time that the bar would close after an hour, haha.

Despite being laid-back in terms of decision-making, I'm still an organization freak, and I made up a master schedule for the day of the rehearsal and the day of the wedding. Basically it listed any time anyone or anything needed to be somewhere. That information, along with a list of all our vendors and their phone numbers, went to our parents and my matron of honor, and then I broke it down with just the information the florist needed, the reception hall, the photographer, etc. That turned out to be immensely helpful because we had a strict deadline for when everything had to be out of the church after the wedding, since there was a Saturday evening Mass, and it turned out the florist was planning to come after Mass started to pick up the flowers! The way I look at it, you're not being overbearing if you're providing a reasonable amount of information to the people involved in the wedding (that doesn't involve demanding unreasonable things of them).

Speaking of demands, I tried to be as un-demanding as possible of my attendants. I picked a color and gave the girls a choice of three dresses (which ending up being two because David's Bridal pulled one of the designs -- another good reason to have options). I asked them to have silver shoes, any style, (which, in retrospect, was not the best color to pick because that can be hard to find) and to let me know if they'd have heels over three inches so I could take that into consideration when doing the pairing with the guys. And they all looked great together. I sent out an e-mail with two versions of the instructions: a short one for those who just wanted to know where and when to show up both days, and a detailed one for those who are anal like me and want to know everything: "After the wedding, please pick up bubbles and form a line outside the church so everyone else knows where to stand. After Mike and I come out, we'll all get in the limos and drive around the church to encourage people to leave. Then we'll be taking pictures in the church, then driving to this park for more pictures, then driving to the reception hall..."

Because we had a large bridal party (8 on each side) and our photographer was going to give us the rights to the pictures, I requested that no one but the bridal party come to pictures. I know from friends' experiences that it can be crazy when the photographer's trying to arrange shots and you've got your aunts and your groomsmen's girlfriends and everyone else going, "Wait, I didn't get that shot!" "Can we get one with so-and-so?" Again -- it was about the experience. And it worked out really well: everyone in the bridal party kept coming up with creative ideas for group shots, and we had a lot of fun. The week after the wedding we picked out over a thousand of our photographer's shots from the whole day and uploaded them to Snapfish for our friends and family to see and order what they wanted.

Despite all of this planning, a lot of the credit goes to our amazing priest for having a wonderful wedding, and our out-of-this-world DJ for running a fabulous reception. And above all, to our friends and family for being so damn excited to see us get married. When the dance floor opened up, literally about 90% of our guests immediately ran to dance. Our DJ said he'd never seen anything like it. I don't know if you can tell from the picture at the top, but the dance floor was packed, and stayed that way for most of the night. I think that was a big reason everyone had so much fun. One of the benefits to dating for almost five years before getting married is that we'd both had to chance to meet almost all of each other's friends and family members, so nearly everyone there knew both of us.

To everyone planning a wedding, best of luck! My advice is just to think about what you want that day to be like for you, and what you want it to be like for your guests. Traditions and expectations will fit in or fall to the wayside in accordance.


  1. Your wedding was a blast and one of the best I have attended.

  2. *jealous*

    So my wedding fell victim to something that is actually a really good thing: I cared way more about being married than I did about the wedding. And I'm the 8th of ten children, so I'm used to just going with the flow anyway, so I let a lot of people talk me into things that turned out to be bad ideas afterward. *sigh*

  3. Those who recently finished planning weddings might be interested in this post too :-)

    Overall I had the same mind set as you when we planned our wedding. I honestly didn't care about much of the day. I had only a few hard and set goals for the day: get married, feed and water my guests, have an awesome dance party. And I acheived all of that. My husband didn't care about a lot of the planning, but on things where he had a strong opinion (and I didn't strongly object) I let him "have his way". My mother in law was more worried about the decor than I was so when she expressed her feelings about needing more in some areas I let her have at it. Both sets of parents were overly concerned about not being pushy - which was nice and apparently not the norm.

    Like you, we have had a lot of compliments on ours. It was very laid back because that's how the two of us are. We bucked tradition and held it in his hometown (this caused a lot of confusion for a lot of people). But our reasoning made a lot of sense to those who mattered. His family is at least twice as large as mine (and mine isn't small), most of our mutual friends are in the midwest (compared to my New England roots), and it was literally ten times cheaper to have the wedding in Northwest Ohio - $4.50 a person for food? Sign me up! That meant we could invite more of our friends and relatives - which lead to a great time for everyone.

    One of the biggest things I took from our wedding was to not feel bad for not following certain traditions. If it doesn't make sense for you, find another way to do it and have faith in that decision. At the end of the day, if you end up married, it was a success.

    Sorry to high jack, you just hit on a topic I've really become excited about haha :-)

  4. @Carla
    Perfectly understandable.. and having a focus on being married is not a bad thing! It's really amazing how people can think they know what's best for your wedding, even though they're not...you. That's why I try not to offer unsolicited advice to brides, and to those who do want advice, I say it totally depends on what you want your experience of your wedding to be like.

    First off, thanks for commenting :) And I'm really glad to hear you had a similar experience. Our parents also were not overly pushy (although my mom would have loved nothing more than to debate to death the pros and cons of every detail for the fun of it). And as you can tell, I am all about throwing out traditions that don't make sense for you. So go you!

  5. As a purposely unmarried person who finds most weddings disturbing, I think it's great that you did not have a bouquet toss ("I'm getting deflowered! Let me select at random the person who gets my flowers!") or garter toss ("As her husband, I get to take off her underwear, show it to everyone, and throw it to my friends!") or dollar dance (vaguely prostitution-like). I would love to see all of those customs disappear!

  6. Jessica it sounds like we have a very similar idea of how we wanted our weddings to go. I LOVE the idea of the info sheets and I'll definitely be making the two versions. I'm a detail oriented person but not everyone in my bridal party is so that's a great idea.


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