I want to have a big, sparkly, fuck-it-let's-do-this-right wedding. A downright blowout. The current trend toward minimalism is cute, but I want none of it. There will be feathers, sequins, and hundreds of mini bottles of Champagne popped simultaneously.
I don't have an unlimited budget for my August reception, nor am I treating money as though it's no object. Actually, as I get deeper and deeper into the trenches of planning our event for 150-ish and share the burden of writing checks for unspeakable sums with my fiancé and both of our sets of parents, I'm constantly on the lookout for hacks, both time- and money-saving.
I'm also reading everything wedding-related I can get my hands on, and one article I came across recently has helped put me firmly in the "I want a big to-do" camp. At first, I felt majorly inadequate when I read this essay, called "I Planned My Wedding in 5 Days. You Could, Too." in The New York Times. Wait, have I been doing this all wrong? Could there be a super-duper-extra-secret hack I don't know about? a little part of me cried out.
Turns out, the hack was simple. Emily Hardman, the essay's author, and Rob Reading planned a lovely, pared-down wedding with a reception at the Joseph Smith Memorial Center in Salt Lake City — a stately, wood-paneled room with multiple chandeliers and an ornate ceiling (the inherent prettiness of the venue helped). Their invite consisted of a text message with a photo collage, and most of their 100 guests accepted despite the short notice. The total bill? $4,500.
Knowing what I know about the costs of weddings, that number is stupendously, out-of-this-world impressive. They pulled it off by truly not caring about the little details. They figured no one would care if they had flowers, so they just didn't order any. I, on the other hand, am ashamed to say that my flower bill alone was pretty close to the total price of their wedding. (This may sound like a lot, but is not unusual, which I know based on having seen several florists' quotes — for a few bouquets and arrangements, not an entire Kimye flower wall — and spoken to other people who've planned weddings.)
"With each social expectation for weddings, I asked myself: 'Does this achieve the goal of making the people at my wedding feel loved and appreciated for the role they play in my life? Will it help strengthen my marriage and the promises we made to each other?' If the answer was no, I didn’t waste any more time," Hardman wrote.
In short, this couple worried more about people than things. They cut out all of the non-essential fluff, and still had an event to remember. And that's admirable. It made me wonder, though: How much of a typical modern wedding is entirely non-essential and comes strictly from social and societal pressure? Seemingly a lot, right? But let's dig deeper.
In her book A Practical Wedding, Meg Keene writes about how much of what we think of as "tradition" is really just what people have been doing for years because they feel pressured by the wedding industry. Until the beginning of the 20th century, she writes, most people got married in their living rooms. Even the idea of the sit-down dinner wedding reception is only a few decades old — until the 1970s, it used to be all about the afternoon-tea reception with those little sandwiches. And the seemingly obligatory post-wedding brunch? It's a completely new thing that has absolutely no basis in tradition.
If you look at it from that perspective, Hardman makes a case that's hard to argue with. Her wedding — which will surely be replicated over and over, and may even become the new normal in these uncertain times — takes the same returning-to-our-roots, bare-bones approach that Keene seems to advocate for. Also, you better believe it makes me feel guilty for spending $2,500 on hydrangea-and-spray-rose centerpieces. But while Hardman's feat is remarkable, her type of wedding just isn't for me.
In a nutshell, the idea behind ritual theory is that a rite of passage has three stages: separation, transition, and incorporation. In the case of a wedding, the engagement period is considered one of transition, while the wedding ceremony itself is incorporation. When I think about it in this way — and consider how our relationship has deepened during our engagement — the engagement (for us, a year and a half) starts to feel like a useful, necessary step.
For me, this transition has been an opportunity to check in with other relationships, too. Planning a rite-of-passage event together, while also calling up old conflicts, has a way of bonding people. Nothing can replace sitting on the couch with my mom and painstakingly filling in each line of the wedding budget in our big binder. Going shopping with my bridesmaids is not like any old shopping trip with friends — it's imbued with the knowledge that these people (and these dusty-rose dresses) will be in our photos for years to come.
This transition period is not something that matters to everybody, but I've decided that it does to me. So while I commend Hardman for pulling off a fantastic celebration in five days by sticking to the bare necessities, I'll be over here, agonizing over hors d'oeuvre menus and seating charts until the last possible minute — and I'm totally fine with that.