Planning a wedding can be all-consuming. Meeting with vendors, finalizing a guest list, sending save-the-dates and invitations — there's a lot of work that goes into a one-day event. But what the well-wishers won't tell you outright is that they usually have a certain idea of how your wedding (and your relationship) should be. And if you're not a particularly romantic person by nature (which I'm not), wedding planning can be even more difficult. When people find out you're engaged, you'll start getting feedback from everyone, be they friends of your parents or your extended family members. People on your guest list, as well as the vendors themselves, often expect you and your fiancé to act a certain way during your engagement. Extended family members might be hoping for romantic photos from your engagement shoot and everyone from your boss to your third cousin twice removed will want to know every detail of how he proposed. As someone who doesn't gravitate toward the idea of romance, I've found queries like these overwhelming at best — and off-putting at worst. My answers are never enough to satisfy the question-askers and a lot of times, they're disappointed, if not outright disapproving. (My fiancé, Steve, and I are getting married in North Carolina and many Southern vendors aren't used to having male bridesmaids, which we will, or a bride without an engagement ring, which I am.) The truth is, I've never been a romantic person and planning a wedding hasn't changed that. In high school, I didn't understand The Notebook's appeal when my friends gathered to watch it at sleepovers. My sister happily read the Twilight series. I staunchly avoided them. In retrospect, it helped that social media wasn't huge when I was in high school. I didn't have a Facebook account until I was a senior and there was never pressure to post romantic photos of myself with my high school boyfriends online. I knew I had different interests from some of my romantic-minded peers — I was always the one being asked, "Why do you have to be so negative?" — but I didn't think of it as truly odd until we started the wedding-planning process.
The pressure to be a perfectly romantic couple crops up at strange points in wedding planning. It can be anything from an awkward photo request to an offhanded comment. Bridal shows, at least in the South, were a particular source of groans on my end. Last summer, my fiancé and I, along with both of my parents and my sister, went to a large bridal show at the state fairgrounds, and it quickly became obvious that I was not the bride many of these vendors were looking for. (My blood still boils when I think of the catering company giving away salad dressing containers, because brides "diet" before weddings.) One real estate company, for example, had a hot air balloon basket for couples to take photos in. Of course, there was a catch: The employees directed us to "recreate a special moment" for the photo, complete with a giant plastic diamond. I was instantly a spoilsport at that photo booth. For us, there was no specific special moment to recreate — we planned our engagement together and there was certainly no ring involved. But at the behest of my family (and the aggressive vendors), we took the photo and I conjured an exaggerated look of surprise. My parents loved the picture, dubbing it "so cute," even though I meant it in a mocking way. In a similarly awkward experience, my mom won a free photo shoot with a romance-loving photographer who took dozens of photos of Steve and me with our noses touching. Not only was this not an image I'd be inclined to share with anyone, but it was also far from romantic. It was August in North Carolina, it was extremely hot, and our noses kept slipping, because we were so drenched in sweat. (Luckily, we had a much better experience at our engagement shoot with the photographer who's doing our wedding. After a few minutes, he quickly ascertained that we were "more comfortable not touching" in the photos.)
Steve is my best friend and I'm thrilled that we're going to spend our lives together. It's great to know that so many people are here to celebrate the occasion and share in our joy. But, this essay aside, I'm a very private person and it's been hard to invite 150 people into our relationship. I understand that these people are here to support us, but being mushy, in private or in public, has never been part of who I am. And while I'm happy to do wedding planning my way, sometimes, I do feel like I'm not a "good" bride for not being more romantic. For so many people, being romantic comes naturally — their love is evident from their photos, wedding vows, and Facebook posts. Spending holidays with my family is sometimes challenging — my sister and her boyfriend are very romantic and my extended family gushes over them. I'm sure they wish I were more like her in that regard, and sometimes, it feels like my relationship is somehow less real than hers, even though I'm getting married first. But in the end, none of that matters, because it doesn't impact my relationship. It's not the picture-perfect idea of romance that the wedding industry sells, but it works for us. Steve and I are happier together than we are apart, which is really what everyone's looking for in a relationship, right? The last time I wrote an article about my engagement, the internet didn't take it well. My story was picked up by conservative blogs that mocked me for ruining romance and accused me of generally being a feminist killjoy. Many of the comments encouraged Steve to get out while he still could. It baffles me that these people — like the acquaintances I haven't spoken to in years and random vendors at bridal shows — are so invested in my relationship. My approach to planning my wedding isn't going to take down the wedding industry or uproot longstanding wedding traditions. The industry thrives on these ideas of perfect romance — a $2,000 cinematic video set to a Jason Mraz song, a blinged-out dress that costs more than several months' rent, elaborate love-themed favors and decorations. I'd love to have a wedding that guests will enjoy and have some great photos to remember it, but our relationship — and the lifetime ahead — is more important to me than the industry's theatrics. A wedding lasts a day; a marriage lasts (hopefully!) a lifetime. For us, being friends, partners, and companions is the strength of our relationship. And if that comes at the expense of fitting into someone else's idea of picture-perfect romance, so be it.