What A Former Wedding Planner Wishes You Knew

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Cake tastings, dress shopping, picking out colors, choosing your “first dance” song — what’s not to love about being a wedding planner? A lot of people think it’s a dream job. A lot of people are wrong. Take it from me, a seasoned planner who’s been there, done that. It’s not all fun. There’s a reason Forbes listed Event Coordinator as the number-five most stressful job in America. And that's why I got out.

I know what you’re thinking: How hard can it really be? After all, aren’t weddings just overhyped parties with filet mignon, open bars, and corny DJs who play "Cupid Shuffle"? Someone wears white, someone gives a toast, someone catches a bouquet. It’s hardly rocket science. So, after three years in the business, steady clients, and features in magazines, why did I quit? To answer that question, I’ll have to start at the beginning.

Like many young people, I had big plans to follow my “passion,” be my own boss, and do something I’d love so much it wouldn’t feel like work. Wedding-planning ticked all the right boxes. I was just enough of a people person, a pro at making shit happen, and, most importantly, a hopeless romantic who bookmarked wedding blogs and flipped through copies of Brides magazine for fun. I was convinced a career as a professional wedding planner was my calling.
Did I think about the fact that I’d be working most weekends? Putting myself at the center of catastrophic dramas? Signing up to be a professional scapegoat? Nope. I got caught up in the shiny parts, not bothering to look at the other side of the coin. What was supposed to be my dream job only turned out to be one FML moment after another.

More than 150 hours (and just as many decisions) go into planning a wedding, not to mention ridiculous sums of money. It’s a high-pressure situation that brings out the worst in people. A wedding planner’s primary role is to make the process as “stress-free” as possible. (Whatever the hell that means.) We swoop in like superheroes, promising to save the day and make it look easy. And yes, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves: We can translate your vision into reality (the biggest cliché in the industry), identify red flags, mastermind a rain plan, connect you with reliable vendors, negotiate discounts, and generally keep your day on track. But we are not mind-readers. We are not servants or personal assistants. And for heaven’s sake, we can’t control the weather any more than we can pull a rabbit out of a hat.

I’ve received more than my fair share of outrageous demands. One bride asked me to talk another couple into letting her have the wedding date they’d booked at her favorite venue. (They politely declined.) Before walking down the aisle, another bride asked me to have the tent over her outdoor reception removed since the weather had improved. How she expected us to break down a 40-by-60 tent in 30 minutes and not destroy the tables, flowers, and lighting housed under it, I still don’t know. But even worse was the couple who refused to book a tent because they "prayed about it and Jesus wasn’t going to make it rain no matter what the forecast said" (80% chance of showers). Cue the downpour at the start of their outdoor ceremony. I guess Jesus had more important things to do that day.

That’s just wedding-planning. It’s one part rewarding, two parts batshit-crazy. I’ve lost at least 10 years of life expectancy thanks to this business.

In my experience, there are three primary types of people who hire wedding planners: the high-strung micro-manager who'd prefer if you used the spreadsheets he or she has already created; the flaky free spirit who can’t make decisions and has allergic reactions to to-do lists; and the level-headed unicorns — couples who actually know when to chill and when to be proactive. We’ve all seen the first type, but we rarely hear about the equally frustrating couples who take a totally hands-off approach and can’t pull it together. They're the ones who really caught me off-guard and made me bang my head against the wall. They procrastinate. They ignore your emails. They don’t show up to meetings. I once drove five hours to meet a bride for a venue walkthrough and she didn’t show up despite confirming with me less than 12 hours before.
Her excuse? “I forgot.” I still have a grudge. I almost preferred the bride who always yelled at her mom.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
The truth is, nightmare brides and grooms come in all forms. Sometimes it’s a rotten personality, sometimes it’s stress-related, and sometimes it’s something you have no control over, like pregnancy hormones. After she had fired her first two planners, I got a call from a woman who was 35 weeks pregnant and just three months away from her wedding day. Yikes, should have been my first thought — after all, I could be the third planner she’d fire — but I felt for this woman and wanted to help her out. Well, no good deed goes unpunished. Her vendors hated her so much that many of them called me threatening to break their contracts and give her the money back just so they wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. I couldn’t blame them, but begged that they stick it out for my sake. I now owe a lot of favors.

I can’t give couples all the credit for driving me insane. When you marry someone, you also marry their family, and the same applies to wedding-planning — especially when parents are the ones footing the bill. It’s difficult enough trying to please just the bride and groom, much less the whole family and bridal party (who sometimes expect to be copied on every email). With so many cooks in the kitchen, often nothing gets done. Mom wants roses, bride wants sunflowers. Sister has a friend who wants to DJ, groom insults her taste in music. Everyone’s a critic. I once had to excuse myself from a yelling match that ensued between the bride and her brother because he called her an “entitled brat” for booking a photo booth for the reception. Apparently their parents never gave him the same luxuries when he got married two years prior. Awkward.

Hands down, the most painful part of the job was dealing with budgets. On behalf of wedding planners everywhere, the propaganda on “fabulous and frugal” weddings needs to stop. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no money snob. I, myself, tied the knot with a tiny budget of $5K. It can be done. But I had a brunch, not a sit-down dinner. An iPod, not live musicians. The toilets at my venue stopped working and the manager did nothing to fix the problem. Things went wrong because I got what I paid for. There’s no use sugarcoating it — weddings are expensive, and managing budgets is really more about managing expectations. Sometimes $100K is a lot, but sometimes it’s not — like when you have 400 guests. Don’t act surprised when I say you can’t afford a videographer.

A friend once insinuated that it must be fun getting to spend other people’s money, but that couldn’t be farther from how I (or most wedding planners) do business. It’s not a prepaid shopping spree with a green light to make the client's wedding as Pinterest-y as possible. We make recommendations, track expenses, and try our damn hardest to steer couples in the right direction. If we’re lucky, they follow our advice, but there are always the couples who don’t stick to the plan. Most vendors complain about the cheapskates, but the real downers for me were the fiscally irresponsible. The ones who wiped out their life savings to pay for a famous photographer. The bride who maxed out three credit cards on a designer gown. I never, ever encouraged this kind of spending, but ultimately it was never really my decision to make.

I thought I had thick skin before I started planning weddings, but you need to be bulletproof, quick on your feet, and a problem-solving wiz to do this job without curling up in a ball and crying. Every experienced wedding planner knows no wedding goes off without a hitch — a hard pill to swallow since we’re perfectionists who plan every detail down to the minute. Whether tiny or catastrophic, something always goes wrong, and more often than not, the finger is pointed at the planner. All we can do is put out fires before anyone notices. Whether it’s a tipsy guest bouncing into the cake table and sending it tumbling to the ground, realizing someone threw away the box that had the marriage license, or the maid of honor indiscreetly sprinting down the aisle in the middle of the ceremony because she forgot the rings in the bridal suite, you start to feel like you can’t win. I knew it was time to call it quits when I found myself dreading wedding days instead of feeling excited.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I left my successful career as a wedding planner at the altar. And while starting over is scary in a different way, I'll take uncertainty over "Cupid Shuffle" any day of the week.

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