Monday, April 12, 2010

The Details Matter

About five years ago, my then-boyfriend broke up with me by playing one of my previously favorite sad-sack songs and asking me to really listen to the lyrics. This WTF breakup came about a week after a mountain biking accident in which I ended up in the emergency room (and which I can largely blame on him.) Due to resulting complications from the accident, I was unable to take the LSAT exam (which I'd been studying for by sinking my savings into an expensive test preparation course) and I racked up a ton of medical bills in the process.

It was, to say the least, a difficult period in my life. And the first moment that I really and truly knew I'd be okay happened while sitting alone in a park. I couldn't walk, and so I could only sit there and take everything in. I watched dogs playing offleash. I watched kids playing frisbee with their parents. And I leaned back into the smell of fresh springtime grass and blooming flowers and it suddenly hit me: he and all my mounting problems couldn't take away from the simple pleasures of a sunny day at the park. Life could fall apart around me, and still, I could always take solace in a quiet moment of beauty. And I could string together these small moments of everyday beauty until sometime, someday, they added up to a recaptured life of fully appreciated joys. 

I picked a few small yellow flowers from next to me and stuck them behind my ear, and I somehow turned an emotional corner. It took a year to recover from him and my own complicity in my relationship patterns, and I've managed the health and financial impacts just fine. But I learned something more important about how imperative it is to search out small moments of imperfect beauty in my everyday.

All these memories came flooding back last week after reading Ms Awesome's eloquent post about why the details do actually matter in our weddings:
"Beautiful light. A second cup of coffee in pajamas. A crisply tied bow. A perfectly frosted cupcake. There is beauty and power and magic and art in the details.
Why in the hell else would I spend a year of my life planning and writing about our wedding if not to focus on the details?  ALL the details.  Aesthetic, emotional, and otherwise.
There is beauty in the intent, in the execution, in the memories of the details themselves. Our paper cranes started out as a purely aesthetic and slightly budgetary detail (paper is cheap yo!) but they’ve evolved into much more than that.  When I look around at the hundreds of cranes in the trees at our wedding I’ll remember my drunk friends trying to fold straight lines and pouring more wine, and laughing out loud and showing off their epic crane fails. And that makes me smile. And even if I don’t notice the cranes on our wedding day, I’m sure the pictures of them will make me smile just the same. And I’m smiling right now, so I think the cranes are already worth it!
Here I am constantly trying to justify or rationalize or over think my desire for a beautiful wedding when there is absolutely nothing wrong with beauty.  Beauty is valid, life affirming and uniquely in the eye of the beholder."
After trying so hard to carve some sanity for myself in this wedding process (and budget) with a giant eff it to the unimportant stuff, this post hit home. Because, while it's true that pretty invitations, unique centerpieces, pinatas, bouquets, a stunning dress, and all the other details don't matter one whit in crafting a meaningful or beautiful wedding, they have a fierce pull on my heartstrings for more than simply aesthetic reasons. Aesthetics are deeper than superficial markers of wealth, theme, and prettiness that our wedding decor can project. Aesthetics don't have to rely on DIY projects or extensive florals, but there's a reason so many of us are drawn to these projects and expenses, and why many of us battle with wanting to achieve Bridal Pretty (TM). I think it's because, at our core, we're responding to the smell of cut grass and those bold yellow flowers in the park. We're pulling from our own moments of beauty that have sustained and nurtured us through the hard times. We know how framing a photograph or filling a vase with flowers can transform a room, make an apartment into a home, and make our everyday just slightly more worthwhile. And we want to have those feelings, writ large, on our wedding day.

And yet, there's a real reason to disregard the details. They are expensive. Some of us just aren't DIY savvy. And DIY can also be a giant, expensive, near-impossible, time-consuming, pain in the *ss. And frankly, the details aren't important in the grand scheme of a wedding. As intelligent people, we know this. And so we embrace the core purpose of our weddings and embrace the practical-but-ugly chairs that come with our venues. I cheered when A Cupcake Wedding posted pictures of ugly chairs at a beautiful wedding because my chairs are going to be the ugly plastic things that come free with our venue and my wedding is going to be beautiful anyhow. I needed to see that. I needed to see it in pictures to finally know it, after having seen far too many images of joy that get equated with chivari chairs and "effortlessly" designed wedding details.

But still, the Pretty has its pull. I think it's important to honor such an important day with aesthetics that make our heart sing. If I got married in a recreation center with grey metal chairs, plastic plates and no semblance of celebration, a part of my would cry inside, regardless of how emotional my vows might make me.  Granted, I'm getting married at a community center with ugly chairs and (possibly) compostable plates, but we chose this budget-compromise spot because of the stunning ceremony views, partly so I wouldn't need to make myself nuts with wanting aisle runners, hanging flowers, and pretty chairs. And we can easily spruce the place up with succulents and a few flowers, and our plain plates with some bright tablecloths. And I'm looking forward to crafting-and-wine parties with friends to create the imperfect-but-festively-pretty decor we'll throw around the room and cocktail area.

And that's why I think the obsession with wedding details gets it wrong. Beauty matters because it honors the celebration and importance of our weddings. But the details do not matter in and of themselves. And beauty is not achieved in the sum of 50 amazing DIY projects or well-executed details coordinated throughout the event. A few well-chosen and well-loved details help honor our day, both in the process of lovingly creating them and in their display. But they don't matter because they're stunningly pretty. Nor do they matter in and of themselves. An invitation is an invitation. A stamp is a stamp. Big effing deal. They matter because we chose to make them matter and because they hint at the real beauty and meaning underlying our wedding day events. And this beauty can be achieved without one single flower or one single pretty detail, so long as our courthouse-wedding grins shine over any possible plainness in the city hall office (or wherever we get married that hasn't been blessed with design-worthy beauty.)

Our obsession with details makes sense: they are the photos that get celebrated on blogs, they are certainly beautiful and can make our aesthetically-attuned hearts jump a bit, they're more concrete and easy to tackle than the difficult questions of writing ceremonies, vows, and promises, and, yes, they matter. But everyone who's been through this wedding stuff before said to pick a few important things at the wedding and disregard the rest. If you love food, focus on food. If you want a dance party, focus on your tunes. And if you want pretty details, focus on a few. We can only spread ourselves so thin, and this desire for pretty details can easily take us to the breaking point of wedding day sanity as the unfinished projects pile up and we worry about how our wedding will measure up and if it will be pretty enough. Um, of course it will be pretty enough. We're getting married, and true joy from a true partnership will light up even the ugliest recreation room and grey metal chairs.

And so, this wedding is also becoming a process of cutting back, of finding beauty again at its core, and of remembering that I only need one yellow flower tucked behind my ear to transform the day. Simple decor and simple efforts are enough when they honor the beauty of the day itself. Wedding details are important because they are honoring something important, and not because of their intrinsic aesthetic. And the moment we forget that we are choosing our pieces of beauty to honor something important and not because We Need The Pretty, that's when meltdowns happen. And that's when we need to take an afternoon in the park with dogs running around, kids playing frisbee, and some freshly cut grass to remind us that it's going to be alright.


  1. this is so eloquent and helps put into words what I think a lot of people believe. I love prettiness even though I study engineering. I come from a crafty background but I also know myself to be impatient and a perfectionist. So finding venues that are pretty in and of themselves was key to helping me cut down the projects. Plus the architecture element plays into who I am. So a little 150-year-old church and Fiance's family's home mean existing warmth and design and I'll just throw some market flowers in vases. It really is about picking the essentials and get rid of the rest.

  2. First, let me say that I cannot BELIEVE the way your ex broke up with you. Holy shit. I am happy that you were able to move past what sounds like a terrible time.

    And yes, the details thing is tricky. I even said in my wedding grad post, something like "the details matter, but not how you think they will," meaning, similarly, they matter when they come together to create a "feeling", a space in which to make your loved ones feel loved, etc. It's about finding the balance in details that contribute to this, and details that don't. (E.G. my huppah quilt was a detail that I felt contributed massively to the "feeling" of the wedding; pretty or ugly chairs... whatever.)

    I think we need to be careful about focusing on details that DO matter, but still remembering that we needn't worry too much about creating this "feeling" because, you know...the vows go a long way towards it too. :)

  3. There is something so beautiful in simple things intentionally appreciated, like you say about yellow flowers. I love details too, and get a kick out of them, but I guess my own self-guideline would be whether the details add to the focus (the love and marriage, in the case of a wedding) or if they begin to overtake everything like kudzu, which was imported with the best of intentions. :)

  4. Yippee! I've totally been waiting to read your response, and of course, it's AWESOME! I've been mulling over what more I might want to add or if I should change the title to WHY the details matter, and pondering the "how much is too much" question and you've answered them quite eloquently here! So hooray! I think you hit the nail on the head with how details matter "because we chose them to matter." That's the crux of it for DIY and non DIY brides both- it's a choice, so choose joy! And those details that bring you joy. And forget the rest. Or don't. But above all be true to yourself, your relationship and your wedding, which will be epic/fantastic/beautiful, regardless of the exact details. Cheers Becca! :)

  5. A great summarization of the details-matter-debate. It's how they add to a wedding that is important. When they take over the wedding, that's the problem. But let's leave that for each individual couple to sort out.

    The details-matter-debate is so nuanced, and it's so easy to judge another person based on what details they think are important. But you are not in their shoes, and in their head, so judgements in this area of wedding planning are futile.

  6. I'm seconding Ms. Awesome. The details matter because we chose them to. Choose the joy :)

    Great post as always!

  7. You always seem to write what's floating around in my head, so thank you. The boy and I are visual people (his degree is in art) and we love all the pretty little detailed things (thus the name of my blog). Still, it's been hard balancing that with our budget and our values and yes, the judgement of others.

    Also, do we have the same ex-boyfriend? I, too, dropped a load of money studying for the LSAT, which I almost missed because my douche ex picked a fight with me the morning of the test.

  8. @kc - I think a lot of us have *that* ex boyfriend. Which is why we appreciate the rightness of this marriage thing even more. Also, without the *sshole ex, I would have become a lawyer. Egads, I'm happy to be on a different path.

  9. @ALosAngelesLove

    Shortly after our LSAT debacle, I realized I was only applying to schools to escape him. So I ditched both!

  10. I'm going to echo A, by saying all of it matters and none of it matters. Because really truly what you can't appreciate fully till you've done it (or I couldn't. I thought I could, but I didn't really really really get it)- a lot of the stuff we spend our time and money on, justifying it as beauty? Well, you don't notice them, bottom line. So do it if you enjoy the process, but if the process isn't fun? Not worth it.

    However, there is something to be said for being true to your aesthetic. But my advice would be: focus on the big picture stuff: the huppah, your dress, the music, your ceremony (and seriously, I didn't notice a single other thing I think). Focus on things you'll keep forever: the Ketubah. But other than that? Seriously. It will not hit your radar on your wedding day. You'll be a million miles above it.

  11. Details are huge in my life. I generally feel most perfectly happy when I can focus on something small and beautiful and simple - somehow it lets me appreciate the rest of my life.

    BUT, there is the matter of sorting through and figuring out which details are special and meaningful to you. And which details won't kill you in the process.

    Details can function in two ways. They can illuminate the beauty of the overall experience (as in, you can focus on a simple detail and really grasp how amazing the whole is) and they can obscure the overall experience (as in, you get so caught up in creating a million perfect details that you forget about the reason behind the day).

    I think that's why we tend to get so conflicted over the issue. In weddings, as in life, we need a nice balance.

  12. We had a cheapish wedding in ugly hall with minimal decoration. I just got back our pictures back. And? All I can see is the faces of the people I love, laughing and dancing and talking. Not only do I not remember noticing any of the (few) details on the wedding day, I'm not really interested in seeing them after the fact either. Oh, the photographer tried, and did take pictures of them, but I skip right over them to the ones of my aunt and mom dancing, or a new uncle holding a tiny baby. Those details, as it turns out, are what I want to remember.

  13. @Accordions & Meg - Mostly, I don't care about the details. Mostly, I know better. And I remind myself that I know better by reading the wisdom of those who have come before. But it's that question then of why I keep caring about the Pretty anyhow. What about it resonates? Because something clearly does, even if I don't care about "detail" photos or boxes full of DIY projects. But it's important that it feels festive in the room, or that my efforts feel festive, at least. I think it's something like you both mentioned about wanting to dress in "fancy me" for the day, to honor the occasion, but not get caught up in bridal costuming. I'm trying to see decor in a similar light. Because, after a few "festive touches" I could care less. Because, like you both mentioned, my focus is the chuppa, the ketuba, the ceremony and the general feel of the day. But I don't consider those "details". Those are the things that will last and will make me cry in 50 years.

    @ peasantwench - much like you, I skip over the detail photos and can't wait to see the laughing/crying faces from our eventual pictures. And that helps remind me that the basic-ness of our hall won't matter a bit in the wedding or memories of it. Yes, I want festive with some garlands or something. But more than that, I want joy that lasts in photos 50 years from now.

    @Rachel - that's it, really. It's the crux of the issue. Trying not to get caught up in the obsessive details while allowing a few conscious choices to help illuminate the day.

  14. Beautifully stated. There are moments when I feel weighed down by the details and what others will think about the details. The levelheaded adult in me knows this is silly. And yet.

    I called to inquire about making our reservations for our ceremony. The special events person informed me that chairs were available and gave me the price per chair. I quickly did the calculations and decided it wasn't a great price, but I could live with it. Then he dangled the carrot, "or you can upgrade to chiavari chairs for $7 per chair." Blargh. Chiavari chairs are so ... damn ... pretty.

    These are the details that drive me to insanity. The ones we don't need and that don't provide any real personal pleasure in the making or the planning, but that I feel pressured to add anyway. They are also the types of details that are most likely to be cut from the list.

    The details that I currently love are the ones that take thought and a little bit of effort, particularly our Do-It-Together projects. I had a blast working with my fiance on my bouquet project; we're designing our own save-the-dates, website and invitations, and I treasure these things because I treasure the time we've spent together in collaboration.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. I think the details matter... to the people the details matter to.

    I know that I will look at all of the little things we have included in our day and really appreciate them, but only because we will have put the effort into them. And we will have put the effort into them because they matter to us.

    Of course, by "us" I mostly mean "me".

  17. What a beautiful post! Thank you for posting this because I am currently angsting (is that even a word) over how much I want to care about the details for my wedding. Yes, I love the Pretty (oh so very much), but can I really be bothered? Does it matter? I love that your answer to my last question is both yes and no for very good reasons :)

  18. i might seriously love you. thank you.

  19. all i can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.

  20. Love love love this post. I am fixated on details, not because I'm crazy, but because it's what I do. When I make art, it's detailed, set up an installation, have a tea party -- I respond to color, to light, to shapes and sounds and smells much more than people I've noticed around me. So yes, I am paying attention to details, because for me they make a moment! I WANT to transform a space and a day and immerse my friends & family in a visual representation of me&him&ournewlife!

  21. @LA Love
    just stop when it stops being fun, m'kay? That's the general rule, unless it's something you passionatly care about (me: dress). Because your hall will look like a bunch of happy people eating, some food, and a pretty cake (or what have you).

  22. Oh, the pretty... isn't that what catches our eye with blogs like Once Wed and Style Me Pretty? We scroll through post after post and make ourselves insane because the bride and her artsy, designer friends handmade her entire wedding, baked a gorgeous, vegan, gluten-free cake, and loaned her their vintage muscle car in mint condition.... and here we are - sitting in a room filled with tons of milk glasses with no idea what to do, no designer friends to handmake the entire day, and no super-awesome baker to create a confectionery masterpiece. Or is that just me? I agree, details matter. But while planning, I think we need to ask ourselves what are the details that matter and focus on those. (Trust me, I am no expert in giving wedding advice. Part of the reason I left this comment is because I need to hear myself say it so that I can believe it as well.) I learned one thing from Weight Watchers (dub dub, woo woo!) that I will take with me for life - sometimes when we feel like we can't do it anymore is when we really need to go to a meeting. So when I need some encouragement to feel like I can continue planning our wedding our way, I seek blogs, like this one and others for the support.

  23. oh man. I got goosebumps reading this today - and had to send you a lil cyber pat on the back. I find myself not WANTING to care about the details...but as much as I fight it...I can't help it. I TRY not to get lost in the wedding minutia of types of flowers to use, or the designer dress I don't have...but it happens. Sometimes I think I'm half nuts for caring so much about some of the details, but my "caring" is organic.

    This was fantastically written, I'm so happy that someone was able to articulate this sound idea. And you have made me loads less ashamed in my desire to craft a pretty wedding.

  24. Though I've seen your blog title before, today was the first day I've read it and so many of the posts (like this one) just strike me as WOW. You discuss so many of the issues that I struggle with, and bring forth such beautifully balanced points. It's fabulous.

    And like everyone else here, I'm also muddled up in the details/prettiness issue. I think I'm going to go for the details that will make a big splash (a wall of lights) or that are necessary (Christmas lights to provide additional lighting for the photographer to actually be able to take photos). But then with everyone talking about all of the wonderful details they're doing, it makes me think I should do more. After all, this is our wedding day. And it just goes round, and round, and round.

  25. Once again, you write what I live lol...I think we do all have that a-hole ex, I've had quite a few lol

    I'm not trying to get wrapped up in the details, but, the more I fight, the more I obsess. You nailed it- it's the details that create the ambiance and that, I do care about.

    I want to create a beautiful day that will burn a hole into my memory forever. I want to remember the good times I had planning it all- thanks to helpful brides-to-be and friends and a long engagement. I want to look around at the people closest to us and KNOW that they are having the time of their lives. So, thank you for writing it so well and speaking my thoughts!


I love active conversations, including (civil) disagreement. I don't love spam or people who use internet anonymity to be rude and disparaging. Spam and rudeness will be deleted.