Monday, May 9, 2011

A Wedding Is Bigger Than One Day

At many points along this wedding planning journey, I started doubting the point of all this work and angst. A low undercurrent of dread became my constant companion, whispering “this won’t be worth it. There’s no way this stress and expense will ever be worth it for just one day.” That’s when I had to scream at all the cultural messages belittling us for spending so much “for just one day” by holding on to the knowledge that for us, our wedding was much bigger than a single day. Our wedding was  vitally important to our family and our marriage.

I had the elopement fantasies. Somewhere along the way, they became more than joking fantasies as we descended into hard fights and stress-filled months. But I was resigned to the wedding and all the work and money we had to invest because for us, elopement wasn’t a real choice. Yes, the Mexican beach ceremony-for-two was always a theoretical option, but it was a choice that would have subtly-but-importantly affected our marriage for the rest of our lives.

I thought about how our parents would have responded if we eloped.* I think my pragmatic father would have been mildly hurt but proud of our financial savvy. My mother would have been very hurt  but, since her own parents couldn’t attend her weddings (either the first near-elopement or her backyard cake-and-punch wedding to my father), I think she would have learned to accept it. But when I tried to picture Jason’s parents and large tight-knit family reacting to elopement news, I went cold. It’s not that they wouldn’t have moved past it, eventually. But I knew the wedding was more important to them than a simple celebration, a Way Things Are Done Tradition, or a chance for  far-flung cousins to gather. I knew it would mark a turning point for me as a member of his family. I knew that the distance between California and Texas would get smaller after the wedding. I knew that, For Better or Worse, the wedding would make me family to them in a way that a marriage certificate couldn’t.**

So I set my jaw and settled in to the wedding planning process, having to trust that the wedding would matter. I already knew that the process mattered, that our arguments hurt because they were harder than discussions about budgets or guest lists as we faced down the realities of what it meant to build a family, to renegotiate roles with ourselves and our parents, and to define our new household. But I had to remind myself that the wedding would matter too. I found ways to stake a claim on our wedding - this wedding I didn’t always want -  by fighting hard for the non-traditional plans that caused so much logistical stress but which felt rightest to us. It left me bone-tired and bleary-eyed. I got to the point where I accepted that the  stress and expense of planning our wedding might never be worth it in a single-day sense. But I gritted my teeth and stayed focused on the absolute worth-it-ness of our wedding in the context of our lives. 

I was right to fight for our wedding and to fight off our self-doubt. For us, having a large family and community-filled wedding was an important turning point or our relationship and our family. We were lucky to have our wedding transform into something so much more than obligation, a truly amazing party, or a collection of deeply personal moments and promises. Our wedding was so much larger than the sum of its parts. There’s simply no description for how it feels to be surrounded and supported by that much joy. There’s no way to explain the feeling of knowing your family and friends truly support your marriage, so much so that you can almost sense their love propelling you down the aisle. There’s no way to adequately describe how a wedding reception can be more than a celebration when a party joins with purpose, love, and group revelry.  It's hard to really get across how, if the marriage is right, everyone is simply so d*mn happy for the couple that they won’t care two whits about centerpieces, fancy food and alcohol, favors, dresses, DJs or anything else you’ve been stressing over. They’ll just care about sharing in the joy.

Good weddings - and by that, I mean weddings where the couple is right for each other and entirely in love - expand the hearts of everyone in attendance. There’s something powerful about love let loose for a day. We let down our guard, our sense of propriety about keeping messy passionate kisses private, and all scream YES as the couple says "I love you. I am taking a huge leap of faith with marriage because I believe in our love. I know that marriage will be d*mn hard but I believe in us. I believe in our rock-solid core. I believe in passion and laughter and fighting and hospital visits and silly Sunday afternoons with you. YES."

The YES of it sweeps you up, if you let it, even if you’re sitting in the back row of the ceremony seating. We saw it in the tears. We felt it in the tight speechless hugs. We got swept up in it during the multi-generational dance-floor frenzy. We savored it all over again in the photos and heartfelt, letter-length guest book messages.

Our wedding changed things for us. Our wedding made us family. For me and Jason, we became family during the engagement and wedding planning, as we worked through issues that cohabitation hadn’t necessarily forced us to address. For our community, the wedding day itself made us family when they all could join us for the Yes. They could witness and confirm the love. They could help build, share, and grow the celebration. They could get swept away by the rightness of it all. Doubt - about the non-traditional nature of the wedding, the along-the-way snafus, or even about the marriage itself - crumbled in the face of that much love, joy, and commitment. For us, the point of having a wedding wasn’t to have One Special Day to proclaim and celebrate our love, however, that love illuminated our day and made the wedding worthwhile for reasons that will last throughout our lives.

Moments of our family/community love and undeniable joy captured by Kelly Prizel


*Note these are all my suppositions. We never raised the issue with our families.
**The decision to elope is very personal and different for each couple. And the reaction of family members may often surprise you, as will the forgiveness and eventual acceptance. But we knew that, for us and our particular situation, elopement would have been a mistake.

17 comments:

  1. It's so good to hear all of this, because sometimes I do wonder if it's worth all the money, time, stress, etc, etc, even though, truth be told, I find wedding planning way more fun than I thought I would.

    Sometimes, when I'm stressed out about all the effort going into one day, I look at your post about how weddings are investments and it gives me comfort.

    Also, you look freaking GORGEOUS.

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  2. This is a post I will hold in my heart as we finish the rocky journey to our wedding day over the next 3 months. You look full to brimming with JOY and love and beauty.

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  3. There have been so many moments when I've said out of frustration, "Let's just go to the courthouse so we can move on already." We never do it. Even though we've both had weddings before, we never do it. For the longest time, I thought we were holding out just because of our kids, but it's more than that. When we canceled our destination wedding because my mom wouldn't be able to be there, I knew the wedding wasn't just a celebration for our kids, we needed the celebration, too.

    Thank you so much for sharing not just your thoughts on the wedding, but your photos, too. Even on film, your day exudes love and joy, and after all of the work to become family, you and Jason most definitely earned that day of JOY.

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  4. You look great and you look happy. I love the modern take on pearls in your jewelry.

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  5. @Ruchi - It's funny, because I don't think these are the most flattering pictures of me. But I think I look beautiful anyhow. Radiant with joy. I simply love them, even though others are perhaps more attractive. These say something.

    @Sarah - It was both hard to admit that this was important and hard to hold onto it. The point of it feels elusive, but it's there. Keep holding on.

    @Noelle - eek! On a superficial note, thank you! This necklace was a huge deal for me (and a bit of a splurge) but it felt Just Right.

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  6. Love the pictures! I don't even know you but I feel like I can hear you laughing. :)

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  7. Awesome, awesome post. This is why I'm doing this, in hopes of getting to that feeling.

    And the group hug photo makes me feel warm inside.

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  8. “this won’t be worth it. There’s no way this stress and expense will ever be worth it for just one day.”

    my fiance and i had a loooong conversation about just this the other day, and at the end of it i still wasn't entirely convinced.

    this post, however, made me remember why i'm motivated by our community, and if i didn't care about them being there, we would've forged ahead with our original almost-elopement destination plan. in the past i've always been a very private person, but my friends are my family, and choosing to exclude them from this massive life step would be a huge game changer going forward. it would be putting up an even larger wall for no reason other than my own convenience and issues with time and money. this is not an easy process, but i think (hope!) it's a worthwhile one. :)

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  9. these pictures are so wonderful! your happiness and smiles are infectious :)

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  10. Your necklace is indeed "Just Right" - so bold, yet feminine, lacy and organic all at the same time. And the earrings compliment it too.

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  11. Becca - you've hit the nail on the head, yet again. The power of community and family and LOVE (YES!) is the reason we did not elope. We wanted and needed the support of our families and closest friends. SO yes, all the expense for ONE DAY was totally worth it to define our commitment in a simple ceremony.

    And for the record...do you remember when you posted a bunch of pictures from other weddings (my Cretin Pose with my bro was one of them) and worried how you wouldn't have "those kinds" of happy pictures? Well, you just posted FOUR! :)

    So happy for you!

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  12. You're gorgeous, and I needed this today.

    I keep clinging to this truth, but it's so good to be reminded sometimes.

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  13. @KA - When the stress of our wedding got to be hardest, I tried to focus back on that reason. It helped me set aside the small unimportant stresses and get back to facilitating family and community, which was the whole point of our wedding. All the rest (the favors, OOT bags, decor, necklaces, etc) can shove it. They're great too, but if they're causing stress, wrap your head back around the reason you're doing this in the first place. (or try, at least. I wasn't always successful, but it sometimes helped.)

    @T30SB - Exactly. We wanted and needed the support of our family and friends. At the wedding and thereafter.

    @jolynn - I've discovered that all happy brides are gorgeous and I was so exceedingly happy on my wedding day. I swear I didn't stop smiling from start to finish. You can't take bad photos of a person who is bursting with genuine smiles.

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  14. I second the 'you look freaking awesome' remarks.

    That third to last paragraph is a perfect summary of why I love singing at weddings. It is very addictive to be around that kind of celebration and optimism and hope.

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  15. I really, really hope that you print out a copy of this post and save it somewhere, perhaps in your wedding photo album, to read years later. And maybe to give to your kid decades later, when they in turn are at the same place in their life. I've been reading you and APW for years (golly, yes it has been years), and this is the most eloquent explanation to me of what it is exactly about a wedding that is important. And I say that as someone who has been cohabitating with my life partner for almost 6 years now, and has really struggled with the concept of Wedding - what is it, really, and is it worth it.

    Props. Very well done.

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  16. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. I learned this lesson during our wedding reception. Witnessing our two different families and friends from different eras of our lives mingle, laugh, drink, dance, etc. was the biggest high I have ever experienced in my life. I wish I could have bottled it up to sneak little sips here and there.

    Your pictures captured those same heartfelt feelings that you simply can't manufacture. Sigh, and the last picture down to the gentlemen in the far left corner with his hands clasped together is just so wonderful. The feelings weddings can conjure...

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  17. Beautiful! I especially loved this part:

    "Good weddings - and by that, I mean weddings where the couple is right for each other and entirely in love - expand the hearts of everyone in attendance. There’s something powerful about love let loose for a day. We let down our guard, our sense of propriety about keeping messy passionate kisses private, and all scream YES as the couple says "I love you. I am taking a huge leap of faith with marriage because I believe in our love. I know that marriage will be d*mn hard but I believe in us. I believe in our rock-solid core. I believe in passion and laughter and fighting and hospital visits and silly Sunday afternoons with you. YES."`"

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