Image | Brides.com
Before I got engaged, I always imagined I’d be the most low-key of brides. I didn’t think I’d want a wedding wedding—an intimate ceremony and a nice dinner with our families always seemed like the sensible thing to do. After all, we’re saving to buy a flat in London, and blowing thousands on one day would just be silly, right?
In the beginning, it was Ben pushing for the big wedding. He has a wide social circle and an even bigger family—he’s one of those rare people who’s in regular touch with third cousins and beyond—and once we got engaged last July and started thinking about our guest list it became clear that my tiny do was a nonstarter. So, after I returned home to New York from our glorious Copenhagen engagement getaway, I started researching our options.
And that’s when it happened. The truth is, I’d never thought too much about weddings before. I haven’t attended many—just a handful of family affairs as a kid and then two in the UK with Ben this past summer—and I never had a clandestine Pinterest board or anything like that. I had no idea what was out there—or what any of it cost. I had a vague idea that it might be nice to get married at the Chelsea Physic Garden—what an innocent I was!—but that was about it. We went through a brief period last spring and early summer when we were what I, to Ben’s great embarrassment, described to people—mainly his people—as “pre-engaged,” and at one point when I was visiting him in London my future mother-in-law asked me what I had in mind for the wedding. “Oh, I don’t know,” I demurred. “Something that’ll make Ben happy. Something that won’t cost too much.”
Since I knew essentially nothing about planning a wedding—even less so a wedding in the UK—I started Googling. And I found blogs. And venue listings. And bridal salons. And I realized that deep down maybe this was something I did want after all: the picturesque setting, the gorgeous gown, the fantasy flowers, the adoring crowds—and, of course, the dreamy photos to capture it all. What I still didn’t have a feel for was what it all cost—but surely there was a way to pull in all of the elements that had just become important to me on our princely budget of approximately £10,000?
When Ben swung by New York for a few days last August at the tail end of a six-week round-the-world trip (just saying, not that I’m jealous), I was prepared. I had already started making appointments at bridal salons and bookmarking photographers whose work I couldn’t get enough of, and I’d thoughtfully assembled a list of 20-something venues for us to look over together. Even though Ben was the one to steer our wedding in a more traditional direction in the first place, he’s still a typical guy in a lot of ways. And—though he’s since proved a huge help in my long-distance endeavours—wedding planning isn’t really his thing, and I don’t think he’d expected it’d be mine either. So to say he was a little surprised at how far I’d taken things would be an understatement. I think his eyes started glazing over about five stately homes into my venue list, but I was having none of it. “I think this one might be out of our budget,” he’d say as I scrolled through photos of some lovingly restored medieval castle. “This one’s quite far from London,” while I ogled an idyllic tea garden (a tea garden!) in Sussex. “It never hurts to ask!” was my mantra, as if asking could cut some kilometres from the commute.
Ben went home to London, and I kept on keeping on. I tried on the finest wedding gowns NYC has to offer. I realized I had a penchant for high-end designer fashion (one that, alas, will probably always remain untapped). I wrote to a whole lot of venues for quotes. I cajoled Ben into visiting quite a number of them, armed with a lengthy list of questions I’d customized for each. What time could we set up on the day? Was the venue insured? The setting a perfect balance between countryside idyll and easy trip from London? Were there port a potties? Because I was not down with port a potties.
After much anguish we settled on a date and a venue. But there was still so much more to do! I needed pro hair and makeup. We needed flowers. We really, really needed a photographer. So began a repeat of the forced viewing of the venue list, though this one happened over Skype, and I could only get Ben to look at five or so per call because, he claimed, they all started looking the same after that. Occasionally he’d pipe up with a dazed “These look like something out of a movie.” “Well, yeah!” I responded. “That’s the whole point.”
But maybe it wasn’t.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with splurging on a decadent venue or a top photographer—or all of the above! The more the merrier, if it fits your budget and your vision. The problem was, a lot of the things I wanted didn’t fit ours. Not to say we flat-out couldn’t afford them, but more that splashing out on my wedding obsession of the moment wasn’t in line with our big-picture spending and saving goals—and the overall ethos we’d wanted for our wedding in the first place.
One of the weddings Ben and I had attended in the summer—a perfect English summer pub wedding, which played a role in our choice of venue—had lots of handmade touches and contributions from friends, and I’d been enchanted by how personal it all was. I thought it was so special how the couple and their friends and family really made the wedding their own, and I hoped when the time came Ben and I could do the same.
But nothing is ever so simple—not for me, at any rate. Because the truth is, I’m not (just) a bridezilla. I am, if you will, a lifezilla. No matter how easy-going my intentions, I just can’t help myself from getting bogged down in details. I’d like to think that sometimes my pickiness keeps things to a higher standard, but all too often it leads me into situations that are, quite frankly, ridiculous. I’m sure anyone I’ve ever marched up and down Manhattan in search of the perfect affordable, veg-friendly, TV-free restaurant can attest to this. It’s not a quality I’m looking to discard altogether, if I even could, but it is one I’m trying to learn to exercise with a bit more discretion.
So where does all of this leave me? The short answer is that I’m still working my way through it. I’m trying to stay true to what I wanted before I discovered all that the wedding industrial complex has to offer, but I can’t deny that the pull toward all the pretty is strong. I want the top florist / MUA / whatever, but I also want the intimacy that comes with DIY or help from friends—and to keep our wedding on the right side of £20,000. I want the best and most beautiful on a budget, but I also want to support small and local businesses and avoid the retail behemoths. I want to be impeccably done up for my photos, but I also want to walk along the Thames path to our venue with Ben before the wedding, and to DIY my table arrangements, and a dozen other things that aren’t really conducive to keeping my makeup crisp and my hair tidy.
I think Ben and I may be a little older than the average in the wedding blog world, but in a lot of ways we’re still just kids, trying to navigate among the best and the easiest and the noblest ways to be and to find some kind of balance we can live with. Planning a wedding is like everyday life, only more so, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that ours is bringing all kinds of questions and quibbles I’d rather ignore to the surface. The truth is, to go all Alanis Morissette on you, that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet when it comes to balancing my values with my baser desires—not in life, and not in wedding planning. Our wedding will be a snapshot of where we are right now, imperfect and under development and all, and I’m just trying to learn that maybe that’s okay.