plan a wedding without freaking out (mostly) + my wedding photos

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I got married seven weeks ago, so I'm still getting that question, "What does it feel like to be married?" My usual answer is, "Pretty much the same, but more like I'm a legit adult." Since Chris and I had been living together for a while before and had felt deeply committed to each other already, our relationship doesn't feel that different. But as a person who struggles with Adult Impostor Syndrome (wait, am I a *real* grown-up? Are you sure?), it did feel like a rite of passage. And the actual day was pure magic and completely exceeded any expectations I had. I thought I'd write a post describing some of the best pieces of wisdom I can share from my own experience for anyone planning a wedding or another big event. 

Wedding Planning Tip #1: When you start to feel stressed or rigid, get back to what really matters.

I am admittedly Type A in some ways, and not exactly low-maintenance. I'm a nester and prefer things to be a certain way. But thankfully, I've also loosened up quite a bit as I've matured.

Case in point: At my sixth-grade birthday party I so meticulously planned (see Exhibit A below), my friends did not want to stick with my regimented schedule of activities, and I got so upset I ended up crying alone in my room. (This was not the only year this happened.)

photo: my 6th grade birthday party schedule
photo: my 6th grade birthday party schedule

Yeah. Like I said, I've taken it down a few notches since then. When it came to planning the wedding, I was pretty chill about the whole thing, and it felt good to hear how much the wedding party and our families really appreciated that. They commented numerous times during the weeks and days before the wedding, and afterwards, that it was one of most relaxed weddings they'd been to which was a very welcome change. It kind of goes without saying that no one likes a Bridezilla, but keep in mind, too, that while you may have in your head the picture perfect wedding, that's so not what matters. As long as your guests don't have to sit through a two-hour long ceremony that bores them to tears, and there's good food and dancing, they will be happy. (Booze, too. Booze helps. But hell, if you can't afford to supply it, just make sure you tell people to BYOB/flask and they will be happy campers.)

I did a little bit of reading around while planning, and loved the advice from Meg over at A Practical Wedding: Determine what your few non-negotiables are up front (the things that are really, really important to you) and then make the decision that anything that is not on that list Does. Not. Matter. So when you start going nuts over "OMG do we need chair covers? What kind of chair covers? What's our chair cover budget?" 2 months before the wedding... if it wasn't on your list, don't mess with it.

It's not that you have to "just be cool" and pretend not to be stressed if something legitimately stressful happens in the planning process, but remember to always zoom it out and reconnect with what matters in this whole process. It's not about the small stuff. You, your wedding party, and your guests will all remember how you all felt that day much more than you will about the flower or decor or food. So make that a big part of what matters to you.

Wedding Planning Tip #2: Remember that the wedding industry is full of shit.

I certainly can't claim I didn't play into any of the Wedding Machine's standards. My dress came from David's Bridal, not a boutique (because I couldn't afford the kind of dress I wanted if it were handmade). We used a website to design and print our invites rather than hand-making them. We had a nice big dinner even though I thought about just serving finger foods. But overall, I cannot emphasize enough that the wedding industry is a giant pile of crap that, just like the beauty and diet industries, is actively trying to make you feel inadequate.

Don't take on anyone's expectations but your own. For me, this meant not falling into the trap of the Pinterest rabbit hole. I poked around and researched some, but I could have easily spent 50+ hours of my life pining over hairstyles and dresses and decor if I were buying into the expectations that the wedding industry tries to put on women today.

Stop stressing over what you think you or your wedding are are "supposed" to look like. Your wedding should look however you damn well please. We wanted our new band to play at our reception, and while some people might think, "that's weird/rude, you need to mingle with your guests the whole time" -- playing was part of what made it such a unique and memorable experience, both for all of us in the band, and for our guests.

Wedding Planning Tip #3: Accept any help that's offered (as long as strings aren't attached). Make sure your gratitude is known and felt.

Chris and I are extremely lucky to both come from great families. I feel like I'm almost missing out on this part of the "oh gaaawd, my in-laws" culture because I won the in-laws jackpot. (Chris feels the same way.) All of our parents -- and we have 8 of them between us --helped out with planning, financial, and moral support (not to mention manual labor) in ways that were loving and not at all demanding or constricting. I know that many times, unfortunately this is not the case, and parents want to be involved heavily in the planning and decision-making process even down to the tiny details. Just from hearing some horror stories (and maybe watching 60 minutes total in my life of reality wedding shows), I have to say that if we felt like our families would have insisted on being involved in a way that did not feel good to us, we would have found a way to do it without any financial support from them and just lovingly asked for their attendance without any help. (For us, this would have meant eloping or a backyard wedding.) Luckily for us, we didn't have that problem.

Not only was our family extremely supportive and helpful, but our friends also seriously showed up for us. I was in awe of the many, many ways that our friends went completely out of their way to help us and make us feel special and loved -- throwing us showers and parties beforehand and doing whatever was needed for set-up and tear-down. My maid of honor did my hair, another bridesmaid did my makeup, and all the bridesmaids worked together to make the floral bouquets and centerpieces. (We used a local wholesale florist and arranged ourselves --  I highly recommend doing this if you're on a budget.) No thank-you card or verbal expression of appreciation could ever fully convey how grateful we are for all this help, but we made a point to acknowledge everyone for their contributions. As I said to them, it was a very literal experience of "I could not have done this without you." 

Wedding Planning Tip #4: Be present, and get a good photographer. 

I heard from numerous people while I was engaged, "the wedding was a total blur" or "I barely remember the wedding itself." I expected that I might have a similar experience, since I'd been told by others, and also from the stress of preparation, all the time planning that culminates in just a few hours, and the couple of mimosas I had while getting ready with my girlfriends. While I know some of the memories will fade with time, I was pleasantly surprised that I had a pretty crystal-clear recollection of the whole event. I felt present and was just taking it all in and trying to soak it up.

We also had great photographers, and of course a good photo can make a memory more accessible than just trying to conjure it from the brain. I'm also grateful that my sister-in-law filmed the whole ceremony and the toasts, and a close friend recorded our first dance and several of the songs our band performed. Even though the videos aren't "professionally" shot and edited like the photos, they are good enough quality to hear and see the important stuff. Personally, I don't regret not hiring a videographer, but I probably would have if people hadn't taken it upon themselves to record stuff! "Get a good photographer" might go without saying, but really don't skimp on this area -- if it's a budget decision, skimp on a different area and spend the money to get a photographer whose portfolio you love. 

If you're married, what was the most significant lesson you learned from the planning process? And if you're not, what is your biggest fear about it? 

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.