Big Wedding, Small Budget

For Better or for Worse

It’s interesting how the focus of my thinking has changed as the wedding has gotten closer. Of course, I’ve made an effort throughout this process to think about the marriage, not just the party. And those “marriage” thought came up more naturally while choosing a Ketubah text and writing the ceremony. But the truth is, most of my mental energy has been focused on planning the wedding. I mean, there’s just so much to do, you know? So many decisions to be made.

Except now, there really isn’t. We’ve really reached the end of the planning process. Sure, there are a ton of things left to do, and I’ve been working on wedding stuff every day. But literally, there is one decision (and it’s not a very difficult or consequential one) to be made. The rest is just doing. And with virtually nothing left to figure out, my brain has been free to meditate on this marriage thing we’re getting ourselves into.

Suddenly, stories I read online where a spouse becomes unexpectedly sick or disabled have rocked me to my core. Whereas before, those stories would have felt touching, and I would have been left with admiration for both spouses, now, I’m left with questions, a bit of anxiety, and a profound feeling of jumping off of a cliff. Of course, Steve and I have been committed to each other for some time, and if he had gotten into an accident six months or two years ago, I don’t think I would have left him just because we weren’t married. But still. There is something huge about making a promise to each other to stay together in the case of something tragic happening. There’s something about making an active commitment rather than a passive one that feels much more real, much more binding.

In just three weeks, we’ll be promising to stay together for better or for worse. And we’ve already been through some better, and some worse. From where I’m standing right now, though, it’s the act of making the promise that seems to be all the difference. I know I’ll be spending the next three weeks, and probably the next 30 years, trying to wrap my brain around what this commitment really means. It’s something I don’t think you can understand before you go through it. And now, facing down that cliff, I’m finally starting to grasp that. And I’m holding on to the fact that we’ll be jumping off that cliff together.

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Marriage Rules

One thing that’s been interesting during this engagement period is how much more aware I’ve become about the cultural conversation around marriage. I’m sure you’ve all heard the comments and stories, too. Once you’re married, it seems, wives become impossible-to-please nags, husbands become dumb, clueless jerks, and no one has sex anymore. According to, well, the world in general, the minute the ring is on my finger no one can be happy anymore. A baby immediately follows and we slip into the proscribed gender roles immediately. Then that’s it. It’s just us forever, with him bemoaning the lack of opportunity to be with everyone else and with me bemoaning the lack of attention from my husband.

Ew. Just, ew. If this is what we really thought marriage is, we certainly wouldn’t be signing up. The thing is we (and everyone else) can make our marriage whatever we want. We could have a marriage exactly like the one I described above. We could stop hanging out with all of our friends and only hang out with each other. We could only travel together. We could stop using the singular and only say, “we” or “us.”

That kind of marriage might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for us. I assume we’ll have a marriage where we remain fairly independent, as we’re both happier that way. We definitely will continue to travel alone; we both enjoy the treat of having the house all to ourselves sometimes. We’ll remain on totally different work and sleep schedules; it’s a necessity for our jobs and we also both like the measure of independence it gives us.

Our marriage can look any way we want it to. Internally, we can structure it with whatever rules and norms we choose. And I think the cultural conversation can be very damaging, especially to those of us who want to have a less traditional kind of marriage. It only makes room for one thing. And setting those kinds of expectations stops couples from working to create the best marriage for them. It’s not easy to question and evaluate the worth of established cultural norms. But it’s almost always worth it.

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I had a great post planned for today, insightful discussion regarding things I’ve learned about myself during this planning process. But it got sidelined today by some happy news: Steve’s family booked their flights!

I’ve been operating all along with the premise that not everyone whom we want to be at our wedding will be able to come. Some people might have other obligations, for others it might be too expensive, and a (hopefully) select few might just not want to come. And that’s ok. But of course, deep down, I’ve got my list of must-haves, and of course Steve’s family was on it. Unfortunately, there was also the chance that they wouldn’t be able to make it, seeing as how they live in England and all. And Steve’s sister and brother-in-law have three kids, so it’s quite a journey to make.

But! They called yesterday to tell us that they found a good deal and wanted to book it. So, they’re officially coming!

And this news has made everything seem so much more real and exciting. It’s so much easier to picture the wedding and how things will go now. We can make concrete plans for things I was holding off on. I can actually imagine walking down the aisle.

Most of all, it means that I will have more people to help me get everything ready in the days before the wedding.

Psych! Actually, it means that we will really have our two families coming together on the wedding day. And that is what I’ve been hoping for all along.

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I saw The Five Year Engagement this weekend with some friends. Quick review: the first half was awesome. Then it all fell apart badly.

Anyway, one of the concepts in the movie is that this couple is sort of waiting to iron out all of their problems before they get married. And that started me thinking about how afraid people are of divorce (me included) and the unrealistic expectations we tend to have about relationships and marriage. Let’s unpack this further.

I know for me, and in talking to my friends as we grew up, it felt really important to choose the right person to marry, to be absolutely sure. It’s a lot of pressure, to be honest. I think divorce is much more of a reality for us then for our parents, even those of us who grew up around happy marriages. There’s this almost magical thinking inherent in this concept. Choosing the right person is the best way to ward off divorce. But is it, really? I believe that way of thinking misses so much. I mean, we all grow and change throughout our lives. The person I am now, although maybe the same deep down, is still pretty different than when I was 20. Who knows what I will be like, what I’ll want and need, when I’m 50? I certainly can’t say. And that’s nothing to say of external factors that can easily make a relationship harder, if not ruin it completely.

But that truth is hard to face. It’s really scary to feel that no matter how secure you are in your relationship, things could always change down the road. So I think it’s easier to just believe that if you pick the right person, you’ll be ok. It’s a pretty effective way to ward off the fear.

Ok, let’s set aside this issue of finding The One Right Person (which, for the record, I don’t believe in anyway) for the moment. The other thing that stuck out to me during the movie was the trap of unrealistic expectations that the couple fell into and that I think most of us fall for at one point or another.

The stories we grow up with teach us about Great Romance. They teach us that your soul mate is out there, and when you find them, you will have a beautiful and easy relationship with no bumps in the road, no problems, no moments of not being able to stand the other person. Then we grow up a little bit and graduate to romantic comedies. Sure, there is some conflict, some reason for the couple to have difficulties. But that all ends when they make the decision to be together and get married. Then, it’s happily ever after.

Except it’s not. Except relationships are messy and inconsistent. Except that even when you love someone, sometimes you just don’t see eye-to-eye. This warped view of relationships leads us to search for something that doesn’t actually exist. No two people can get along perfectly all of the time. No two people can just be together all of the time without needing some space. No two people can be in love without having any conflict. People aren’t perfect, and neither are the relationships they get themselves into.

The problems really start when you combine that pressure of having the exact right person for you with the unrealistic expectations of what a good relationship will look like. Then, the moment that things get difficult, the obvious conclusion is that it’s not the right person. So, you break up. Or, you keep dating, putting off marriage until you figure everything out. But then, how can you ever get married?

I think we need to start talking about the hard stuff. We need to be honest with ourselves and with the people we know about our relationships. Now, I’m not suggesting that we share private details with everyone we know. I’m suggesting that we stop pretending that everything is perfect. We stop trying to present a front and make people think we have the perfect relationship. If we can be honest with each other, we can find the support and advice that gets us through the hard times instead of going it alone. And that can only make our relationships better.