This article is from the 2009 edition of Bride & Groom. For more wedding content, head here.
As a writer for the Washingtonian, I’ve researched and written about weddings for four years. So when my boyfriend, Andrew Glover, proposed in July 2007, I thought I was in a better spot than most to plan a wedding. I already knew some secrets—book the big-ticket items first, use flowers that are in season—and wedding planners had shared many of their professional tips with me.
But boy, was I naive.
Planning a wedding was more complicated and time-consuming than I’d imagined. Our to-do list seemed endless and I often felt like the success of our entire event depended on each little part being perfect. That’s not true, of course, but like many brides, I felt the effects of the learn-as-you-go curve.
Here’s my advice on how to stay sane during your engagement.
Rule 1: Don’t feel pressure to start planning immediately.
Andrew and I got engaged on a Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning family and friends were asking, “What’s the date?”
We quickly decided to have the wedding in a tent next to my grandparents’ house in Leonardtown, a small Southern Maryland town where I spent my summers growing up. Two-and-a-half months and hundreds of frustrating phone calls later, we abandoned the idea and decided to have the wedding in Washington. We’d been so eager to set a date and pick a place that we hadn’t thought about the complications of having a wedding in a small town where there are few vendors and no hotels.
I wish that we had taken a few weeks to bask in the excitement of being newly engaged—and to consider things like airport access and summer thunderstorms—before making any big decisions.
Rule 2: Let some details slide.
Free up your time to tackle the less glamorous items on your to-do list. You’ll need it for those long evenings spent compiling addresses and checking the spellings of guest names, creating seating charts, and drawing up timelines.
Which details to drop will be different for every bride. For me, wedding traditions weren’t a priority. I didn’t worry about finding “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” Our guests never showered us with rice, and I decided not to throw my bouquet or wear a garter.
Rule 3: Decide what’s best for you.
Once we scrapped Leonardtown in favor of Washington, we asked ourselves, “What is most important to us?” We poured our energy into two things: venue and music.
We chose the Cosmos Club, a beautiful, historic city club where my parents held their wedding reception more than 30 years ago. The location came with a bonus: We didn’t have to find a caterer. We hired a trumpeter and violinist to play at the ceremony, and we tracked down the great band that kept the dance floor packed at a friend’s wedding reception.
Rule 4: Cutting corners doesn’t have to be painful.
If saving money is important, pick your priorities. We quickly abandoned the idea of having wedding favors and menu cards. We used a simple, beautiful white confection for the cake cutting, but served our guests from a sheet cake hidden away in the kitchen. There was no “Mary Clare and Andrew” wedding Web site, no videographer, and our programs were printed at Kinko’s.
Rule 5: Seek out the fun stuff.
About a month before our wedding, Andrew signed us up for dance lessons. Our first class came at the end of a long week at work and I tried to talk Andrew into canceling, but he insisted. I’m so glad he did.
The lessons were a blast and they gave us an excuse to have a dinner date every Friday. We learned how to do a turn, which got cheers at our reception. Later, I took a lesson with my dad.
Grab dinner with your mom or go to the movies with girlfriends after a day of appointments. Visit a few fancy bridal boutiques and try on the over-the-top gowns. This is the only chance you’ll have to do it.
Rule 6: Delegate.
You could micromanage every detail of your wedding, but it would be nearly impossible to remain emotionally balanced doing it. Let others take up the slack along the way. My brother made a photo slide show for our rehearsal dinner. And my mother and mother-in-law organized the day-after brunch for our out-of-town guests. Asking friends and relatives for help—even if only to make phone calls or run errands—can relieve a lot of stress.
Rule 7: When the big day arrives, don’t sweat the small things.
Make peace with the fact that something is bound to go wrong. After our ceremony at DC’s Church of the Annunciation, Andrew and I walked up the aisle and tried to sneak out a back exit to spend a few minutes alone. On our way to the limo, we got lost and wound up in the gymnasium of the adjoining school. I never imagined that I’d be traipsing through a grade-school gym in my wedding dress, tiptoeing through scattered basketballs and tennis rackets, but it was a great, unexpected moment.
Rule 8: Be a guest at your own party.
So many brides and grooms say that they don’t have fun at their wedding—that they spent the day agonizing over last-minute details or stuck in the corner talking to long-lost great-uncles.
Andrew and I made sure that we thanked and said hello to all of our guests during the cocktail hour and dinner. But once the band started, we gave ourselves a free pass to have fun. I danced so much I was sore the next day.
Rule 9: If you can, incorporate young people.
Who can resist an adorable kid? Our pair of three-year-old flower girls, Natalie and Madeline, added so much joy to the wedding. When they walked down the aisle, everyone in the church seemed to smile and relax, which went a long way toward easing my nerves. They were the most popular partners on the dance floor, and the pictures of them are some of my favorites.
Rule 10: Remember the big picture.
Most guests don’t notice small details—and you shouldn’t, either. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, take a step back and focus on the momentous, exciting life passage you are undertaking—getting married. That should help keep everything in perspective.