Wedding Planning Diary, Part I
For several months now, many of you have been asking about wedding planning updates. I thought writing a series of blog posts would be a fun way to answer those requests while also serving as a diary of sorts for me to look back on.
I'm not going to lie: I'm in the thick of it right now and this shit is NOT fun. It's funny how you can hear ad nauseam about how daunting planning a wedding it is, how expensive it is, how much work it is, but (for me anyway) nothing could truly prepare me for it. I'll admit I'm not much of a planner to begin with (I prefer to fabulously appear at parties rather than plan them), making much of this stuff foreign to me. So, in a sense, I've written this post for myself from a year ago (and for you brides-to-be who also aren't natural-born planners), complete with my expectations going into it versus what reality looks like...
Andy and I always knew we wanted to get married in the city. It's home for both of us. Andy was born and raised here, and—many of you may not know this about me as I am Canadian and did live in Germany when I went on The Bachelor—I lived in New York from 2005 to 2010, and then again from 2014 to present. I've considered it home for a long time now.
Venue-wise, our requirements were 1) that it have character (we didn't want a generic box of space), 2) that it possess something uniquely New York about it (whether it be a great location and/or view), and 3) that it not be absurdly priced, as many venues in this city can easily be.
We're quite happy with our chosen venue as it ticks off all those boxes and feels like a good value. We visited at a total of five venues before being recommended this one by a friend of a friend and we both immediately fell in love with it.
One thing that was surprisingly difficult was setting a date. I really underestimated how hard it was to find a date that was doable for all essential parties, especially considering one of my sisters has 4 kids, making school and travel concerns, and the other sister spends 5 months a year on a different continent for work. Also, fun fact: Our original wedding date was October 7, 2016, but we postponed it by a year when I got an opera contract that I really wanted to do which conflicted with it. We booked our current wedding date, September 8th, 2017, a year and a half in advance, which apparently is the only way to get a September date in this city. It's a blood sport, I tell you!
Picking a venue: Expectation: 6/10 | Reality: 3/10
Booking a date: Expectation: 2/10 | Reality: 9/10
I've heard time and again that hiring a planner is a sanity-preserving choice. Being a fairly frugal person I struggled with justifying the cost, but I can honestly say that going with my planner has been one of the single best decisions I've made so far. There are some aspects of the wedding that I know I like and want, and she's great at distilling those wants into realistic choices. As for the things I'm not sure about, she's even better, helping me know what's "done", what will come together beautifully, what is worth the cost and what isn't. In that regard she has practically paid for herself. I adore my planner.
I was the teensiest nervous about picking a planner as I wanted to ensure we had the same vision and that he or she "got" me. I shopped around for a bit, but when my planner came recommended to me and we spoke on the phone, we clicked immediately and it was a no-brainer.
Picking a planner: Expectation 4/10 | Reality 2/10
How less daunting and more enjoyable things become with a planner: Expectation 7/10 | Reality 9/10
IN GOOD COMPANY
Andy and I knew we wanted a small-to-medium sized wedding. We didn't want strict limitations in terms of who we could invite, but we didn't want it to not feel intimate or personal either. Our magic number is 100-120. Whether or not we stay in that range is TBD.
I majorly underestimated how big a challenge assembling the actual guest list would be. Andy, on the other hand, fully predicted how difficult it'd be. In fact, it was such a source of trauma for him that at one point he said he'd rather just head to City Hall than put together a damn guest list. But, in my pre-wedding planning naïveté, I really thought it'd be easy. I figured I'd just invite the people I love and who I know love me, and it'd be a big, happy, lovefest full of my favorite people on the planet!
Turns out it's not quite so simple. A wedding guest list, whether we like it or not, draws a sort of line in the friendship sand. I've also discovered that there's a domino effect element to it; you may feel close to a couple of friends, but you can't invite them without inviting everyone (or at least many more) from that social pocket. You may want to invite certain former co-workers or distant family members, but it's tough to do when there are dozens of others who fall in the same category and who all know and are in touch with one another other. Or perhaps you've grown close with a friend of a friend but fallen out of touch with the friend who introduced you—another tricky one. There's a ton of grey area and it's incredibly unpleasant to sift through. It rapidly looks like you're picking favorites—which I suppose to an extent you are—and normally that's no big deal. But when assembling a wedding guest list, that hierarchy forcedly and uncomfortably comes to a head. I've been told many times that it's my wedding and I can do what I want, but I've learned doing that is much easier said than done, especially when there are potential hurt feelings in the mix.
Whittling down a guest list: Expectation: 4/10 | Reality: 8/10
We adopted this rule from a few other married friends and so far have managed to stick to it: Married, engaged, or living together. Married, engaged, or living together. It's on repeat.
I love it when weddings are social affairs where friends meet friends they never might've otherwise met or mingled with, and I firmly believe plus-ones can put a damper on everyone's interest and motivation to socialize outside their comfort zone. So, again: Married, engaged, or living together. Andy and I aren't opposed to making exceptions if we know the plus-one well, but the last thing we want is for there to be dozens of people we hardly know or haven't even ever met... for whom we're paying a lot of money to be there... and who (literally) might not even be in the picture a year from now. Married, engaged, or living together.
Saying "Sorry, not sorry" to plus-one requests: Expectation: 2/10 | Reality: 1/10
When choosing my bridesmaids, my considerations were how authentic and comfortable my friendships feel, combined with tried-and-true history. It mattered to me that my bridesmaids be constants in my life, no matter where life has taken or will take me.
Unlike with the guest list, I knew full well this could be tricky considering social dynamics, and truthfully, there were a few girlfriends I wanted to make bridesmaids but ultimately didn't in the interest of keeping the bridal party small and intimate. I've always known I didn't want a massive wedding party—I'm not knocking those brides who have a dozen maids, but that's just not me—and I genuinely pondered for months over these decisions.
My sister got married in 2004 and regrets one bridesmaid with whom she's completely fallen out of touch. My mother certainly has a few regrets in this department. I wanted to be sure, at least to the best of my ability, that when I looked over my wedding photos decades from now, that I'll still consider my bridesmaids very dear friends. I realize times and people change, but that's the goal.
Selecting bridesmaids: Expectation 7/10 | Reality: 8/10
I've always been into things like calligraphy and fonts (I'm one of those weirdos who will stop and admire a beautifully hand-scripted coffee shop sign) and was initially extremely excited about invites.
However, this has become the arena where my borderline OCD shines through the most, for better or for worse. I was so unhappy with the first few rounds of samples from the stationery vendor I'd chosen that I cried (yes, cried!) and broke up with them when the invite process was already behind. At three months out I went in a completely different direction, opting to use an entirely different vendor. This change pushed back the invite rollout date by more than a month (they literally still haven't gone out yet as of writing this) as we had to start from scratch all over again. It was one of those why-didn't-I-just-do-this-in-the-first-place decisions and in retrospect I could have saved a ton of time, energy, and stress—not to mention a security deposit.
My advice for any other brides out there who think they might be like me in the stationery department and who are going custom is: 1) Don't go with a vendor because they come highly recommended and you're told they can do anything. Taste is incredibly personal and subjective, so go with your gut and what you're instinctively drawn to. I regret not doing this from the get-go. 2) If and when you find that vendor, go after them EARLY. I was amazed by how many stationery vendors were booked so far in advance.
Now that invites are about to go out, I can say I really am excited again. But it was a journey to get here for sure!
Getting together a custom invitation suite that I love: Expectation: 2/10 | Reality: 8/10
Growing up, I never fantasized about my wedding day or what my dress would look like. It turns out when you don't really know what you want, wedding dress shopping is more than a little overwhelming. Seriously, the one requirement in my dress is that it has an open back (shocking, I know). It's been interesting hunting with my girlfriend, Muranda, who knows me and my style well. She was sure I'd go for something bold and statement-making, which is how I tend to dress by night. But the wedding dresses I'm into have been surprising both of us; I find myself repeatedly drawn to simpler dresses that feel timeless and that I don't think I'd look back on and regret.
If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you've probably gathered that I am a cautious, pragmatic person. I tend to not believe in "just knowing", and truthfully, the only example of that kind of "when you know, you know" confidence I've ever experienced in my life has been knowing Andy's "the one". (I guess if I'm going to experience it once, that's a good one to use it up on.)
I've watched enough Say Yes To The Dress episodes to have had engrained in my head that people should "just KNOW" their wedding dress when they try it on. I'm afraid this has not happened for me. At first I felt like there was something wrong with me and was stressing out about it, but with time I've come to accept that it's alright to have a dress that doesn't have me bursting into tears and hyperventilating with excitement, but rather a dress that, quietly and confidently, I really, really like. I've also realized I trust in my eye and its ability to see potential in how things will look with some tweaks—as opposed to expecting a dress to be perfect as-is.
As far as the dress goes, believe it or not, I haven't made a final decision yet. I've been to about 10 bridal boutiques and tried on dozens of gowns. I have a short list of frontrunners, all of which I would have my tailor make changes to. But I'd say on the whole, this hasn't been as clear cut as I thought it was going to be based on my experience watching TLC. :)
Perhaps also thanks to Say Yes To The Dress, I was under the impression that the cost of many wedding dresses could easily ring up in the five figures and, on that show anyway, customers seem to drop what I deem to be a crazy amount of dough all the time. Here's the thing: I don't need a famous name brand, and I don't care if it's preowned or from a few seasons ago. What I do care is that the dress be very "me". With that approach, I can say one pleasant surprise has been that dresses I'm into aren't necessarily mind-blowingly expensive. I was really nervous that price tags would reflect a dress' beauty and be prohibitive. Don't get me wrong: wedding dresses are expensive (as are all things with the word "wedding" in front of them), but proportionately to my fear and expectation, the prices are unquestionably less. Think one month's rent versus buying a small car. If you don't need couture and can live without Berta or Elie Saab (which I can, and many of which I've found to be over-the-top in person anyway), there are many, many options and in no way do they feel "budget" or like you're settling.
One last thing: something that caught me off guard in the dress-hunting department was how quickly I went from being told I had "a ton of time" to—I swear, this happened overnight—being told I was officially in "rush" territory. So, my advice to fellow brides-to-be is 1) start looking early (I don't think there's such a thing as too early), 2) always wear or bring nude underwear, and 3) assuming you started early, be the tortoise, not the hare (procrastination is not your friend).
Overall cost of dresses I love: Expectation: 10/10 | Reality: 7/10
Finding "THE DRESS": Expectation: 6/10 | Reality: 9/10
Whew! That's it for now. In the next installment I'll update on some of these topics as things move forward, delve into bridesmaids dresses and florals, and do my best to address whatever you think's missing (so let me know)! And fellow brides/former brides/brides-to-be: I'd love to get your input and hear how you found the planning process, as well as what met your expectations and what didn't. Let me know in the comments below!