The Reflective Bride is today celebrating its 100th blog post! I pondered what would be the best topic to commemorate this milestone, and thought it would be apt to go to the heart of what Reflective Bride is all about: honest reflections on wedding planning, to help couples in preparing their own special days. I’ve written previously on the highs, lows and learning points of wedding planning shortly after our big day, but thought what might be interesting is the same advice with the hindsight of being more than a year and a half since the wedding day. So now, so long after the wedding, here are the things that have still stuck with me about what we should have done differently…
1. Gotten more help
I am a super organized person. I love to-do lists, and Gantt charts fill me with glee. I arrange intricately themed birthday soirees, and have thrown my fair share of baby showers. At work I have coordinated conferences and events for more than 100 people… but the difference between those and a wedding is that I had a team of full-time colleagues pitching in, and hired a professional event planning agency to take care of the tasks we weren’t able to cover. I thought my groom and I could handle all the wedding preparations on our own, and we did – but not without a huge amount of time, and a huge amount of stress and frustration.
Since my own planning experiences, I have become a huge advocate of hiring a wedding planner. Sure, you might be excited about searching for bridesmaid dresses, designing your wedding cake and choosing flowers for your bridal bouquet… but, believe me, there are many aspects of wedding planning that are not so enjoyable. Think seating charts, researching mini-buses for guest transport, and reviewing vendor contracts and payments. Contrary to what I myself thought when we started our wedding planning, hiring a coordinator does not mean completely handing over all your big-day decisions to someone else – but it does mean the opportunity to get expert advice and outsource some of the preparations that you’re less interested in or have less time for.
If you’re worried that you can’t afford a wedding planner, ask your bridal party and loved ones for help. During our own wedding planning, we occasionally asked our bridal party and family for assistance… but when we noticed that it was never them actively offering a hand, we stopped asking – as we were worried we were burdening them. In hindsight, we were asking for help so rarely that we weren’t burdening anyone at all. What I wish we’d realized is that though no one was offering to help, they were all expecting that they would have to help. Trust me, when you ask someone to be in your bridal party (especially if it’s a bridesmaid), one of their first thoughts is “Oh boy, how much work is this going to be for me?” Similar thoughts are going through your parents’ heads (especially dads). While that idea filled me with dread, and made me afraid to ask for help in case I was seen as a bridezilla, I should have been grateful for the expectation and made the most of it.
2. Turned off auto-pilot
As you can imagine, there are so many tasks to complete during wedding planning that it’s easy to get stuck on your to-do list and forgot to enjoy with your partner just the sheer excitement of being engaged. As we had a long engagement, my groom and I went out to a nice dinner to celebrate our “minus first” wedding anniversary… I wish we had done this every month! Set aside some “wedding” free time each week during your engagement just to focus on each other. This should especially be the case during the final weeks of your engagement. In those final weeks before our big day I lost a lot of weight from stress, burst into tears a couple of times, and my groom and I were snapping at each other – and that’s not how things should be. Look up from your post-it notes, bring in extra help, and remember the real reason for the wedding: to start your lives together.
This same advice goes for the wedding day. Be in the moment; keep your mind on the present to better enjoy things, rather than constantly going over what’s coming up next and ticking things off your mental timeline. During dinner I was so nervous about my speech and the first dance coming up that I could only eat half of my main course and dessert, part of a menu which we’d spent days deciding over and I had really been looking forward to. On the topic of reception speeches, when I returned to my seat after mine I literally stopped halfway because I was startled to see two of my bridesmaids wiping tears from their eyes. I recall thinking, “Huh? Did I say something emotional that would make them cry?” I had rehearsed that speech so many times that I had gone into auto-pilot performance mode at the podium and actually tuned out, forgetting that I was saying anything meaningful or significant. That was a bit of a wake-up call!
3. Spent more time with our guests
Even with two bachelorette parties, a rehearsal dinner, welcome drinks, bridal party lunch, wedding reception, after party and farewell breakfast, I still feel like I hardly spoke to our guests during the wedding festivities. Time chatting with our guests was important to me because I only see some friends and family once every year and a half, as we live in my groom’s country (on the other side of the world to my country, where the wedding was held). However, with most guests I didn’t get a chance to get much further than “Hello, how are things, how are you enjoying the wedding so far” before someone called us over the dancefloor, my mother whisked me away to say hello to one of her friends, or it was time to go up for my speech and so on. At the bridal party lunch the day before the wedding I was so stressed about all the things we still had to do that I was not mentally present at all and actually don’t remember much of it.
I was so worried about my groom treading on my train during the first dance (which he did) that I spent the entire cocktail hour in the bathrooms with a bridesmaid trying to better hitch up my gown, when I could have been out chatting to our guests. I also wish that we had positioned our bridal table in the middle of the room for the wedding reception, rather than across the front, so that we could have been more approachable for our guests. I am very glad though that my wonderful groom suggested having a receiving line after the wedding ceremony, which did ensure that we did get to hug and say hello to each and every one of our guests during our special day. 🙂
What I wish I had realized is that while it is possible to have a quick chat with all guests, it’s impossible to actually “catch up” with everyone. It also would have been great to grasp that most guests understand that the bride and groom are too busy to properly talk to each and every one of them, so that I didn’t feel so guilty about it. (I have attended several weddings where I’ve only exchanged hellos with the happy couple, if that, and not felt at all concerned about it as a guest.) What would have been best was to make a “priority list” of guests I should spent time with – like the cousins I was meeting for the first time, the bridesmaid who was flying in twice for the hens and wedding, and the friends I hadn’t seen in years – and focused on seeing them.
4. Not sweated the details
This is like telling a moody teenager that their current post-pubescent drama isn’t actually that big a deal… but I’m going to say it anyway. A month after your wedding, the only thing your guests will remember is whether or not they had a good time – no one will recall the bride’s wedding gown, your vows or what your centerpieces looked like. However, you and your fiance will remember all these things, and for more years to come. So don’t spend hours, weeks or months agonizing over what your wedding guests might prefer or find more impressive; choose the things that you like, which will be much faster and more enjoyable! It’s your day, not everyone else’s, so do the things that the two of you like to celebrate each other.
And if you do want to make sure your guests remember having a great time at your big day, focus on nailing the venue, music, food and social events – the things that most contribute to the atmosphere. (Check out my previous post on what guests raved about during our nuptials.)
5. Prioritized photographs
Other than your rings, the pictures and video are the only things from your wedding that will truly last beyond the day – so it is worthwhile to invest time and money in getting these right. We asked the groom’s brother to film the ceremony and first dance, and other friends captured our grand entrance at the reception and sparkler send-off on video. We are so glad to have these clips and do not mind at all that they are amateur recordings, but we do wish we’d asked people to film more parts of the day – even the day after the wedding I could not remember for the life of me what the bridal party had said in their speeches, and really wished we had got these on tape. For pictures we hired a professional photographer, starting from hair and make-up preparations to the first hour of the reception as this package was cheaper. In hindsight I wish we had paid that little bit extra to keep the photographer there for the entire night, for key moments like the speeches, cake cutting, first dance, bouquet toss, sparkler exit and of course the party.
Another reason it would have been preferable to have the photographer there longer is that it would have allowed more opportunities for photos with guests at the wedding, as we were not as organized as I thought we were with our list of photo requests. Sure, we got the usual bridal party and family pictures after the ceremony in all the combinations we could think of (we gave our photographer a very detailed spreadsheet!), but we did not remember to get a picture of just our grandmothers (our only surviving grandparents, who live in opposite corners of the globe and will never meet again) and I did not get any photos of me with each of my bridesmaids individually (just all of them as a group). I also wish I had been stricter with the photo requests we did give to our photographer. Although we assumed a wedding photographer would know to spend the cocktail hour taking candid photos of our guests socializing, ours spent the hour in the reception room taking close-up photos of our escort cards and centerpieces… meaning we got hardly any pictures of our guests. (Newsflash, wedding photographer: we’re not going to get photos of our menus framed.) We had also sent the photographer in advance our inspiration board of funky, artsy wedding photos we wanted to replicate on the day… not thinking that he might forget to bring this with him, and that the groom and I would have to try to remember what all of these looked like and explain them to him. Guh. It pays to spend time planning out what photos you would like to have as memories of the day, and invest money in doing so.
Looking back in hindsight on our wedding day, this is what stands out in my memory – more than 18 months after the big day – as the things we really wish we had gotten right the first time. So step away from your to-do list and look at the big picture of what’s really important to have in place for your special day. I hope you do a little better than we did!