As we’ve started to move from the broad decision of a venue to the specifics of bridal parties, videographers, caterers and such, I’ve realized anew how stepping into the role of bride-to-be brings with it all sorts of expectations.
Happily, at the same time, I’ve also realized how elegantly your average bride navigates all these expectations. Weddings are just such extraordinary events that they jostle all of us out of our automatic, everyday routines and into a more intentional place.
While the ‘shoulds’ that we feel in the wedding planning process are amplified over those of daily life, so is the intentionality with which your average bride faces these expectations.
In one corner: The ‘Shoulds’
Sure, there is generally accepted flexibility within the guidelines, but everyone comes to the table with some longer or shorter set of expectations around weddings. For a bride planning an Americanized wedding in the US, the short version of this reads something like:
- You should have some sort of ceremony – religious or civil – that will proclaim you legally married
- You should tell everyone where to come and what to wear
- You should wear a dress
- You should wear white
- You should ask your best friends and family (particularly those of your gender) to show up in some sort of matching outfit
- You should decorate the location with more flowers than you’ve ever bought before
- You should feed everyone a meal (preferably with lots of accompanying alcohol)
- You should have a cake. In fact, you should make a big deal out of cutting it and then shove it in your spouse’s face
- You should have dancing. And good music. Really good music.
- Some combination of your save the dates, wedding invitations, programs, and signage should be in coordinating designs
- You should pick colors to synchronize the color scheme of the event
- You should document everything in extreme detail
- You should pick a convenient weekend day for all of this to happen
Why all the ‘shoulds’? To some extent, this is all incredibly useful. Expectations and norms like these help write the cultural scripts that signal our change in marital status to the world. They help everyone understand that “Yes, this event is in fact a wedding” and give basic guidance on how everyone should act. They give us all parts to play without having to think a lot about it.
And beyond the cultural cues, many ‘shoulds’ are our collective cultural wisdom around how to marry. They – and the hundreds of other ‘shoulds’ listed in bridal blogs, magazines, and books – serve as a helpful mix of best practices of party-planning, smart aesthetic choices, and guidance from tradition. In so many ways, it’s nice not to have to start from a blank slate.
But, it’s also freeing to realize that none of the ‘shoulds’ are necessary. And so:
In the other corner: Intentionality
Liz and I are not revolutionaries looking to defy every wedding tradition; in fact, I think we’re both inclined to be more traditional rather than less. But we – like every other couple planning their wedding – have a choice. We can walk into the wedding planning process and let ourselves be pummeled by all these ‘shoulds.’ Or, we can be intentional about the event we create.
We can begin by identifying the ‘shoulds’ and sorting them out from our true wants and needs. As we identify each ‘should,’ we can also figure out from where it comes. Are they the voices of brides of eras past? The comments of our friends while debriefing wedding season? Our perception of what it takes to keep up with the Joneses? We can consider which of these expectations fit our aspirations and which don’t serve us at all.
Being intentional means that we’re not going to accept the template of a wedding. We’re going to start from the beginning – with the purpose of this whole ritual and the values that we want it to express. And we’re going to build our wedding from there – adopting many of the ‘shoulds’ that match with our own desires and throwing away the others.
It’s not an easy process. It takes far more mental exertion to plan the wedding that we want rather than accept each expectation. But so many weddings I’ve been to lately (including the wedding just this last weekend) have shown exactly this intentionality – this willingness to make choices that are aligned with what the couple wants to create rather than thoughtlessly proceeding according to plan. Just this summer, I’ve watched the bride and groom rip up the dance floor with an amazing ballroom number, and I’ve been to multiple weddings with no dancing at all. I’ve been to by-the-book Christian and Jewish weddings, and listened to multiple (yep, multiple) Hindu/Christian fusion liturgies. I’ve taken a boat to a restaurant reception and wandered up a hill to eat in a barn. I’ve seen a wedding cake in the form of a tree stump and another surrounded by cardboard cutouts of sheep. I’ve traveled to hill stations, grooms’ hometowns and Hawaii. I’ve danced and hooted while the groom rapped about his love and clapped politely after the father-of-the-bride’s speech. In so many ways, people are choosing the approach that fits their collective personality, where they want to invest, where they want to disinvest, and how they want people to feel.
However we act in our daily lives, the exceptionality of a wedding forces us to be intentional about how we design it. And now the challenge is ours to sort through the ‘shoulds’ and align on our ambition. I only hope we can do as well as our friends have done.
With love (and lots of planning to do),
(See future posts on this topic under the category heading: The Intentional Bride)