Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
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Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

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As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

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So That Happened

As many of you know, I spent the last three weeks getting married to Liz, celebrating with friends and family, and running off to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I can think of few other periods in my life as dense with experience, emotion, and meaning as these. Typically, when life feels full like this, I depend upon writing. Through writing, I process emotions, document events, and envision the future. However, uncharacteristically, I feel blocked from writing about the past few weeks. I’ve opened and closed my journal a dozen times. I’ve beat myself up about not writing. I’ve avoided it entirely. And yet, when it’s hard to begin processing, I suppose you have to start somewhere:

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Wedding week kicked off with dinner at French Laundry, the obligatory City Hall visit, beers and tacos on the waterfront, wine tasting in Sonoma, sitting around the Inn fire pit, open mic toasts at the rehearsal, and thirty people who rarely ride bikes pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the ceremony we wrote ourselves, Reese’s best behavior as he came up the aisle, the reflections of our officiants, the surprise first dance starring our fathers, and the encouragement to “Live Long and Prosper.” There was the mist in the Presidio, the clear view of the Golden Gate, the sanctity of the space, the smell of eucalyptus, and the mountains of petits fours. There were bottles of champagne sabered by knives (more or less successfully), family-style platters passed around the table, a chance to wear my mother’s veil, a second wedding dress, and abounding grilled cheese. There was biking the approach to Sausalito with my uncle, calculating last-minute vendor tips with my bridesmaid Eleanore, the dance with my dad, and the last picture of the night with my mom. There was the note Liz sent me our wedding morning, my gasp at first seeing her, and walking Reese together under the full moon after the whole reception finished. And all this was before the honeymoon. It was before bottles of champagne on arrival, tropical flowers from my wife surprising me in our room, and fresh coconuts opened by the gardener. It was before Liz tackled the trails on our ATV, we choreographed team jumps off our overwater bungalow, and I fell face-first off a stand-up paddleboard. In each of these experiences, there were dense emotions as well: the joy of seeing friends and family, the pressure of coordination, the annoyance of detail-orientation, the hope that all would go well, the confidence that this was so right, the overwhelming love of everyone in attendance, and the gratitude for everyone and for each other. Coming out of these few weeks, there’s a distinct happy/sad feeling, just like the happy/sad tears I cried at the toasts, on the dance floor, and when the wedding was all thankfully, impossibly, heart-breakingly over.

Why is it so hard to write about the wedding? First, it’s too big, too dense, and too meaningful. I find it impossible to select a vignette that’s representative of the whole or condense the entirety down into something comprehensive. Thus, instead of presenting a thoughtful deconstruction of a focused experience (as is often my approach on The Intentional), I can only come up with the incomplete litany of impressions above.

Second, it’s hard to reflect upon the wedding/honeymoon period because it’s not yet over; we’re still in the ‘liminal’ period. Liminality is a concept in anthropology and ritual studies; it describes the disorienting in-between-ness that happens after you leave one role (e.g., engaged person) and before you take on your new role (e.g., married person). You’re no longer this, but not yet that. Because we start back to work tomorrow, Liz and I have not yet re-emerged into the world as married folk. Life is still filled with wedding logistics, honeymoon-worthy candlelit dinners, and a distinct separation from everyday life. Perhaps, in addition to the sheer volume of experiences, I’m also struggling with reflecting upon this experience as I’m still in the midst of it.

Looking forward, I suspect it will take time to integrate the events of the last few weeks; as days and weeks pass, I’ll be better able to digest the great volume of experiences and benefit from the perspective of being back in the flow of life. Self-growth often takes conscious processing, and there are certainly more wedding posts to come. What form my continued reflection takes, there’s also a refreshing finality in closing this in-between period. It means that, on the most important level, the change is complete. I re-enter the world tomorrow fundamentally and delightfully different from who I’ve been: I’m now married to Liz.

With love to all those who read this, all those who celebrated with us, and, above all, my lovely wife,
Meredith Whipple Callahan

(More to come!)

first dance

Empathy for Bridezillas

Liz and I continue to beaver away at wedding planning, tackling some new aspect of the event nearly every night. Our loft is filled with reply cards, flower vases, and various sizes of ribbon. Our inboxes alternate between guest questions about plus-ones and responses from a fantastic collection of vendors. Our calendars are filled with events like trial hairdos, venue walkthroughs, and just one more trip to Michael’s.

More than once I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the details. Which forks should we use? Will the cake be cut at 8:20PM or 8:35PM? Do I want blush or bronzer? While I value (and perhaps overvalue) the importance of nailing the details, it is certainly not my strength. Instead, I’m constantly surprised about the volume and specificity of the choices that need to be made. Wedding decisions are like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls); you think you are seeing the entirety of the question, but then you open it up to find that there are infinite layers of decisions nestled within the high-level decision you just made.
wed_linensWhile all this planning stresses me out, Liz, on the other hand, brings an operational fluency to the whole process, grounded in her military background and healthcare expertise. I may be emotional about the fifteenth decision about flatware, but she has the capacity to see the overall vision and also manage the component decisions to achieve the plan. She is unsurprised by the level of planning needed and unfussed about making it happen.

In some way, I’m surprised that these decisions stress me out in the first place. True, I’m not naturally good at dealing with the details, so I may feel incapable. But I also would not be stressed if I didn’t think these decisions were important. Why does this endless parade of decisions matter to me?
wed_napkinOn some level, I believe the efforts we put into orchestrating a gorgeous event – from finding the right forks to arranging the tables – serve as a proxy for the love we’re giving to our guests. If we can control the event and get it all right, then people will enjoy themselves and know how much we love them. If I’m honest with myself, it’s like every other dinner party I’ve thrown in the past; if I make it perfect, all will go well. It’s a lot of pressure to put on picking flowers and candles and desserts; if they’re not exactly right, then people won’t feel loved and we won’t be okay.

Reflecting on my own control issues around our wedding has helped me empathize with the bridezilla trope in a new way. In addition to endless questions around event details, weddings confront us with questions around many of our core values: family, religion, community, beauty, self-worth, tradition, love, gender roles, commitment, and meaning. As the bride (or one of two brides), it’s easy to pretend to control over all those questions by controlling the details of the day. Society tells us that it is ‘our day’ and we can do whatever we like, so why not dictate all the details, avoid the most difficult questions, and ensure the logistics perfectly conform to our vision?

I’m trying to unplug my controlling tendencies here. I’m trying to dissociate the precise linen selection with the love that we have for our guests. I’m trying to I’m trying to channel a bit more of Liz’s capacity for making these decisions without becoming stressed. And I’m trying to not control the world in order to increase my own sense of comfort. It’s not easy to do this, particularly as each vendor comes with question after question about decisions that apparently matter. But my hope is that by letting go of a bit of my wedding, an even better, co-created celebration can grow up in its place.

With love,
Meredith
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The Intentional Bride

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),
Meredith

(See future posts on this topic under the category heading:  The Intentional Bride)

 

The New News (Encore: Part Three of Two!)

(For background, check out Part One and Part Two.)

In a same-sex relationship, there’s not an option of falling back on traditional gender roles.  Who cooks and who does the dishes?  Who does the laundry and who mows the lawn?  And more to the point (you see where I’m going with this), who proposes?

As you know, in mid-June, Liz surprised me by proposing (and I said yes).  Then, a few weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday in Napa, I proposed back to her.  (Spoiler alert:  She said yes too.)

The idea to propose crystallized in the midst of my post-engagement glow.  As I chatted with a friend over lunch, she shared how she and her wife always knew they would both propose, one-to-the-other.  Their choice was not who would propose, but instead who would go first.

I loved the mutuality of this.  When Liz proposed, I was already noodling on the idea of proposing to her in the fall; in fact, I felt a little scooped when she asked me.  (I felt 99% excitement and 1% mild annoyance at being beat to the punch by my clever, clever fiancée.)  Happily, this mutual proposal idea meant that I could ask right back.  We could both be the one summoning the courage to extend the question and the one thoughtfully answering.  (Though perhaps with a higher degree confidence this second time around.)

My planning began with the object of the proposal.  While Liz nailed my preferences by guessing I would want a traditional ring, I hadn’t seen Liz be too enthusiastic about one.  Every time I pushed or prodded on the ring idea, there wasn’t a clear answer.  Separate from the ring, however, I had heard Liz talk about wanting a pocket watch for a very long time.  So I took off to a fine San Franciscan haberdashery (yes, Virginia, there is a haberdashery) and secured a beautiful 1902 Waltham pocket watch with an engraving of a trolley car on the back.

Next stop was the engraver.  Like Liz before me, I suffered upturned noses, exorbitant prices, and long lead times at every Union Square jeweler before returning to the sweet little shop where Liz had my engagement ring designed.  They engraved a lovely message on the inside of the watch and tuned it right up.  When returning the finished product, the engraver even volunteered that this watch was very lucky indeed, citing the fact that the serial number (238) was the number of years from the country’s founding to today (2014 minus 1776).  Now I wouldn’t have thought of or celebrated that myself, but given Liz’s patriotic history, it seemed like a good omen.

After getting the go-ahead from every member of Liz’s family, I pulled together the detailed plan:  Liz’s best friend from graduate school generously gave us wine tastings and engagement photos in wine country as our engagement gift; I would now enlist her as my accomplice.  She agreed to arrange us for pictures such that I would sit near Liz’s feet and she would stand behind so it would be easy to switch into the traditional proposal posture.  We schemed that we would start our day at a champagne house where we could toast the proposal after Liz accepted <fingers crossed>.  I even assigned key words to coordinate in the moment; “That looks like a place for pretty pictures” was code for “We should probably do the proposal over there” while “I need to reapply my lipstick” was code for “This is happening.  I’m going to get my purse with the pocket watch inside.”

When I finally turned to ask, I don’t much remember what came out of my mouth.  You think I would have been a bit more stable considering my odds on the answer, but, in Liz’s words, I “shook like a little leaf.”  By the time I popped open the pocket watch and hazily got through my lines, however, Liz said yes.  Then champagne.  And crying.  And more crying.

Liz and Meredith_2014Jul19_8342
There was something really special about asking Liz to marry me.  I got to engineer a memorable, romantic moment for Liz, the Champion of the World at engineering of memorable, romantic moments.  She got to be surprised, a rarity for that observant lady.  And together we reaffirmed the mutuality of our relationship, wherein both of us can take the lead and both of can be wooed.

Interestingly, in the wake of both of our proposals, I heard all sorts of stories of other couples – both same-sex and heterosexual – being similarly intentional about their proposals.  A female colleague proposed to her long-time boyfriend, citing that he had always been more ready to get hitched and she wanted to give a clear sign that she was ready too.  A male friend initially rejected the idea of proposing (with its associated plotting and secret-keeping), but got on board when his girlfriend valued the traditional approach.

In our relationship, the answer to “who does what” has had to be intentional – and will continue to be so.  I am grateful every day that we consciously choose the path that works best for us, beginning with our two unexpected proposals.

Meredith

Giving Up My Command-And-Control Post

Sometimes I get stuck in a feeling of lack.  It could be lacking anything – enough money, enough time, the right attitude, the right opportunities, the perfect interactions with others.  Like everyone, I find myself ruminating that “This is not enough” and “That is not right.”

This weekend, I was throwing away junk mail when I ran across a flyer from a self-help program.  In my cursory flip through, I found this suggestion:

“Get in touch with the feeling of what’s it’s like to feel you have your every need and want already met.”

Every need and want already met.  That sounds nice, I thought.  Impractical, but nice.

It continued:

“Just rest into that feeling for a moment.  Feel it in your belly.  Allow it to expand up into your heart.  Open up your awareness to feeling it spread all throughout every cell in your body and even to the area around your body.”

Of course it sounds cheesy.  It is absolutely cheesy.  But I try not to let judgments like that limit my experience, so I gave it a shot.

I opened up my journal and wrote down everything I needed and wanted:  a perfectly-balanced travel schedule, the willpower to follow through on my health commitments (The Month Without Sugar is in full swing), a thriving social life that is both broad and deep (this has been challenged by my travel schedule), and a perfect and cheaper-than-expected wedding venue .

This exercise of visioning the future was not unfamiliar to me; my journals are filled with goals, expectations, and ambitions.  What felt different about this, however, was experiencing those ambitions from the perspective of ‘already-havingness’ and ‘already-beingness’ instead of plotting how they would occur in the future.

You see, when I set a goal, my instinct is to write a tactical plan that outlines exactly how I’ll get there.  So when I set the vision of a “perfect and cheaper-than-expected wedding venue,” I was quick to start my Excel spreadsheet of locations, ask former brides for their suggestions, and fire up the online diligence.  When faced with a goal, I default to strategic thinking, clever problem solving, and executionary prowess to get me there.  These are my trusty old tools; I’m good at them, and, most of the time, they work.

Make it all happen

This challenge to try on ‘already-havingness’ and ‘already-beingness’ eviscerated my typical approach.  I had to turn off the achievement machine in my head.  No more mental to-do lists, no more clever plans to bring my goals to life.  Instead, I just had to sit, to let them come, to feel them to be true with every part of my body.  And it felt amazing.

Beyond feeling good (many things make you feel good, this is just one), it seemed to be useful as well.  Case-in-point:  As soon as I gave up the spreadsheet, the appointments, and the aggressive pre-planning, we locked down our perfect, cheaper-than-expected wedding venue.  The already-havingness was, weirdly, already true.

Do I believe that you can imagine your goals into existence?  Not necessarily.  But it’s both wonderful and relieving to think that every good thing doesn’t need to be the result of my effortful striving.  A better approach for me might be to just let go a bit.  Stop trying to drive so much.  Stop trying to work so hard.  And maybe join together my vigorous action to make things happen with the faith and feeling that they already have.

Meredith

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dont work too hard