Having survived two weddings on polar opposite ends of the event spectrum, I consider myself something of an expert on the topic. My first wedding took place when I was 22. I wanted the fairy tale wedding with the beautiful gown, complete with ridiculous train that had to be bustled up so I could walk. I insisted on a big bridal party and somehow talked my best friends into wearing hideous, ill-fitting bridesmaids dresses that were never to be worn again. Sage and wedgewood were the colors, not green and blue, no, sage and wedgewood. I also thought it would be great if my bridesmaids all wore hats with flowers woven into them. Since I was on a budget and the girls had already spent more than they wanted to on dresses, we settled on straw cowboy hats from a local craft store. No one had the nerve to tell me they didn’t want to be caught dead in a sage and wedgewood cowboy hat. My maid of honor very diplomatically made a case for not having to wear a hat because she wanted to be distinguished from the others. And then there was the reception that cost a fortune: DJ, cake, chocolate fountain, champagne. I remember being enraged when the DJ played Kenny Rogers even though I had specifically told him “No Kenny Rogers”. I don’t think I relaxed for a moment the whole day, I certainly didn’t have fun. What was I thinking? What was the point?
That marriage lasted 15 years. So when it came time to do it over again, my fiancé and I knew that we didn’t want the big wedding, nor could we afford it. We knew we wanted close family and friends and we wanted it to be special. I searched online for a minister who could come to our house. When I found one who sounded perfect we started filling out the form, writing vows, selecting special gifts for the guests, deciding on which of the new-age rituals we wanted to include: lighting of the unity candle, the ring warming, hand-fasting. Then while planning the reception, I started to get that sinking feeling again that I was being consumed by the event. It was too much; what started small and simple was steadily snowballing. I was getting stressed and anxious, not excited and joyful. And so we put off the wedding, we were still engaged but did not have a wedding date.
This limbo lasted over a year. Finally one evening as I was walking alone on the beach, it came to me: it doesn’t have to be this complicated. Keep it simple. To get married all it takes is a signature on a piece of paper. That’s where I started, we can go to the county courthouse and get married. I realized I was making a mountain out of a molehill. When I introduced the concept to my fiancé, he was thrilled. He just wanted to be married, it didn’t matter how we got there. Just the two of us at the courthouse. Well, maybe that was a little too simple. We both have children from previous marriages and we wanted them to be present. Our parents who had stood by our sides through the previous weddings and subsequent divorces also deserved an invitation. But that was where we drew the line. No siblings, no significant others. Parents. Children. Period. There was one other concession I made. I knew it was a slippery slope, but I wanted a nice bouquet. I went to a local florist and selected my favorite flowers and had them woven into a small, beautiful display that I could hold and smell. And so the 8 of us and my flowers went to the courthouse on the scheduled date. It was simple and sweet, it forced me to focus on what was important. We sat at a nondescript desk and filled out the paperwork, paid our $70 and took a selfie. Then we were led back into a stark room with a podium and a 20-something guy in a black smock and white tennis shoes who very earnestly walked through the wedding script until we said our I do’s. When we emerged from the room, the line of people waiting to pay their property taxes burst into applause. I felt like Lady Diana. Then the 8 of us went to lunch at our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant and the entire event cost less than $500. A few weeks later, we threw a dinner party at our house to celebrate with extended family and friends. They were all relieved not to have to buy a dress or rent a tux for the big event. Most importantly I had fun and enjoyed the company of those special people, I was able to be truly present with them.
I cannot say that this path is right for everyone, but one sure way to eliminate stress is to eliminate stressful events. Follow your heart and keep it simple. So often we make things to be more complicated than they need to be, we can always simplify. Yes, even weddings can be simple. Once this revelation came to me on the beach, I felt such a wave of relief. Weddings don’t need to be complicated. It’s the people that matter, not the dress or cake or venue. We should focus on why we are here and what we are proclaiming: love. Loving each other and gratitude for those who surrounded us when we were searching for the one true love. It’s that simple.