It’s Not About the Wedding, It’s About the Marriage

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Dear Whit:

Here’s the problem I hope you can help me with. My fiancée and I are both professionals in our mid-30s and have been planning the wedding (well, she and her mother have been, mostly) that will take place New Year’s. It looks like it’s going to be more expensive than the amount that her father said he would contribute, and now I’m being asked to cut down on the number of people from my side who will attend.  Already her side will have almost twice as many people as mine, so I’m beginning to feel that my family and I don’t matter as much as hers.

When I try to talk to her about it, she says that it’s really “her day” since I don’t care that much about the ritual and the spectacle, and besides, she is the bride, plus her father is paying for it. She’s right that I don’t care about all of that. In fact, I’d rather have a small ceremony with just immediate family instead of all of their relatives, her father’s colleagues, and her mother’s friends from childhood. It feels more like a performance than a ceremony. Before all the wedding stuff started, she says she never got  “all stressed out” over personal matters, and she assures me that she will be all right when “all the craziness is over.”

Should I go ahead and just make the cuts since this whole thing is for her really, or should I offer to contribute so that my friends and my parents’ friends can come?

Crazed by Wedding Stuff

Dear Crazed:

The question of your contributing more money and eliminating guests from you side is really a side issue because the more pressing question is not so much what your wedding is going to look like, as it is what your marriage is going to look like. Is it just “her day,” or is it both of your lives?

Consider this maxim: You never know what anybody is really like until you see that person in a crisis.  You don’t say how long you two have been together. If it’s been a relatively short time, maybe you haven’t yet observed her performing under pressure.  Now, as time is running out before you have to decide on whether to proceed on what is ideally a life-long commitment, consider her usual modus operandi. Think back to memorable times in your relationship, and ask yourself whether making other important decisions makes her unreasonable or irrational. 

You also need to ask yourself some other questions about not-so-important decisions: What is she normally like when, according to her, she’s not “all stressed out” about the wedding? You say she says that she never got stressed out before “all the wedding stuff.”  Is that accurate as far as your recollection goes? Do you feel that you defer to her more than she does to you? Does she get her way in all matters great and small?

At this point you are tying to decide whether you should let her have her way with the wedding; what you should be deciding is whether she should have her way with your life, i.e., the two of you getting married. You probably feel that with all the planning and spending for the event, it must happen. (A New Year’s date makes me think mega-event.) If it doesn’t come off as planned, you are imagining all the resentment and blame that will be directed toward you. Here’s an alternate perspective: Imagine all the resentment and blame directed toward you when the marriage doesn’t come off as planned, and you decide that this was a mistake when you have a couple of kids and a hefty mortgage.

Given how you feel now, I think you should postpone the mega-event so that you both can sort out “all the craziness” that goes with planning a wedding when you should be imagining a marriage. Be ready for people to say that you are just getting cold feet, but stand firm. The two of you need to see each other when you are “on” as well as “off” and consider as many “what ifs” as you can—honestly and calmly.

Professionals say that when buying a car, you have to be willing to walk away from the deal if you have any doubts. The same advice applies here only infinitely more so. Before you sign on the dotted line, you need to test drive your dream machine until you are happy with it.  Do your due diligence so that if you find yourself driving down the “boulevard of broken dreams,” this marriage isn’t totaled after it swerves out of control and crashes.

Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]


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  1. I would just like to put in a word on the bride’s side–not that “Crazed” shouldn’t follow Whit’s advice, but that no man, not even the evidently very reasonable and insightful Whit, can understand what it is like to be a bride to be. Society sells us visions of gowns and veils and rings and tells us this is going to be “our day,” blah, blah, blah….Well. The pressure is incredible. When I was engaged, I almost got an ulcer. Everyone expects you to fulfill their fantasies about the perfect day, the perfect relationship, the perfect bank account, etc. My parents and his had a fight over where the wedding would be held that resulted in a cold war that has lasted to this day–14 years. I used to have scary fantasies that, at the end of this draining and wrenching process, I would be so exhausted that I keeled over in the middle of the church aisle during the ceremony itself. Guess what, world: the wedding is about everything BUT the bride. You can’t really tell what someone is like from how she deals with being turned into everyone’s “Bridal Barbie” doll.

    • You’re right, Barbie, I don’t know what it’s like to be a bride. Whether I do or not, I would still advise a bride to resist being manipulated by other people’s fantasies. The pressure (and maybe the ulcer) could have come from not being in control, so all the more reason to take control of what you can control–your intentions. If I were advising the bride, I’d tell her to be assertive but not demanding, and hold your ground. You’ll avoid a life of trying to pleasing other people if you let others know that your reality is your guide rather than their fantasies.

  2. Personally, I agree with Barbie Been There. The bride is pressured every which way while she plans a wedding. Especially from her mother. My parents were divorced, and my paternal grandfather was footing the bill. My mother wanted to invite all these relatives I had never even MET. I ended up cutting my own friends so she could invite these relatives. And did any of them attend? Of course not.

    It’s really hard to be the bride . . .we have so many hopes and dreams going into the wedding planning, and by the end of it, all you want to do is go on the dang honeymoon and be alone with your husband and be done with it.

    Unfortunately, the bride’s stress does carry over to the poor groom. My husband and I had an incredible argument when putting together a registry . . .ostensibly about china, but actually about control. We have been married 24 years, and really we never fought more than we did the 6 months pre and post wedding. You are melding two lives. It’s a lot harder than it looks.

    I actually think Crazed put forth two pretty reasonable ideas – – either cut the list down since he doesn’t really care all that much, or pay for some of the guests that are on his side. These weddings are ridiculously pricey, and honestly, the concept that the bride’s family has to foot the entire huge bill is due for an overhaul in this day and age. Personally, I’d say chip in for some of your guests assuming you can afford it.

    • First of all I agree with you that Weddings Are Overrated. Second, that the bride’s family paying for the wedding makes no sense in the modern world and should join dowries in the graveyard of marital rituals. Finally, the issue of control that you raise is at the heart of the problem. In this case, I believe that the groom-to-be feels he has no control at all. Crazed didn’t propose cutting his side; his bride-to-be did. Apparently, he doesn’t feel that they are reasonable options because he says that “he’s beginning to feel that my family doesn’t matter as much as hers.” Whether he can afford to chip in or not, resentment is too costly an emotion to the well-being of a marriage. By suggesting a postponement, Crazed might get her to see that her dream day is starting to become a nightmare.

    • Well I’m sure there’s a good reason why I’m not an advice columnist! I don’t disagree with you on the resentment . . .that’s not a good way to start off a marriage. Talking things through a little bit more really cannot hurt. My concern is that starting off such a conversation with the suggestion of a postponement may be a little too dramatic. The bride is likely to hear that as “you are having second thoughts about marrying me.” If he IS having second thoughts, that’s one thing. But if he’s sure about the bride, but simply annoyed with her approach to wedding planning . . .I’m not sure suggesting a postponement is the best way to handle it. Really, the person who holds the purse strings has the control . . .in this case the bride’s father. The way to change that is to pay themselves.

    • He wasn’t having second thoughts but does have some questions that he and his bride need to discuss if they want a good shot at a happy and successful marriage. How the discussion goes will determine whether a postponement is a little too dramatic or not. Absolutely agree with you about paying for themselves–that is always the best way to go, especially for two, self-sufficient adults.

  3. Whit, in response to Crazed, I think you are both overreacting! The days of thirty year olds expecting the bride’s family to cover all the costs of a wedding are over. The groom’s family needs to kick in some dough, have a reasonable amount of influence over the guest list, and support the couple on their big day. Our groom sounds a little grumpy which happens when your life is taken over by a massive event. Relax, chill and have mom and dad write a check. Best wishes!!!!!

    • As much as I agree with you, Terry, I think the questions are still worth asking and answering before this massive event. Consider also that facilities might not allow expansion of the guest list, or that the groom’s family lacks the financial capacity to kick in the dough. Before they relax and chill, they should have a calm, honest examination of their situation to make sure that they understand each other, which is good for marriages as well as weddings.

  4. As a former mother of the bride: I strongly feel the couple should pay for their own wedding. It would still be stressful but it would be a good test for the future and how they handle things as a couple. In my (daughter’s) case if we had called the wedding off close to the date we would not have lost the whole price of the wedding and everyone would have been spared the heartache of watching a very new marriage disintegrate.

    • Excellent point, planetmom. My feeling is that if they are paying and a complication arises, the couple has to make any change or take any hit. Having skin in the game decreases the chances of unreasonable demands.

  5. My parents, probably wisely, offered to pay my finance and me to elope. We said no, probably foolishly. We had the big wedding. Ten years later we had the big divorce. Gotta say, it just doesn’t seem necessary to begin a hopefully lifelong partnership with a big one-time hoo-hah that inevitably involves hurt feelings, conflicts, competition, and disappointments. I agree with Weddings Are Overrated. The point is to be with the person you love. If, by the time you get to that, the two of you are all jangled up from the craziness of directing/producing an extravaganza, it seems like you’re behind the curve already.

    • Thanks for your point of view, Wish. I wonder sometimes if the more the wedding is a spectacle, the more the marriage is a debacle; the more the wedding is the focus, the less the marriage is.

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