When I gave my maid-of-honor speech at my sister’s wedding a few weeks back, I joked that while I lived too far away for any in-person planning duties, I tried to make up for the distance by functioning as a wedding planning therapist. Which I’ve been doing a lot of this year. And what’s been most interesting about my experience as the de-facto shoulder to cry on for my BFFs is that, well, not much has changed since I got married.
Sure, Pinterest exists now. I can tell you 173 different ways to use a mason jar. And the wedding industry is flush with planning solutions that didn’t exist in my day. But when you boil it all down, wedding planning stress still usually comes from two places: a lack of abundant resources and good old-fashioned family dynamics. And while sadly you can’t stop either of those things from existing, what I know now that I didn’t know then is that you can stop how much you end up stressed out.
The key is making sure expectation matches up with reality. Want to have a 250-person Pinterest-detail-worthy wedding for $10K in NYC? Uhhhh… How do I say this nicely? It might not happen. Does your mom really, really want your agnostic wedding in a Catholic church? Well, that probably won’t be an easy no. But figuring out what reality looks like is really hard when you’ve never planned a wedding before! Which is why Meg wrote not one, but two wedding planning books that answer pretty much every wedding planning question you could think of from How do I shop for a plus size wedding dress? to Why is my mom losing her mind over our seating chart? So today, I’m dusting off my copies of the APW book and the #APWPlanner to share some of my best wisdom for keeping the stress at bay.
1. Buy and read both APW books.
When my friends get engaged, the first thing I do is shove copies of the APW books into their hands and tell them to read both from cover to cover. I know, I know. I’m a shameless APW Stan. But seriously, I could have saved a huge chunk of those wedding therapy calls if my people would just read once in a while. And that means more than just skimming the #APWPlanner for the stuff you think is important. Because while it’s tempting to dive headfirst into the Pinterest boards, the first thing you should know about planning an event is that it’s complicated—logistically, emotionally, and financially. And the OG APW book sets you up for reality in a big sister, hand holding kind of way. It prepares you for all the challenges that might arise during your planning journey, from disagreeing with your partner on the vibe of the wedding to fighting with your parents over the guest list (and they will fight you on that, y’all). There’s even a section on staying present during your wedding and how to survive the inevitable “I’m Going to Fucking Kill You” Moment (yup that’s the actual title of the section.)
2. Then, give both of them to your parents.
So that thing about fighting with your parents? It’s not their fault. If they planned a wedding, they probably did it with an entirely different set of cultural expectations (and costs). Which means that if they have any expectations around your wedding, those expectations are probably based off of whatever your cousin or their coworker’s kid recently did at their wedding that they think is a great idea—without any concept of the cost or effort involved. All of which is to say, A) give them a tiny break, and B) you have no way of knowing what parts of the modern wedding tradition your parents are going to regard as gospel. And do you know what’s definitely not going to sway those gospel opinions? Something you read on the Internet. But a book, on the other hand. Well a book is in print. Which makes it fact.
But the real benefit of having your parents read the APW books is that you then have a mutual resource to turn to when you have questions. Not sure what the etiquette is around invitation wording? Let’s ask the APW books. Not sure what the rules are around guest lists when your parents are helping pay? There’s probably a chapter about that in the books! And you know what’s best about those books as a mutual resource? They’re not… nuts. And they’re feminist. And they were written with realistic expectations of how much you might want to spend.
3. Do the early groundwork.
One of the things I admired most about my sister’s wedding is that she didn’t stress over things she didn’t care about. For example, she had a 250-person guest list and a fixed budget, and she cared way more about being able to have all 250 people at her wedding than having the world’s most unique venue. So she rented out one of the most popular wedding halls in our town and called it a day. #NoRegrets. In both the APW book and the #APWPlanner, there are sections for sitting down with your partner and having big conversations about what you want out of the wedding. Do them! Those worksheets are super helpful when it’s 3 a.m. and you’re fighting about how much to spend on centerpieces. (Was decor high on your list of priorities when you did the worksheets? No? Then go to bed.) If you don’t have the books yet, this post and this one both have super handy worksheets for quick and dirty priority setting early in your engagement.
4. Remember that your people are people.
It’s so hard to prepare yourself for the way family drama presents itself during wedding planning. Because one moment things will seem perfectly normal, and the next your mom is having a meltdown over what earrings you’re wearing. And while you can’t stop that from happening, it helps to lessen the frustration by reminding yourself that your wedding is a big emotional event for the people around you too. As Meg writes in the OG APW book:
If you’re locked in conflict with family members, it can help to try and look at things through their eyes. Ask questions until you figure out what the heck is going on and what they are really upset about. Brianne Sanchez, a journalist who got married on a farm west of Chicago, said, “Here’s what it took me a long time to realize: I considered planning our wedding the first endeavor of Joe and mine as a new family. My mom considered the wedding the last thing a mother and daughter do together.” This can be the hardest part of wedding planning. You may be outwardly fighting about the dress code for the wedding, but deep down, you might be fighting about what level of formality is appropriate for major life events in your new family, or how hard it is for your parents that you’re starting a family of your own. Even if getting married feels like a formality, for your mom it might feel a bit like finally letting go of her baby girl (even if you’re forty), and that might be really hard.
Sometimes conflict can be eased by giving parents control over an aspect of the wedding they care about (because who doesn’t love a little control?). You can even let your parents do something you would never have chosen on your own, because it matters to them. Cara Winter told me, “Let’s face it—your mom has probably been looking forward to this day longer than you have. So if she begs to have welcome bags with an apple theme or give a guided tour of Brooklyn including places she’s never actually been, realize that it’s sort of her day, too. And as long as it doesn’t betray your values or steal your sanity, it’s okay to let others have some control.”
Planning a wedding often feels a little like trying to navigate life in the Upside Down. Things look mostly the same, but every once in a while a huge monster pops up and eats your BFF ruins your day. Which is probably why it’s so hard to prepare yourself for the experience (because you never know where that monster might be hiding). But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself at all. (After all, the best defense is a good offense.) So while I’ve officially retired my wedding therapist hat for the year, luckily for you, we’ve got the manuals right here.
get yourself a copy of THE APW Book and The #APWPlanner: