My wife and I are going to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in just over six months, and so this weekend marks a bit of an occasion on it’s own. We decided to get married ten years ago, planning on a short engagement of six months, rather than a long engagement, for a number of reasons.
First, everybody we know who had a long engagement (or at least from the time they set an actual date to the actual date itself i.e. not including those who got engaged but didn’t set a date right away) basically filled every waking moment with wedding planning. I’d like to point to couple x or y as examples, but that wouldn’t be fair to them, nor potentially accurate since we were only observing from afar. But for certain couples, it was just flat out stress. Over and over again I’ve seen couples get to the wedding itself and quite frankly, they just want it OVER. They’re just so sick and tired of talking about it, they want the damn thing done. I didn’t want that.
Second, I in particular didn’t want a huge wedding. So by limiting the timeline, we were also limiting some of the pomp and circumstance that would go with it.
Third, not for nothing, we’d already been together for awhile, I wanted kids and for me that meant within a marriage, and I wasn’t getting any younger. So a small time pressure. Yeah, yeah, I know, you’ll say lots of men have become fathers later in life, but I wanted any children to arrive when I was young enough to enjoy them. Some of that was personal preference, some of that was my past experience with my own father, but I wanted to be under 42 or 43 at the latest. In an ideal world, I would have been only 35, but that ship had sailed.
So we decided to get married.
For some people, that’s a down-on-one-knee sort of world. A formal proposal, hearts beat, time stops, there’s a shock moment, and then joy, kissing, etc. For my wife and I, it was a bit more relaxed than that. We both wanted to get married only if we both were ready, and we both weren’t up until then. Then, while exchanging late Valentine’s Day cards (March 8), we talked about the future and decided we were ready. We talked a bit about what it would look like (the wedding), and set an approximate time. September.
If you’re doing the math at home, that’s six months.
Lots of people were like, “Wow, are you pregnant?”. Umm, no, we’re just getting married in six months. Many of those people had planned their wedding over the course of a year and felt they had to rush things, and here we were embarking on trying to do it in six months.
Within 36 hours, we basically had the outline for what our wedding would look like.
We had some advantages. First of all, I’m a planner by nature. I make lists, I set goals, I think like a planner. Doesn’t mean I execute like a planner, but I think like a planner. I’ve taken huge delegations overseas, never lost anyone. Equally, my wife is analytical by nature too. Which means we’re fairly compatible in our approach to planning. I’m way more anal about it, but it wasn’t like trying to combine one analytical planner with one social squirrel. We could do this.
Second, we also recognized that certain things would have to change from a “average/normal” approach if we were to do it in six months. We agreed early we would pay for virtually all of it ourselves, and we would control the planning so that it was “our” wedding, not a social-business outing where we would invite a business contact of our uncle’s or a seventh cousin whose mother invited my mother to a wedding a few years ago. We weren’t anticipating such requests, but wedding planning does strange things to people. We would also keep the size reasonable. Equally, we wouldn’t be able to necessarily have everything “perfect” in terms of venue, reception, guestlist, weather, blah blah blah. We recognized there were essentials for everyone, must-haves for us, and nice-to-haves for us.
We recognized upfront that all we really needed were me, her, an officiant, two witnesses, a wedding license, and a pen. Most people’s immediate reaction to that is, “Well, sure, but my parents and sibling have to be there. And a church. And a dress. And….”. But really, no, you don’t. You may get disowned without those other things, you may cause friction, you may not “live the dream” you had when you were six, but they’re not essential. A couple, an officiant, witnesses, and a license — these are the “must-haves” for everyone. If you have all those, you’re golden.
And guess what? You already have the biggest one. The couple.
Must-haves for us
For us, must haves were immediate family. My five siblings and their families, her sister and family, my mother, her parents and grandfather.
For her, she wanted a dress and her sister as maid of honour. It was a small mental debate as to whether her aunts / uncles / cousins were must-haves or potentially just nice-to-haves, but once we decided on size, it was easy to consider them must-haves.
For me, I wanted something during the day to recognize my late father, an engagement ring for my wife-to-be, writing our own vows, and some nice photos.
Nice-to-haves for us
If you look at the three categories, you’ll see that the first is generic — what everyone needs. The second and third have the extra “for us” phrase added on. Because tons of people have views about weddings, and lots of psychological scripts that people follow without really questioning if that is important to them. And then 22 choices later, they have a wedding shaping up with a bunch of stuff they don’t care about and all of it takes time and energy away from the things they do care about.
When you read the first two categories, did you see something big that was missing? Something TONS of people want/need/say is a must-have for them? A church.
And it is one of the two biggest obstacles to doing a wedding in less than six months. If you have to book a church, and more likely a specific church, there’s a good chance it might be booked on the day you want, or at least have constraints around the time of day that works well for the schedule you’re envisioning.
For us, it wasn’t a huge issue. Nice, but not a must.
The second obstacle a lot of people have is they often have a specific venue in mind for a reception — and equally, with six months notice, there’s a good chance it’s already booked. If those are in your ESSENTIALS or MUST-HAVES, well, you’re likely screwed.
And this is probably the biggest lesson learned of planning a wedding — the more inflexible you are on something big, the more flexible you may have to be on EVERYTHING else.
Getting the planning going
We did three things right up front in our planning.
First, we told some people. Who first? The same people who were our must-haves above. Of course, we wanted to share our good news, but we also wanted them to know there was a wedding in September so they would keep their calendars open while we firmed up a date. Plus it’s an easy way to find out if cousin Bob has THEIR wedding planned for the same weekend and just hasn’t told anyone.
Second, we brainstormed venues. We’re both from Peterborough even though we live in Ottawa now, so we debated a wedding in Ottawa vs. Peterborough. But, in the end, our lives are in Ottawa and we wanted it here. So what would we have available? A church? A chapel? An open-air park? An university venue? Hotel? Municipal hall? Legion? We knew most “big” places would already be booked, so we started thinking outside the box — non-traditional venues.
Third, we went online and looked at generic planning guides, lists of things that had to be done for a wedding, etc. and downloaded them. Many of them were aimed at planning a wedding in 12 months or even 24 months. But that didn’t matter, what mattered was coming up with a bunch of key headings to think about for OUR planning.
Here was our list:
- General Planning
Nice, simple. Useless, to be honest. It wasn’t too long before we needed a bigger master list, or more accurately, unpacking some of those headings into smaller and smaller ones:
- General Planning
- Invitations, order of service
- Flowers and Decorations
- Showers, bachelor(ette) parties
- Reception (including catering)
- Thank yous
Those 16 categories kept us relatively on track for the six months. And they are the 16 categories I’ll use below to talk about some of the things we focused on for each one, although I plan to change the order somewhat.
1. General Planning
It might seem at first that a heading of “planning” makes no sense for what is essentially all planning, but it is about having some little tools for yourself to help you through the process. The list itself — i.e. the 16 categories and all the things under them — was the main item. Every time we thought of something we “wanted” or “needed” to do, it went on the list. It made sure things didn’t get missed. Which sounds a bit obvious, right? But the reality is that most people have multiple lists, written down all over the place. They don’t put them in one place so BOTH of you know what’s being done and when. I know lots of guys bail early on the process, some just don’t care as long as the essentials are met, but for me, this would truly be a “joint” project — OUR wedding, not her wedding with me as a guest.
So we set up an activity tracker in Word. We created a table of about 28 columns and 16 categories down the side. The first two columns were “categories” and “activities/tasks” and then there were 26 columns for the approximately 26 weeks up until the wedding. (For those in the know, you’re basically creating an informal Gantt chart, but that’s not that important to know). Some people just go with six columns (one for each month), but having the 26 let us plan things with a bit more precision (and divide up the work a bit better rather than a huge list each month). While the list might be long, the important thing is to figure out which week (or month) it needs to be done by or alternatively a good week when you’re not quite as busy.
The second thing we set up was an expense tracker, although it was as much a “payment” tracker as anything. It was a quick way to keep track of deposits, amounts, etc. and match it to our budget to make sure we weren’t going crazy. And to remember when certain extra deposits were due and to put THEM on the activity tracker.
We also put a third thing in this category, partly because it didn’t seem to fit anywhere else as neatly. We tried to think about what the role was of certain specific guests:
- Matron of Honour
- Best man
- Parents (Mother, Father) of the Bride
- Parents (Mother) of the Groom
Why those four? Because often those four groups will be the ones helping you on your activities. And while it wasn’t a concern for us, lots of people online noted that the sooner you figure out some things you WANT them to do (and give them a role), the easier it is for you to avoid them doing things on their own that you DON’T want them to do. Plus delegation is fun, didn’t you know? 🙂
Essential: A list or several lists (Week 1-16)
Must have for us: A tracker (Week 1-16)
Nice to have for us: An expense tracker (Week 1-16), roles for specific guests (Week 2).