The wedding merry-go-round (and how to step off it)

If you’re reading this post, you might resonate with this feeling:

You’ve just got engaged and you’re high on all the delicious, giddy feelings of love and excitement…

You start telling friends and family. Whilst they’re excited for you, questions like ‘when will you get married?’, ‘have you considered x venue?’, ‘can I be bridesmaid?’, ‘will you be wearing the family tartan?’, ‘my best mate’s brother’s girlfriend is in a band – they’ll play for you’ start being bandied around. These questions, and their attendant politics/logistics, can take a bit of the edge off your excitement, but you’re still feeling good…

Then, you start looking at magazines… If you’re not cis female, straight, white or slim, you probably already feel like an outsider on first flick. Even if you are all of those things but you are thinking outside the tightly-defined wedding ‘box’, you might start to feel pretty daunted.

Or perhaps you attend a wedding fair and are made aware by dozens of charismatic wedding suppliers* of how much you need a wedding car/photo booth/outfit that costs more than 3 months’ mortgage/any other thing you’d not even considered that gives you horrendous FOMO, self-doubt, debt-anxiety, or an urge to run fast in the opposite direction.**

I get it completely. When I returned from my first wedding fair as a newly-engaged person, I told my then-fiancé that I was ‘weddinged out’ and I didn’t want to even talk about getting married for at least a week.***

Because the enormity of the traditions, conventions and expectations of what a wedding ‘should’ be (plus the huge and lucrative industry built on those expectations) can be overwhelming. And that’s before you’ve added all the family and friends politics to the mix.

To get married, it would seem, involves getting onto this loud, fast-moving, expensive merry-go-round and being swept along by it.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. I mean, don’t get me wrong – merry-go-rounds are fun, right? But only when you can afford the ticket, choose the horse or car you’re riding in, and stop when you want to get off. Otherwise, they can make you feel overwhelmed, trapped and panicky.

Here are my 8 top tips for choosing your ideal ride on the wedding merry-go-round, or stepping off it completely:

1. Know your ‘why’

Before you do any venue visits, wedding shopping, buy a magazine or even tell lots of people about your engagement, take time to be excited with your loved one. Talk together about what being married means and why it’s important to you. Your hopes and dreams, your reason for wanting to make this commitment, your role models, your experiences… This is your ‘why’ and it can inform your whole marriage – but let’s start a bit shorter term and use it for your wedding day.

2. Use your ‘why’ to think about your wedding day

Does any of your ‘why’ translate directly to your big day? For example, if an important aspect of marriage for you is being seen as a unit within a much wider family, social or community network, it might be that you want to invite lots and lots of people to witness and celebrate with you. If religion or spirituality is a big driving force for you, you might want to get married in your local church, mosque, or temple or have your wedding officiated by a representative of your beliefs. Alternatively, if marriage feels more like a private, soulful commitment to you, you might want to reflect that by having an elopement or micro-wedding.

3. Consider your values

Another biggy, thinking big picture about what really matters to you makes a huge difference at this early stage. If you’re environmentally conscious, for example, there are ways to bring that to your wedding by making it low-waste, no-plastic and using a venue and vendors that share that same value. If you’re community-minded, maybe hire the local village hall and choose vendors that come from close by. If you are both strongly family-oriented, find ways to get your loved ones involved in the preparation, the ceremony and the day itself. And if you share a dream of, say travelling the world or buying your own place soon, let that inform your budget before you’ve started… You get the idea.

4. Decide on your top 10/5/3…

Play a priorities game with your sweetheart. Imagine you have the two of you, someone to marry you, and five each of your closest people. What else would you have to have on the list to make it the perfect day for you? What would the venue be like? Who else will be there? What would you like to eat? What will you wear? Is music the bit you love most? Decide what your top 10 priorities will be, then whittle it down to 5, then to 3 ‘if we don’t have this then it’s all off’ deal-breakers. Keep that list somewhere close at all times and budget your energy, time and money according to those priorities.

5. Get yourself a virtual ‘f*ck it bucket’

Just like some people will always prefer the big, loud, brightly coloured merry-go-rounds, and will always opt for the biggest horse that goes up and down, it doesn’t mean that’s your only option. You will be told many times over about all the things you ‘should’ have for your wedding. By vendors. By the media. By tradition. By family. By friends. By complete strangers. But you can choose your ride! If what’s expected by everyone else doesn’t marry up (pardon the pun) with your values and your why, feel free to chuck it in the f*ck it bucket and cheerfully move on.

6. If it isn’t a ‘hell yeah’, it’s a hard no

Let’s talk about the ride again. Imagine you’re a kid and you see the big merry-go-round but for some reason, you’re scared or nervous of it. Your adults persuade you on, but by this time your adrenaline is sky-high and you cry all the way around and can’t wait for it to stop. You didn’t listen to your instincts (or rather, they were drowned out by the people who supposedly knew better). But listening to our intuition is so important, whether it’s a fairground ride or a wedding. You both need to feel completely committed to every aspect of your big day so trust your gut and don’t compromise. Especially with people who will be there on the day – whether that’s second cousin Jimmy’s latest girlfriend or the photographer whose pictures you like but makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. Surround yourself with people and things that only make you feel good.

7. Check-in with each other (and yourself)

Once you are on the merry-go-round, it can feel quite dizzying, and hard to get off. It can be hard to centre yourself and remember what’s important. So write all these things down early on. Decide together what you value most. And keep checking in with each other – not just on how many things have been ticked off the long list, but on how you are feeling about it all. Remind yourselves of the things you decided and what’s important to you. And maybe spend some time journaling about it all. Otherwise, small things about your wedding can feel all-consuming because they’re standing in for big feelings about getting married, and you find yourself in the middle of a lunchbox moment. Use each other, and your reflective self, to get back on track and remember what’s really important.

8. Remember to have fun

It can be easy to lose sight of fun when you’re heads down in wedding prep. So remember to take time out, have fun together, and not let wedding chat dominate all of your conversations. This is for you two, not for anybody else. So play, make a game of it, and run away entirely and elope if it all gets too much! You can do this!

And of course, if you want a celebrant who gets the merry-go-round and actively encourages you to get off it and do your own thing, give me a shout…

* OK, so I’ve been one of those wedding fair suppliers more than once! But when I see the ‘deer in the headlights’ look in the eyes of those newly engaged couples, I try to be an oasis of reassurance in the middle of it all if I can!

** Not that there’s anything wrong with these things at all of course – it’s just the enormity of all the options appearing at once for the first time – and the dawning realisation that you hadn’t even begun to think about budget…

*** This alarmed him more than I had anticipated – until I realised he thought I’d said ‘wedding doubt’ and that I was thinking of calling the whole thing off, which explained his blanched expression!