Weddings are strange capitalistic creatures, especially in America. There are frugal weddings – which can be very personal and lovely – and then there’s the big “wedding venue” wedding, where it’s easy to suddenly spend an extra $10,000 and not be sure how it happened.
My wedding was the later. One of the days I’ll get around to writing a post tallying up all the costs — but I estimate that after my and my family’s generous contributions, the wedding cost $70k-$80k (my budget was a very reasonable $50k – but clearly I failed at staying in budget.) Do I regret going over budget? Not exactly. I’m the all or nothing type, and even though our wedding wasn’t huge by east coast standards (we had about 130 guests, minus a few last-min no shows.) I regret things that I didn’t know then — I regret pouring money into things that I thought would solve for potential issues, when I missed many cost-free opportunities to prevent the magical and glorious nightmare that was my wedding day.
You can imagine how first-world traumatized I was given that I was married in summer of 2016 and I’m only – barely – able to write about the day now in 2018. I’ve often thought if I can eek out a movie script inspired by the day (dark comedy, of course), it will all have been worth it.
In addition to not being able to write about my wedding day since 2016, I’ve also avoided the wedding album and video. I’m working on those today, as I feel like even with PTSD I need to finish them before our two year wedding anniversary, and especially before baby is born (if I don’t, it will never happen — and both the video and wedding albums were paid for in advance, so I need to actually do them / provide feedback.)
Now that I’m a bit removed from my wedding day, I can recall both the positive and the negative of the day. Despite my ridiculous amount of planning, in many ways I planned horribly. I should have hired a coordinator (you’d think for a $70,000 budget I would have invested in one!) — but my father was strange about the wedding expenditures within his $50k budget: it wasn’t about saving money, but it was about, for instance, what appeared more impressive – i.e., getting a band ($7k) vs a DJ ($2k) or requiring a formal venue vs a lower-cost barn or park.
Not that I’m complaining about their contributions to this wedding. I’d feel incredibly guilty if not knowing that my father had been looking forward to throwing a giant party for my nuptials since I was born. If my parents weren’t into weddings, I would have never accepted the $50k. But my parents wanted a big wedding, and a big(ish) wedding I gave them.
Accepting my parents money, I knew, would add massive complications to wedding planning and my ultimate wedding day. Looking back, I often wonder if I would have been better spending the $20k I ended up spending on a much smaller, intimate wedding with little or no contribution from family. How did I end up spending an extra $20k, you ask? I’ll detail this out one day in the breakdown of costs — but between having good (expensive) taste, hating every single wedding dress under $6000 (trust me, I tried on over 200 wedding dresses) and spending on who knows what — cute things on Etsy, hotel rooms, invitations, etc… it added up, well about that initial $50k. I justified it all by convincing myself putting all this money into the event would make it stress free, and the best day of our lives.
My husband loved the wedding. I knew exactly what would make him happy, and while I carefully selected items and experiences that I also approved of, I opted for the fairytale ballgown over the mermaid gown, and studied up on every hotel within a 30 mile radius of the venue to find one that had a modicum of style to it (hard to find in the suburbs, thank god for Hyatt Place.)
Ok, so I was bridezilla and then some, but I honestly felt like years upon years of not having an opportunity to be creative suddenly were unleashed with this wedding project. I interviewed dozens of photographers and videographers. I had too many hair and makeup trials (some were just really bad.) My bridesmaid ended up getting a deal with my selection of dresses that were on sale at Nordstrom, vs the traditional bridesmaid getup – $100 per dress (cheap, compared to the $200-$300 custom made dresses most bridesmaids wear.)
I admit that I enjoyed the planning process. It gave me something to work on that wasn’t, well, work. As frustrating as the adding-up costs were, I could envision the day and how beautiful it would be. After plenty of careful research, interviews, and mind changes, it was all falling together. I was getting married.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, with accepting my parents generous contribution (which was supposed to cover the entire wedding and should have), I also had to accept their generous crazy. And crazy they gave and gave and gave. My father was actually on his best behavior the day of the wedding (the day before at the rehearsal he was not, but I got lucky and his typical grouchiness disappeared for the wedding day – I think he was actually enjoying himself.) My mother, on the other hand, was the source of the nightmare. Perhaps I don’t have the right to complain at all since the funded most of the wedding. But, she did make me wish I never accepted a dollar from them…
I tried so hard to plan the wedding per my mother’s requirements. Because, as always, everything is about her. I don’t mind some of the wedding being about her – I wanted her to be happy with the choices since she was funding it with my father, and her friends and family would be attending. She had a lot of specific asks — a cocktail hour that has a lot of seating (crossed off a lot of perfectly decent venues otherwise, but a reasonable request.) A photographer who would be willing to take traditional portraits of the family and table pictures. Specific broadway songs to be played during the reception (I got a few in – of course she didn’t actually hear them since she’s never paying much attention to anything going on outside of herself.) And so on.
The venue was not – perfect – but it was pretty close. A private clubhouse alongside a quiet, small lakefront. An ceremony site as beautiful as I could imagine – for the area, and from the right angles. An indoor venue for the reception that was modern and elegant without being too boring, and certainly not gaudy like most of the venues in this area. Far enough away from my hometown to feel romantic, but close enough that family and friends could travel up in a day if they didn’t want to stay overnight (except the guests traveling from the west coast.) Close enough to New York that guests who were visiting could make an extended trip and go into the city. The venue itself had very high reviews. It was too expensive for a Saturday night, so we opted for Sunday and picked the only remaining one left – which happened to be father’s day (note, never get married on a holiday unless you want a lot your guests not to come because of it.)
Planning the wedding from the other coast was challenging, to say the least – but I was able to make a few trips back for in-person interviews and venue visits. Everything finally came together.
Again, maybe it’s asking too much, but as a bride I was hoping my mother could, just for one day, put someone else’s needs ahead of hers. When you’re a bride, you need that person who tells you that you look beautiful – who helps make sure you don’t have lipstick smudged on your face. Who isn’t just freaking out about how they look and screaming at everyone for various things that didn’t merit screaming. Yes, she screamed on my wedding day. A lot.
First, she had a panic attack and nearly got into a fist fight with my makeup artist. I scheduled the day so her makeup could be done last (I don’t want to wake up too early, she said) – ok, so her makeup was done last at the hotel. The makeup artist was going to come to the venue to do touch ups before leaving – which was a mess of planning in it’s own right, but my mother made it a heck of a lot worse. Mom was running late to begin with, but so were the rest of us, so it wasn’t horrible when her makeup was done behind schedule at the hotel. But then when the makeup artist arrived with the bridal party at the venue and was running through touchups, I had clearly told my mother to be at the venue at 2pm at the latest for her touchups or she wasn’t getting any. Of course, she was running behind schedule — and she called while the makeup artist was doing my makeup and, on speakerphone, mind you, screamed at the makeup artist that she has to stay there because her eye makeup is running and it MUST be fixed. The makeup artist looked both offended and stunned, and thank god my mother wasn’t in the room because I swear she might have punched her (not the first time my mom almost got punched that day.)
Mom got to the venue after the makeup artist left, and I was too distraught from all the drama to properly analyze my hair and makeup to approve it before the hair and makeup artist left. Not the end of the world, but given how much I was paying for hair and makeup (this came out of my overage budget), I wanted it to look as good as the trial day. It wasn’t a total mess, but had I not been thinking about how upset I was at my mother, I could have breathed for a minute and examined the back of my head and realized it looked like a damn cone.
When my mother did finally show up to the venue – even later than the latest she said she would – we were running behind at that point because of her. I was waiting for her to get into my dress for pictures, which I told her about a zillion times and she ignored, so she arrives and the whole schedule is pushed back since we’re waiting for her.
Hilariously, she goes to the mirror and starts fussing with her own makeup as we wait for her to zip my dress. Not a minute later, she walks over for the pictures, barely touches my dress (which we zipped already since she was so late), and says “I got lipstick on your dress.” Yes, red lipstick was now on my white button. Luckily, it was a smudge and the assistants at the venue were able to get it off. But, I was furious again that she couldn’t think for a moment that maybe she should be careful after just touching her lips before touching my dress… she was having a massive anxiety attack, I know, but I knew she’d be pissed if I didn’t get her in the getting ready pictures so I just held my breath and tried to look happy (it didn’t help that my dress was too tight because of a separate alterations nightmare scenario, which deserves its own post one day) – anyway, all of my getting ready pictures are filled with this horrific tension in my face with a look that is between I’m going to kill someone, I am going to kill myself, and I’m going to fake being happy if it kills me.
Mom’s antics didn’t end there. Not at all. Luckily, she disappeared for a while, and I went down to do the first look with my husband. I try to remember that moment because it was beautiful. My husband was so happy with my dress choice and the whole day. He hadn’t been experiencing the same stress I had, and despite melting in the 90 degree heat, he was clearly in a good mood. I had never been more glad to be able to hug him and more grateful to be marrying someone sane and not narcissistic. Those pictures are filled with real smiles.
After the first look, we went on to shoot our portraits. The photographer noted that the area by the lake where we would take our family pictures had really bad lighting right now, and that we should wait until after the ceremony to take those pictures. I trusted him and offered that my mother would freak out if we didn’t take the family pictures before the ceremony, so we should consider taking one set inside (especially since everything was running behind schedule and our guests would be arriving soon and would see us taking pictures before the ceremony.) The bridal party portraits were a hot mess (everyone was sent to the wrong location, and no one informed the parents of the ring bearer and flower girl to come down – so we don’t have a full bridal party shot, unfortunately.
Prior to the wedding, my mother created a mile-long list of family portraits she wanted in a billion different formations. Aunts only, uncles only, girl cousins, boy cousins, etc. I agreed to get all of these pictures done, even though I knew we wouldn’t have time. What I didn’t do, because I was so busy trying to solve for her crazy requests, was figure out what pictures I wanted of myself and my husband. I kind of thought the photographer would know what’s best. He did get some nice shots, but I wanted a few traditional photos with my bouquet, and we don’t have one of my husband and I standing with the bouquet. That’s my fault for not bringing up in advance, but had I not been buried in requests for family portraits (which did not come out great, surprise surprise, because they were rushed) maybe I would have spent time thinking about what couples should I actually wanted.
In any case, we did get a lot of nice pictures, so that wasn’t a huge problem. But, just minutes before guests were scheduled to arrive, my mother comes screaming from out of nowhere. Apparently someone just informed her of the plan to shoot the close family portraits inside the venue before the ceremony, and she was having none of it. To get her to calm down (I didn’t want my guests to hear my mother shrieking at the top of her lungs upon their arrival) I immediately gave the photographer an “I’m sorry” look, and agreed to take the portraits by the lake even though they might not come out. They actually came out ok — maybe a bit shadowy — but we took them again after the ceremony and it would have been nice to have another location anyway, but I immediately gave up on that fight. Guests watched us take our pictures from afar as they arrived.
All of that wasn’t the worst of the day. Not by far. The makeup freakout and the photography-related panic attack were to be expected with my mother. I wasn’t happy with how she was acting, but at least it wasn’t anything that threw me for a loop. The worst was yet to come.
By that point in the day, I was melting, happy, tired, and excited, all together in a ball of “oh my god it’s my wedding day.” I had a few freak outs myself – my bridesmaid lost my lipstick then realized she accidentally gave it to her husband. My hair was falling out left and right and I didn’t know how to fix it. I broke the hook on the back of my dress because I wisely decided to try to move a sofa into place for a photo idea I had. Things weren’t going perfectly, but there were no major train-wrecks, yet.
That’s when it happened. Although, I didn’t know it happened until much later. The way the ceremony venue is setup is that you enter from the main building and walk down a long, winding aisle to the venue site, where everyone is sitting and facing the lake and arch. As soon as I was in the lineup, I heard the music (violin and cello duo with custom-selected music) playing. I didn’t even realize we had started, but we had started. And soon I would be walking down the aisle.
At that moment, I heard my mother screaming. I couldn’t see her, because she was around the corner (I was hidden out of view from the guests) and she was entering in front of me. She was screaming about something, and I was horrified. I looked at the venue coordinator, and I think I asked if I could go find out what was going on, but she said everyone would see me, and I should just wait. So I did. I waited and decided to put it out of my mind. Because I wasn’t going to let my mother ruin the ceremony. I hoped it was nothing.
Immediately after the ceremony, we all got together to take a massive group photo of all the guests. I noticed two of my guests were standing far away from the group, holding their young son (who was my “flower boy.”) Their entire family had flown across the country to attend the wedding, and many were in the bridal party. The boy’s mother (their daughter) was my matron of honor. Her husband and brother were groomsmen. Her parents are fairly close to us (we joke they are our second parents) and it meant a lot that they all flew out even though we know it was a financial hardship for them – but they made it work and it meant the world to us that they all were there.
Well, my mother had apparently flipped the shit because the 3 year old was having a temper tantrum before he was going to walk down the aisle. His grandmother was holding him at the time, and the plan was she’d walk him in and down the aisle, and he’d get as far as he could get, and then she’d take him away if needed. Both my husband and I were totally find with having a screaming CHILD in our wedding. We love children. Kids are cute, even if they’re screaming. But apparently my mother had been told earlier by my aunt about some wedding she had been to where a kid was screaming throughout the whole wedding. This led my mother to having an anxiety attack and screaming “NO CRYING BABIES IN THE WEDDING” — or something like that. I couldn’t make it out. I just knew she was screaming a lot. Right before I was going to walk down the aisle.
This had a domino effect on the entire family. The grandparents were furious, and left with the child immediately after the ceremony ended. My matron of honor and two groomsmen – who would typically be the life of the party (and boy did we need some people to be the life of the party with a near-empty dance floor all night) and they spent the rest of the evening moping around pissed at my mother. They all wanted to leave, but held it together and stayed for our sake. I was angry at myself for not having this conversation with my mother in advance (the kid is kind of crazy, we know he might cry his whole way down the aisle, his grandma will take him away if he’s being too noisy) but also angry at my mother for not thinking we had this worked out, or that it was none of her business who we selected for our bridal party and she shouldn’t YELL at them right before they walk down the aisle, or before I walk down the aisle.
The rest of the evening, she had a few more freak outs (the band started announcing the bridal party when no one was lined up, and announced my husband’s mother as his grandmother, et al – at least she had a reason to scream at that point but unfortunately most people don’t listen to high-pitched communication) – at that point in the night I just tried to avoid my mother and enjoy my wedding. She made horrible fake smiles in the background of all our candid pictures, dancing and pretending to have “fun.”
I was livid and embarrassed at her antics and yet again happy to be in the arms of my husband and being married into a family that isn’t so cruel by nature. I try really hard to remember the moments I was happy that night – because I know I was happy. I know that looking at the pictures and seeing that even though my back fat is pouring out of my horribly altered $6000 dress (with $1000 alterations, mind you) and my bouquet disappeared before pictures and my dress ripped our my best friends were in a crappy mood and a huge chunk of the weddings guests disappeared for a huge chunk of the party (I found out later they discovered a TV downstairs and were watching a basketball final) and the cake was wrong (we ordered hazelnut, it was strawberry) and my sister got sloppy trashed (she doesn’t drink usually, but discovered “Rumchata”) and the venue lost the vases and glass pebbles that were poured in our glass pouring ceremony that were to be sent out to an artist to make them into a keepsake vase. But, amidst all that. Amidst hearing my father’s disapproving voice over and over in response to what was supposed to be a joke at our rehearsal lunch… after the cold pizza served to my hotel guests and the forgetting to feed my bridal party and a groomsman missing many of the group shots because he kindly offered to help get food and then didn’t return for much longer than expected. With EVERYTHING that went wrong, I really want to remember the good moments of that day…
The first look with my husband, when I’ve never seen him that happy or sweaty in my life. Our custom-written ceremony, which was too long but wonderful just the same. His speech, and how he cried when he read it. How I knew in that moment that I had a partner for life, a man who could feel so deeply, who loves me as much as I love him. And as I stood awkwardly during the ceremony in my too-tight dress, melting in the heat, I saw a man who I wanted more than ever to spend the rest of my life with. Then the kiss and more photos and getting the last little bit of what I hear was a to-die-for cocktail hour (yes, I carefully picked out the options and added a special “thanksgiving” table which they offer in fall, but created for summer as a special treat.) My guests were stuffed and happy. Our first dance, which we went to a dance coach to choreograph, was adorable for two people with two left feet – and we didn’t fuck it up somehow. Our hora was what I call hora-riffic — or, what you get when most of the guests are not Jewish and trying to follow your mother in terms of what to do, and instead of going around in a circle, she’s stopping and posing for pictures every two minutes. Then, the face my husband made when they lifted him up in the chair – priceless. My dance with my father, which I know meant the world to him. The music throughout the evening, all carefully selected. The moment when we heard the pianist at the cocktail hour playing the Game of Thrones theme song as we epically ran up the stairs to the bridal suite to get in a few more shots in a new location. The cake cutting where we discovered the wrong filling – which was upsetting but also hilarious since we put so much effort into the cake tasting and picking out our cake. The bouquet toss — part 1 — where I threw the bouquet straight up into the ceiling, almost knocking myself in the head as gravity brought the bouquet rapidly back to earth. My father’s toast, when he threw a “fake speech” on paper behind him, having it land directly in the candle flame on our table. The other lovely toasts. The pictures at sunset. The going back to the hotel on the bus with the other guests, and staying up all night with our friends (I didn’t get drunk at the wedding itself but after, that’s another story.) The creating improvised raps with my talented beatboxer friend and making my husband crack up. The morning after, waking up and saying goodbye to our guests in the lobby’s breakfast. Our day of relaxing before heading off on our mini-moon road trip. So many good moments that I don’t want to forever be ruined by the bad.
After the wedding, I got into a huge fight with my mother. We’ve fought often throughout life, but never like this. I, perhaps immaturely, put up a long post on Facebook about how someone in my family did all these things at my wedding. I didn’t say her name, but I wanted, in that moment, to make her feel as embarrassed as I felt. As horrified. Well, I never have seen my mother that upset. She barely has emotions, but she does have the ability to be embarrassed. She was visibly upset by it. We were staying at my parent’s house one night before leaving on our mini-moon since we were exhausted and needed some sleep before our nine hour drive, and she basically said to take it down or get out. I knew it was not the right thing for me to do, and I did eventually take it down (after many friends and family members private messaged me with their opinions – either agreeing with me or agreeing with me but saying I should take the post down.) I knew it wasn’t worth basically ending the relationship with my mother for the rest of our lives, so I took it down, and went back to sleep. All I wanted was an apology. Somehow for her to understand how much she hurt me. I knew, in a way, I had no right to be hurt because it was my parents money that paid for most of the wedding. But I also feel like she could say “I’m sorry I freaked out – you know I panic a lot – it wasn’t right to yell at the kid in your bridal party or freak out at your makeup artist.” But, all she could do was mutter that I needed to take it down or get out of the house. She felt she was in the right for all of her behaviors. I took the post down, I went to sleep, and was happy to get out of there bright and early in the morning and hit the road… it was then that I decided that my parents weren’t worth caring about anymore. That I could have a relationship with them that is filled with formalities and little more. That I could be grateful for all they’ve given me, and still rightfully angry and upset by their inability to care about anyone other than themselves.
I think I’m glad I had a wedding. I think I’m glad that it was as extravagant and thought out as it was. I’m ashamed that I suffer from PTSD from this day (I have nightmares about it nightly and find myself playing out what I could have done better at least once a day -everyday – since it happened.) I know there are many, many, many worse things that can happen in life than an imperfect and stressful wedding day. I’m ready now, now that I’m pregnant with my first child, to move on with my life. I’m trying to get this album and video done, so I can really close the final chapter on this book and move on to the next. I hope that as a parent, I can find a way to not take after my parents, and to be a caring and empathetic mother. Maybe I should be grateful for my parent’s behavior – maybe it’s the best lesson of all how not to be a mother.