Engagement: the long and short of it

The length of an engagement can be decided before the proposal even takes place. Indeed you might see this kind of agreement as a prerequisite. Say you’ve got your heart set on a short engagement. You might want to insist that no proposal takes place until the time is close enough to your preferred wedding date. If the proposal comes ‘too early’ for whatever reason – practical, emotional, financial; you might be stuck with a really long engagement.

The average engagement is for 18 months. This strikes me as a long time. Too long? While it’s pretty obvious that a short engagement could cause you problems in hiring all the suppliers and goods for your wedding, or mean that you have to compromise on the exact date, venue, or supplier; it’s less so why a long engagement would cause a problem.

Ways an engagement can be too long:

Wedding planning doesn’t necessarily become less stressful or less complicated the longer you allow for it. Quite the contrary. When you’re planning a wedding, you have to hold lots of information in your head at the same time to retain an overall picture of the event as well as every individual detail. I can tell you from first hand experience that this is remarkably similar to how a PhD student feels throughout their three or more years of project management and thesis writing.

The experience can be intense and can take over your world. You might find it hard to think of much else besides the wedding. you can fail to see the wood for the trees, with details multiplying with the time your brain is given to imagine the infinite possibilities of what could be. If you put the wedding planning to one side for a number of days or weeks, when you try to pick it up again, it can take you ages to become reacquainted with where you are with the different strands of planning. It can soon become overwhelming, even with elite organisational skills, folders, lists and multi coloured page markers and post its. 🙂

You can end up spending more money. Chances are if you limit the planning time, you’ll limit the options you allow yourself to consider. The more options you expose yourself to, the more you will stretch the budget to acheive your dream day. If you are bargain hunting online, don’t be fooled into buying things you don’t actually need or have budgeted for, just because they are a bargain. This is easily done when you have wedding shopping fever. You see it on house building shows all the time. In an attempt to save money, online bargain hunting goes mad and impractical purchases end up costing much more because they have to be somehow blended into the scheme by yet more purchases, or adjusted to fit. You might not want to return items that aren’t quite right if the postage costs as much as they did.

Indecision sets in. If you’ve got loads of time, you can put off making decisions. Confronted with so many ways to go, you may find yourself unable to make decisions. This loss of momentum or sense of urgency can get you down, you can lose connection with your wedding, it can seem so far off it becomes ethereal, unreal. Ever watched paint dry? That’s what it would be like for me, as I just like to get on with things. I’m very impatient. If you are this way inclined, why put yourself through the wait? List your reasons and think about whether it adds up. Or are you putting it off to give yourself time to do all those things you think you’ll lose once married? Are you giving yourself time to get used to the idea of marriage? Are you giving yourself time to get to know your partner better, or to see if any cracks appear? It’s a good time to ask yourself the hard questions, and to be honest with yourself.

Your ideas can change. I found that I wanted to combine a few different styles in my eclectically vintage wedding. However, even within my fairly short 9 month engagement my ideas evolved so much that I wish I had had even less time so that I would be more likely to pick my theme and stick with it. When you are conceptualising the wedding at the beginning of your engagement you might be onto a fairly unusual theme or look, and by the time your wedding rolls around, you could have been to 10 weddings with the same theme as yours, and the mags could be proclaiming it the ‘in’ theme. Wedding trends come and go. If your engagement and wedding span more than one fashion season, you could end up oh-so-last-season. What may have been widely stocked a year ago might now be near impossible to find. The wedding industry is fickle.

Your life changes! Take any 18 months of your adult life and consider the changes that occured from the start to the end of that time period. Will your guest list be the same? Will your tastes? Will your priorities? Will your location? Will your family have seen new additions, or sad losses? Think about changes that might occur in other people’s lives. In the lives of your suppliers and the businesses you are depending on. They may go out of business, see a change in management, or direction. Their standards may change.

When you’re thinking about the length of your engagement, think about what would work best for you and your partner. Forget about the norm, the average and what your parents expect. While an engagement of 9 months is perfectly adequate, the benefit of a 12 month engagement is that you will get to see things at the same time of year as your wedding date. This can give you a much more accurate picture of how things will look and what will be on offer when your big day comes. Having said that, if you just cant wait to tie the knot, I’d advise no less than 3 months to plan your wedding. It can be done, but I’d stick to these rules to see you through.

Rules for a successful short engagement:

  1. Choose a theme/style/look/concept and stick with it. Do not hesitate. Things will jump out at you. Go with your gut instinct.
  2. Draw up a battle plan. You will need a schedule so that you don’t leave vital jobs too late. Pin down deadlines for EVERYTHING.
  3. Delegate. You can be Head Planner AND have as many little helpers as you like! Give your nearest and dearest specific tasks. Whether it’s sourcing a good band, doing a price comparison of florists, or picking up the invitations. Give your assistants a brief, so that they know what you expect.
  4. Prioritise. With a short engagement you might have to trim down the list of to dos. Think about what matters to you both. What can your day do without? Simply strike things off that list rather than stressing over compromises, and you’ll feel relieved and empowered.
  5. Enlist the help of professionals. I don’t mean a wedding planner. Your team of suppliers need to be professional, trustworthy and helpful. You may find an indispensable venue coordinator, celebrant (me!), or caterer who goes above and beyond to help see you through the planning process. If you can leave them to it in the run up to the wedding and on the day, great. If you are finding yourself chasing them, and picking up their slack, replace them.
  6. Be prepared to compromise. I mean really compromise. If you can take a more laid back attitude to the specifics, you can still get exactly what you want. It’s all about the overall effect, the essence of the day, the feel of it. Keep these things in mind rather than brand names, bestsellers, or expense as a guide to what’s right for you.
  7. Keep calm and carry on. If you get super-stressed you’ll become indecisive and snappy. Take time out from the planning to relax, and reconnect with your partner about why you are getting married. Keep perspective, take a deep breath, eat some cake, and get on with it. It’ll all be worth it.

And finally… Don’t be a slave to must have and must do lists, budget sheets, or timelines set by wedding companies. Every wedding is different so draw up your own lists and charts. If it seems overwhelming, change it, until it no longer does.

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