Joy with the brakes on

Be happy, but not too happy.

Congratulations, but

That’s great, now what about...

Not to put the dampers on things but

Joy with the brakes on is a phenomenon that can plague both preparation for marriage and having a baby. You might recognise it in well-meaning warning comments designed to check you know what you’re getting yourself in for. Checking that you’ve thought it through. That you’re not rushing into something. That you’re ready and prepared for reality.What is well-meaning about these bubble bursting comments is that they are often based in care. Some people can’t help but worry on the behalf of others. Some can’t help but project their own cautiousness, regrets or misgivings onto a happy couple. Some can only express their urge to protect a happy couple from surprised disappointment by preparing them for the worst.

Entering marriage and parenthood are both, should be, life changing events. There’s the romance and magic of both. There’s also the lived experience of both which doesn’t always live up to the fuzzy disney happily-ever-after ideal. While we enter into these new beginnings full of love and hope and optimism we generally have our eyes open to the ups and downs that will no doubt come our way. Surely that is why we vow to love and support our partners in sickness and health, and for richer for poorer? In our wedding ceremonies we acknowledge the risks and increased responsibilities marriage can bring, through our vows. More importantly we call upon our guests not only to witness our joining but to pledge to support us in our marriage from that day forward.

If listening to the scare-mongers, those well-meaning warners is a rite of passage into marriage and parenthood do we feign appreciation, nodding and smiling politely or do we fight back? Clearly ‘ignorance is bliss’ would be the polar opposite view to take here, but not a very mature thing to enter a serious committment with your eyes closed. How about rose tinted glasses are nature’s way of propogating the species? What’s so bad about entering into these new life states with positivity and optimism anyway? I believe that negativity begets negativity and positivity begets positivity. Not that you can stop awful things happening by thinking happy thoughts, but that you will find whatever you are looking hardest for.

This explains why when the forewarned couple actually doesn’t complain about the baby crying, about the sleepless nights, about their kids bleeding them dry, or about being hen-pecked, under the thumb, their sex life becoming non-existent – the scare-mongers will cope with this challenge to their world view by insisting that it’s only a matter of time. That so far they’ve been lucky. That the baby must be a good baby. It can’t possibly be because the couple have worked hard to communicate well in their marriage, chosen to be completely honest with each other, are actually in love, or have chosen to parent in a way that makes them and their child happy.

Joy with the brakes on has no place within a Humanist ceremony because there is no place for a joy-sapping anti-human potential attitude in Humanism. Not all Humanist Celebrants are Humanists and so although you will find Celebrants whose natural styles embrace self-deprecating sarcasm, if you are looking for a ceremony that focuses on the harsh reality of marriage, or parenthood, sorry but I am not the Celebrant for you. I believe in unbridled passionately romantic love shining through my ceremonies above all else. If I don’t well up with at least one tear when I read your ceremony script back to myself, it’s not good enough.

We can all appreciate worriers in our circle of friends and family, but I think I can say on behalf of all engaged couples and expectant parents: Please… trust us, and let us, as adults should, learn from our own mistakes. Be happy full stop. Congratulations full stop.

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.

Top Ten Wedding Fails

Lots of things can go wrong at weddings. It’s a big day, the pressure is on, there are lots of eyes and ears scrutinising detail and quality. Most of the time, the little mistakes or mishaps make the wedding. They are memorable moments you look back on with fondness or a good sense of humour. But let’s face it, some weddings contain moments of sheer embarrassment, mortification, or worse. Those things you really wish hadn’t happened, and really want to forget, well that’s what this list is for. For brides and grooms to be if you are worried about everything running perfectly smoothly on your big day, this might help put things into perspective. Don’t let this list get you down, chances are none of this will happen. But if you want to be safe and not sorry consider my tips for avoiding disaster. And keep in mind that the wedding is for all its bells and whistles, ultimately a means to an end. Marrying the one you love and living happily ever after.

  1. Bad Musicians – This is a problem with all live music, but especially risky with church organs. Top tips: listen to the musician you are hiring beforehand. Try to go to a live performance instead of trusting their demo cd or website audio clip. Don’t use a church organ or bagpipes unless the musician is highly skilled and can pull it off. If money is tight, and you are using amateur musicians, choose simple songs or songs they can already perform well.
  2. Moody Blues – You won’t be able to enjoy your day if you are in a bad mood. There are so many reasons you might be: if disaster does strike, if you have a fight with your betrothed/mother/sister etc., if you’ve had very little sleep, if you feel unwell, if you are hormonal. Top tips: adopt a zen aura and let things that would normally bother you, slide off you. Take a herbal calming remedy. Try to relax the week before the wedding. Treat yourself, have a massage, a lovely bath and early night the night before. Plan and organise so you’re not running around like a headless chicken. Put some time aside for you and your partner to remind yourselves why you’re getting married and how much you love each other.
  3. Punch Ups – They say it’s not a real party until something gets broken, until there’s a fight, or unless someone is sick. Well weddings are all about love and apart from striking totally the wrong negative chord, fights be they verbal or physical detract from the important people, the Bride and Groom. Top tips: if you think someone might cause a fight, don’t invite them. Carefully arrange the seating plan to keep rivals apart. Don’t serve endless free alcohol.
  4. The weather – I’m not just talking about grey skies or a bit of rain. What if your day coincides with a hurricane, a storm, or a blizzard? These are things we simply can’t control, but you can do two things. Top tips: look into wedding insurance in case you have to postpone entirely to another date. Have a contingency plan which includes guest transportation and communication system for relaying the change of plan to everyone.
  5. Bridal Party Injuries – what better way to spend your first night as a married couple than in hospital? Top tips: keep an eye on clumsy relatives, badly secured platforms, uneven floors, avoid flimsy chairs and tables, steps and ledges! Beware long veils and dresses being caught in doors or go for a shorter dress, shorter veil, or no veil.
  6. Damages – This would include ruined wedding cakes and wedding dresses, those icons of the wedding day that above all must be pristine (at least for the photos). Top tips: falling over will often have the knock on effect of ruining cake and/or dress so see top tips for Bridal party injuries. Transport the cake and the dress carefully being mindful of sources of dirt, dust, bleach, oil, ink, blood. Dresses can snag on any sharp point including jewellery, heels, doors and flooring.
  7. Jokes Gone Wrong – Really wrong. The Best Man’s ‘funny’ speech that simply puts the Bride down whilst listing the Groom’s ex girlfriends. The wedding that can’t take place because of the missing Groom following a badly thought out stag do prank. The video reel your parents put together of your worst childhood memories. The honeymoon suite pranks that just kill the passion. Top tips: trust the people you give the privilege of speaking at your wedding to. Surprises are great, but if you suspect your well meaning relative or friend might not be on the same page as you and your bethrothed, double check what they have in mind! The day is about both Bride and Groom. No one wants to be sulky on their wedding day.
  8. Exes – Some exes become friends, some harbour resentment and grow bitter and choose your wedding day to strike! Top tips: think carefully about inviting exes who are friends but who haven’t become friends of your spouse. If you have a potentially devastating ex, mention them to the doormen, have someone look out for them, keep your wedding quiet!
  9. Food Poisoning – Don’t want your guests’ lasting memory of your wedding to be their toilets? Top tips: use a reputable caterer- check their hygiene certificates. Watch out for food kept warm or left out for long periods of time. Beware of rice. Sample the food before signing the caterer, or use a venue or supplier you are familiar with.
  10. Changing Your Mind – Lots of couples get cold feet, but what if you really don’t want to go through with it? Top tips: don’t leave it until the wedding day to make a run for it. Be brave enough to break things off after the engagement if you decide you’re really not marrying the right person. Everyone will understand, and if they don’t you shouldn’t care, it’s your life, you have to put yourself first. Give yourself an engagement period long enough to learn more about each other and to discuss all the big stuff that really can make or break a relationship when things get serious.