“Weddings ain’t what they used to be,” or at least that’s what my mother tells me. When she married my father in the early 1980s in McMinnville, Tennessee, a few friends and family members gathered at their local church and then showed up afterwards for a light reception in the fellowship hall, followed by a dinner at a local steakhouse.
Although that’s likely an oversimplification of their big day, today’s weddings are intricate, action-packed affairs with many lead-up events that involve a great deal of planning. I know this because I spent the past year “helping” my now-wife, Jenna, plan our wedding.
Last year, on Christmas day, I surprised Jenna by driving up to Easley, South Carolina, to do Christmas dinner with her family. Little did she know when I arrived that I had a bigger surprise in store.
I first met Jenna at a Clemson football tailgate, and it took me about five seconds to fall for her. Initially, she didn’t feel the same. It took her about five months to give in to my persistence. But as I drove up to Easley last Christmas, after a few years of dating, I was confident that both of us were ready to take the next step in our relationship.
After we finished off Christmas dinner, I asked Jenna’s father for her hand in marriage and told him my plans for the proposal. The next morning, I asked Jenna if she wanted to drive over to Clemson for breakfast. We made the 15-minute trip, had a small meal, drove around campus and then decided to walk through the South Carolina Botanical Gardens.
Midway through the walk, when we got to a really sunny spot on the middle of a small bridge, I got down on one knee, and asked Jenna to marry me. After jumping up and down and spinning around, she grabbed the entire ring box and shouted “Yes!”
That’s all I remember from this past year, because the next nine months were a whirlwind.
Within an hour of getting engaged, excitement turns to talk of when, where, guest list, wedding party, dress style, engagement parties, band or DJ, honeymoon destination, first dance song, suit or tuxedo, bachelorette and bachelor parties, wedding cake, flower girls, ring bearers – scratch that: no flower girls – florist, photographer, videographer, first-dance lessons, and on and on and on and on. …
After the celebratory selfies and facetimes with friends, we spent a few weeks trying to find an open wedding venue for the fall of 2015 that wouldn’t be too hot, wouldn’t fall on the same day as a Clemson home football game and wouldn’t leave us eating Ramen noodles for the next five years. The Atlantic Coast Conference wouldn’t give us inside information on the Clemson schedule, so we took a gamble and booked an event hall in Greenville, South Carolina, for Sept. 26. We finally had a date. Cross one item off the infinite to-do list.
Once we started sharing the date with friends and family, many folks asked incredulously, “Can y’all really plan a wedding in nine months?” I couldn’t believe it! Nine months seemed like an eternity. Heck, if expecting parents can prepare themselves over nine months for a newborn, surely we could piece together a successful wedding.
But these folks were on to something. They had been through it. They knew.
To be fair, being engaged is an exciting time. From engagement parties hosted by friends to wedding gifts and congratulatory notes, it’s humbling. But make no mistake, there’s a lot of work to be done.
In reflecting on the tumult of planning save-the-dates, engagement photos, thank you cards, hotel blocks, wedding websites and the multitude of other stuff Jenna did that I never saw, I came to realize that much of that stuff – which, don’t get me wrong, is likely mandatory in this day and age – becomes a blur in the rearview mirror.
What mattered, or at least what I distinctly remember, is the time we carved out to focus on why we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and what that might look like in a practical sense. For us, East Cooper Baptist Church’s pre-marital classes gave us a chance to think through some of these tough questions, focus collectively on what we wanted from the marriage and agree on what would be the foundation of our marriage.
In the hubbub of planning, we often become fixated on the details: “No, the band cannot play the Macarena!”; “Ham biscuits over tomatoes and mozzarella skewers”; “Yes, let’s announce the wedding party”; “No, no need for a groom’s cake”; “Yes, of course, to the multi-flavored wedding cake”; “Why not? to ending the reception with hot Papa John’s pizza.”
These details are a manifestation of what weddings have become in the 21st century. But, even though the details may have changed over the years, the main idea remains the same. In reality, we could have wiped out all of these details and still rode away from the wedding reception happy. We had each other, we had grounded our marriage in our faith and we had our friends and family there rooting us on.
Here’s some sage advice to those of you planning a wedding: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take some time to think about what will constitute a happy marriage. And, finally, do like we did: if you’re going to have a wedding in the fall, pick a bye weekend for Clemson football. Go Tigers and happy wedding planning.
By Joe Semsar
Photo courtesy of Joe Semsar