What could be more romantic than a proposal of marriage? I could watch this young man pop the question to his boyfriend via flash mob in Home Depot over and over again. And weddings? Don't get me started. I might start crying and not be able to stop. Engagements and weddings are, without a doubt, two of the most romantic experiences life has to offer.
But they don't just happen that way. Weddings, certainly, have as much potential to be fraught as fantastic. Sadly, we've all heard of weddings which morph into living nightmares, ruined by stress, tension, and familial discord that can long outlast the big day itself. So how can you ensure that your wedding ends up as a collection of happy memories instead of a featured episode on Brides Gone Bad?
First, couples should take a step back from all the giddiness and adopt a clear-headed approach to planning. Consider taking a page from the world of corporate management: Envision the event first in broad, overarching terms, and then methodically work your way down to the details. This is a project-development system described by the acronym GOST — Goals, Objectives, Strategies, and Tasks … and it works, especially under circumstances in which strong emotions could otherwise hijack the process.
Why are you having a wedding? This may seem like a silly question to ask yourselves at this juncture, but it's not. If the two of you talk honestly and realize the only reason you are considering hosting a big ceremony and reception is because "that's what everyone does," realize you have options. Lots of happily married folks started out as two people in front of a judge at the local courthouse. You may not get lots of presents or have a glamorous wedding video to view in years to come, but you could be saving enough money to make a down payment on your first home.
If, on the other hand, your hearts (and/or your cultural traditions) are set on sharing your nuptials with everyone from siblings to distant cousins and your parents' business acquaintances, then you will be taking a different direction entirely. There are lots of scenarios in between these two, of course, but it's important to know what your ideal "big picture" looks like. Keeping in mind this big picture — what you two really want — will help inform every other decision you make from here on in.
What are the measurables? Unlike goals, which are nebulous, objectives are tied to concrete outcomes. For example, the couple who chooses to visit a justice of the peace during their lunch hour might say, "We want to get married quietly this fall and have 25 of our closest friends and family members over for a party in the new year, once we've settled in the new house."
"We need to invite several hundred people to our June wedding and make sure everyone who attends has a wonderful time eating, drinking, and dancing at our reception," would be an equally valid objective for our second hypothetical couple.
Your objectives will be as unique as the two of you, formed in equal parts by your personal desires, valued traditions and familial expectations, and your budgets (more on that in a minute). Your goals can include a beach in Bali or a synagogue in Syracuse; just be sure they are specific and measurable. Ironically, this very specificity will give you freedom to be creative as you strategize your next steps.
How can we best achieve our objectives? This can be the most challenging, but ultimately the most satisfying, part of your planning process. It's where you figure out precisely how you're going to get from point "A" (engaged, happy!) to point "B" (married, solvent, happy!). And speaking of solvency: This is where the two of you — and any family members who might be helping to pay for your wedding — need to sit down and be very realistic about finances. Set a budget based on everyone's agreed-upon contributions. Look at that number. That's it. The sum total of what your wedding can and will cost. It doesn't matter how stunning that $7,000 gown looks when you try it on in the bridal salon; if your total budget is $10,000 and your objective includes a formal reception for 100 people, you need to find another dress. Or else change your objective. (Buy the dress, wear it to Las Vegas, and send a picture of you in it as an e-marriage announcement.) Either choice is acceptable, but you can't have both.
There are a few hard truths that crop up during the "strategies" segment of the wedding planning process, and one of them is the fact that most couples will not be able to afford all the high-end bells and whistles that accompany a Kardashian-like wedding, even if they really want one. That's the bad news. The good news is manifold. First you can be glad you're not a celebrity — how many of those over-the-top weddings end up in happy, lasting marriages, after all? Second, money isn't your only resource. Consider your time, talents, and connections. Brainstorm! This is where you two can figure out how to use the resources you do have to best effect.
If a big reception is essential to you, figure out how you can have one. Instead of booking the ballroom at the Four Seasons, make arrangements to rent out your old high school gym and have a really great caterer serve an amazing meal there for a fraction of the cost of a hotel reception. Or be happy with a casual potluck for as many people as your backyard can hold. Come up with a practical solution that works within your budget. Just don't ask guests to pitch in for the cost of a fancy reception you can't afford — doing so is a horrifying lapse of judgment and taste.
If your dream wedding includes travel, consider booking in the off-season. If you have a close friend who loves to arrange flowers, ask him if he would consider crafting your bouquet and boutonnière in lieu of a gravy boat as his wedding gift to you. There are endless ways to achieve an objective, provided you give yourselves ample opportunity to strategize.
What is the return-on-investment of a professional planner? As your planning ramps up into this phase, consider the potential value of professional assistance. Just as businesses hire consultants to steer internal teams through challenging times, grooms-and-brides-to-be often should engage a reputable wedding planner or coordinator to help guide this process. Event professionals know the wedding industry (and make no mistake, it is an industry) inside and out. They can often leverage that knowledge and their own connections to save you time and money. In addition, an experienced wedding planner will bring a much-needed, objective perspective to the conversation when things get emotional and stressful.
Who does what? Now you are in the nitty-gritty phase of your wedding planning, pinning down the important details that have emerged as a result of all your excellent strategizing. Your wedding planner has found an up-and-coming confectionery willing to cut you a discount if you are willing to allow its business cards to be discreetly placed on the table at your reception. Wedding cake, check! Your sister has agreed to enlist the cousins to spend dozens of hours crafting 80 Pinterest-approved wedding favors? Check! Auntie Edna is going to make sure the flower girls all visit the potty before the long march down the aisle? Check, check, and check!
Any bridal magazine can give you a generic "to-do" list to aid your wedding planning, but your own unique task list is going to be a reflection of your unique planning. Don't worry if it seems long; the more details you cover before the big day mean the fewer things you need to worry about as that day approaches. (This, again, is where a good wedding planner can be worth his or her weight in marzipan. These people think of things most couples can't even imagine.) Just make sure every important task is covered, in a timely way, by someone you can trust.
Now let go
GOST planning your wedding isn't exactly romantic, but it is a good way to set a tone for your lives together, combining your passion for each other with some good old-fashioned practicality. Even better, by ensuring you have planned and executed an event as close to your ideal as possible, you two can let go of the doubts and stresses that afflict so many couples who don't take the time to plan. Your big day approaches. Let the romance begin, and enjoy it with all of your hearts!