During a recent conversation about the stress of planning my wedding, my parents remarked that in retrospect, it didn’t seem like it was really that bad for me and my now husband. “You would say that,” I replied. “But you weren’t there for 90 percent of the crying.”
“The crying?” they asked. “Whose crying?” It was a secret that I’d apparently kept better than I had thought. I was under the impression that everyone knew what a wreck I had been, and was politely trying to pretend it never happened. But the fact that my parents went on to comment on how in sync my now-husband and I had always appeared suggested that it might be more than that. While I may remember my own tears most vividly, something more significant occurred in the lead-up to the big day: through the trials of planning our wedding, my fiancé and I learned how to work together and face what comes our way as a team.
For much of the planning process, I was a mess of tears; if only it had been springtime, I could have blamed my red, puffy eyes on allergies. I settled on “contact issues” in public, but of course that didn’t do much at home. Trust me, it will strain any relationship when one half of a supposedly blissful couple can’t talk about the colors of the flower arrangements — russet and crimson to complement the fall date, or a more unexpected combination of indigo and violet? — or which teapot to put on the wedding registry (a surprisingly tough decision for two coffee snobs in training) without a slow, steady trickle of tears winding down her face. I cried even when we were in agreement. I couldn’t help it.
We knew when we got engaged that planning our wedding wouldn’t be easy. We were raised in very different households, with different backgrounds. Though both Jewish, our families manifest their religion in radically different ways, and adhere to different customs and traditions. We knew we’d have to navigate difficult questions of ritual and delicate issues of observance. We were prepared to discuss the big questions that would inevitably arise: would there be separate dancing to accommodate our more religious guests, or only mixed-gender dancing, to reflect our own lifestyle? Would the entire ceremony be in Hebrew, or would there be ways to incorporate English so everyone could follow along? Could we have an egalitarian ketubah (marriage contract), even if the ceremony was overseen by an Orthodox rabbi?
When it came time to get down to the specifics of planning, the differences of opinion extended far deeper than any of us expected. Each family entered the process with different assumptions about everything, down to the tiniest details — everything from whether there should be a rehearsal dinner and what time the ceremony should start, to how many people could give toasts without dragging down the party. The bridesmaids’ dresses caused issues — how could my sisters-in-law find the right shade of blue-grey chiffon fabric to custom-tailor appropriately modest gowns, while still matching the off-the-rack dresses I had picked for the other bridesmaids? And of course, everyone had a different opinion on the music. Luckily we were able to convince our parents to leave that one to us (though they may have regretted it when melodies from Game of Thrones andLord of the Rings accompanied members of the bridal party down the aisle).
As the planning progressed, every question seemed to produce two completely different answers, and it made every decision, big or small, feel like we were choosing sides. I felt caught in the middle, determined to ensure that neither set of parents felt alienated, and that we remained true to my and my fiancé’s ideals as a couple. The pressure was immense, as I worried that a single misstep would produce one of those resentments that work their way into the fabric of a family and get trotted out again and again at holidays and celebrations, never quite forgiven.
In truth, I underestimated everyone involved. No one was looking for a reason to hold a grudge. But at the time, I couldn’t see that. I wanted everyone to be happy with every little thing, and I lost sight of the big picture — everyone would be happy, because they were happy we were getting married.
And so I was a wreck, which made every conversation between my fiancé and I a battle. Whether we were discussing the wording of our invitations or the pattern for our new dishes, I struggled to keep myself together as he struggled (and largely failed) to stay patient and take me seriously. Finally, one evening he declared that he couldn’t take the crying anymore. He had said it before, but I’d always protested that I couldn’t help it and stopped listening to everything else he said. For some reason, this time, he got through to me. He was blunt about his frustrations: I wasn’t articulating my feelings. I was crying, rather than speaking. It was impossible for anyone to make me happy when I was never clear about what I wanted.
Sure, we both had things to work on, and I made sure he knew that. But after that conversation, I started to realize what was going on, what was causing me so much stress. In trying to make everyone else happy, I was feeling trampled. Somehow, I had expected that everyone would just defer to me. I was the bride, after all, didn’t that count for anything? But when every member of the family had an opinion and wasn’t shy about sharing it, no one was going to quiet down and ask for mine. I had to speak up.
More than that, it wasn’t enough just to cast my vote. If something was important to me, I had to explain why, or my input might be registered as just that — one vote among many. My fiancé may have been on my side, but I couldn’t expect him to instinctively understand what I was thinking or how I was feeling.
It was an important lesson to learn. Before we got engaged, I would’ve said we were great at communicating. But I would’ve been wrong: we were only halfway there. From then on, I didn’t just express an opinion, I explained it. And if something was particularly important, I made sure it was clear why. I began to appreciate the irony of the fact that the more I articulated my opinions, the more my soon-to-be husband and I felt like a team. Even as we disagreed more often, the tension lifted. And somehow, we began to feel even more secure as a unit.
We settled on a strategy to get through the remainder of the planning. For every decision, the two of us would talk through our options, weighing our own desires and balancing them with what we knew our families wanted. We’d come up with a plan that would make everyone as happy as possible, and once we were in agreement, we’d discuss it with our families. If one of us was swayed to deviate from the original decision, we’d table the issue and discuss it again later, just us. We began to operate as a team, rather than two separate individuals.
The wedding came together, better than we ever could have hoped. We glowed the entire time, we danced more than we ever thought possible, and we couldn’t stop smiling. The room was filled with the most (nauseatingly?) adorable details you can imagine. Mason jar mugs? Check. Pennant banner on our cake topper? You bet. Custom logo featuring our initials and a tandem bike? Check, check, and check again. Maybe we overdid it, but after everything we had been through, we earned the right to employ Pinterest levels of cuteness. We were finally able to step back and celebrate, and no one would have guessed how rough things had gotten.
Most importantly, after we worked things out, I was able to save my tears for the significant moments: when my husband-to-be played me his incredibly romantic song choice for our first dance. When my parents walked me down the aisle. And when we finally got to share our first kiss as husband and wife.