Since we began planning our wedding, just over a year ago, we’ve learnt a lot. There were some unexpected discoveries (marquees are expensive, French caterers are obsessed with canapes) and some views that were firmly cemented. Chief among the latter was the fact that it is people who will make your wedding.
It is something you will have ascertained simply from being a guest at a wedding – the crowd makes the vibe; your tablemates can sink or swim your dinner experience- but also from any event you may have ever thrown before. As an avid thrower of birthday parties, I know that the best ones were the best because of the people who came. I can barely remember the venues of my parties, but I always remember the guests. For my 30th birthday – which I threw as a joint bash with one of my best friends- I’ll never forget the feeling which washed over me when the DJ played Oasis’s Champagne Supernova and the crowd formed a circle around the pair of us. Looking out at your closest friends and family, drunkenly swaying and singing Oasis badly is an unbeatable high. I wanted to chase that feeling for our wedding.
Drawing up a guest list was one of the first things we did. It was also the first stumbling block. Our initial list was nearly 200 people and we knew our budget would not stretch to that. In a way, it was our inaugural introduction to the unique agony and ecstasy of planning a wedding- it will both make and break your heart. Culling nearly 70 people was brutal and many people I absolutely adore had to be cut. My advice here would be to make these decisions on a group basis if possible. For example, we both axed any friends from work en masse, which took the numbers down significantly. That way, if no one from our work circles was invited, no one would feel left out. We also had to be exacting to an almost surgical degree in terms of our closeness to our guests. Ask yourself: how often (if ever) do you see them one on one? When was the last time you text them? Do both of you know them well? It is when I realised that your guest list is also your stress list.
The easy cut here- at least for me- was plus ones. I have long held strong opinions about plus ones. I once told an old school friend she couldn’t bring her new boyfriend I had never met to a party I was throwing because it was an intimate event for just friends and was patronisingly told I just ‘didn’t get it’ because ‘you don’t have a boyfriend.’ Well, now I have a fiance and…I guess I still don’t get it! My rule is simple: if I don’t really know your plus one, I ain’t buying them dinner. They are probably marvellous people and I am delighted you have found a regular shagging buddy, but if I have had to cut genuine friends for this event, a relative stranger is not getting a spot. Many people find this a controversial standpoint. Even my fiancé disagrees with this to some extent, but I would not be offended if this happened to me in the same circumstances. I also find that a Noah’s Ark mentality to each and every event can be a bit of a mood sucker- especially for single people. Having been a single girl at thousands of events, I know this personally. It’s also great to be able to catch up with friends solo, and without them having to babysit a partner who may not know everyone.
It was the latter standpoint that led us to another classic wedding controversy: no kids. There is something about holding this view that makes you feel like a Disney villain, almost especially if you are a woman. There is undoubtedly a truckload of internalised misogyny at work there that I don’t have time to unpick, but I have found my strong opinions on child free weddings to be a surprisingly difficult stance to maintain. The main impetus is wanting to have your friends and family there unencumbered by the stresses of childcare, not just the fact that children can irreversibly shift the atmosphere of any event. As more and more of our friends have had children, we see how hard parenting is, and we want them to be able to cut loose. The double bind is, however, seeing how hard parenting is means we also know we are asking our guests to source childcare and make potentially stressful and expensive arrangements. In the end we have opted for only our nephews at the wedding (as their entire childcare system will all be in attendance) but they will be packed off to bed before the reception and party. We are also trying to help as much as we can with those few guests who have no option but to bring their children to France. Thankfully this is not many people. My advice here would be to make a blanket rule but seek out those who you know may struggle and offer as much help as you can (linking them with local babysitters etc). You want your guests to be as relaxed as possible.
It’s another one of those agony and ecstasy moments- you know the wedding will be better for it (for everyone) but you don’t want to make life more difficult for your guests. People will make your wedding, but they can also be the source of your greatest hardships as you plan. Table planning is another example – it is both extremely fun and extremely stressful. You know you have to get that balance right – enough people who know each other, with some strangers thrown in who you suspect will gel well. Much like the guest list, it is all about balancing what you want with people’s expectations. Because, people, especially your family members, have opinions about your day- about what it should look like and who should be invited. These can be welcome, helpful, stressful and heart-breaking in equal measure.
And so yes, people will make your wedding. They are the lifeblood of it, the most important ingredient. They are the friends who will make your heart beat faster on the day, the family who will stalwartly help you organise, the wedding party that will hold your hand through it all. But people wrangling can also be the hardest part of wedding planning – the source of your greatest sadness and guilt.
When Jean-Paul Sartre said hell is other people, I think he was planning a wedding.
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