"Ask Kat" is a new Sparknotes advice column aimed at a college audience. Although Kat and Auntie SparkNotes are the same person, "Ask Kat" is not the same thing as "Auntie SparkNotes." This has been a public service announcement from the department of Sorry for the Confusion.
I just got engaged to the love of my life. Sounds horrid right? Anyway, when we told our families (who had been expecting this and offering rings that had been passed down), we expected joy and congrats were to be in order. Instead we get bombarded with questions about the planning and dates, and color scheme and all kinds of stuff. When we replied "We just got engaged, we are on cloud 9 right now, so we really haven't started planning anything" they FLIPPED SCRIPTS on us.
They started saying that we were doing everything wrong, and that we did not know a thing about planning a wedding (which they are right, but I'll get to that) and maybe we should hold off our engagement until we are ready plan a proper wedding. When we told them we were having a LONG engagement, like a year or two, so I can finish up the last of my college, they got upset because they wanted us to do it already! I really don't know what their problem is, but they eased off by making us promise we would put together an "outline" of the wedding plans for them so they would know what ever it is they think they need to know. My problem is this: What the %$&*%^$^&**^% is a wedding outline?! I've never been married before! I have NO idea what they want, and when we ask, they say "Oh don't be silly! You know, just ideas about wedding plans and all that!" I can never get details. I am already starting to stress out about details (I mean china patterns? really? Do I HAVE to have that?) And being college students, we really want to avoid the wedding planner and his bill. I thought since you are married, you might be able to give us some advice on how to handle our families? And maybe even some advice for planning?
You're right, Sparkler: I am, indeed, married! And as a married person, I'm going to let you in on an extraordinary secret—and hold on to something, because I am about to blow your mind.
Planning a wedding is not that hard.
Or at least, it doesn't have to be that hard. Because while the wedding-industrial complex would like you to believe that your marriage is only valid if it involves 500 guests, a chocolate fountain, and a minimum of 17 ice sculptures, the truth is as follows: as the end of the day, those people who celebrate their union with an extravagant wedding are no more or less married than those people who have a potluck barbecue in someone's backyard.
So to answer your question: no, you do not need matching china, or hothouse flowers, or a three-course sit-down dinner in order to get married. (I mean, if you want to get technical about it, you don't even need a wedding; saying your vows in front of a courthouse judge does the trick just fine.) So if you don't want those things—or any of the other supposedly-necessary accoutrements of knot-tying—then by all means, don't have them. Your wedding should reflect the likes, tastes, and personalities of you and your fiance, not the imagined extravaganza of some editor at Brides magazine who you've never even met.
And that goes for the insistent obsessing of your control-freakish families, too.
Unfortunately, even in the most down-to-earth family, the news of an engagement has a tendency to bring out The Crazy. And when The Crazy comes out, the only solution is to squash it like a cockroach—because (also like a cockroach) leaving The Crazy unchecked only gives it the chance to breed.
What this means for you is as follows: the next time your families tell you that you know nothing about planning a wedding and you're doing everything wrong, respond as follows: "You're right, Mom/Dad/Great-Aunt Gertrude —we don't know anything about planning a wedding, and that's why we're thrilled that you're so enthusiastic about it. And when the time comes, we'll definitely want your help. But we're not getting married until 2013, and we'd like to just relax and enjoy our engagement for the time being, so let's all just agree to put off the stress of wedding planning for awhile, okay?"
After that, it's as simple as changing the subject (along with a standard response like, "Don't worry, when we're ready to plan, you'll be the first to know!") when it comes up, and refusing to give in to pressure or bullying—which is part and parcel of being mature enough to break away from your parents and start a family of your own. It's time to set boundaries, and to put your needs as a couple first.
Oh, and speaking of maturity: please, please stick to your guns when it comes to that long engagement. It's smart, and there's no need to rush. It's wonderful to get engaged while you're in college, and it's fantastic that you've found the love of your life, but hurrying on the hoopla and drama of tying the knot is so, so unnecessary—especially since your transition from college to the real world brings on all sort of changes and adjustments that are challenging enough on their own, without also throwing the stress of a legally binding, lifetime commitment into the mix.
Meanwhile, enjoy your engagement on your terms. (And hey, if your terms involve setting a date and location for the eventual nuptials—also known as "throwing your families a bone"—then that's fine.) And when it does come time to plan, just remember that a truly fabulous wedding requires only two things.
The is being character, which is less about color palettes and china patterns, and more about your vows, your readings, your personal aesthetics, and the positive energy of the dear friends and family who help you celebrate your happy event.
And the second, of course, is an open bar. (Because whatever your personal standing on alcohol and/or your legal ability to drink it, it is a universally-acknowledged truth that boozy guests are happy guests.)
Oh, and hey—congratulations!
Got a college-aged question? Ask Kat! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: A Very Dumb Engagement