Less than a week after H & I got engaged, the pressure was on to decide on a date, make up a guest list, and start finding an appropriate venue. We had lots of ideas about what would be awesome wedding venues and no idea what to expect as far as costs. Also, the way my family deals with money is different from the way his family deals with money - so The Budget was the crippled purple imaginary mutant elephant in the room that was begging to be put out of its misery.
At first, the venue search began as a broad search that we approached with the "it can't hurt to ask" attitude even if I was sure that I wouldn't feel comfortable with the price and the excess and the prettypretty debutante bridalness of it all. I didn't expect the sticker shock that I got for every venue we researched. This is where things got messy. When one of our favorite venues came up to a nearly $17,000 minimum (this includes catering) for 100ish people I nearly called off the wedding then and there. But I didn't get the all-stop signal from my mother or any indication that such a wedding would be out of my price range. I had no idea what my price range was but I got told to keep searching. The cheapest venues I could find (all including catering because this is New Orleans, after all, and food is everywhere) would run me $9000 - $11,000 at the cheapest. This is before the dress or the cake or tuxes or the anything else. I kept getting the okay to get proposals and hash out details still with no idea of what my budget would be.
Let me pause to say that this is partially my fault. I knew better than to assume that my parents would pay out a penny and our conversations about who would pay for the wedding where vague. I was clear that the wedding I knew that I could afford with no financial help would involve a keg, a crawfish boil, and a sunny afternoon in the park (I still kind of want this wedding) with no frills. I believe the conversation with my mother went something like this:
Madre: Who do you expect to pay for this wedding?
Em: I don't know. I certainly don't expect you to pay for anything but if I'm paying it'll be a crawfish boil on The Fly because that's all I can afford. (Aside: and this is before I left my job.) I'd appreciate any help I can get.
Madre: Okay, well, keep researching.
Insert crickets here. That's the thing, my mother is a researcher. She likes to know her options before she commits. My parents are careful with their money. They've taught me to be pretty careful with mine.
So I researched. I found venues I really liked. I found venues my fiance really liked. I found venues my mother really liked. We all seemed to agree that these were great venues. They would make for an awesome New Orleans wedding. I kept sending pricing and proposals to my mother. At some point during our wedding conversations, she told me that she and Padre wanted me to have the wedding I wanted and that they would be willing to pay for the reception at the venue of my choice but nothing else. The money fights began in earnest.
The Wedding Let Down had begun. To my family dropping $20,000 on a big wedding is pretty ridiculous. They had an idea of what they could afford / would be willing to spend but I didn't know what that was and I was too big of a wuss to talk about it directly so I ended up disappointed and fighting with my fiance over whether it was fair or not. (He thought that I should have whatever I want - I couldn't justify demanding that kind of money.) For H's family, money wasn't an issue. It's a wedding and the bride should get whatever she wants.
So why did it make me so miserable that people wanted me to be happy?
I would like to reiterate for the record that my guilt over wedding spending has nothing to do with feeling like I don't deserve a nice wedding. Everybody deserves a nice wedding. But I certainly felt guilty about the idea of blowing a lot of money on a big wedding with all the fixings because it felt extravagant and I'm not extravagant. It felt like I was planning someone else's dream wedding and it was making me feel like crap because of course I want a nice wedding and of course I want pretty flowers and of course I need a sparkly ring and of course I deserve a designer gown and of course I want to get married in a mansion on St. Charles Ave because anything less would be less than I deserve and anything less would not be a nice wedding.
Except wait - I don't want any of that stuff!
I sat around at my fiance's apartment one night while he was at a friend's bachelor party and I read wedding magazines and watched bad wedding TV shows. And I felt like shit. I hated everything in the magazines and I didn't have anything in common with the brides who bought $10,000 wedding dresses. I couldn't afford all that stuff and what's more I didn't even WANT that stuff. So why did I feel like such a lame-ass out to spoil my own party?
On the one hand, I'd feel guilty if I spent too much money and on the other I'd feel guilty if I didn't have enough money to spend. This is all depending on which family (read: his mom or mine) I spoke with that day. So now my family thinks H's family is unreasonable and H's family thinks my family is unreasonable and I'm sitting in the middle wondering when the hell my happy little life with H was blown to fuck all and why we shouldn't just get married next week and tell everyone else to bite our shiney metal asses.
Believe it or not, it was more complicated than that - but if I have to sit here and hash out the whole story again I might just kill something so we'll leave it there. Which brings me to this:
Wedding Lesson Number 1: Don't start planning your wedding until you know what you want and what you can afford. If you need to take a couple days or a couple weeks or several months to calm down post-engagement and get your brains in order then do it. And don't let anyone tell you what you should want or what your wedding should look like or dictate how quickly you should be planning. Immediately after announcing our engagement, relatives wanted to know where and when we were getting married. Honestly? How on earth is anyone supposed to know that stuff a week into their engagement? Props to those who have that figured out so fast but for the super-spazzes like me who freak out over stupid crap take my advice: take all the time you need. I didn't know what I wanted and I definitely didn't know what I could afford and it led to sadness and let-down when I started imagining the wedding we would never be able to have at venues we would never be able to afford.
I still wonder what an awesome rock star wedding we could have had at the House of Blues in the Foundation Room or The Parish. (And if you can afford it, I totally recommend HoB - they were super awesome to me and my favorite to work with of all our prospective venues.) But realistically I realized that I'd be putting on a show for the sake of wedding appearances and putting my family on the spot for money they don't feel comfortable spending. Guilt and uncertainty made me unable to commit to anything. Don't fall into the same trap.