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There's no such thing as glitch-free wedding planning. Writer Amy Spencer, who's latest book The Happy Life Checklist cheerfully explains how to add moments of happiness to your day, learned that if you approach the wedding planning process with positivity instead of a bridezilla attitude, you'll enjoy every step of the way.
If you were a guest at my wedding in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, eight years ago, you might have thought it all went perfectly according to plan. After all, Gus and I gleefully shared our vows barefoot in the sand, then paraded down the street to our reception with a mariachi band and 75 loving family members and friends. But what no one saw behind my smile that day was six months' worth of wedding-planning bumps, bruises, and a few old-fashioned breakdowns. We had so many small disasters that by the time our wedding day arrived, I'd become an expert in learning to look at things from a brighter and larger perspective. I'd figured out what plenty of been-there-done-that brides had before me: that it's not just what happens during your wedding planning that matters, it's how you react to it that makes the difference between a year of feeling 'zilla or totally chilla.
In the hopes that some of the lessons I learned might help, I'm sharing some ways you can view your own frustrations through rosier-bouquet-colored glasses. And I'm not just spouting off; I literally wrote the book (three, in fact!) on how seeing your situation from a more positive perspective can make you happier. Do that and whatever happens on your big day— whether it's hail or high water or slightly-off-color linens— you're still guaranteed to have the time of your life.
Turn a setback into a leap forward.
I started out like the warrior princess of wedding planning: I sent out save-the-date postcards six strong months ahead and ordered beautiful invitations. Yet three months before the wedding, then two, those invites still hadn't shown up. When I woke up in a panicked sweat at 4 a.m. five weeks before our event, I found an online company that shipped postcards overnight and created one that read, "Our invites never arrived... but we hope you still can!" We mailed them off with hot-pink bougainvillea flower petals from our yard in the envelopes to fancy them up, and wouldn't you know it: Our guests loved how the "emergency" invites reflected our informal personalities in a refreshing way. So when you face a planning crisis, find a way to look at your champagne flute as not just half full but overflowing. You'll not only survive it but thrive from it. If those four cases of final-sale wine you ordered taste less awesome than you remembered, turn them into custom wedding sangria named after the two of you. ("Who's up for a little Sam and Greg 'Gria?") And if the ribbon and tissue paper you bought for your DIY décor aren't the quality you expected, well, you have the perfect start to a Kids' Kraft Korner. (Our original invitations, by the way, arrived— a month after our honeymoon— and were perfect kindling in the backyard fire pit for months to come.)
Give your wedding a "vibe theme."
We all choose a color scheme for our wedding, right? But here's an idea that can serve you just as well: Pick a vibe theme. Ask yourself, How do I want us all to feel throughout the day? Then, whenever you get anxious or lost along the planning journey, turn to that theme and find your way back. Our "fun family fiesta" theme saved the day when we were about to confirm our reception at the only available open-air restaurant on the sand. I was checking how late our mariachi band was allowed to play when our first planners said, "Oh. This spot doesn't allow live music." Disappointment shot through me when I realized that if we wanted a mariachi band, we'd have to hole up in a smaller spot in town. After a few requisite stress tears, I needed to make a decision, so I turned to our theme—and what kind of fun family fiesta would it be without a mariachi band? We changed venues; downtown it was. Give yourself the same gift to stay focused on the big picture. Your "cozy-sweet chic" vibe may help you choose comfy stuffed dining chairs over hard wooden ones, and a "gorgeous 'n' goofy" event might remind you to add humor to your vows, song mix, and table names so the day really feels like you.
Remember that your guests won't know what they're missing.
It's easy to get so attached to a picture in your mind that if it changes, you circle down the depression drain: But that wasn't the plan [sniffle, sniffle]. True; it wasn't. But nobody else knows that! I told myself this when we hit a glitch shipping boxes of wedding items to our rented villa in Mexico. We'd wanted to send straw beach bags I'd ordered for the guest goodie bags, along with striped turquoise towels, which were already stacked in our home office. Weeks before the wedding, the box of straw bags was rejected by customs, and we were told no other shipments would get through. No adorable straw bags? But that wasn't the plan! Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that our guests weren't expecting goodie bags, let alone Pinterest-perfect ones. So I picked up some turquoise paper bags that fit flat in my suitcase. And then started brainstorming how to get those beach towels across the border.
Run the small details past your future 10th-Wedding-Anniversary self.
The sheer number of decisions you have to make during wedding planning can induce craziness. So if you find yourself cracking under the pressure— Should you go with the ivory napkins or the eggshell ones? One cake filling or two?— imagine the future you sitting beside your spouse a decade from now and ask her these questions: What does she remember about the color of the napkins and the flavor of the cake? What did she cherish most? Chances are, it was laughing with family and dancing with her partner that really put the cherry on top of her day. The color of the linens? Meh.
The things that go wrong will become your favorite stories.
I'd finally hit on how to get those guest gift towels to Mexico: My sister, Liz, my maid of honor and her girlfriend would pack two extra suitcases full of them and check them with their luggage. It seemed like a good idea... until Liz was pulled in for questioning by customs and accused of running an imported-towel sales ring! She eventually got herself and the towels through, and we still laugh about it. The point is, while people will enjoy hearing what went right at your wedding, I promise you they will far prefer hearing about what went wrong. So while you won't feel like laughing when your toddler niece adds a few colorful crayon touches to your white wedding heels, gobble up the disastrous details, because you're going to get some major story mileage out of all of them someday.
Relish the surprises.
At some point on your wedding day, you'll face a crossroads that, despite your careful planning, you simply couldn't have foreseen. Maybe the extension cords won't reach the DJ stand or puddles from a rainstorm will force you to move your buffet table. For us, it was that our wedding planner also failed to mention until we arrived at the reception that other restaurant patrons would be dining at tables right next to ours! I fumed when I found out but seeing our happy guests shaking maracas to the music, I realized that as long as we were all together, a few random strangers rounding out our group only made it more of a fiesta. So much so that an hour later, caught up in the energy, Gus and I hopped onto the restaurant's delivery tricycle and rode it up and down the beautiful cobblestone street. I still smile when I think about the warm wind on our faces, the hooting of our guests as we pedaled past, and the feeling that this unplanned moment was a sign of the fun we would have in our life together. And that's the best lesson of all: The most magical moments of your day will be the ones you probably didn't plan either the nervous hand squeeze from your partner at the top of the aisle, the cute blunder in your perfect vows, the awkward laugh when you can't find the knife to cut the cake. As much as you plan, also allow your wedding day to surprise you with spontaneous moments that will give you happy memories for your life to come.