Many years ago, when the crust of the earth was still hot, I got married.
I was 22 and living far from home with my fiancé. Impoverished beyond imagination, we jumped at the offer to have our wedding in a friend's backyard. We exchanged vows in front of their hot tub, and let me tell you, it was magic. I still get misty thinking about the sucking sound the pump made as we pledged to love each other for about three and a half years.
I don't recall where I got the dress, but I'll always have the memory of how butt-ugly it was. A veritable parfait of discount lace worked into a three-tiered gown that gave the overall effect of stacked patio umbrellas. And what short bride doesn't want to be chopped into thicker, stubbier segments? Fortunately, it only cost $170—which, coincidentally, was what I weighed at the time.
My future ex-husband and I were married one October afternoon by two Universal Life ministers, one male and one female. It seemed terribly profound back then, but it's so embarrassing today that I can barely relate it without a few drinks. Fortunately I'm drunk now, so this is just all flowing like water. And as long as we're oversharing, I might as well tell you that the groom played guitar at the reception, and I sang "The Rose"—the second worst decision I made that day.
The food was equally tragic. Our wedding cake was from a supermarket, and it was only by the grace of God that we didn't wind up with a Power Rangers sheet cake. My mother, who was working as a caterer at the time, drove five hours to the wedding with a carful of cheese. I'm still not sure what that was all about, but we lived on grilled cheese sandwiches until Christmas.
I don't remember much else about that day, except that someone gave us matching baseball caps with the rear end of a plush bull sticking out of them and brown pompoms on the bill. Yes, we got bullshit hats on our wedding day. Clearly, our guests knew something we didn't.
Our marriage lasted five years, but the hideous dress enjoys eternal life in my storage unit. Even the bugs won't touch it. Unlike love, cheap lace never dies.
And really, that's my whole experience. I didn't grow up dreaming of the day I'd become a wife and mother. I mean, I did at one point, but it turns out I just wanted to be able to tell other people what to do.
No, the pageantry of a wedding never seduced me. I never dreamed of the designer dress, the engraved invitations, the honeymoon. I never looked for musicians or planned menus or insisted my female friends buy ugly dresses they couldn't wear again. I never really wanted to. So you might be wondering...
Why was I hired to write a yearlong series of columns about weddings, trends, and planning. And frankly, I'm wondering, too. But I already spent the money so let's just make the best of it.
Maybe it would help you to know that I'm in the same boat as most of you. I'm engaged, and looking toward my first real wedding in a time of economic uncertainty. I don't have unlimited resources, my family isn't paying for it, and I already have everything I need from Pottery Barn.
"The wedding is not your marriage. It's really just the best party you can afford to throw for the people who love you most."
But more importantly, I've got a finely tuned bullshit meter that just might come in handy. There's a world of crap being pawned off on brides-to-be, who are often emotionally out of control and totally overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations. When you're already feeling like you can't do enough, everything becomes a justifiable expense. After all, it's "your big day!" Don't you deserve the good tablecloths? You can't cut the cake with a regular knife! And hey, it's only another $20 per person!
Don't get me wrong—I'm not suggesting you wear sensible shoes to City Hall and have your reception at Sizzler. If cheap nuptials bought you a lifetime of joy, I'd still be eating grilled cheese with the guitar player. But the wedding is not your marriage. It's really just the best party you can afford to throw for the people who love you most. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to plan a party.
When I took this job, I was given a calendar outlining everything you need to do in order to get married in 12 months. It's all laid out very carefully so you don't miss anything—like, say, inviting people. And over the next year, I'll be going through all the steps in this column, one month at a time.
I have no idea how this will turn out. Maybe it will culminate in my own wedding, and this will be one of the happiest chapters of my life. On the other hand, I may wind up alone, throwing pots and raising alpacas. Either way, I have to write this thing for a year, so we might as well get started.
SO WHAT DO I WANT?
All I really know is that if I'm true to myself, I can keep my wedding from turning into something I can never get right. I can have what I truly want, and not pile a lot of expensive and ultimately meaningless gestures into something that already has enough meaning to last a lifetime.
So here's to having the wedding we want, without comparing it to grander events or bigger budgets; to not focusing on the things we aren't getting and the places we can't go. To not walking through every step of the process feeling like we're settling.
There's plenty of time for that after the wedding.
NEXT MONTH: I visit my first Bridal Expo and piss off a psychic.
April Winchell has been a talk radio host, a sitcom writer, an advertising executive and the voice of hundreds of animated Disney characters. In October of 2009, she created the hit website Regretsy.com, which led to the publication of "Regretsy: Where DIY meets WTF" in April of 2010. Even though she has been writing professionally since 1989, she still finds talking about herself in the third person really uncomfortable.