When people learn I am a wedding photographer, their eyes grow wide and they talk of the pressure I must feel documenting the single most important day of a couple's life together. Honestly? Being a bride is way more stressful! I can now confidently speak from experience that, girls, I know what you're going through and holy cow, I just want to hug you!
Wedding planning is fun, don't get me wrong. I have always loved to plan (parties, benefits, networking events, you name it) and had a blast with all the details of the day. But it most definitely requires a redistribution of energy and time from normal everyday tasks, nearly a second full-time job. And unless you've been a bride, I don't think you really know what it entails. This, in brief, is what I learned...
Lesson # 1: LOCATION
We wanted to do something different. And that something different turned into a mighty adventure, planning with very little knowledge of our destination. Navigating the available locations, vendors and "island response time" was challenging and sometimes frustrating. I'm SO glad we took a weekend to visit St. John last Fall to check out some of our options in person. I imagine this is very similar for so many emilie inc. brides who plan their weddings in destinations, whether Maine or Mexico, other than where they reside.
Lesson #2: GUEST LIST
Just because we were excited about our adventure didn't mean everyone would be on board to make the trip. Likewise, in an effort to keep the experience intimate, there were people who were not asked to join us and we feel terrible for any hurt feelings. Quickly, we learned this wedding planning stuff is complicated.
Lesson #3: BUDGET
Our families were very nice to help with our wedding (thank you! xo), but we footed most of the bill ourselves. All of the purchasing decisions we made were well-researched and discussed, but quickly took on a life of their own. A detailed Excel spreadsheet helped keep track of where our money was going and dates for remaining balances (it's also where I tracked contact information, knowing it would come in handy for the blog review). Being in the biz, we know weddings are expensive. I can't offer any sticker shock advice, except to share that I truly believe you get what you pay for.
Lesson #4: HOSTS
We had to rent our villa from Sunday- Sunday, and therefore embraced the idea of a weeklong vacation leading up to our Saturday nuptials. This decision, we also learned, gave us the additional title as hosts. We were thrilled our guests wanted to make a week of it as well, but we also felt a constant pressure to entertain (scheduling excursions and organizing events) and ensure folks were happy (greeting everyone as they arrived on the ferry throughout the week, getting them settled into their accommodations and acclimated on the island), in addition to taking care of the wedding errands that needed tending to (buying food & drink, meeting with vendors, etc). It was exhausting. J and I often joke that we wished we had been guests at our wedding!
Lesson #5: WEDDING VACATION
The week went by in a blur. 10 friends at our villa was like a MTV special, jam-packed with fun, a bit of a drama (I could tell you stories that would make your mouths drop) and too much rum punch. Add in the list of wedding errands and by week's end, I was drained and overtired. On Saturday, the most important day, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open (and did catch myself drifting off while getting my hair done!). Oy.
Lesson #6: EXPECTATIONS
Communicate your expectations. Highlight, underline, repeat this! We didn't. Want to follow tradition and have your groom stay off-site the night before the wedding? Don't want to see your intended before the ceremony? Thinking of walking down the aisle by yourself? Communicate all of these things, clearly, to someone other than just your fiance. It may seem silly, but take my advice and dot all your i's in advance. We were on the same page about what we wanted for our wedding, but on the day of some things took on a life of their own as other people took over parts of our wedding agenda.
Lesson #7: VENDORS
As you have read in past blog posts, we were so lucky to have a great group of wedding vendors to work with- mostly friends! Organization was a little off since none had not done a wedding in St. John, so I can't say the last minute scrambling we had to do was normal. Or at least I certainly hope it's not typical of the weddings I photograph. If you're like us planning from afar, hiring a wedding coordinator will be your saving grace.
Lesson #8: SMALL MIRACLES
I'm not sure how, but I managed to make it through the wedding day on just an egg sandwich and iced coffee for breakfast, only recall peeing twice, didn't have a single visible blemish or bugbite, and didn't sweat during what was a typical 85+ degree day while wearing a silk dress.
Lesson #9: MINI-MOON
With our flip-flopped schedule, we only had two nights on our own before returning to reality. It was hardly enough time to come down from the week's high, but we loved having a quiet escape to reflect and regroup on the week prior at Caneel Bay. There were tears from things that didn't go right and immediate regrets of things that went downright wrong, but laughter, too, of all the wonderful memories made. In addition to lounging in the sun and snorkeling with sea turtles, we spoiled ourselves with a candlelight dinner for two on the beach, an instant highlight of our trip. I understand now why couples go away for a week following their wedding. It's absolutely necessary to give both space and distance from the wedding stress and focus on the new union.
Lesson #10: MOURNING
We arrived home feeling a bit bittersweet, to be honest, about the week prior. People often talk about the letdown after a wedding, and I'll admit to experiencing that 100% and thensome. Whereas my body was operating at above normal productivity before the wedding, it most definitely decided to slam on the brakes after. With little energy and even less concentration, I mourned our wedding's end with sleep. And I slept a LOT- sometimes 16 hours a day! I experienced similar symptoms after finals in college, for instance, and am always amazed at how the body clock gets you to a particular deadline, and then stops hard to refuel and refresh.
Lesson #11: SURPRISES
One of the biggest sources of wedding anxiety for me was when I found out my divorced parents and their spouses unknowingly rented villas next door to each other for the week. It had the potential for the making of a television sitcom. And in some ways, it did! I was floored to learn of the friendship formed among these four as they shared cocktails on their balconies, carpooled to the week's events and willingly sat together on a sofa chatting during the reception. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined such a peaceful union among these parties and I couldn't be more happy for my family. Just last week, we all convened at our house for a Mother's Day meal. My stepmother brought perennials for my mother's new garden.
Tho our wedding was picture perfect, behind the scenes was a fair amount of stress. Are weddings ever really perfect? Now I'm not convinced. The bottom line, however, is that we are downright giddy to be married and that's the most important part of all. For all the time, energy and money spent on our island celebration, it's what comes after the pronouncement that truly matters. J and I dated for three years before we tied the knot, living together for two, and I didn't think I would feel different once we were married. I can happily report that I absolutely do feel different! I love it! It's so much better than being engaged. I love this new territory, and the sense of team I feel when referring to J as my husband. And I can't quite stop thinking about what an amazing father he will make.
So there you have it! It's a little surreal that our wedding is now safely tucked in our past, with nothing but memories and our beautiful wedding photos to show of our effort. We will treasure them always (thanks, Jules!), and I look forward to returning to the other side of the lens to do the honors for an incredible line-up of couples this summer. I really feel blessed to attend fantastic parties celebrating love so often. Each couple has their own unique story of how they met, a unique vision for their wedding day and most definitely a unique experience of how the day unfolds. Lucky me, I get to capture every bit of it.
Other posts in this series:
We're married: the pictures
We're married: the details