Wedding Planning 101: An Emotional Roller Coaster

In a prior post I lamented that picking an engagement ring was a trial in emotional, indecisive, internal turmoil.

IMG_0044 (Gratuitous ring photo just because I love it.)

Well, we got that out of the way to great success, and I was happy and content for a moment.  I had reached the first apex of the wedding planning roller coaster ride…ready to dive, hands-up, into the rest of the up-and-down journey.  Hold onto your sunglasses!  (No, seriously, I lost a pair of Oakleys that way.)

Millennium_Force1_CP

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Subject: Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio *Author: Nick Nolte *Taken: August 8, 2004

Unfortunately, as with life and roller coasters, what goes up, must come down when it comes to my wedding planning emotions.

Why?  Why is planning a wedding such a crazy, all-consuming time-suck?  Forget what everyone who’s never planned a wedding has ever thought about fairy tale ball gowns and bounties of red roses…it stinks (not the roses, those smell delightful).  Yes, looking through wedding magazines is fun…clipping out pretty pictures, Google searching dress designers and getting ideas for centerpieces.

And then you close the magazine, realize all that you’ve accomplished is adding ten more things to buy/make/want, feel completely overwhelmed, and proceed not to think about it for the next three days.

First of all: Everything is seemingly-unreasonably expensive.  Everyone who has planned a wedding does say this.  But you don’t really know what they mean (unless you’re their accountant or financial advisor) until your own proposals start rolling in.  $65,000 for 100 people for the ceremony and reception, and that doesn’t include napkins?  I really thought that was a joke.  I’ve helped plan corporate events for 250 people for half of that.  Where’s the extra expense?  Fine, our corporate events don’t have DJs.  Well there’s $500.  Where’s the other $32,000?  Those corporate events have multiple meals, open bar, room rental fees.  But they aren’t WEDDINGS.  $$$$ (I really wish I could input some emojis in this post right now…imagine smiley faces with dollar sign eyeballs or greedy grins.)

The scary thing is that you start becoming numb to the large numbers: $1,000 for a dance floor that you thought was included with the price of the DJ (because if you have dancing, you would assume you have a dance floor, right?  Haha you’re silly) becomes like: “whatever it’s FINE” (eye roll, sigh).

So far, the most stressful part was finding and nailing down a location.  We thought we wanted to do a destination wedding, which would be a way for all of our friends and families to come together and enjoy some quality time with one another.  It would also give us an opportunity to hang out and bond with our guests over the course of a few days, rather than feeling rushed to say “hello” and “thank you for coming” to everyone within the two to three hours of the reception alone.

We had vacationed in Montego Bay Jamaica a few times and appreciated how easy a trip it was: direct flights from Baltimore, short taxi ride from the Montego Bay airport to a resort, where even if you’re not doing all-inclusive, you still don’t have to leave the property for meals or activities.  We’d gone a few times for long weekends, which were perfect do-nothing get-a-ways for reading and napping.  Funny how when it’s warm out and you don’t have anything to do all day, you really don’t get too hungry.  We never did an all-inclusive (because no one needs that much alcohol) and we never felt like we should have (monetarily).  We were always well fed and always fulfilled our daily pina colada quota.

Unfortunately, the resort where we had stayed during each of our visits was recently purchased and closed for renovations.  It is scheduled to reopen next year under new management and branding, but who knows what it will be like or if it will be available for a wedding.  So time to look elsewhere.

We had heard great reviews of the neighboring resort, Half Moon, from various sources, although we had never been there ourselves.  While it is seemingly fairly expensive, they quoted us a very fair and reasonable guest room rate.  The rest of the wedding was another story…Plan B?

Not knowing what other options might be available to us in Montego Bay, we started randomly Googling venues.  But what can you really tell from websites, stock photos and Trip Advisor reviews without having seen the places firsthand or knowing someone who has?  We enlisted the help of a wedding planner and her associated travel agent to do some digging into other Montego Bay locations.  They came up with a comprehensive spreadsheet of 14 alternatives that was so big it took grab-a-snack/watch-a-movie/do-a-crossword-puzzle-amount-of-time to open in Excel.  After more Google searching and wedding planner phone calls, we started narrowing the list based on particular requirements: this place doesn’t allow kids – cross it out; this place looks overrun with kids – cross it out; this is just a venue, no hotel – cross it out; etc.

It was stressful feeling like there might be other options out there but not really getting a firm understanding of what each place was really like.  I contemplated bringing it back to Baltimore because at least there I know generally what the different venues are, what feeling they exude and what sort of party our guests would experience.  But then I circled back to our main goal of wanting to create a relaxing, vacation-like atmosphere for our guests.  (Especially a warm vacation for a December wedding….y’all can thank me later.)

At the same time as we were analyzing the various options the wedding planner had found, I was going back and forth with Half Moon to see if we could chop out chunks of the original proposal to get the cost back in line with our budget.  I had them price up an a la carte wedding (um, no, that was not cheaper) as well as the next package down.  These destination places have various pre-arranged packages that include everything from flowers to meals to DJs all for one price.  So instead of using the package that had everything we could possibly want, we looked at the one that had the bare minimum of things, and then added a few extras on a la carte.

Like when choosing an engagement ring, I was again fraught with indecision about what the right choice would be.  I hadn’t seen any of these places in person.  I didn’t know what I might be missing or forgetting about.  It’s hard to hit the “go” button just to find out down the road that you hadn’t considered an essential element, and that it’s going to be an additional cost.  Like the dance floor issue.  Too-many-options paralysis.  Is this a diagnosed medical condition?  If not it should be.  I’ll send  a white paper to JAMA.

I’ve read lots of conflicting material about following your first instinct versus doing more research before making any decisions.  So far in this process, I’ve tried to do more research, but in the end, I inevitably come back to my first find.  I’m not sure if this is a case of turning up my nose at new information because I’m tied to my original idea (some form of clinging to the familiar) or if I’ve done a bang up job at uncovering the best option first (clearly just my impeccable taste 😉 ).  This is pretty much what happened with the engagement ring, and it’s pretty much what ended up happening with the venue.  Read on…

What pushed me over the edge on Half Moon was that some former colleagues went there for a conference in September.  Upon their return, they had nothing but fantastic things to say about the site and the service.  They all agreed that it would be a wonderful place to get married.  Well that pretty much confirmed my gut feelings and settled it in my mind.  After a few weeks of contract negotiation (and some much needed and appreciated help from a lawyer friend), we finally put pen to paper and swiped a credit card (I’d better be getting double Delta miles for this!) and put the wheels in motion.  Or more like brought the wheels to a screeching halt.

After feeling insomnia-inducing, all-consuming stress about nit picky venue details, making sure I got the best deal possible (as if you ever really can know), crossing as many “T”s and dotting as many “I”s as I could think of, all I wanted to do after putting the deposit down was take a nap, watch TV and not think about wedding stuff at all.  So I didn’t.

That was over a month ago, and I’m just starting this week to slowly put the roller coaster back in operation (hopefully gently because I know the wheels will start spinning out of control with the slightest push), making appointments to look at invitations, sorting out the guest list (my next foreseen stress-inducing activity), and booking a photographer.

My problem is that I know what I want in some areas of the wedding, and I could care less about certain other aspects.  Unfortunately, the things I know I want are fairly amorphous (making sure my guests feel relaxed, welcomed, and well-taken care of), and the things I’m not too concerned with are easily defined (tablecloth colors, centerpieces).

For now I’m going to reduce my stress by making lists, and with each accomplished task, I’m hoping to find that exhilaration that comes from swooshing down the side of a roller coaster, even if I feel like I’m about to fly out any second, shaking in my little, wooden car.

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