Lessons from My Own Wedding. . . .

As I gear up for a good friend’s wedding this weekend and another good friend’s wedding planning, I’m looking back on my own and wondering, what would I do differently?

During your reception, be sure to greet all your guests -- but save time for dancing with your friends! Photo by Mark Stevenson

In truth, my wedding was a fabulous experience, a day that went almost flawlessly. Still, there are still a few areas that could have gone off even better.  That’s true for every wedding, no matter how problem-free it appears to the guests busy dining and dancing.

So, in no particular order, here are my top ten recommendations from what I discovered firsthand:

1.) Save room for dancing!
This may be the bride’s curse, but it made me sad as I looked back on the evening: I spent far less time on the dance floor at my own wedding than I have at most of my friends’.  We spent a lot of time mingling with our guests, going table to table and truly talking with them, rather than simply rapid-firing a succession of “Thanks for coming!” greetings as we scurried past.  But that whole time, I was watching my friends dancing without me!  Try to find a way to greet all your guests, and still have a chance to stay busy on the dance floor.  If you manage it, more power to you!

2.) Make more than enough time for photography.
I’m delighted with my wedding pictures, and I think my husband likes them even more.  The candids we wanted so much came out great.  The family photos are equally good.  The shots of just my husband and me, and of my bridesmaids and me, are as vivid and natural as just about any I’ve ever seen.  That said — I wanted more shots of my entire wedding party outside at our reception site, and more with my family, but we ran out of time and simply felt we couldn’t leave the guests waiting any longer.  When you set up your schedule for your wedding day, in addition to the standard family and formal shots, leave yourself at least an hour for pictures of just you and your new husband, and shots of the two of you with the wedding party.

3.) Go over — and over — your playlist and timeline with your DJ.
To this day, this issue crawls under my skin and make me wish we could redo our first dance.  Several weeks before the wedding, we told our DJ that at some point in our first dance, our wedding party would waltz onto the floor to join us, beckoning the other guests to come onto the floor too.  Then we would go into the next song and get the party revved up.  Even though we’d made it clear (or so we thought) to our DJ that our friends knew their cue to start dancing, he inexplicably waved them onto the floor nearly a full minute early . . . and promptly switched to the next song, thereby cutting off our first dance at a mere two minutes — or less.  So even if you’re afraid you sound like you’re being condescending by explaining something over and over, in multiple ways, it’s more important that you make sure you and your DJ (or any other professional) are on the same page.

4.) Make sure your caterer/venue staff know your reception timeline.

My husband and I had planned to skip champagne entirely, but as the reception was about to begin, changed our minds and asked the coordinator to have the bar send a bottle to our sweetheart table.  Dinner came and went, dancing came and went, and even the toast came and went.  Just as we were about to cut our pies, we noticed not a bottle, but two glasses of champagne at the table.  The real kicker: I managed to get about two sips in between greeting guests, and when I went back to finish my glass, both had disappeared (presumably so the kitchen could wash our special toasting glasses and have them packed up for us that night).  Now, I don’t think there’s any excuse for the bar taking over two hours to get some champagne out to the bride and groom.  But if I’d clearly told them ahead of time when we planned our toast, I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t have happened.

5.) Eat smart leading up to your wedding.
I was good about this one until two days before the wedding — when I overate at my bachelorette party, which I followed up by overeating at my bridesmaid brunch the next morning.  Come that night and the rehearsal dinner, I didn’t have more than a few bites, and on the wedding day, my pre-ceremony diet consisted of a half a piece of string cheese, a half a granola bar, and a couple bottles of water.  (Come on, other brides, back me up — this is standard wedding-day-fare!)  By the reception time, I was both starving and and suffering an incredibly upset stomach.  So my advice is, in the days leading up to your wedding, feed yourself a diet of plenty of fruits and veggies, limited or no processed foods, and stay hydrated. And don’t forget to force yourself to eat a real meal before your ceremony!

6.) Don’t overdo the DIY.
On this count, I am incredibly guilty.  I — and my wonderfully supportive family and friends — DIYed my: Ceremony and reception decor; ceremony chair covers; ceremony window treatments; invitations; programs; favors; flower girl dress; flower girl basket; reception dessert; bridesmaids’ gifts; groom’s and wedding party’s pocket squares; guest book.  It was simply too much.  Still working frantically in the days leading up to the wedding, I spent as much time crying that we couldn’t possibly get everything done (we did) as I spent smiling about what a beautiful experience it all was.  While the results were lovely and as personalized as I had hoped, the stress was something I wouldn’t wish on anyone!  Pick and choose your projects carefully, and get as much done ahead of time as possible.

Go ahead and cinch your dress up tight for the ceremony and photos -- but be sure to loosen up for the party! Photo by Mark Stevenson

7.) Aim for comfort.
At least I had the foresight to bring flip flops for the reception!  But what would have been even smarter: Having someone loosen my corset before I got nauseated to the point of feeling faint.  Once your formal ceremony is over and your photo shoot has wrapped, don’t hesitate to pull off your veil, loosen your dress, kick off your shoes, or even change into a different dress!

8.) Write thank you notes as gifts arrive.
My husband and I had a brilliant idea: We would stash all our wedding presents, even the ones that came in two months before the wedding, and open them all after the honeymoon.  Not only was the present-opening experience overwhelming (think Christmas — every single one you’ve ever had combined), but the thank-you-note-writing that ensued was mind-numbing.  It took us weeks to get through them all.  Instead, I advise everyone to go ahead and open their presents as they arrive, and send out a thank you note immediately to circumvent cramped hands and exhausted minds!

9.) Pack early and pack well.
Since we ran out of time to pack for the honeymoon before the wedding, it was a good thing my husband and I weren’t heading out of the country straight away.  We spend the weekend back at our house . . . but we also didn’t finish packing for the honeymoon until around 11:00 Sunday night, and we had to leave the house at 3:00 a.m. the next morning to get to the airport on time.  That wasn’t the calmest start to our week in paradise!  Go ahead and pack a week in advance — chances are, there will be an iron in your honeymoon suite.  And even if there isn’t, wrinkles are a lot better than feeling frantic, rushing as you get ready to relax.

10.) Share some special time with your immediate family.
One thing I really wish I had had the foresight to plan was a nice Saturday morning breakfast with my parents, before all the wedding day craziness got underway.  Of course, it didn’t happen because the craziness was already firmly in place by the time I woke up!  But if possible, carve out a bit of private time so you can savor the special day with the people who helped get you to this point in your life.  It’ll be one more amazing memory of what’s sure to be a breathtaking day.

~ Laura


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