A wedding is really just a long list of decisions to be made.
Sandwiched between the two big ones – “Will you marry me?” and “Do you take this man?” – lie a myriad of less important, but often more challenging questions. Do you want chair covers? Will you be taking his name? Can Aunt Margaret be trusted not to say anything offensive? Ivory or white? Chicken or beef?
Lost in the haze of congratulations and newfound sparkle from your left hand, it's easy to allow yourself to be herded through a maze of expectations and 'wedding norms', until you find yourself seated on the runaway wedding express, ticket in hand, track sloping away before you.
Or at least, that's how it felt for me.
I have no other explanation for why my fiancé and I began planning and arranging for conventions we had absolutely no personal interest in; first-dance songs, seating charts, fancy cars with ribbons on. Or why we seriously spent several days musing over how we'd be spending the night before our wedding apart, before suddenly realising we didn't have to.
We don't have to do any of these things.
The question we should really be asking ourselves is not “This or that?”, but rather, “Do you want this tradition to be a part of your day at all?”
So much of today's wedding convention is mired in forgotten historical significance, yet many of us still play along on the most expensive, exciting day of our lives, out of some sense of necessity or obligation. It's what everyone has always done, so we think we have to do it too.
What my fiancé and I really wanted, once we stopped and reassessed, was barely a wedding at all. There are a few key elements that appeal – a big party, a lot of cake, a day spent celebrating our 'official' teaming up for life. We want to dress up, because life is already short on such opportunities, and I want flowers, everywhere, because I always do in general. But that's really it.
No themed centrepieces, no organza bows, no colour schemes or 'last nights of freedom' with strippergrams. In fact, the harder we looked at the world of wedding traditions, the less sense it made for us as a family.
I wrote about all of this on my blog, and heard from dozens of brides who'd come to similar conclusions.
“We had no cake, no first dance, no bridesmaids, no photographer, no dinner even! We did have some family snaps, some Champagne, a 30-minute reception and a flight straight to NYC though,” wrote one.
Another said she too had been an “anti-wedding bride”: “On the day, I loved every single second... mainly because I worked so hard at avoiding the dreaded bridal magazines, remained focused on what it was all about – us – and I also made sure that we only invited those who really mattered to us."
Or, perhaps my personal favourite unwedding tale – “As the sun set on the harbour, we stuck candles in the empty bottles and danced by moonlight until our feet bled. Orla my poodle wore flowers in her hair.” Sounds like bliss.
Still, it's difficult to weed out all those lifelong assumptions.
It helps that my fiancé, Rory, is wedding-clueless. A blank canvas when it comes to expectations, his bemusement serves as the perfect indicator for whenever we're off track. “What do you mean, we have to pretend to sign the register for a photo?” he asks. “Why do we have to cut the cake together? Why can't we walk down the aisle hand-in-hand? Who's making these rules up anyway?”
If these things have significance to the couple, then fine, but to us, they are meaningless; as poignant and enchanting as Brussels sprouts in December. A little dusty, a little out of date.
If there are speeches, then give me the floor. I don't want to be ‘given away’ by a man that barely knows me, passed on to new ownership like a part-used car. I’d rather dance in a big spinning circle with all of my friends than shuffle through the cringe-fest of a DIY Strictly first dance. And if a room full of adults cannot seat themselves amicably without place cards and table numbers, then we’ve already gone way off path.
I'm sure our choices won't meet everyone's expectations; no doubt some of our older family members will be surprised or perhaps disappointed by our breaking of the rules. I'm fully prepared to hear their disapproval voiced.
But everyone says it's the most important day of your life, and if that's even vaguely true or accurate, we want to know we did it under our own steam.
All images courtesy of Sarah Tasker/meandorla.co.uk