The Top Ten Wedding Planning Mistakes That Most Experts Forget to Mention
by Rev. Terri Daniel
Sonoma County Wedding Officiant
The process of planning a wedding -- particularly if it’s a traditional wedding with all the trimmings -- creates a perfect opportunity for personalities, expectations, belief systems and neuroses to clash loudly and frequently. The seeds of discord are planted early on, beginning with a bride who always dreamed of the perfect fairy tale wedding, and taking root in the fertile soil of family dynamics, financial concerns, religious dogma and fragile friendships.
These core issues can ultimately bloom into a full-blown exposé of the seedy underside of the wedding industry, long-buried family demons, and weak links in a couple’s relationship. For the vast majority of young couples, coordinating the details of a major social event can be nerve-wracking at best, catastrophic at worst. While some brides or grooms may have acquired experience in event planning through their jobs, or have a knack for it due to an innate natural talent, by far most couples find themselves lost in foreign territory without a compass.
Imagine suddenly having to step into the role of producer for a major motion picture, a stage play or a rock concert. You’ll have to manage the cast and a crew (wedding guests and vendors), the budget (usually far smaller than you’d like), the timeline (at least six months pre-production), and the script (the wedding ceremony). There are props (rings, cake, something borrowed, etc.), costumes (clothing for bride, groom and bridal party) and a set (décor, altar, flowers, reception venue). There’s also catering, insurance, payroll, lighting, photography and transportation, not to mention the need for negotiation and conflict resolution skills. Don’t forget the co-star and his entourage (the groom and groomsmen), and finally, the star of the show, THE BRIDE, who often shows up with superstar-sized demands and expectations, which must be lovingly met by a dutiful flock of bridesmaids and family members.
With all that to manage in the hands of an inexperienced producer, it’s little wonder so many things can go wrong. Unlike hundreds of wedding articles you’ve read in books and on websites, we’re going to share ten common mistakes that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else, because they’re under-the-surface, backstage observations from real wedding planners who’ve seen it all.
Listed in order of weight and consequence, from the menial (#10) to the momentous (#1), the top ten mistakes are:
Mistake # 10: Two Critical Issues – Directions and Timing
This is actually a double tip, because directions and timing go hand-in-hand. You cannot imagine how many weddings start late because when the ceremony is due to begin, a good number of guests still haven’t arrived. This usually happens because the wedding was in an obscure location and there were no directions included with the invitation. Guests drive around
trying to find the place, and they arrive not only late, but frustrated and edgy. So please, if your wedding is at an exclusive mountain retreat or in the middle of a big city with bad signage, include a map with clear directions and a phone number to call if someone gets lost. This is where the timing issue comes in.
If you want your ceremony to begin promptly at 5:00 pm, invite guests for 4:30. Think about it… if the invitation says 5:00, most people won’t start arriving until 5:00, which means they won’t be in their seats until 5:30 or later. This seemingly small timing error, added to other inevitable delays (waiting for a late member of the wedding party to arrive for example), will create a chain reaction that affects the photographer, the officiant, the band, the food servers and more. So allow an extra 30 minutes, and if you hang out with a crowd that’s notoriously late for everything, make it 60.
Mistake #9: Not Planning for the Heat of an Outdoor Summer Wedding
If your wedding will be outdoors in August, there is one word you’ll need to remember: shade. In some locations, the summer sun can be brutal, and even at 6 or 7 pm, temperatures can still be in the high 80s.
Even though you’ve planned everything perfectly, when you find yourself standing in front of the officiant, sweating under a blazing sun and looking out at your guests who are wilting and miserable, you’ll regret that you didn’t spend the extra money for a tent or a canopy, preferably with fans or some sort of air conditioning system. The bride’s make-up will be dripping down her face and her dress will show soaked armpits in the wedding photos. And imagine the poor groom and his attendants, wearing tuxedos! Flies will be buzzing around the wedding cake, which will be melting, as will the ice behind the bar and the spirits of your guests. Eating, dancing, drinking and socializing will be seriously hampered if people are physically uncomfortable, and for some people, extended exposure to heat can be a health risk.
If you want to marry outdoors in a hot climate, do it early in the morning, late at night, in the spring or fall, or in the shade of the trees. If there isn’t enough shade, rent a tent. You can do some research to learn the best way to orient the event so that it’s not being blasted by the sun at your chosen time of day. Keep coolers full of water handy, and make sure that the restroom facilities are close by and easy to access. This is especially important if you have very old or very young people present.
Mistake # 8: Not Handling Paperwork in Advance
The last thing you want to be doing on your wedding day is dealing with money and administrative tasks. Reviewing invoices and writing checks is not very romantic, but this is a simple problem to solve. Write all the checks in advance, put them in envelopes for the various vendors, and delegate someone responsible to handle these transactions for you. And here’s a really important hint… get this all handled before the ceremony. You’ll be too busy, too elated and possibly too drunk afterward to focus on such mundane matters.
Mistake # 7: No Microphone at an Outdoor Wedding
Unless you’re having only ten people at your outdoor wedding that will be standing in a tight circle around you, you will need a microphone. If you get married at the beach with the pounding surf just a few yards away, it is guaranteed that nobody will hear a word you say.
Get a sound system, no matter how much it costs. If the wedding is in a quiet park or in a large back yard and you’re not quite sure if you’ll need amplification, go to the site in advance to test it out. One of you should stand on the spot where you will be standing during the ceremony, and the other stand where the farthest guest will be seated. Speak in a normal tone of voice. Can the farthest guest hear you? If not, you’ll need a microphone. If there’s wind or water (even the sound of a backyard waterfall can cause problems), the ceremony will need to be amplified. Your DJ can help with this. If the wedding is at a restaurant, hotel or other public place, microphones will usually be provided, but double check just to be sure.
# 6: Not Planning for Traffic Flow
If guests will be mingling when they arrive rather than going directly to their seats, make sure they have a comfortable space in which to do so. Will they have to stand, or will there be seating? Standing for more than ten minutes at a time is miserable for older people and for women wearing high heels. Will they be in the hot sun or a potential rainstorm? Provide shade or shelter. It’s also advisable to make refreshments available during this period if possible, but save the alcohol for after the ceremony, or your guests will be soused early on, and your liquor bill may bankrupt you.
Will the bride be mingling with the crowd before the wedding, or will she be sequestered in another area? If the wedding is in a large hotel with the guests gathered in the garden and the bride hiding in a room on the 14th floor, be sure the people on the ground (officiant, groom, best man) have cell phones, so that the people on the 14th floor can communicate with the ground crew. Generally, either the officiant, the wedding coordinator (if you’ve hired one) or a friend should act as a messenger between the “stage” and the “dressing room.” It’s important that key players know the exact moment when the processional is ready to begin so that they can cue the music. It is quite awkward when the music comes in too early or too late because the timing of the processional isn’t communicated and executed efficiently.
Another piece of this process is to plan for where people will go after the ceremony concludes. After the kiss and the recessional, guests expect to file out behind the wedding party, but they have no idea where to go from there. Will there be a receiving line in which guests move past the bridal party on their way out of the ceremony area? If not, will they go straight to the reception, or to the bar for pre-reception cocktails? Make a decision about this and then be sure it’s clearly communicated. Your officiant can announce it during the recessional.
#5: Micro-Management Misery
Do you want to know the best-kept secret for keeping your sanity while planning a wedding? Delegate, delegate, delegate! There’s a reason why brides and grooms have attendants. They are there to help and support you, not just to hang out and party, so don’t hesitate to give them important jobs. And then release your grip.
Is there any reason why the best man or the M.O.B. (mother of the bride) can’t handle coordinating transportation for out-of-town guests, or work with the caterer to make sure there are enough vegetarian and gluten-free meals? The goal is to eliminate as many stressors as possible, so instead of freaking out about flower arrangements, let somebody else do it. Put a trusted friend in charge of items that do not absolutely require your full attention. Even better, if your budget allows, hire a professional wedding coordinator who will assume the vast majority of planning duties.
On the big day, choose an outgoing, organized friend to be your personal assistant for the day. He or she can run last-minute errands, manage parking, greet guests as they arrive and work with the officiant and music provider on staging details. This person can also be the keeper of documents, personal items, payments to vendors and other annoyances that a bride and groom will be far too distracted to address.
#4: Expecting the Groom to Care about Stuff That Means Nothing to Him
If this is a heterosexual wedding with a traditional heterosexual couple, if were being really honest here, we would say this: Most young brides care more about their dresses than anything else, and most young grooms couldn’t care less about any of it. To lower stress levels when planning a wedding, respect the three A’s: Accept, Allow and Adjust.
Most grooms are great at going with the flow and relinquishing control. This makes most brides very unhappy. Brides constantly complain about their grooms not caring about wedding details. A typical conversation looks something like this:
BRIDE: When do you think we should release the doves?
GROOM: What doves?
BRIDE (pouting): Honeeeeyyyy… we talked about this.”
Apparently they’d had a discussion about doves at some point, but he wasn’t listening. When it comes to stuff like this, he probably never will listen, because he doesn’t care.
Brides, listen up. Most men don’t give a hoot about wedding details. They don’t care about the color of the tablecloths or the flowers, nor do they care if your mother prefers to wear purple or green. They’re men. They just want to get it overwith. Yes, he loves you and wants to marry you. That’s why he’s doing this. That’s the ONLY reason. The rest is just fluff.
So give grooms tasks that are reasonable and appropriate for their skills and interest levels. Put them in charge of working with the DJ to choose the music or making sure the spigot on the beer keg isn’t clogged up. If the groom is really on the ball, he might even be able to coordinate tuxedo rentals for himself and his posse. But anything more than that will put him on overload. That’s just the way it is, and it isn’t going to change. Learn this now and don’t spend the next 60 years trying to fight it.
Mistake # 3: Putting Perfection and Tradition above Meaningful Self-Expression
When it comes down to it, most brides, especially the young ones, cling to traditions without even knowing why. They want the big wedding dress, the garter toss, the father giving them away, and a slew of other archaic rituals and superstitions, such as not letting the groom see her before the wedding even though they’ve been living together for five years (more about this in Mistake #1).
Weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a couple to make a declaration of love, commitment and independence. First and foremost, it's a statement the partners' commitment to one another, and a ritual that marks their new role in society as a married couple. But it's also a rare moment in which a couple can stand before a captive audience and express the essence of who they are and how they perceive their place in the world. This is not an opportunity to be taken lightly.
But the power of symbolism and ritual can get lost when fleeting concerns like catering menus and clothing details become more important than wedding vows and heartfelt ideals. The whole process becomes an even greater ordeal when you add family politics and the natural order of the universe into the mix. Things will go wrong. Things will not be exactly the way you want them to be.
This is an important life lesson, and an excellent preview of the realities of marriage. When you start believing in the fantasy that life is supposed to be perfectly flawless for this one special day, then you have gone beyond the boundaries of rational thought.
Let go of the quest for perfection. This day should represent married life and therefore should have some flaws that you will be called upon to handle with grace and wisdom.
Mistake # 2: Not Caring About the Content of Your Ceremony
While a couple may love the idea of a traditional white wedding, it’s still possible to create a ceremony that reflects your unique personal values and spiritual perspective. The biggest mistake made by many couples is thinking that the wedding, with all its pomp and paraphernalia, is not separate from the ceremony. This could not be farther from the truth.
Even within a traditional structure where the groom and his buddies get snockered at the bachelor party, the bride spends the night before the wedding at a separate location, dad walks his daughter down the aisle and “gives” her to the groom, etc, you can still make a personal statement when it comes to the content of the ceremony.
It’s easy. Just open up to expressing your own ideas about God or Spirit, write your own vows, have a friend read poetry or sing a song, invoke energies from other religions or cultures that resonate with you, or involve friends and family in the ceremony by having them say a few words or participate in simple rituals. A good wedding officiant who truly respects you as individuals will be happy to help you craft a ceremony that has true personal meaning.
What you don’t want to do is stand there like a mannequin while the officiant mumbles a bunch of tired old words that don’t reflect your own personal spark. Unless you’re having a very formal religious ceremony, the content should be profound, but also fun. It should inspire a whole range of emotions, from spiritual reverence to goofy humor. And remember to look at each other during the ceremony, not at the officiant. You are free to smile, giggle, cry, whisper to one another, crack jokes… whatever you like. You don’t have to be formal or stiff. Make it fun, but most importantly, connect with each other through eye contact. If you can’t look into each other in the eyes during these sacred moments, you probably shouldn’t be committing to spending the rest of your lives together.
Mistake # 1 – Not Spending Time Together Immediately Before the Ceremony
Wedding traditions, like all traditions, are not set in stone, and there is no rule, law or scary cultural taboo against altering those traditions to fit your unique needs and your personality. Start by giving yourself permission to step outside convention. For example, tradition dictates that it's "bad luck" for the bride and groom to see each other on their wedding day prior to the ceremony. Have you ever wondered where this idea came from? It's quite ancient, and has to do with arranged marriages and religious traditions in which the groom often didn't know who the bride was until her veil was raised during the ceremony. So why do
modern couples -- most of whom already live together -- insist on playing 'hide the bride?"
Because that's the way it's always been done, and nobody thinks to question it. But if you believe that the day of your wedding is one of the most meaningful and spiritual days of your life, and you and your partner are rational adults who've been intimate for years, why wouldn't you want to spend every moment of that day together? Wake up in the morning and go for a walk on the beach (or whatever you normally do on leisurely mornings), and then take a bath together and wash each other's feet. Have breakfast in bed. Have sex. Do whatever feels loving and intimate and natural to you. This is a celebration of intimacy, not a denial of it.
Your wedding day should be sacred, romantic and spiritual. Don't allow superstitious traditions or family pressures to take that away from you. Parents or other family members may want to take charge and tell you how it's "supposed" to be (especially if they're footing the bill), so set boundaries and state preferences right from the start by calling a meeting of all involved and laying your cards on the table about your vision of the event. It’s your vision, it’s your day, and it’s your marriage.
© 2011 by Terri Daniel