What I Learned From My Shit Show of a Wedding

Stressful wedding chill bride


y wedding was a shit show. It was fun, incredible and memorable, too, but it was truly, at its heart, a shit show. Actually, shit storm might be the more apt way of putting it.

We got married in New Orleans in October. We chose the date with dreams of enjoying fall in New Orleans, when it would be post-90-degree Louisiana summer days. Post-brain-warping southern humidity. Post-storm season.

Except it wasn’t. The Monday of our wedding week kicked off with an ominous weather report, which then turned into a high-alert hurricane watch. By Wednesday, the day my fiancé, Bradley, and I flew from New York (where we live) to New Orleans (his hometown), the impending storm was threatening to be the #1 most unwelcome guest at our 200-ish-person wedding. See? Shit storm.

Stressful wedding chill bride

When we heard the news, we had no choice but to address the hypotheticals: If a hurricane hit, would our guests be able to fly into the city? Would they even want to? Would our venues be operational and safe? But the endless questions, most of which were impossible answer, ultimately boiled down to this: Were we prepared to deal with the emotional repercussions, financial risk and, most of all, guilt of dragging our loved ones into our messy gamble?

There was a certain irony to our big wedding facing cancellation the week before it happened: I’d been on the fence about having one at all since the beginning. There’s a lot I love about the tradition, like big raucous dance parties and pretty letterpress paper products. I cry at vows and could listen to wedding toasts forever. But I’d always been uncomfortable with the spectacle of modern-day weddings. And I especially loathed the bridezilla construct — the idea that weddings transform even the most docile human into some sort of monster. As my partner and I set out to plan our own, we wondered if pouring our time, money and energy into the occasion could truly result in something genuine and special that we’d cherish for the rest of our lives.

We eventually decided that yes, maybe it would! We could have a big weekend blowout with all of our favorite people in (arguably) the world’s wildest city. We could stay up dancing and drinking hurricanes (L-O-L) until 3 a.m. for three nights in a row. We could create a little bit of magic in a year that had been full of political tumult and general shittiness. Best of all, we could take a laid-back approach to figuring out the whole shebang. We could budget for a wedding planner who would deal with the details. I could take a backseat to the minutiae of cakes and bouquets. I could be the un-bridezilla!

But as the planning got underway, my attitude shifted. I quickly felt that if I wasn’t involved in even the tiniest decisions, I’d wind up with a wedding that reflected something very not me — something overwrought, overly sentimental and simply too wedding-ish. And so, in my attempt to execute my low-key vision, I became increasingly picky and high strung. I became consumed not just with planning, but with keeping myself comfortable with my levels of attachment and involvement in the planning process. I vacillated dramatically between caring about details — photo booth props, tablecloth colors, how many minutes the horah dance should last for (what’s worse than a never-ending horah?) — to being mad at myself for caring, to effectively not caring at all. It was a bumpy roller coaster, and somewhere around the final loop, I came to accept that maybe I wasn’t the chill kind of DGAF bride I thought I was. I made peace with that, because I’d gotten there. The end of the track was in sight, and I was feeling genuinely happy with how it was all coming together.

Stressful wedding chill bride

Then came the storm warning, and I simply wanted out. The curveball was just coming at us too fast, too strong and too … curvy. I didn’t want to swing. But Bradley, a Gulf Coast native, convinced me otherwise. “It won’t hit,” he said, knowing his city, trusting its patterns, and believing that the media was whipping the storm watch into a national news frenzy due to the devastations in Houston and Puerto Rico. “It won’t hit, and when the weekend’s over, we’ll be so glad we went through with it.”

So we swung. New Orleans’s unofficial motto is the French Cajun phrase, laissez les bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”). We tried to do just that. We switched our wedding venue from an outdoor space to a storm-proof hotel and turned our welcome dinner into a welcome lunch after the city imposed an evening curfew. And we sent an email to our guests that read: “We’ll PARTY, just not quite in the way we were expecting.” Though we assured them it was safe, we implored them not to come to Louisiana if they felt uncomfortable. We said that no matter what, we understood, and we completely and utterly did.

But people came. The week rolled into the weekend and the rejiggered festivities began. I’ve never been on drugs at a rave in Ibiza, but my experience of my wedding weekend is what I imagine that feels like. I was dizzyingly high — on emotion, love, people, on the rush of making split-second decision after split-second decision, on a little Xanax and a bunch of wine. I was a weird, flighty mixture of giddiness and anxiety. I was in love with everyone and I wasn’t totally on this Earth. It worked out. But was it worth it? I’m not sure.

Weddings are … a lot. And that’s under non-extreme weather circumstances. They’re expensive and emotionally trying (family dynamics, guest list drama … take your pick). The execution is challenging, even for the most relaxed couple. Maybe because these days, weddings can feel like theater put on for an envisioned audience that expands way beyond the actual invitees. Wedding optics have taken on a life of their own. Every detail is Instagram-bait. Each photo is fodder for a wedding blog. Everything — from cocktail napkins to dance floors to petit fours — is a potential hashtag canvas. The whole occasion feels susceptible to judgment of one’s taste, cool factor and personality. And to me, that felt inescapable. It made me care about the things I didn’t want to care about for the sake of protecting my point of view.

Stressful wedding chill bride

I think that’s why, bizarrely enough, the storm ended up being a sort of welcomed party crasher — though it never actually showed. Ultimately, it veered east, skipping Louisiana completely. On our wedding day in New Orleans, it didn’t rain a drop. But by then, the hurricane had left its mark. The looming disaster blew our planned-to-a-T weekend to bits, and the last thing I was left worrying about was pretense or disingenuousness or tablecloths or whether or not I was being chill enough.

In the end, it was fun. It was three nights of dancing until 3 a.m. There were vows and speeches and pretty letterpress paper products (though they had the entirely wrong information on them due to all of the changes). It was a big weekend blowout with all of our favorite people in (arguably) the world’s wildest city. We managed to create a little bit of magic. We laissez les bon temps rouler-d. And Bradley was 100% right; it made for a crazy story.

I’d never wish a hurricane (or blizzard, or power outage, or even mild drizzle) on anyone’s big day. But all the craziness and lack of control did force the inherent pureness of the tradition into sharp focus. It made me understand that whatever your style — whether you’re able to maintain a healthy detachment from the process, have absolutely no chill or, like most of us I’d guess, fall somewhere in between — when two people are happy and surrounded by a lot of people who are happy for them, it’s a kind of special thing. Especially when a tropical storm comes along and blows all of the un-special things out of its path.

Illustrations by Katherine Moffett.

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