By Sara Gibbs
I have a friend; let’s call her Anna. Anna was six months into planning her Jewish wedding to the love of her life when she came around for a bit of emergency wedding therapy.*
*note – I’m in no way qualified to deliver such therapy, but desperate times…
“My mum says we have to have the ceremony at the synagogue,” she explained, “and my aunt wants me to arrange a coach from London to bring all my guests out to the country, my in laws want to invite about a kazillion people I’ve never heard of, my dad says he won’t sit at the same table as my uncle Shlomo unless he apologises for that thing he did back in ’76, my rabbi doesn’t approve of my caterer…”
On she cried about what the demands everybody else was making on her big day. Once she had finished telling me what everybody and their dog wanted (the dog, it turned out, wanted a walk) I asked her a question that caught her off guard:
“And what do *you* want?”
Anna blinked widely at me a couple of times.
“I’ve no idea,” she admitted.
Anna is a smart woman – but she was so overwhelmed by hearing the word “should” day and night, so inundated with everybody else’s two cents that she hadn’t even paused to consider what kind of celebration she and her partner might actually want to celebrate their choice to spend their lives together!
So I’m going to say the words that could have saved Anna a whole lot of stress and heartache:
There is no right way to have a wedding.
No, you didn’t just fall into another wedding stress dream and conjure up that sentence, you really read it; and here’s how you can start to believe it.
Think of all the possibilities
Once you let go of the idea that there’s one set-in-stone type of wedding, and you open yourself up to all of the fabulous, creative opportunities to really showcase the things you love and that make you a couple, there’s no turning back.
Every time you catch yourself thinking “not for me”, ask yourself “why not?” Why shouldn’t you have the things that make your heart leap? Why should you and your partner deny yourself your ideal day? If the answer is “to please other people”, then read on, because the Church (or, in this case, Synagogue) of Other People is already full of worshippers — you can probably slip out unnoticed — and here’s how.
1. Let go of guilt
I know, I know, we’re Jewish – guilt is part of our DNA and our schtick. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s as easy as deciding not to feel guilty for putting your happiness first on a day that is totally and completely about you.
Before you say anything, I know. It’s not always that easy. Weddings are also about family and tradition. There are people you love who have dreamed of this day going a certain way for a long time. There are traditions that go back millennia and to some, letting go of those traditions, even for a day, might be unthinkable.
Yes, weddings are about family, too, but they’re about you and your partner first.
You cannot sacrifice starting your marriage the way you feel is right for the sake of appeasing others. All you need to start the process is permission to not do that anymore. So here it is: permission. I release you. You’re free. Now here’s how to take back the reins.
2. Decide whose opinion matters and disregard the rest
First and foremost, that would be you and your partner. Your opinions matter the most.
Then, really have a think about who has the right to chip in. Your parents, possibly – but even then, how much of a say do they get? A lot of this will depend on who’s paying, and, if they’re contributing to your wedding, how you accepted that money.
Before my own wedding, my then fiancé and I both carefully discussed our respective parents’ expectations with them before any contributions changed hands.
This isn’t always an easy conversation to have, but it’s an important one to get out of the way right at the beginning. Managing expectations is the best way to avoid conflict and disappointment further down the line.
This doesn’t need to be combative in any way. Simply say: “before we start planning this wedding, it’s important for us to say that it means a lot to us to start our married life with a celebration that represents who we are. This may mean that you won’t always agree with our decisions, but please know that these decisions will make us very, very happy. We’d really love for you to be a part of this journey with us and to help us plan the wedding that means the most to us and the commitment we’re making to each other.”
3. Figure out what you want
Make sure you get plenty of alone time, as a couple, to talk through what the two of you actually want and make firm decisions that you’re both behind
If you’re not sure what you want yet, it will be that much easier for people to hijack the situation and take over. A solid idea of what you want, and a united front, will deter any well-meaning meddlers.
4. Tell, don’t ask
When you ask for permission from others, you’re giving them the power to say no.
Once you have made decisions between you as a couple, present them accordingly. Instead of saying: “Do you think it’s OK to have an outdoor wedding?” or “would you mind if we have the wedding outdoors?” say: “we’ve decided to have an outdoor wedding.” Statements, not questions, will send the message that you’re not asking for anybody’s input on that particular aspect of your big day.
Of course, if you come from a Jewish family and you expect the above strategies to go down smoothly and without a struggle, you may be deluding yourself (I’m all about managing those expectations, remember?) so, if all else fails, become a master at deflection.
Repeat after me: “that’s a really great idea, Auntie Sandra. We’ll definitely think about that.” Then go away and do whatever it was you were planning to do. Auntie Sandra will feel heard and appreciated, you get your way, and she’ll probably, in all likelihood, forget whatever it is she suggested in a few weeks anyway.
Whatever it is that you want, no matter how original, no matter how out there, or, indeed, no matter how many times it’s been done before, keep reminding yourself that nobody matters more in this process than the two of you.
Plan the day that will make you look back in 50 years through misty eyes, with your grandchildren on your knee as you look through your wedding album and say “kids, we did it our way.”
About the author: Sara Gibbs is a regular features writer for Smashing the Glass, which delightfully keeps her connected to her Jewish roots and background. She is also a student of Writing and Producing Comedy at the National Film and Television School and a comedy writer with credits on Radio 4’s Dead Ringers and the News Quiz. Sara co-owns and runs satirical online women’s magazine, Succubus.