Staying authentic in the course of planning a wedding is surprisingly challenging. You’ll inevitably be overwhelmed at many points by the reality of balancing loved ones’ opinions with centuries-old wedding traditions and the latest Pinterest trends. So how did I stay true to our story, while creating a heartfelt, inclusive experience for our friends and family? Here’s my biggest advice.
Question any tradition that doesn’t feel authentic to you. This is your wedding—there are no rules.
During our ceremony, our officiant recounted the story of how Alex & I met and fell in love within a matter of weeks, enduring a number of twists and turns along the way as our relationship matured and strengthened. Our vows were derived from psychological research on the characteristics that distinguish lasting relationships, inspired by the time that I spent studying the science of love across the lifespan in graduate school. Rather than making promises to each other on the basis of spiritual principles that held little significance for us, we handcrafted heartfelt, poignant vows that were much more meaningful. You’re not required to have a ceremony that revolves around religion if it’s not an important part of your life, and you’re definitely not held to the standard, somber, impersonal wedding vows.
I had both of my parents walk me down the aisle. My relationships with my mother and father are of equal significance to me, and so including both of them in this incredibly special part of the day was the only option that felt natural to me.
Alex and I chose to have a “first look” before the ceremony, allowing us to see each other all dressed up in a more intimate setting before walking down the aisle. Photographers love this growing trend because some of the most romantic, poignant shots of the couple occur during this short time period, which we absolutely found to be true.
With the assistance of our wedding coordinator, officiant, and friends, I orchestrated a surprise for the middle of the ceremony. Right before we said our vows, I told Alex that I’d be right back, grabbed my guitar from its hiding place, and performed “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” By the end of the song, everyone was in tears—I got choked up on the line, “Take my hand, take my whole life, too,” and it was the perfect introduction to the vows.
Involve your guests in the sweeping emotions of the event. Make each person feel as though they’re a part of your love story as your happy ending unfolds in front of them.
We chose to let the ceremony revolve around our real, unidealized love story—the way that we met and how quickly we connected; the ups and downs that we endured along the way; and our ultimate decision to get married, and the determination that we shared to forge a love strong enough to last a lifetime. I chose to let every guest in on the vulnerability of our emotions as we experienced them; and in doing so, it felt as though we created a community of loved ones personally invested in our relationship. The tears flowed freely all day, and I made no effort to hide how touched I was at so many different points. The overwhelming love that we felt from all sides is what truly made the day unforgettable.
Be unapologetic about your choices.
Collect advice from professionals and loved ones early on, but set the expectation with everyone that you’ll be making the ultimate decisions. This is your day, and as opinionated as relatives and friends can be in the months leading up to the wedding, trust me—they’ll all be forgotten when the day actually arrives and everyone is completely caught up in the emotion of the event. Allow as much time as you want for the parts of the day that are the most important to you. By the same token, skip anything that you feel uncomfortable with or that would take time away from the things that matter most to you.
We asked guests to keep their cell phones and cameras tucked away during the ceremony. I did this for two reasons: First, I wanted to be able to look out at the faces of our friends and family and actually see their faces—not their iPhones. I was horrified by the thought of looking back at the photos of the ceremony and seeing everyone’s smartphones held up in the air, competing for the perfect shot of our first kiss as husband and wife. But more importantly, I wanted everyone to be fully invested in the event as it happened in real time. Taking pictures can have the effect of pulling us out of the present moment as it unfolds; and for just half an hour, I wanted to experience life as it happened, with all of my loved ones right there with me.
Liked this post? Read the next post in my series on planning a wedding: My Most Stressful & Most Cherished Wedding Moments.
The full feature (with more pictures & tips!): The Girl in Real Life
Photography: The More We See
Venue, flowers & food: Terrain at Styers in Glen Mills, PA
Officiant: Alisa Tongg
Coordinator: Lisa at Brava Weddings
Wedding dress: Luzerne by Reem Acra, purchased at Elizabeth Johns
Hair & makeup: Bella Angel