Southern Wedding Bells: Gift or Not to Gift — that is the Question

I ran across a very interesting article on the Daily Worth: http://www.dailyworth.com/posts/1893-how-much-should-you-spend-on-a-wedding-gift. The article discusses how much one can spend on a wedding gift. The writer lives in New York City — so on average she may provide the Bride and Groom with $200-$400 dollars in CASH. *faints*

Perhaps I’m just too much of a Southerner — but if my fiance and I receive ONE check that large I may faint right then and there. I’ve stocked my gift registries [which is a whole other post] with requests ranging from $5 to $150 (a Shark Steam Mop), and more on the $5 side. The registries constantly yell at me to add more gifts, to add more in the upper price range, so on. I was quite frankly shocked. We also have a registry for home items (I mean we are grown-ass people who not only own a home (it came with my fiance) but own dishes and toasters — what we need is a new fridge and washing machine in reality) and for our honeymoon that splits large ticket items such as the stove I am lusting after [Isn’t it gorgeous?! ] in to much smaller shares (the stove is set up in $10.25 shares). However, we expect most folks will purchase a tangible gift (as is the norm here below the Mason Dixon) and that the average gift cost might be $25-$50.

I also recently read about a bride who sent a nasty letter to a guest because of the price of the gift ($100 in cash) did not cover her per person costs. Am I alone in thinking this is insanity? If you want a $200 per person wedding, then that’s what you expect to pay for with NO recouping of your funds. The wedding dinner, party, cocktail hour, whatever is your “gift” to your invited wedding guests for their attendance at your special day. You, you and your boo-boo, or your parents (or his parents) agree to foot that bill. If you want punch and cake at $15 per person, then go that route — but if you want fancy fancy then expect to pay.

Overall I just simply do not expect to receive an expensive present from everyone at my wedding. Heck, some of them may not bring a present at all (although a card would be nice so I’ll have a remembrance of your attendance!) and that is just fine. We want to eat, drink, and be married in front of our friends and family! No gift required! However, if you do bless us with a present — please please do not buy me a toaster — we have two. Seriously. No toasters allowed!

Wedding Bells: Reluctant Bride

So the title is a bit misleading, I am totally excited to be getting married to my man.  He is amazing, wonderful, and I love him more than I ever thought I could love someone outside of my family and my puppy.  However, I am a reluctant bride to the surprise of many of my friends and family members.

Growing up, I always dreamed about my wedding.  Huge white ball-gown dress, held in the historic gothic-styled cathedral Roman Catholic Church in my home town, fancy pants sit down dinner, lots of music and dancing, huge layer cake beautifully decorated, calla lilies in my hands, gigantic ring.  That was the dream.  Then I got older, and older, and older.  I held onto that dream probably through my college years, and then I made a shift towards being more career focused.

I don’t know if it was a conscious shift — or just a shift due to circumstances.  I was dating, but I had determined by then that the guy I was with wasn’t the one [good thing because it ended on a very negative note] and that I was going to go save the world through my career.  So through law school’s end and beyond (I started law school when I was 21, FYI) I dated, but it wasn’t with an eye to marriage [again, good thing cause I dated some doozies of men].  I spent my time trying and failing (another post for another time) to figure out what to do with my life.

After starting my weight loss journey, I focused more on dating — for very self-serving reasons.  I was finally moving closer and closer to “normal” and there for (whether we like it or not) I was able to attract a different kind of man for dating.  I still wasn’t necessarily looking to settle down, but enjoying my time.  Finally as I narrowed into to 30, I found myself feeing “left behind.”  Most of my friends were married or getting married, and that does change the dynamic of your social life.  I also knew that I wasn’t getting any younger, and my priorities started to change.  I wanted to find that person to share my life with, whether I successfully save the world or not.

Talking to my good friend KaRenda — we decided that the next year we were going to date with abandon.  We were going to accept all reasonable requests for dates, and just live in the moment.  We decided we wouldn’t go into the first dates with the normal female checklists for suitability.  We would just date.  Since — a free dinner ain’t never hurt nobody.  So I did.

Being a magistrate judge at the time, I turned to match.com for my dating needs.  I had a very awkward and demanding schedule, that included six months of weekend work straight and overnight work.  We rotated, so it was difficult meeting someone in the normal sense do to that — as well as the nature of my job.  I interacted with Police Officers, Deputies, Bail Bondsmen, Defense Attorneys, Citizens having a bad day (complainants), and Citizens having a WORSE day (the accused/arrested).  None of which I really wanted to date.  Oh don’t get me wrong, there are some cute cops in my district — but they were off limits.  Never date anyone you work with, no matter how dreamy they are (and yeah I did have a crush on a few, I won’t lie).  So Match allowed me to scope out people on my own time (sometimes at 3am) as well as vet them for dating — I’d rather not find myself at an awkward movie with a guy I put in jail for anything.  Some turned out well for a while, but none ever really held long term (I have lots of fun match.com based stories, lemme tell you).  But I was having fun.  Then I met my babe — and I knew it was different.  HE was different.  He was brash and in terms of Southern gentility — rude.  He was a DC Yankee with the attitude and mindset to prove it.  He wasn’t overly chatty, answering my email questions with just a few words.  He wasn’t in a rush to meet, which made me not take him seriously.  In fact I dated someone else in between cause it took him so long!   But then we met (again this is another blog post) and we haven’t stopped meeting since March 2011.  He’s wonderful, supportive, funny and sweet — he’s perfect.  I stopped breathing when he asked me to marry him at our favorite restaurant   It was wonderful, it IS wonderful.  Time for that big ball-gown, yeah?

Not even.  Once we shared our happy news with family and friends, IT started.  What is “it” — “it” is are all of the wedding based planning and questions that slide over a new bride like an Alpine avalanche.  Sneaks out of nowhere and bites you on the you know what.

I was that girl who refused to plan for something that had not happened.  I bought my first bridal magazine after I got the ring.  I did have a “I’m not Engaged but all my friends are” pinterest board (which is now my “Engaged! Now What?” Board — go check it out!), but I wasn’t really planning.  Heck I was planning more about how to refresh his farmhouse (my pinterist boards “Farmhouse Finds” and “Projects that will Make Sam sigh” existed prior to engagement) than about a wedding.  I knew I wanted to marry him, but I wasn’t doing that girly pre-planning for something that wasn’t set yet.

So finally, with a shiny rock on my left hand, I sat down and got to planning.  We decided that even though we got engaged in March 2012, we would wait and take our time to plan a wedding date.  I sat down with the chair of my department, because by then I had gotten into my current PhD program and asked him to help me plot out course work, qualifying exams, and dissertation writing to pick the most optimal time for a wedding.  Since my Chair has girls of his own, he understood and kindly went through my options and his projection of my trajectory through the more formal aspects of my Public Admin program.  With that information in hand — I presented the Fall of 2013 as an optimal time.  We couldn’t do the most optimal time, Summer, because Lord bless his heart — but my fiancé and his baby brother break into a sweat if you look at them hard enough.  Let alone with the Virginia humidity and sun beating down on them — yes yes even if I put them in linen!  I would prefer to not have sweaty hubby photos, so summer was out.  We kicked December out of the mix because there is too much going on with my birthday, other people’s birthdays, Jesus’ birthday, so on.  So that left from September-November.  Somehow my fiancé picked October 26th — and there it was.

Woo! *wipes brow* Planning done right?!  Wrong.  Once we had a tentative date then IT began.  The questions, OH the questions:

  • Do you have a wedding planner?  I and/or my cousin/sister/brother/mailman’s wife/pastors niece does beautiful weddings!  You should call them!
  • Well you must go to X Boutique for your dress.  I can’t imagine you not having a [insert designer here] dress!  Let me set an appointment for you.
  • Do you have a flower girl?  A ring bearer   What about your distant 5th cousin to the X power’s child?!  I think he’s 5…or 15…whatever!  He’d be perfect?
  • How many bridesmaids are you going to have?  Well you have to ask [insert list of people here] that would only make sense?  Tell your fiancé to find more friends!
  • What are you colors/flowers/theme/subtheme/mini-theme?
  • Where are you having your event?!  My [insert relation here] runs [insert site here] you HAVE to go speak to them!  Sure it’s expensive but it’s your wedding!
  • Who’s catering your event?!  You must have [insert caterer here] they are the best!  Expensive as sin, but the best!  Oh and use this cake-baker only.  That’s where all of the exclusive weddings here in the Valley get their cakes done at!
  • You ARE getting a band aren’t you?  Yes a DJ can be less expensive — but all the GOOD weddings have bands!  Let me get that number for you!
  • then because this is the South we got:  Well who is marring you?!  My pastor should do it!  Then maybe you two will find a good church home!

Blah blah blah-blah blah! Cue the early 1990’s

Some of the questions I knew how to solve — right off the bat I knew who I would ask to stand beside me.  I knew what four women in my life — one that I’ve known since we were 8; one who got me through law-school and the beginning of adulthood by being my person [yes that is a Grey’s Anatomy reference]; one who became my social butterfly buddy and confidant when I moved to a new city; and one who is my fiancé’s God sister — and now my sister and treasure too.  I knew that.  That part was easy.  THAT part was fun (for another blog post).  But the rest…the rest was insanity.  I spent my summer looking at every venue that would work at the back end of October, talking to every caterer that got reviews, finding and crying and screaming over dresses, researching photographers, looking at invitations…..I would run from the office of my internship to this appointment and that appointment.  My goal was to answer those questions and more before the end of the summer — and then I just, stopped I stopped.  I could not any more. I had run out of “cans”.  

I am a reluctant bride.  Don’t judge me.  I am that woman who has bi-monthly breakdowns about wedding planning (tonight was my night actually).  I have been staring at my save that dates that need addressing and avoiding the bag like the plague.  And until tonight I was afraid to admit why.

Remember that dream that little Ashley had about weddings?  That dream is gone, because it is impractical.   I cannot have a “Say Yes To The Dress” wedding with a $5,000 gown.  I cannot hire a lighting specialist (one of my favorite things someone has dropped a dime on in an epi of “Four Weddings” on TLC — the show that breeds bridal insecurity.  There will be no horse drawn carriages, no written vows (my future hubs is not a wordsmith), no five-tier buttercream almond wedding cake.  This is real life.  And real life is on a budget.   And to be honest — that makes me a little sad inside.  It makes me a little annoyed that it is SO hard to have an amazing wedding, when your budget isn’t.  It’s one of those clear moments of adulthood, where although you cognitively realize what is best — you do it dragging your feet and kicking rocks the entire way.

Reuters reported in May 2012 that the cost of an average wedding has hit roughly $27,000 in the United States.  They cited an expert from The Knot stating:

In 2011, one in five U.S. couples spent more than $30,000, and 11 percent spent more than $40,000 on their weddings.

I can tell you my budget is below average.  However, please don’t get me wrong — I appreciate that my fiancé is willing to foot the bill for the shindig we’ll throw in October.  I appreciate that my mom bought my wedding gown.  I appreciate it all.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t grieve a little bit over my lost dream wedding filled with tulle and southern opulence   I am human.  I am not perfect, and I’ve got a little envy on some incredible weddings I’ve been to of late.

And it doesn’t mean that as I try to bring this event monstrosity in under budget, that I love the sacrifices that that will require including giving up optimal venues, discount dress and accessory shopping, not being able to provide some luxuries for my bridesmaids, and most difficult — cutting the guest list.  Some of my friends — some people reading this blog — won’t get a Save the Date.  They will not be invited.  I can’t invite all my friends, and family.  I can’t.  I am out of “can’s”.  I hope they know that even though Aunt Edna (I really don’t have an Aunt Edna but you get it) or one of my dearest College girlfriends bumped them off the list — its not because I don’t cherish their friendship or love-through-blood, it’s because I had to chose.  I sat in Samson’s Aunt’s house and cried as a I cut my list.  I sobbed.  Sat at a dining room table in the middle of the night during Thanksgiving, SOBBING.  That kind of body racking cry.  The ugly one.  Silent only because people were sleeping.  I know I might have to do it again as well….

I worry that those who aren’t invited will see it as a slight, will be angry, will think I thought ill of them or that they weren’t worth the cost.  In bridal books and mags they do a great job of telling you how to couch those moments in grace and slight fabrications.  But the truth of the matter is — it’s money.  If I had all the money in the world, I would invite way more people.  At one point our list topped 250 individuals (and that was without children).  But we don’t have all of the money in the world, so I have to cut.  I had to.  Don’t be mad.  I cried people, and for some of you that I just can’t invite — I’m still angry that I can’t.  I will probably remain angry that some of you I just cannot invite if I don’t want to bankrupt my future husband.

So here I am.  A reluctant, sad and cranky bride-to-be, trying to move on from her childhood dreams and face reality with a fresh face of determination.  Throwing the wedding planning ball into the air along with all the other ones, and hoping that I don’t drop a ball on my face.  Hoping that everyone will be kind, because I’ve heard other women talk about brides and it can be vicious.  I hope I won’t get caught in any mudslinging.  I hope it will be beautiful, and lovely — and as close to perfect as the world allows.  I hope everyone there will have a good time.  But yet.  I am still reluctant.

Crap — I still don’t have a DJ…..