December 5, 2005

Wedding Expectations

Back in the working world, I once had a manager who was very fond of the phrase, "I just need to manage their expectations better." It was his catch-all. He used it to explain every failure, frustration, and problem that he encountered, be it with his superiors, his colleagues, the members of his team, customers, or even, on occasion, when referring to his wife and children.

Repetitive language annoyance aside, he's got a point. Perhaps management really is simply that one thing, in any context (which is not to say that it's easy). I say this because I'm finding that if there's one thing about the wedding that is frustrating, it's dealing with conflicts between everyone's expectations (not the least of which is my own).

When we started planning, I was operating under the assumption that since E and I are throwing the wedding, our definitions of appropriate, fun, etc, would be the controlling ones. I'm not the kind of girl who always dreamed of the perfect wedding, so I figured I would be an easy bride, the whole wedding stress thing would not be a problem, and I figured that since E & I would be the ones with the ultimate say, it would be a piece of cake to make most of the decisions. E and I have different ideas about what this whole wedding thing should/could entail, but after we compromised on no elopement in exchange for a wedding party, E's pretty much on the "whatever you want is fine, honey" plan because he was raised by a mother whose wedding mantra is, "the bride should be the princess for the day." (Talk about a lucky on the family-in-law hand.)

So, I walked into this whole thing assuming it would be easier for me than for most. I've got reasonable expectations (or so I think), and our parents are relatively hands off because we are throwing the wedding ourselves.

But, while no one explicitly disagrees with the idea that it should go according to our plan, many of our friends and family approach the wedding with their own pre-conceived ideas about how it's supposed to work. Sometimes those ideas conflict with ours and we find ourselves in a situation where we have to decide between asserting our opinion and letting it be known that we disagree and would like it to be different than the assumed position, or opting to take the path of least resistance in a desire to not offend people.

For example, I've had a few awkward conversations with people who obviously assume they are invited. We have a budget and guest limit. Unfortunately, several of our close family friends are not able to be on the invitation list and our parents have had to convey their apologies. Also, many of our day-to-day friends are not on the list. Of course, we would love for all of these people to be able to celebrate with us. But it's not feasible. And, while our parents seem to be handling their end just fine, I'm finding myself at a loss for how to manage the expectations of our friends. If I say nothing, I fear they will continue to operate under the assumption that they are invited and will have their feelings hurt when they are not.

These conversations are often over before I even have a chance to sort out how I feel. A recent one went something like this:

When is your wedding? [BT answers]
Where? [BT answers]
Oh, how wonderful. I can't wait to go. It's going to be so much fun. Where are you registered? [BT freezes like a deer in headlights]
Oh, you're probably so overwhelmed with details, don't worry about it. Macy's is nice...

While I'm frozen, I'm usually racing through a million thoughts, including: does friend really think they are going to be invited? And they just asked me where they can get a gift to make their assumption known? Isn't that simultaneously sweet and rude? (that's me bringing one of my childhood expectations into the fray, because the theme is that everyone has their own set of expectations, and the stress is where they collide.) How long have we known friend? How well do we know friend? Did we mess up, should we have invited friend instead of Parent's Cousin Carol in Wyoming? Are we going to have to interact with friend in the future? Is friend going to be very hurt by not being invited?

When I told E about the first conversation I had like this, he said he'd had a couple at work that ended with him saying, "dude, you're not invited." The other guy said, "oh, that's cool man." So the corollary to the weddings are more stressful than you think rule is that it's MUCH less stressful for guys. Guaranteed that none of his engineer friends are trying to do anything thoughtful when he efficiently lets them know that they didn't make the invitation cut.

Another place where the expectations collide is with members of the bridal party. They also have their own ideas about what their commitment should mean in terms of how much say they get in the orchestration of the event, how much it should cost, how much effort they should put forth, when they should have to arrive, whether they should have to transport themselves, and how much of their input is required or necessary. These are our closest friends. To learn that there is such a gap in our baseline assumptions of how this is going to play out is surprising. I'm finding that my closest friends and family make choices that I wouldn't have made as a bridal party member, that I don't understand, and often, my gut instinct response is to feel hurt by their actions. This is where I need to manage my own expectations better.

I'm learning that I assumed people would want to defer to my opinions on style much more than they actually do. I was looking at it from the perspective that it is our wedding and we have to look at our pictures for the rest of our lives, so we should get to decide how they will look. But, the other side of it is that the people in the bridal party need to feel included, they want to be comfortable and feel good about being in front of all of those people too, and it may not be possible for them to do so within my idea of style, or with a consistent style between all of the different expectations.

So basically, when people talk about how stressful a wedding is, I wonder if they really mean that it's stressful to manage everyone's expectations so that the day ends up being as close to as fun, celebratory, solemn, and wonderful as all the different parties would like it to be. Certainly, that's what I'm finding the most difficult. We started with the idea of eloping, or a small destination wedding. But, we had to chuck that plan for the sake of our family. And, it's been one long quest to navigate the maze of everyone's hopes and expectations ever since.

In the course all of this, I'm learning quite a bit about myself, E, our family, and friends. In particular I'm learning that some of my opinions that I assumed were shared are not. I'm also learning that some of my opinions that I thought I had previously voiced surprise even those that are closest to me. In other words, I'm learning that people who I thought knew me well know me less well than I thought, and that I also know those that I thought I knew well less well than I assumed. There's something very stressful about that. How could they not know those things about me? How could I not know those things about them? Do they have a completely different idea of who I am than who I really am, and are they not going to like the bits of me that they don't know? And why am I having feelings like this about the people with whom we have our strongest relationships?

Putting on a huge party for those closest to you to celebrate the union with the person you love is such an expression of identity, love, and life, that's its bound to come with many complications. I just had no idea how many. It's very humbling.

No comments: