The early stages of an engagement, are, in fact, filled with the rainbows, butterflies, and rays of sunshine I so lovingly referred to in my prior post. I can attest to this as a bride in my late twenties with many friends who are either recently married or somewhere in the engagement process themselves. I may be the first in my immediate and extended family to get married, but my family members and friends have never been particularly doting or lovey-dovey, and yet I still felt like I was wearing a jewel-encrusted “Bride” tiara whenever I would enter a room for the first few months after getting engaged. Almost every woman present, from a young cousin to a great-aunt, would take her place in line to get a glance of the ring and ask me to recite the proposal story “just one more time in your own words.”
The attention is so much more than expected, and yet, it’s overwhelmingly … nice. There’s a certain spark that lights up your eyes when the cashier at the grocery store notices the engagement ring that wasn’t there before, and when you get to check in at the bridal show booths as “The Bride.”
But just like any honeymoon (some shorter or longer than others), the sunshine begins to fade and reality sets in. If you’re like me, you learn quickly that wedding planning is more than venue shopping and picking out what colors you like; every single decision you make has a dollar sign attached to it, and if you happen to mention the word “wedding,” often they’ll tack one more zero on the end of the price tag just for the hell of it.
At first, that price tag freaked me out quite a bit. But after hearing the outrageous numbers over and over, I eventually got over the sticker shock, and slowly but surely began to accept that we were going to have to dedicate a lot more money to the wedding fund than I originally thought.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my fiance. Whereas I thought that I had a rough time coming to terms with the terrible truth, Michael had an awful, no-good, very-bad time of it. While talking it through with a friend who was also engaged at the time and going through the same situation with her fiance, I realized that the words coming out of my mouth sounded a lot more like the narration of a funeral rather than a wedding. And then it dawned on me: Michael, and her fiance as well, were experiencing the five stages of grief.
The famous Kübler-Ross model, commonly referred to as the “five stages of grief,” concludes that when a person is faced with mortality or another extreme, awful fate, he/she will experience a series of five emotional stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. I should note that these stages are not meant to be an exhaustive list of all possible emotions that can be felt during a time of grieving, and they can occur in any order. Coincidentally, Michael and my friend’s fiance happened to experience each one of these stages consecutively, and were currently trudging their way through depression and into acceptance.
I’m no psychologist, but I thought that it could be helpful to share some of my experiences below in hopes that you, too, can recognize the symptoms and help each other through the grieving process:
- Denial: Michael and I are very familiar with this one. I vividly remember reading through countless books, articles, and info-graphics that quoted the cost of the average U.S. wedding around $28,400 and thinking, “no way … those people must be (1) crazy, (2) dumb, and (3) incredibly careless with their money.” Despite being raised in an affluent community, I came from a old-school, blue-collar background and had learned how to bargain shop at an early age. I rarely buy anything unless it’s on sale, and pride myself on being able to get a great deal on almost anything. We set our budget at $15,000 with the mindset that it would enable us to partake in a few splurges if we were really sensible about where we spent most of the money. Hah, the nativity … looking back I can’t help but think, “oh, how cute.”
- Anger: It didn’t take long for us to figure out that there was no way that $15K was going to cut it. No way, no how … especially not in the Washington Metropolitan Area, which has one of the highest costs of living in the entire country. So we upped our budget to $20K … then $25K … then $30K, where it remains to this day. This caused a lot of bickering, and led to one of the worst times in our relationship. We fought constantly, almost every day, and as the woman, I had to endure a lot of Bridezilla accusations. It didn’t make any sense to me, as I really don’t think I was being unreasonable in any of my requests. Hell, I would absolutely love to walk down an outdoor aisle covered in fresh peonies and rose petals to the sound of modern love ballads played by the Dallas String Quartet, surrounded by chandeliers hanging from every tree branch. But that just wasn’t in the cards for us, and I knew that. I was trying to find us a church aisle modestly decorated with ribbon and bows (much cheaper than flowers) that had a PA system decent enough to play “Cannon in D,” and was still finding it impossible to stick to our budget. We became angry at the vendors, the wedding industry, and each other. And just when it felt like it couldn’t get any more volatile, the bargaining phrase set in.
- Bargaining: Every budget increase was incredibly painful for us, and came at the expense of a lot of the luxuries we enjoyed on a daily basis. We cut out shopping (for anything other than the necessities), impromptu trips to Starbucks, buying organic groceries, eating out, date night activities, travel, savings account contributions, and anything else that we could think of in order to allocate more money towards the wedding. When we were out of options there, we started (and still continue to) bargain with almost every aspect of the wedding where we could conceivably cut funding: the venue, guest list, bridal party, food and bar options, attire, photography, entertainment, transportation, wedding bands, honeymoon, decorations, favors, etc. The list goes on and on. We cut people, then added them back in, then cut them again. It was really hard, and again, caused a lot of fighting. We accused each other of having too many family members and friends, like that was a bad thing. Looking back, one thing that did help us was prioritizing each of our top three splurges for the wedding, and then being pretty strict with cutting back on the rest. By ruthlessly bargaining, we were ultimately able to get the costs down decently low, but sacrificed including many of the people that we loved and the things and experiences that made us who were are. We decided to compromise, cutting just enough to stay in that national average range, but not doing anything too drastic. Anything more than that was futile.
- Depression: As the cold, hard fact sank in that we would be spending about $30K on this miserable ordeal that they call a wedding, depression became commonplace. We were both so sick and exhausted from all of the fighting that it seemed better to just to shut our mouths and let the silence speak for us. There was a good two-week period where we no longer hung out, ate dinner, or even slept in the same bed. We spent as much time possible hanging out with friends or camped out in our pajamas in separate rooms watching separate TVs. Every few days, we’d try to talk it through, but either one or the others’ heart wasn’t in it. We wanted to remove ourselves from the process entirely, and both questioned whether or not we wanted to, or even could, move forward. Thankfully, we finally got to “yes.”
- Acceptance: A few months after entering the grieving process, we finally made it through to the final acceptance phrase. This time, there were no butterflies and rainbows … just the reality that this was not going to be the wedding of our dreams, and yet it was still going to cost us a pretty penny. But, we’ve learned to live with that. It probably won’t be the best or the worst wedding we’ve every attended. But it will be ours. And at the end of the day, as long as we’re able to get married and celebrate it with the people who matter most in our lives, than that’s what really counts.
To all my former and current brides: what do you think? Did wedding planning, particularly the budgeting process, seem like grieving to you? And what were some things that helped you through the process?