Find Your Essence
The wedding industry is out of control like a washed-up, aging celebrity’s over-operated face.
What started off pure and beautiful is devolving into an unrecognizable, money-sucking monstrosity. In vain efforts to keep up with everyone else, weddings are losing their essence.
What is, or was, that essence?
For my bride-to-be Kim and I, we figured it’s this:
To memorably celebrate two lives from two families coming together to form a new one.
So after Kim said “yes,” our wedding planning goal was to look beneath the disfigured industry’s fancy makeup, get back to the essence, and make it beautiful in our own way.
And I think we pulled it off!
Not everything went as planned, and in hindsight, we would’ve done some things differently. Still, overall we had an unforgettable, unconventional wedding. And it captured our essence.
Here’s what we learned.
You may find it helpful if you’re trying to plan a back-to-the-essentials, unconventional wedding of your own.
Feedback Is the Greatest Wedding Gift
This post is based on candid feedback from the fourteen family members who attended our wedding. We emailed them asking for their favorite memories and honest opinions.
As close family members do, they didn’t hold back.
Get it over with quick (if you can).
Here’s why I’m so glad Kim let COVID claim the 100+ person wedding she initially wanted as a victim and pull together a small party (14 people, 2 babies) in just three weeks:
- Saying, “She/he’s my fiancée,” sucks.
The word itself is pretentiously French and it inevitably invites questions I don’t want to talk about. (e.g., “When’s the wedding?”)
- Planning weddings sucks.
It’s the opposite of planning a trip. It brings little joy and lots of stress. And the longer you have to plan, the more complicated it becomes.
We’ll take rushed over over-planned every time, even on our “special day.”
Name a CEO.
After getting engaged, Kim and I bickered and debated for months about what to do about the wedding. That came to an end, mostly, when we made one wise decision:
We appointed Kim as our wedding’s CEO.
All decisions went through her and she delegated execution as she saw fit. I took a seat alongside our parents on the board, offering suggestions she could take or leave unless we had a clear majority to overrule her.
Your wedding’s CEO may be a parent, planner, or groom.
Just make sure it’s someone.
✗ Related Minor Miss:
Not letting Kim also be the boss of my wedding attire.
I keep a small, unstylish wardrobe of practical, high-quality apparel, so I didn’t want Kim to waste money on something I’d only ever wear once. But the hassle of arguing with her over what to wear and shopping around for a compromise wasn’t worth it.
The brevity of the official ceremony and the uniqueness of the vows certainly stand out.Chris’ Dad
Break the mold for your vows.
Traditional wedding vows are like national anthems. They’re in old-fashioned English nobody speaks anymore. And we hear them so repeatedly that we stop thinking about their meaning.
So we made them meaningful (and unconventional) by “breaking the mold” and making them our own.
Our commissioner sent us the standard template with the few phrases we legally had to include in bold. Then Kim and I simply replaced all the formal gibberish with regular-person English.
- “Upon hearing these statements and having met the requirements of the Marriage Act of British Columbia, I pronounce you husband and wife,” became
- “I’ve heard everything I need. You meet the Marriage Act of British Colombia’s requirements. You’re officially married. Congrats. And good luck.”
Nothing fancy. And certainly not as romantic. But our relationship has never been traditionally romantic. Our vows captured this more meaningfully and memorably.
Even our commissioner appreciated our vows. He thanked us for letting him do something different for the first time in 1400 weddings he’d done.
PS: If you care, you can read our entire before and after vows in this Google Doc.
✗ Related Little Miss:
I wish someone had videotaped the ceremony.Kim’s mom
We agree. While we don’t regret not hiring a videographer, this was a moment we would have liked to capture.
Keep it short.
Kim made it clear to the commissioner that we wanted the formalities over with ASAP. He delivered. Everyone, especially the babies in attendance, was thankful for it.
Plan a warm-up game.
✓ (SURPRISINGLY HUGE) HIT!
We really enjoyed doing the relay! Maybe not the most COVID friendly but still a lot of fun!Kim’s brother
The biggest “risk” we took was to start our unconventional wedding with a post-ceremony relay race:
Kim’s family versus mine.
Everyone took turns tossing a beanbag into a basket, sorting and assembling a lego tower, then running to a chair and back balancing an egg on a spoon in their mouth.
It was Kim’s idea. I thought it was kind of stupid—trying too hard to be unconventional. But we went with it.
And it paid off better than we could have imagined.
The competitive juices loosened up everyone more than any cocktail bar could have.
Best of all, my side of the family won.
Do a blind taste test.
✗ MISS ✓ HIT?!
Everyone who knows us knows Kim and I are huge fans of blind taste tests. We’ve taste-tested everything from croissants to California rolls to coffee. And that’s just the letter C.
So, of course, we made a blind taste test a wedding activity.
To commemorate the occasion, we got bottles of Kim’s favorite wine varietal, Pinot Noir, from the same vineyard, a local BC winery called Tightrope, for every year since we got together in late 2013.
In theory, it seemed like a good idea: See if the wines had improved with age like our relationship.
But in practice, it seemed to be too difficult. Most attendees, me included, could have used a lot more taste bud training to tell the difference. And some don’t drink.
So Kim and I thought it was a miss.
But our attendees’ post-wedding feedback said otherwise. For many, it was one of their favorite parts! They appreciated the opportunity to do something unusual and educational to complement small talk and drinking.
Having no speeches took away the opportunity to tell stories some of us may never have heard and could have put a little bit of that sense of tenderness.Chris’ brother
Some wedding speeches are unforgettable. But most tend to be too long and too cliché. They also create a lot of anxiety for glossophobics1People with a fear of public speaking and make the audience uncomfortable.
So we scrapped speeches.
Oops. At the very least, Kim and I should have said something.
In retrospect, we could have come up with a better solution to the problems with wedding speech than doing away with them entirely. For example, we could have given everyone a simple, short structure to follow—maybe one embarrassing anecdote, one piece of advice, and a one-minute time limit. Or something like that.
Cook your own food.
✓ Mostly Hit
Kim bringing people together over her cooking—Exhibit A: Her dinner party blog, Feed My Friends—and we only had fourteen adult mouths to feed, so preparing our own dinner was feasible.
Kim even made the cake!
The food was delicious and we saved on extortionary wedding catering costs. The only downside was it took Kim, her mom, and her sister away from the reception (i.e, taste test) to prepare.
So based on our experience, here’s a suggestion:
If you cook your own food for your wedding, consider hiring someone (or getting a less-important invitee) to do the final prep with clear instructions.
✓ Related Huge Hit:
Kim hired someone to clean the kitchen and dishes from 5-10 p.m. What a relief to not have to tidy up during, or even after, the party.
✗ Related Little Miss:
We should have given each guest a tag for their glass to limit the glassware strewn about.
Maybe we even could have followed a tip from our guide to picking gifts and made personalized ones as party favors.
Use conversation starters.
✓ Mostly Hit
When we sat down to eat at dinner, we split into three groups and asked each to discuss then share their conclusions on topics like:
- Last names. Should Kim take my impossible-to-pronounce name, Blachut, should I take hers, Roberts, or make a new one?
- Our future. Will Kim and I still be blogging in 5 years? Where will we be living?
The discussions devolved into chaos and we didn’t cover as much ground as we’d hoped. But it was still more engaging than typical wedding small talk.
Don’t forget anti-discomfort details.
Kim had the foresight to plan the easy-to-forget details like heaters, blankets, and mosquito repellant. They didn’t add to the wedding but were just as important at keeping guests’ discomfort from detracting from it.
Come to think of it, the anti-small talk conversation starters and activities served the same purpose.
Whether you decide to plan an unconventional wedding or a traditional one, keep this in mind:
Brainstorm everything that could go wrong or that has made you uncomfortable at other people’s weddings, and preempt them.
✗ Related Small Miss:
We could’ve used more lights. Luckily nobody tripped or otherwise hurt themself.
The only victim, hilariously, was the screen door. Four people(!) walked right into it. I delivered the coup de gras, putting a hole in it and covering it, and new wedding shirt, with my slice of cake.
Have surprise appearances.
✓ Huge, HUGE, HIT
Kim’s sister surprised us by compiling clips from friends around the world wishing us well into a video that she played for everyone after dinner.
It was GREAT.
Our friends delivered big time with touching and hilarious clips. The video reminded us of tons of great memories and how lucky we are to have such a great cast of characters in our lives’ stories.
It made even robotic me emotional.
✗ Related Minor Miss:
Because it was a surprise, we didn’t give Kim’s sister a list of all our close friends and family, so not everyone “made the cut.”
But, in that case, the video probably would’ve been too long with everyone in it and it certainly would’ve been too burdensome for Kim’s sister to compile.
I will probably remember the Telestrations because people are so hilariously bad at taking direction.Chris’ brother
Kim and I have had some unforgettable evenings playing Telestrations with friends and family in the past.
Not this time.
The only thing unforgettable about our wedding’s Telestrations attempt was the fiasco it became.
You may be wondering, What is Telestrations? Read the official instructions because I can’t explain it.
And that was the problem. It was too late, too dark, and people were too tipsy to figure it out. Plus, we were lazy in setting it up.
We should’ve taken advantage of people’s looseness with more conversation starters or opened the floor for advice and anecdotes.
Till the Back Button Do Us Part
It’s more memorable and interesting to do something different than just a really good job at the traditional.Chris’ brother
Before you leave this post, I want to emphasize three final suggestions:
First, don’t try to be unconventional. Just like an “unconventional life,” an unconventional wedding should come naturally as a result of capturing the unique essence of your relationship. You don’t need to force it.
Second, focus on what would make the perfect evening for you and your perfect partner. Be memory-perfect, not picture-perfect.
And third, make it fun for your guests, too. As my mom wrote:
I think that what made it so enjoyable (besides the fact that I can honestly say I liked everybody there and several attendees were my favourite people ever😉) was how everything was organized to ensure we (the guests) had a great time. Which we did! Too often I think the main objective is to impress the attendees (and others—particularly the social media followers).Chris’ mom
When your guests are engaged, awake, and having fun, you’ll have a great time. And you’ll kick off your marriage with a bang.
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About the author
I'm Chris. Grinding for conventional super success was exhausting, so I zagged. Now, my life's getting better and better—and part of that involves pushing you to work toward the same.
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