Extra Pulp: Vow to be Imperfect

Speaking from experience, columnist Laura Anders Lee says imperfect weddings can be the most fun.

I’m a perfectionist, so naturally I expected the perfect wedding. And being from Alabama, I felt obliged to follow all the traditional and unspoken rules of hosting a wedding in the South. 

Rule 1: You cannot get married during football season. In the land where the SEC reigns, a fall wedding was out of the question. I once attended a wedding where the groom, his father, and the groomsmen were 10 minutes late to the church because Alabama and LSU went into overtime. We lost, and they finally skulked in with their black suits looking more like pallbearers than a wedding party. So my husband, Bryan, and I got married the Saturday before the season opener. It was the hottest and most humid day of the year—we had not one, but two afternoon showers that day—and yes, we had an outdoor reception. To this day, our guests tell us they will never forget our wedding because it was the hottest they’ve ever been in their lives.

Rule 2: Nobody should see the bride before the wedding. I hid out on my wedding day and missed being with my out-of-town friends and family. Because I had sequestered myself in the church choir room, we didn’t take photos until after the wedding, thus missing even more valuable time at our reception. 

Rule 3: You must take professional photos inside the church. Our professional photographer came down with West Nile Virus, so her husband came at the last minute to fill in. While the sun set over the bay outside, creating a fabulous backdrop, we remained inside the plain, Puritan-style sanctuary.

Rule 4: Bridesmaids must completely match, from head to toe, maintaining uniformity.  It turned out not everyone looked great in the same cut and pear-green color, and the shoes I insisted they buy were ruined when their heels sunk into the ground at the rain-soaked reception site. I love my friends for their individual personalities and wish I’d let them be their beautiful selves.  

Rule 5: Register for heirloom-quality items and use them at your reception. Bryan and I were waiting to cut our cake with our engraved sterling silver cake knife, in the same pattern as my mother’s, when we realized nobody remembered to bring it. Guests were huddled around us, ready for their prized piece, as the flash of the camera kept going off in our faces. I had just tied the knot, and that knot was wound tightly in the pit of my stomach.

At that moment we vowed to break the rules. Bryan snapped. “No more photos! Somebody get a knife, any knife!” I gulped some ice-cold champagne, my dad told all the men to ditch their jackets and roll up their sleeves, the bartender poured the drinks extra strong, and our 10-member Motown band started getting down. I finally let loose and enjoyed myself, not worrying that my face was flushed and my hair was damp with sweat. My mother and her four sisters jumped into the fountain in their gowns, and the photos of them are still my favorite from that day.

Then came our honeymoon.

Rule 6: Your honeymoon should be a dream vacation on a tropical island. When we landed at the airport in Montego Bay, we learned our perfectly planned, all-inclusive resort was inadvertently overbooked so they diverted us to another hotel. Instead of a secluded waterfall like in the brochures, we found couples on the beach playing rowdy games of Red Stripe Relay. On the flight home, my husband got a Jamaican case of Montezuma’s revenge, and when we finally landed, we got back to our car to find the battery dead. 

So many things went wrong during our wedding and honeymoon, but looking back 14 years later, I realize it was a pretty perfect start to our lives together. I’ve learned to throw the rule book out the window and lower my expectations. What makes a good wedding—and a successful marriage—are the stories, the inside jokes, and how we handle life when things don’t go according to plan.   

If you’re a bride-to-be, I’m willing to bet your wedding will not be perfect either, no matter how impressive your Pinterest board is. When your drunk relative makes an inappropriate toast, when your bridesmaid faints at the altar, when your new stepdaughter throws up while walking down the aisle, or when your dad decides your wedding is the ideal place to introduce his new girlfriend (all true stories I have actually witnessed), take a deep breath and remember: those are the things you’ll laugh about later and make your big day wonderfully and imperfectly memorable. 

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