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The Go-Girl Guide to the First Year of Marriage

About The Book

If you're like most brides, you've spent more time pondering wedding favors and exotic honeymoon destinations than considering all the ways marriage will change your relationship. In HITCHED: The Go-Girl Guide to the First Year of Marriage, Julia Bourland provides the ultimate insider's guide to the joys, hopes, challenges, conflicting emotions, and endless compromises of the year that follows the "I do"s.
Drawing on dozens of interviews with newly married women, plus her own real-life experience, Bourland offers wise answers to crucial post-knot questions about sex, finances, friends, in-laws, and everything beyond, including:
• What to do when your libido soars (yay!) or sinks (eek!)
• How to keep important friendships -- and nourish new ones
• The pros and cons of name changing
• How to carve out personal space within marriage
• The best ways to divide household responsibilities
• How to start planning for your financial future
Candid, witty, and wise, HITCHED will steer you through the ups and occasional downs of newlywed life and set you on the path to a loving, happy, and secure future together.


Chapter One: Mentally engaged

The marriage initiation begins with an engagement. And an engagement, regardless of whether the proposal was over-the-top romantic, spontaneous (which is also romantic), or heavily anticipated, typically conjures up a hurricane of emotions -- enough to make a girl downright weepy when giving her best friend the blow-by-blow playback of the proposal, or downright bitchy when she finds out that the reception site she really wants is booked until 2010. Discussions with your mate about various wedding details will keep this hurricane of emotions active (but, hopefully, not too destructive) throughout your engagement.

Planning a wedding tends to bring out a couple's feelings about everything: money, religion, family, tradition. It's one life event that touches on every macro issue out there. Even if you consider yourself a low-key kind of gal, you may be surprised at the degree of passion you feel about every little detail that goes into your wedding. I certainly was. But what might be helpful to note is that this whirl of emotions is a normal mental state typical of many women about to enter the unknown alternative lifestyle of marriage. What follows is a list containing some of the feelings you might have during those engagement months when you and your mate realize that your lives are about to change forever.

dazed and confused

One of the first sensations many women feel after getting engaged is dazed. Lori, 34, of San Francisco, California, felt this spaced-out phenomenon immediately after her boyfriend popped the question (also on a hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean -- a popular engagement spot here in northern California).

They had bushwhacked to a secluded area. Hopping around and nervously fussing over everything they had brought, from the picnic to the binoculars, Lori had a gut feeling that the proposal was moments away (she had actually felt the outline of an engagement ring in her boyfriend's pocket on the way up the hill), and all her emotions were on the verge of eruption.

When her boyfriend took her hands and asked her to be his wife, she was instantaneously propelled into a daze. The emotional intensity was too much, she says, and she totally shut down. The best she could manage to utter in response was "Yeah, okay." Of course it wasn't long before shock turned to giddiness (thanks in part to the champagne her boyfriend had brought along to celebrate), but the dazed mode returned not too long after when her fiancé called his family to share the news.

Faith, 29, of Los Angeles, California, felt a similar shock when calling family members to share the news of her engagement, which happened while she and her mate were stuck in traffic on their way to Ikea. (His proposal wins the creative award, by the way. He asked her by suggesting they play the game of Jeopardy: "The answer is yes." Faith then guessed the question: "Will you marry me?" So, technically, she asked him.) But when they told relatives, she was bombarded with unexpected inquiries: "Are you pregnant?" (No, she wasn't.) "Are you going to share finances?" (The thought had not occurred to her.) "Are you going to change your name?" (She had no clue.) She felt invaded and irritated, primarily because she hadn't worked out all these things in her head and wanted her engagement to be more of a private time between her and her fiancé.

Important note: The dazed sensation will likely return again and again throughout your engagement, so get comfortable with it. Being in a state of shock is a natural response to the emotional overload that initiations such as weddings breed. Of course, the daze won't always be associated with shock. Some of it will come in the form of simple daydreaming. Rarely in life will you experience as many daydreams as when you're planning a wedding.

My dazed state of mind tended to hit me on my way to work, when I was sitting in traffic, disparaged by the long string of cars in front and behind me. There, I dreamed about the wedding ceremony -- our readings (spiritual and evocative), our vows (standard contemporary), the kiss (soulful), the music (harp soloist, playing Bach), my dress (a backless, biased-cut, 1930-style silk white gown), and my hair (help me!). Such daydreaming had a calming effect, especially when I was feeling particularly stressed about wedding planning. I suppose therapists would call this mental phenomenon "visualizing," but I'm (hopefully) over my therapy days, and daydreaming has a more romantic sound to it, don't you think?

Part of this spaced-out phenomenon may serve as a mental response to another common state of mind experienced by many brides-to-be during their engagement: confusion. I hope your confusion is not about your choice of husband. If it is, I suggest you calmly discuss your decision to get married with a therapist who will help you distinguish the irrational doubts and the internal devil-dialogue that accompanies all wedding-related panic ("How can I marry a man who won't initiate any of the wedding planning tasks, obviously indicating that he won't be a good father?") from real doubts about your fiancé's character or his ability to communicate or work out problems.

In most cases, confusion has to do with the tremendously overwhelming task of planning a fabulous and emotionally loaded party for your nearest and dearest, people you feel irrationally compelled to dazzle with your tasteful and graceful entertaining skills. Confusion will likely aim to damage brain cells not long after getting engaged, when your family and friends begin the barrage of questions on matters you likely haven't even begun to consider: When's the date? Where will it be? Who are your bridesmaids? When are you going to try on wedding dresses ("because, you know, you'd better start looking right this minute")?

Isabelle, 30, of Chicago, Illinois, had a mother who was particularly bent on adding to the wedding planning chaos. Her mom called her nonstop to ask if she had decided on invitations, chosen a band or DJ, did this or did that, all the while reminding her that the clock was ticking and she'd better get on top of all the tasks pronto! Near the end of all the planning, Isabelle could barely speak to her mother without yelling and then either slamming down the phone or running away from her (literally).

This might be an appropriate spot to mention the effectively proven mantra of wedding planning: When faced with questions that are stressing you out, the best response is to repeat over and over again: "I don't know." Admit that you don't have opinions about certain details, then change the subject. This may drive the traditionalists among your clan of supporters crazy, but eventually they will get bored and move on to sharing their opinions about the way you should conduct your wedding. When you get bored, it's time to focus on non-wedding-related conversation (if you and your tribespeople can remember what that's like).

Part of the reason confusion is rampant is that the wedding initiation carries with it a wagon-load of etiquette that most of us are completely ignorant of, having performed only occasional acts of gratitude since leaving home, such as writing thank-you notes to grandparents after receiving birthday checks. From the proposal on, there are so many etiquette details with which to contend: Whom to invite? Guests for single friends: yes or no? Which of your closest friends and dearest relatives should be attendants? And how to tell your other close friends and relatives that they are not?

Next, there are all the gritty, tedious details that must be dealt with when you're planning a wedding, most of which involve well-timed coordination. For instance, you must immediately book the wedding if your heart is set on a particular date, especially if that date happens to fall during high wedding season (April to November). This is particularly difficult if you've never considered the type of wedding you'd like. What's more, that date must work for all your VIPs (parents, wedding party, favorite relatives, and best friends). Then there's the matter of booking a honeymoon (another immediate task if your wedding falls within high tourist season), not to mention all the wedding ceremony details, starting with the kind of ceremony you want to have.

I'm not going to sugarcoat the wedding organization confusion, because chaos is part of the mental preparation needed to take you through the marital rite of passage. Get a good book on wedding planning (there are millions of them out there; take your pick depending on how modern or how Martha you want to go), then let your instincts call the shots. And keep this in mind: The rewards you receive from throwing a big party, during which all your favorite people in the world will surround you and exude shockwaves of love and support and compliments on this momentous occasion, are worth every minute of it.


Many women feel uncharacteristically princessy upon getting engaged, possibly due to all the attention brides-to-be typically receive when they announce their marital intentions. Even the self-described jocks and the no-nonsense among us get caught up to some degree in the fanfare. There aren't too many occasions in life when that princess feeling will hit you so poignantly as when you're engaged, so embrace it now, ladies.

The inner-princess state of mind often overcomes you when you call your parents, siblings, and best friends to tell them the exciting news of your pending union. In most instances they will all emit joyful gasps and coos and offer eloquent and supportive commentary on what an amazing couple you and your husband-to-be make. These moments often help calm some of the other less desirable feelings that an engagement also breeds (more on these in a minute). And for those relatives and friends who don't praise your wonderful choice of mate, promise yourself not to include them again during your wedding planning efforts. They will only help to push you off your gilded cloud.

Another common occasion during which the princess feeling hits is when you and your fiancé shop for an engagement ring if you and your mate choose to get one or if he hasn't already surprised you with one. Salesclerks will give you their well-worn "aren't you two adorable" look and compliment you and your intended on everything from your exquisite taste in rare and precious jewels to the delicacy of your hands and your recent manicure. And even though the salespeople's ultimate motive is to sell a ring, I believe their enthusiasm is genuine because, like most of us, they adore an engaged couple, which represents optimism and passion in so many people's minds.

Once you choose an engagement ring (or slip on the one that your husband picked out on his own), another bizarre phenomenon often occurs: Everyone begins to view you differently. When Lawrence and I got engaged, we waited a week before purchasing my engagement ring, a pale blue sapphire set in white gold (by the way, many women love describing their marital jewels and relaying any related history or relevant details). For unknown reasons I wanted to obsess over my choice, hitting practically every jewelry store in the Bay Area to check out my options. When I told people about my engagement, the first thing they did was look down at my ring finger for proof. When they saw no evidence, they averted their glance immediately. Once I got the ring, though, it always drew comment (as will any engagement ring on any woman's finger). The world, especially the female population, loves an engagement ring.

Those of you who choose not to wear an engagement ring, due to a lack of funds or due to principle (the principle being that a bride-to-be shouldn't have to wear a symbol that marks her "taken" status, a throwback to when women were considered the legal property of men), will also note the strange power an engagement ring has in our society. Those without a ring may notice that others appear disappointed or even skeptical about your commitment to your fiancé (or, more pointedly, his commitment to you). And then there's always the gossip ignited by a sparkling new engagement ring. Rarely do men make assumptions based on such rings except whether or not to waste a pickup line, but women often comment behind a new bride-to-be's back about the size, weight, and style of her engagement ring. Some even make such comments as "He must really love her to have given her that hunk of a diamond." I hate such comments, by the way, but now I'm getting way off the point of that princessy feeling, so let's get over the jewels.

Another time you may truly feel like a royal kind of gal is when trying on wedding dresses. Even if you're planning to borrow a dress or browse through the ball gown racks at vintage clothing stores for the retro-bridal look, scheduling appointments at bridal boutiques is one ritual not to be missed. When else are you ever going to get to prance around in front of a gorgeously lit mirror wearing exquisite silks, tulle, and organza? And when else will salespeople treat you so kindly? And when else will you get to try on veils and tiaras that really do make you look regal?

Besides, this is often the first time you will get stares and smiles from rubbernecking strangers who are peeking in the boutique windows as you twist and twirl, pose and shimmy in front of the mirror, checking out every angle of yourself in a dress. All brides-to-be trying on wedding dresses are stunning, and this is when you'll catch yourself exuding that premarital glow. If you are seriously shopping for a wedding dress, here's a word of advice: Take your most stylish and honest friend with you so she can tell you truthfully which dresses make you look like the ballerina in your first jewelry box, which make you look like Ginger Grant of Gilligan's Island (my likely subconscious influence), and which make you look like the unique and stunning bride you were destined to be. The truth is, you may be so completely mesmerized by the rare and exotic fabrics of the bridal gowns that your sense of style may be temporarily malfunctioning -- in a kind of way that years down the line when flipping through your wedding album you'll exclaim, "Oh my God, what was I thinking!"


Along with all the regal attention they receive upon getting engaged, many brides-to-be experience a parallel feeling of humility. The humility may start with the engagement ring, especially if this is the first expensive piece of jewelry you've ever owned, not to mention the most costly present your mate has ever given you. Funny how such a small (albeit ex-pensive) offering can simultaneously induce palm-sweating excitement and a flash of undeserving guilt -- especially if you know how badly your fiancé wants a new road bike. Trust me: Guilt usually passes pretty quickly, but it may return due to other events.

The congratulatory hugs and phone calls, the celebratory cards from family and friends, the engagement and bachelorette parties, and all the gifts -- the attention directed toward a newly engaged woman is enough to make any girl feel humble if not downright guilty about being the source of all the fuss. This humility may continue through your wedding day, especially if you're the type of girl who begins trembling uncontrollably at the thought of hoarding everyone's attention during the celebratory vow-swapping ritual. For many women the engagement is one of the most sentimental periods in their life, and feeling overwhelmed by all the sentiment comes with the territory.

But here's the shocker: You may begin to like this attention during the course of your engagement, because humility often transforms into other feelings, such as gratitude and appreciation for your great friends and family. By your wedding day, humility may even have been transformed into exhilaration, not unlike that of a rock star surrounded by the paparazzi of family and friends, armed with cameras, all wanting your attention.

For those especially prone to guilt: Don't let humility rob you of your natural right to celebrate this rite of passage. One woman I interviewed, feeling particularly guilty for having so much attention lavished upon her, chose not to invite all her friends to a bridal shower thrown by her mother-in-law-to-be, because she didn't want her friends to feel that they had to go to yet another party for her or buy her yet another gift. Her friends' feelings were hurt as a result. The truth is that most people in this world love to celebrate weddings and the fanfare that surrounds them. Allow them (and yourself) that pleasure.


Judging from my research, fatalistic thoughts are another common feeling experienced by many brides-to-be during the marriage initiation. As with daydreaming, mine always hit during my commute. As I sat in traffic, I imagined horrific scenarios that might prevent my upcoming union. One recurring doomsday vision was my little black Beetle flipping over the side of the San Mateo Bridge. Dara, 27, of Tampa, Florida, also had fatalistic thoughts during the months leading up to her wedding, but hers involved a plane. She would think of the tragedy in terms of headlines: engaged couple dies in plane crash.

While fatalistic thoughts may just be a product of stress about the upcoming initiation, my admittedly unscientific theory on the matter stems from the idea that marriage is a rebirth -- one that involves ending our life as a single woman and beginning a new life with our husband.

I'm no psychologist, but it seems that when one is entering a rebirth of sorts, a part of our psyche needs to die (or at least drastically transform). So perhaps these fatalistic thoughts are the part of our psyche that's acting out its final death scene in the form of car wrecks and plane crashes. The good news is that these fatalistic images are just that -- your imagination working overtime. Avoid fixating on them. You have enough to contend with without planning the end of the world, too.


Another common (and, might I add, less desirable) emotional side effect of getting engaged is a wave of bitchiness. One positive aspect of this uncharacteristic behavior is that friends who know you well will often excuse your attitude, chalking it up to stress.

My bitchiness, sadly, was often directed toward my undeserving fiancé and appeared in the form of nagging, a trait that up until I got engaged had escaped my repertoire of unflattering personality disorders. I began to initiate bitchy arguments with Lawrence over various wedding disagreements: the ceremony and reception venue (I wanted a city wedding, he fell in love with a castlelike venue across the bay); honeymoon planning (who would plan it and when); the guest list (when he would put his list of addresses together so we could send out invitations).

Based on some of the interviews I've had with other hitched women, it seems that snarls are not uncommon during the engagement. Lori experienced one blowout with her fiancé just days before the wedding. As with many hitched women, she can't recall exactly what that fight was about, but she does remember that in the heat of the moment she suggested calling off the wedding because of it. Luckily, her fiancé was savvy enough to understand what was really going on: engagement stress. He calmly told her to grow up, upon which she burst into tears (a good stress releaser).

One thing to keep in mind: Fights with your intended are synonymous with wedding planning. That lesser-known fact goes against the grain of wedding-related romanticism, but most brides-to-be, if they are honest, can admit to one or two prenuptial moments they'd prefer to keep in the closet. Money is a common source of bitchiness. You'll likely be spending more than you want on this momentous occasion, and if you and your fiancé are paying for the bash yourselves, there will be tension if, say, one of you wants a traditional wedding bouquet (and we all know who that would be), and the other thinks he can pick up something cheaper for you at the corner flower shop the morning of.

Isabelle, who has now been married for three years, recalls how money-related angst affected her attitude toward her fiancé. It wasn't long into her planning that she realized her Cinderella dream wedding was way out of her budgetary reach, and she'd have to settle for, as she put it, the blue-collar version. As a result, she was moody, irritable, and unable to deal with her fiancé throughout most of her engagement, leaving her amazed that they even ended up getting hitched. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Isabelle took on all the wedding planning tasks -- even the items traditionally left up to the man, such as the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon -- which added to her stress and, therefore, the relationship's stress.

Parents and in-laws are another common source of conflict for many engaged couples, because many of them come with their own expectations for the wedding. Dara got into a fight with her fiancé over their reception planning, which his parents began to micromanage not long after their engagement. The short story: His parents wanted them to throw a 700-person finger-food bash so they could invite all their friends and their second cousins' kids; Dara's parents had in mind a more intimate 200-person sit-down dinner. When her future mother-in-law mailed the couple her proposed astronomical guest list, it started a silent World War III. Dara, not wanting to be a difficult daughter-in-law (but desiring even less a sandwich reception for 700 people she didn't know), had to ask her fiancé several times to rein in his parents' robust enthusiasm for their guest list so the couple of honor could have the more intimate sit-down reception they dreamed of. Eventually the two clans were able to come to a compromise, but not without some fierce discussions, one of which prompted Dara's fiancé to suggest calling off the wedding -- but only for a brief mo-ment of stress-induced misjudgment.

Another common source of contention among many a bride- and groom-to-be has to do with their conflicting opinions about the ceremony and/or reception details. While it seems that brides-to-be often have more opinions on such items as favors for the guests, china patterns, and the wording on the invitations, I've discovered in my interviews that when it comes to making final decisions on certain things, many fiancés suddenly have strong opinions, too. Lori's fiancé, for instance, chose to voice his opinion that the wording on their Save the Date letters was awkward while he and Lori were licking the envelopes shut. Lori's roommate, who was helping with this task, kindly told him to back off! After all, if he cared so much about wording, he could have initiated the task of writing and mailing the cards himself. But, typically, guys don't initiate wedding planning tasks, which is a whole other issue, really.

Other times this conflict revolves around religion, especially when the betrothed come from different religious or cultural backgrounds or from families who will expect the wedding ceremony to follow a certain tradition or faith, even if it's not the one that the couple personally endorses. Since cultural tradition and religion may not have come up in their relationship prior to organizing a wedding ceremony, this often stumps many couples. This part of wedding planning is often loaded with childhood memories, family expectations, or even your own spiritual beliefs. We'll talk more about this in the next chapter, but for now just keep in mind that it's a common source of stress in prenuptial planning.

This brings me to the final thing I'm going to say about this topic: Bitchiness is a by-product of stress. Take the time leading up to your wedding to practice your favorite stress-reduction tactics. If you've never established them before now, here are a few to get you started: Get plenty of exercise (thirty minutes a day, every day, and increasing the intensity the more stressed you become). Eat well (translation: no more M&Ms for lunch). Drink plenty of fluids (and I mean water, not Diet Coke). Get regular bouts of sleep, meaning go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you can afford the time off, plan a weekend away for you and your mate about a month before the ceremony, when planning stress is often at its peak. Promise yourselves that you won't discuss wedding planning the entire time you're away. The point is to reconnect, not argue.


If you're like most brides-to-be, almost as soon as you and your mate decide to get hitched, you will embark on Mission Impossible: to lose ten pounds before W-Day. The typical result is that you will be hungry during your entire engagement, especially if you're planning a short engagement.

Why so many of us are obsessed with looking fit and trim in our gorgeous white (or otherwise) gowns is a sad commentary on our female psyches, but what else is new? I admit I did the dieting and exercise routine for three solid months before my wedding day. I was hungry and cranky and pissed off about the fact that after all my years of battling the body image demons, I still based a little too much of my identity on the way I looked. Plus, it didn't help that I had gone to Italy not long before the countdown began and came back laden with so much pasta weight that my wedding dress was what you'd call a tight squeeze.

I did manage to drop five pounds by religiously pounding the treadmill after work every day and cutting out fatty snacks (that alone cut my daily caloric intake in half) and limiting my meals to one serving only. One problem with pre-wedding dieting is that your level of hunger is often directly proportional to your level of bitchiness. It's best to avoid both. But if you do partake of this pre-wedding female ritual, do so responsibly by focusing on exercise, not by substituting normal meals with diet drinks or experimenting with the latest diet du jour.


Clearly, not every bride-to-be feels doubtful or downright fearful about her decision to get married, but I heard it enough in my interviewing to warrant a brief mention. Some of you may wonder whether you've made the right decision in your choice of lifelong mate. Others may fear that you're not the marrying type of gal. Or that your current lifestyle is going to be so dramatically altered, mutated, or even violated by the institution of matrimony that you, your dreams, and possibly your own voice will all but shrivel up and disappear. To add to this fear, you've started daydreaming -- even fantasizing -- about ex-boyfriends. One woman I interviewed even reread old love letters from ex-boyfriends that she kept in a shoebox, wondering how she could possibly make this love work when others had failed. Adding to your fear is the very traumatic act of wedding planning. All the decisions you and your mate will likely be arguing over (politely, in some cases, and raunchily in others) throughout the bloated months leading up to the big day will very often serve to validate or reinforce your doubts.

Rest assured, many of these feelings of terror are completely normal and most likely are due to the unknowns brought about by change, not to mention the stress you're under (even if you're the type to deny that you're under stress when you're half-buried in it. Many of the happily married women I interviewed for this book felt the same way -- even as they were walking down the aisle, in some cases. Let me add that this fear is a mighty force to contend with as you and your mate plan your lifelong future together. Unchallenged, it may serve to undermine all your decisions about marriage and steal some of the joy that's rightfully deserved during this unique time.

If you feel doubt, trepidation, and uncertainty about your decision to tie the knot, there are a couple of things you can do to determine if this is pre-wedding jitters or a warning sign that you'd better postpone the wedding until you feel more certain about taking the leap. First, determine whether your doubts about your husband involve fear for your safety or well-being. If there is even a hint that your husband-to-be is violent, excessively controlling, or has the potential to be abusive, DO NOT GET MARRIED! Post-pone the date and sign yourself up for couples therapy. Marriage does not cure abuse.

If your physical and emotional safety isn't at stake, the next step is to talk to your girlfriends about your doubts -- especially those who are married and have been through this formidable passage. They know you and your relationship fears, as well as what may be a product of pre-wedding freakout. A long talk may help you figure out what's driving your doubt. If you're worried about deep-seated conflict between you and your intended (conflict you may have discovered as you began to plan the wedding, when talk of family, finances, and even religion are part of your daily discussions instead of the usual courtship conversations of work, friendships, and what you're going to do on your next vacation together), now is a good time to initiate serious discussions with your partner on how you'll negotiate these differences in the future.

Next, consider enrolling in a premarital counseling workshop, if you haven't already. (See the Resources section at the end of this book for more details.) Led by trained marital and family counselors, these classes aim to bring to the forefront such big issues as finance management, dealing with in-laws, and childrearing philosophies -- common sources of marital angst that couples should discuss before getting married (if only to ensure that each one knows where the other stands, not necessarily to resolve disagreements). Many of these workshops are based on scientific research on the types of relationship skills needed to survive the often rocky road of marriage; they also strive to teach couples successful forms of communication, such as learning how to express one's emotions, desires, and needs as well as how to listen to your mate without insinuating that his views and ways of doing things are Neanderthal. Many also highlight factors that indicate whether you as an individual are ready to tie the knot or not.

Learning how to talk about different points of view and how to compromise on existing or potential conflicts are other aims of these courses. Some religious affiliations offer (and often require) these premarriage sessions, too. The Unitarian minister who married Lawrence and me did her own version of these sessions, and I found them excellent in bringing added intimacy to the whole wedding planning extravaganza. They enabled us to take time out from deciding what our cake should look like to talking about our future and the challenges of married life, all of which reinforced how much I respected my husband. We also got approval from our minister, which was a bonus to our relationship esteem. It's important to remember throughout all the crazy planning that the event in question is ultimately about your relationship and love, and the cake or the color of your bridesmaids' dresses isn't all that important.


Every bride I spoke with experienced some bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder during the months leading up to the big event. Mine started with the Save the Date letters. Lawrence and I decided we would print them ourselves since they were, in fact, merely throwaway reminders. To my mind these little notes cheerfully announcing our wedding day and enticing our out-of-town guests to save that date for us set the entire tone of the wedding. Their importance grew to monumental proportions in my head. They represented something far more important, something along the lines of "This is the first impression everyone will have of our coming event, and it must be representative -- not too flashy, but formal and fun. Nobody will get excited about our wedding if these letters aren't elegant and inspiring!"

In other words, I obsessed. There is a spectacular paper store in San Francisco that I hit one rainy Saturday morning not too long after we announced our engagement. I went alone. Lined up and down a twelve-foot-high wall of the store are hundreds of different types of paper, from Japanese rice paper with little specs of flower petals and leaves to imported Italian parchment. There was translucent kelly green paper with matching envelopes, decorative striped paper, the grocery-store brown-bag style, and San Francisco theme stationery. There was peacock blue, Chinese power-red, metallic shiny paper (that probably couldn't even pass through a laser printer), and glow-in-the-dark paper. There was confetti (to put in the envelope), ribbons (to punch through the top of a card for extra flair), and thousands of paint pens and calligraphy pens to address the equally challenging selection of envelopes on display.

I left the store empty-handed and rattled by the horrendous hour spent fingering each and every type of paper, imagining how it would look with "Save the Date" printed on top. (And let's not even get into the font and style of the card's wording, a process that took several rewrites and days of contemplation and discussion with my fiancé.) This experience only confirmed my fear that wedding planning would consume my mind and soul, and I'm not even the type of person who normally cares about such details!

Dara, who usually prides herself on not caring what others think of her, obsessed, too. She felt that all her decisions, from invitation to wedding dress style, were going to be judged, and she couldn't help worrying. As she was planning her debut into marriage, she started getting flashbacks to weddings she had attended in the past where guests snickered about the ugly bridesmaids' dresses or the weird lack of music/dancing/drinking. To calm her nerves she bought every wedding magazine ever published and even ordered all the back issues of Martha Stewart Weddings to give her ideas. She felt that if she missed one, it would be the one that contained the key ingredient to her perfect wedding.

Margo, 30, of Boston, Massachusetts, obsessed over the seating arrangement at her reception dinner. With 250 guests coming to her wedding, she didn't want people scrambling in a panic to get tables with their friends, so she spent hours assigning and reassigning people to their tables. She called and recalled her reception coordinator with endless changes. This is an example of the compulsive acts you may perform at some point during the wedding planning. My compulsion involved making lists of things to do. Every day I made a new list and took great satisfaction in scratching items off it but was agonized at the ones that never seemed to disappear.

Why this obsessive-compulsive behavior? One theory holds that, like it or not, our wedding day is a day of judgment in our society. Sure, our family and friends love us for who we are, but they will undoubtedly make mental notes on everything about the wedding, from the dress we wear to the flowers we choose to the music we play to the people we invite. Because there are so few occasions in which we get to formally present our sense of style, a wedding is often the first time in our adult life that we get to display it.

Besides, people gossip at weddings and typically view every aspect of the event as a reflection of the bride's (not the groom's) taste. We've all been to weddings in which guests made unfavorable comments on the reception menu (is there nothing vegan?), the bride's hair (ringlets???), the music ("Hello, you can't even dance to that!"), and the limited wine and beer bar.

As a bride-to-be you are putting on a production, and like all productions, whether in a theater or cathedral, yours is subject to criticism. Our culture is wired to critique what we see, and knowing that is partially what prompts this obsessiveness in many women who are engaged. Since it won't help you for me to tell you not to obsess (you'll do it anyway), I can only advise you not to obsess too much. Your wedding will be wonderful (trust me) regardless of whether you obsess over it or not. The choice is yours.


On a more sentimental note, your engagement will be one of the most heartwarming emotional trips you'll ever take. Not only will you and your mate feel sentimental about your pre-engagement history together the moment you decide to get hitched, but you may also feel a renewed passion (i.e., more sex!).

Despite the stress and all the preparations a wedding celebration demands, most brides-to-be will feel an overwhelming affection, indescribable joy, and an unyielding commitment toward their beloved. When Hope, 37, of New York, New York, got engaged, she had a transformation in the way she viewed her husband. She began looking at him differently, envisioning him as a father. She started looking at his face more seriously, wondering which features might come out in their future children. His sense of style suddenly didn't bother her as much. And when she saw older couples in their fifties and sixties, she took more of an interest in them, wondering how she and her husband-to-be might evolve as they grew old together.

There is a feeling of unrivaled acceptance that goes along with an engagement, which is a good thing to remember when the less savory emotions that go along with planning a wedding begin to wear you down. You may also find that once you're engaged, a door opens, and you will feel much freer talking to your fiancé about your future as a couple. Such topics as starting a family, buying a house together, deciding where you want to live for the rest of your lives, and even your personal views on childrearing may now flow freely in conversation, when just days before these topics were considered uncomfortable at best, but mostly taboo. There's nothing else like that committed feeling during the engagement, except perhaps the moment you share that commitment publicly in the form of wedding vows. So let's move on to the big day, shall we?

Copyright © 2003 by Julia Bourland

About The Author

Photo Credit: Lawrence Chambers

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (June 3, 2003)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743444101

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