(CNN) — When you get married, ideally it's for keeps. That's wonderful and devoutly to be wished for -- but you're also left with a wide and weird base of knowledge that you'll (hopefully) never use again.
My husband and I planned our wedding in the course of 83 days, and by all accounts, things went pretty well for both us and the guests. Friendships were forged, food and drink were savored, a baby (not ours) was made, and everyone left danced-out, hung-over, happy, and asking us if we would please consider hosting a wedding reunion the next year.
I also got a crash course in managing my stress levels, tempering my expectations, leaning into the people who love us, and all sorts of other emotional matters that the glossy bridal mags might not necessarily cover. Six-and-a-half years later (and still going strong!), perhaps a bride- or groom-to-be might find these tips a useful addition to their hope chest.
1. Give in to the chaos
The ice swan may melt, the sound system could go on the fritz, it might rain toads you'll still be just as married as you would have been had everything gone according to plan.
I spent countless hours fussing over hand-writing little table cards, decoupaging candle holders, researching glove lengths and going over all possible natural disasters that could keep our loved ones from attending our nuptials. All that did was stress me out and deflect from the actual purpose of the day: marrying the man I love, in the company of our friends and family.
Then a wise, kind friend offered some perspective. She told me that the two of us could serve Tic-Tacs and iced tea in a 7-Eleven parking lot, and everyone would be just as happy, because they'd be there to celebrate the union of two people they love. While I still put in some fretting hours after that, it helped me see the wedding as being less about perfection, and more about celebration.
2. Remember that they're all rooting for you
Say something does go off kilter -- you trip on your hem and faceplant into the cake, the wedding elephant has an accident on the floor or you fumble the name of your beloved a la Princess Diana. If people laugh, it's because it's all part of the grand story that's unfolding -- not because they're gleeful about a screw-up. They're there because they're on your side and are grateful to be part of this momentous occasion, and if they're not, why the heck are they at your wedding? Seriously, take a look at that guest list and snip, snip, snip.
3. Let your loved ones help but on your terms
My husband and I had a fairly DIY wedding both to cut down on costs and to put our own stamp on the ceremony that would mark the beginning of our married life. We also didn't have a wedding party, because it was a small-ish event and we didn't want people to feel left out.
So we asked people if they'd like to help in ways that didn't cost them anything, celebrated their talents in ways they were happy to share, and where we provided supplies and general guidelines. Two musician friends sang as we walked down the aisle, an artist friend carved pumpkins to decorate outside, my sister-in-law rallied willing guests to arrange the flowers we'd bought and picked, and some writers crafted a ritual that celebrated our communal love of food.
My best friend from college looked after our mutually-beloved whippet dog, another surprised me with a piece from my favorite poet (Frank O'Hara). My husband's best friend officiated the ceremony, and we let our musically-inclined friends pick the songs they'd most like to dance to. People were also free to simply eat, drink and be merry.
The upshot is that our loved ones felt like they had a stake in our wedding and in our marriage and that feeling continues to this very day.
4. Stay awake and pay attention
I took to calling this "bridal fugue." Ask just about any married person if they can remember every detail of their wedding and reception and chances are that it's riddled with big, blurry chunks. It's a joyous, often overwhelming day and it's only going to happen once.
On the advice of a dear friend, I picked up Sheryl Paul's "The Conscious Bride." The author is a counselor who specializes in transitions from single to married, childfree to parenthood, and the like. Paul suggests preparing yourself to stop and take mental snapshots of what's going on around you, and how you feel in that moment, so you can be extremely present on your wedding.
Thanks to this, while I don't have every second of our wedding day running on an endless loop in the back of my brain, I have very vivid memories of taking vows, looking out into the room to see so many people I adore all assembled in one place, funny surprises from my friends and family, and dancing until my feet felt like they were on fire. Even if we were to lose every single picture from that day, these images and feelings would be locked in my heart forever.
5. There's a letdown and that's OK
After our post-wedding day brunch, I sat down in a walk-in closet and cried. This had nothing to do with regret, second-guessing or sadness; I'd just married my favorite man on Earth and I was happier in my life than I'd ever been before.
But we'd just spent the vast majority of our time over the previous months focusing our energy on planning the joyous event, and the last guests had just said their goodbyes. All those wedding guests we adore were never again going to be in the same place at the same time, the spotlight was off me, and I was no longer a single woman, girlfriend or bride-to-be. I was someone's wife a wonderful, but slightly scary new role. And it was time to step into it.
I cried a little more and spent a moment saying goodbye to the single self I'd always known. Then I took a deep breath, stood up, walked out of that closet and went to find my new husband.
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