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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

#107: The Truth About Wedding Day Expecations & Being "In The Moment"

I intended to devote today's post to wedding day regrets and post-wedding blues of the would've/could've/should've kind. But I noticed a few patterns in the comments from yesterday's post, patterns that I'd like to chat about and get your input on.

The first is the intention of many smart and grounded couples to have zero expectations of their wedding day (aside from ending up with a spouse by the end). I like this idea. It's a terrific attitude; no expectations means a smaller chance of disappointment. No expectations increases the likelihood that you will be present and enjoy each moment.

But I don't think that having expectations is a bad thing. Unreasonable expectations, however, are another story. The difference? Well, hoping that I'd have fun and that our bbq reception would be relaxed and casual? Reasonable. Hoping that all of my DIY plans would play out without a hitch and that all of my guests would have the time of their lives? Unreasonable.

Even those who try not to have any expectations are likely to have a few. A sincere intention or strong hope can be an expectation.

How can you tell what your expectations are? Here are 2 prompts that will uncover them:
  • When you close your eyes and imagine a scene at your wedding, what do you envision? (Who is there? What are they doing? How are they feeling? What are YOU doing and feeling?) 
  • What did you spend the most money and/or time on? What service was worth shelling out the money for? What DIY project did you want to get just right? All of this will point to what you find most important, where your hope lies, and yes, the expectations of your heart.
Now that your expectations are accounted for, run it by your wisest friend to see how realistic and doable your goals are vs. which are unrealistic and out of your hands.

But even when you have realistic expectations you could still run into a problem - if your reaction to the unmet expectations ruins your entire experience. (Ahem...take it from me!) This has less to do with having expectations and more to do with how you typically respond when you don't get what you hoped for. 

So assuming that you do have some subtle expectations (umm, trust me, you do), and assuming that they're pretty realistic (they probably are because I can tell that ya'll are smart and striving for wisdom), how have you responded to disappointment in the past? How long does it typically take you to accept that what you hoped for/ what you deserved isn't going to happen? For how long do you usually sulk/ kick/ scream/ cry? This will give you a hint as to how you *might* respond when (yes, WHEN) imperfections unfold throughout your wedding day.

You won't necessarily respond to set backs at your wedding the way you typically do at work or at home - the joy of the day could change your perspective during those hours. But just be aware that you could possibly be your usual self at your wedding - a mix of your best self and your worst self. You should also be aware that you could be an exaggerated version of yourself at your wedding (the good, the bad, and the ugly), because're at YOUR WEDDING! But. The thing is, your personality squared is not a bad thing. It's just...a thing. A thing to be aware of. A realistic expectation.

If you think you're going to be a Zen master at you're wedding because that's how you usually are, well, believe it or not, that could be an unrealistic expectation. So is the idea that you'll magically be a Zen master on your wedding day when you typically are anything but. In other words, when the day arrives you just might surprise yourself. However you end up being, you are simply being you. Honor and accept whoever you turn out to be. And don't judge yourself too harshly.

And now for the second topic I noticed in yesterday's comments. People want to feel present and "in the moment" at their wedding. They want to soak it all in. They want to enjoy what they spent so much time planning. They want to make amazing memories. This what married couples suggest, it's what recent brides write about, and it's what so many of the self-help and spiritual books on our bookshelves encourage us to do.

Yeah, that's nice and all, but how does one do this? How do we put theory into practice? How can you be present when the 5 hours you paid for are flying by with every tick of the clock; when you're juggling socialization, dancing, and wedding traditions; and when you're saying "Hi!" and "Bye!" and "Thank you!" and "Cheeeese!" and "Oh crap, we ran out?" and "Can someone ask ____ to ____ for me, please?" all day?

Well. Here are a few things that I do when I'm successfully being present, divided by whether I'm experiencing something pleasant or unpleasant. The techniques under each category are not that much different from each other, but depending on the situation I have different intentions when I use them.

Pleasant (In other words, when I want to hold on to a moment.)
  • I focus on my breath. Paying attention to inhaling and exhaling helps me recognize the present moment. I focus on where I am physically as opposed to where my crazy thoughts are.
  • This sounds kind of new age-y, but I imagine that I'm outside of my body looking down at the situation. It helps me see the beauty of the big picture.
  • I start saying "Thank you" inside, or I start praying. 
  • I think about how I won't experience this exact moment ever again. I look around at everything and just smile.
 Unpleasant (When I want to release the negative emotions associated with the present event.)
  •  Again, I focus on my breath. It tell myself that I'm still alive and okay even though I'm in a terrible mess. 
  • I start praying, but mostly asking for help and strength.
  • I talk about it with someone. (This always helps more than I expect it to.)
  • Positive thinking. Okay, I'm lying, I'm NOT very good at this. But I like to do the bullet point above with those who are good at positive thinking, like my huzzzband. :)
How do YOU typically do to help you feel present, focused, grateful, and at peace during both pleasant and unpleasant moments? What would you add to my lists?

Now...did I actually use all of these techniques on my wedding day? Well. I'm no Zen master, I'll tell ya that. I was pretty successful at being present during the pleasant moments (which was most of the day, actually), but I didn't use any techniques during the unpleasant parts.

If your wedding day is coming up, I suggest practicing the above techniques in everyday life during both pleasant and unpleasant moments. It'll help you achieve that elusive and highly desired "being in the moment" wedding experience that people always talk about. Take it down from it's pedestal and put it into practice! Or that's what I'm trying (struggling?) to do anyway. Plus, it'll help all of us with so many aspects of our lives beyond the big day. (Let's not forget that there's life beyond the wedding!)

Good luck!


  1. There is a lot to digest in this post. Very though provoking...
    In all honesty I am generally HORRIBLE at handling it when my expectations aren't met or when there is a crisis (unless it's someone elses mental health crisis, which I deal with for a living). So in some ways after reading this post I thought "maybe it was just luck I was so happy on my wedding day."
    Though I also have a habit of underestimating myself and overworrying (I believe in a thing called the "worry shield" meaning if I remember to worry about it it's less likely to happen, and vice versa. I expected to be a lot more frazzled on my wedding day and so was pleasantly surprised when I wasn't ;)
    The were parts that weren't just "dumb luck" though. Things I actually did or didn't do to stay in the moment and truly soak in the day. First, having sensory cues, esp auditory sensory cues, really kept me grounded in the moment. Two examples were waiting to walk down the isle. I could see the chairs filled with people and I remember thinking "This is SO different than just yesterday when we were rehearshing in this space!" Second, I heard the band play "you've got a friend" and watched the girls walk down 2 by 2 while the music played and had one of those "THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!!" moments where I just smiled and soaked it all in.
    The other thing that helped me stay in the moment was choosing to engage in activities I enjoy at the reception (surrounding myself wtih close friends, dancing etc.) as opposed to spending the night playing hostess. This was something that "just kind of happened" But I'm glad it did. I felt a little guilty that Ben and i didn't make the rounds to every table etc, but in the end it allowed me to enjoy my reception so much more.
    And people who really wanted to talk to us made their way to our table to do so.
    Okay, I hope this was in some way helpful to at least a few readers. If not, I"m sorry for the long rambly comment ;)

  2. For me personally, I think the best way to keep myself grounded is to ensure the environment around me makes it a likely outcome! In other words, to plan to have grounded people around me who are good at dealing with problems with a sense of humor and a relaxed attitude. I'm another person who handles other people's crises in my career, but who finds it much harder to handle my own! If we run out of something on my wedding day and I'm just standing there alone - I know myself, I'm PROBABLY gonna panic a little bit. So, I'm planning to gather together a little bridal cadre of friends who I know I can trust to stick around and who are cool under pressure. That way if I turn to them and start making crazyfaces, they'll know to step in and handle it. And if they joke about it and make me laugh, that will be the most effective way for me to get over it fast. ;)

    Also - I LOVE the phrase from the comment above - worry shield!! That is completely the unconscious logic behind much of my worrying. (Like worrying has some talismanic power to keep misfortune at bay.)


Babbling about weddings is so much more fun when people babble back. :)

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